Monday, November 23, 2009
I've got to get my holiday ducks in a row, so I'm signing off until next week, when you'll get a full report of how our dinner turned out. I will conquer this holiday! And so will you--have a wonderful one!
Four-layer pumpkin cake with orange cream cheese frosting (and other desserts) [via Bon Appetit]
Silky smooth pumpkin pie [via Smitten Kitchen]
Deconstructed pumpkin pie [via Saveur]
Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake [via Smitten Kitchen]
Pumpkin custard [via Dinner Party Recipes]
Spiced pumpkin mousse trifle [via Saveur]
Pumpkin ice cream [via David Lebovitz]
Pies and tarts
Tarte tatin [via Pink of Perfection]
Apple-pecan tart [via The Kitchen Sink Recipes]
Butterscotch-pecan pie [via Bella Eats]
Frozen maple mousse pie [via NYT]
Sweet potato pie [via Dinner Party Recipes]
Even more desserts!
Chocolate desserts (espresso semifreddo, chocolate lava cakes, homemade Yodels!) [via Food & Wine]
And fruit desserts (honeyed fig crostini, vanilla-orange flan, cherry compote with marscarpone) [via Food & Wine]
Apple-cherry crisp [via Dinner Party Recipes]
Gingerbread with lemon icing [via Dinner Party Recipes]
Friday, November 20, 2009
I finally have a menu in place, which has made me feel a lot less stressed out. I think the sheer number of variations on the classic Thanksgiving dinner was what was making me feel overwhelmed. There's thousands of ways to make stuffing and pumpkin pie, how do you choose just one?
For those of you still figuring out a game plan, here is a bonanza of turkey, stuffing, and side dish options. Dessert ideas are coming up on Monday!
21 takes on the turkey (salted roast turkey with chipotle glaze and caramelized-onion gravy, sage-butter roasted turkey with cider gravy, lemon-herb turkey with lemon-garlic gravy) from Bon Appetit [via BA]
A roundup of turkey recipes from grilled, to roasted, to deep-fried [via Saveur]
The "world's simplest Thanksgiving turkey" [via Food Network]
Tips on preparing a turkey from Global Gourmet (interestingly, they are anti-truss) [via Global Gourmet]
And a helpful video with tips on carving a turkey without an electric carver [via Epicurious]
Stuffing recipes without bread, including barley with mushrooms, hazelnuts, and brown butter [via NYT]
Stuffings galore over at Saveur, including roasted chestnut and sausage, oyster, and pecan-cranberry [via Saveur]
Cornbread stuffing with sage already baked into it. Genius! [via Pithy & Cleaver]
Something I am very excited about making this year: stuffins! [via NYT]
If you need visuals, Bon Appetit has a stuffing slideshow with 21 recipes [via BA]
A Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin that could double as a turkey-less main course [via Smitten Kitchen]
Classic sides (green bean casserole, potato gratin, creamed corn) [via Food Network]
Inventive takes on Thanksgiving vegetables (grill-roasted vegetables with pine nut pesto, roasted carrot and cumin puree, roasted brussels sprouts with cranberry brown butter) [via F&W]
Instead of mashed potatoes, pommes de terre boulangère, pan-fried with onions [via Wednesday Chef]
Something that will make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table: roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon [via Dinner Party Recipes]
My favorite cranberry relish, by Jasper White [via Dinner Party Recipes]
And my favorite cranberry Jell-O salad, by my Nanny [via Dinner Party Recipes]
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I considered making some sort of dessert with citrus, since Casey loves all things tart and lemony. But lemon bars, and tarts, and pound cakes weren't really doing it for me. And then I thought about making something more seasonal, like a spice cake. The dessert in my imagination had a light and airy crumb and autumnal spices, maybe some sort of glaze on top?
But my dream dessert didn't seem to exist. A cookbook and Internet search only yielded recipes for muffin-like quick breads, or pound cakes, which wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But as I paged through Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess, looking at page after page of cozy desserts, I stumbled upon exactly the right thing: gingerbread with lemon icing. The photo in the cookbook shows two identical slabs of dark, almost black, cake capped with a snowy layer of icing. And in her typical purple prose-y, Nigella way, she writes, "lemon spruceness of the topping is perfect with the musky sweetness beneath it." Sold and sold!
The cake, which called for fresh ginger, was easy enough to whip up. But when I tasted the batter, it lacked the heat and spiciness I expect from gingerbread. So I added a bit of ground ginger and an extra dash or two of cinnamon for good measure. When the cake emerged from the oven, it was puffed and fragrant--the house suddenly smelled like fall. The next morning, I packed up a few slices in a Tupperware and filled a plastic baggie with icing so I could assemble the dessert right before we ate it, preventing the gingerbread from getting soggy. Even though we were full, this cake went down easy. I even spied a few fingers sneakily pressing up the last few remaining crumbs.
As usual, Nigella was correct. The tart and sugary icing offsets the warm stickiness of the cake, adding a nice balance, and yes...a lemon spruceness, as well.
Fresh gingerbread with lemon icing
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe. I replaced the corn syrup with honey, which pairs really well with the molasses.
(Makes about 15 to 20 squares)
For the gingerbread:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup (or honey)
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. molasses
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs, beaten to mix
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
roasting pan, approximately 12 x 8 x 2 inches, greased and lined with foil or parchment paper
For the icing:
1 Tbsp. lemon juice,
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp. warm water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup (or honey), molasses, ginger (fresh and ground), and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water.
Measure the flour out into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour it into the pan and bake for 3/4 - 1 hour until risen and firm. Be careful not to overcook it, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway it will carry on cooking as it cools.
And when it is cool, get on with the icing. Whisk the lemon juice and zest into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water. You want a good, thick icing, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Spread over the cooled gingerbread with a palette knife, and leave to set before cutting.
Monday, November 16, 2009
The three of us have a nice little thing going where we meet up for a potluck dinner after work. Courtney hosts us at her apartment, provides wine, does the dishes, and does not have to cook. And Casey and I each bring a course or two for all of us to share. We all end up spending less than a decent dinner out, and no one has to cook a full meal. It's a win-win-win.
There is also this ridiculously cute fellow, who sweetens the deal.
So last week, Casey volunteered to bring the potpie, and I contributed a salad and dessert. I have to admit, chicken potpie is not my favorite dish in the world, or so I thought. I've had a few too many with thick, gluey filling, or a bad chicken-to-veggie ratio, or crusts that were either too thin or too thick. Thanks to Casey's version, I am now a believer.
After removing the pie from a cake carrier and warming it in the oven, Casey cut it into quarters, and dished out huge wedges. I eyed my plate skeptically, thinking, I can't finish this whole thing! I just bought some new jeans at Uniqlo and they were already kind of snug. Annnd...about 15 minutes later, my plate was clean. The crust (double, of course) was perfectly buttery, flaky, and golden. Inside, a generous amount of vegetables and shredded chicken, bound together by a sauce that was neither thick nor gluey. Potpie perfection.
We managed to have enough restraint not to polish off the last quarter of the pie, so Casey put it back in the carrier to take home. Later that night, while chatting on the subway, we noticed a man sitting across from us who was staring at the carrier like a dog looking up at the dinner table. "That looks SO good. What is it?" he asked. "Chicken potpie," Casey said. "Did you make it?" he asked. "Yes, I did," Casey said, looking slightly embarrassed. The guy would not take his eyes off the carrier. "Uh, do you want the last piece?" she asked. He laughed and shook his head no, but asked where he could find the recipe. As I jumped up to get off at my stop, another man, who seemed to materialize out of nowhere, made a beeline for the pie carrier. I left Casey with her admirers, making her promise to send me the recipe.
Monday night dinner
Casey's chicken potpie
Mixed greens and herbs
Gingerbread with lemon icing
Casey’s chicken pot pie
Casey says: Please note that all vegetable quantities are approximate guidelines; the more you make it, the easier you’ll be able to eyeball the amounts that you prefer and sub in any other veg you want — steamed potato chunks, green beans, whatever works. This is more of a veggie pot pie than a chicken one in the end, which is how I like it!
(Makes 1 12-inch pie)
1 recipe homemade pie crust (enough for a top and bottom crust)
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter, divided
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ears corn, kernels sliced off the cob, or 1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (if I don’t have leftover chicken in my freezer that I can thaw, I’ll just bake a chicken breast in the oven while I’m assembling the other ingredients)
Roll out your first round of pie crust, place in your standard pie pan, and reserve in the fridge. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large saute pan with high sides or a dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and carrots and continue to cook until tender, 5 minutes more. Stir in the corn and peas, then add enough stock just to cover the veg and simmer until the liquid reduces at least by half. It will look more like vegetables in a very loose sauce than soup at this point.
Add a splash of cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and reduce a bit more if it’s still looking too soupy. Finally, stir in the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter and the chicken and remove from the heat.
Roll out the second pie crust and reserve while you place your chilled pie pan onto a baking sheet and dump the filling in. Place the pie crust lid on top, cut 4 slits in the top of the lid so your pie can vent, and cut/crimp the sides to seal.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling out of the vents. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving; I know, the wait will nearly kill you because the pie will look so tempting, but all you’re going to get is molten ooze unless you have patience.
Friday, November 13, 2009
I make pizza almost every week for dinner so I change up the toppings a lot to keep it from getting boring. I use sausage and peppers; mushrooms with garlic and parsley; or, recently, store-bought harissa with gruyere and herb salad. That was really, really, good.
But my new favorite is a lighter, healthier take on white pizza: a thin crust topped with a layer of ricotta, a drizzle of pesto and a little red pepper flakes and parmesan. It sounds incredibly simple, and it is, but it's way more than the sum of its parts. The creamy ricotta is the perfect counterpart for the bright, garlic-y pesto, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes adds just the right amount of heat.
For a dinner party, I'd serve the pizza with an arugula salad and something decadent for dessert—maybe gelato topped with homemade chocolate sauce or a shot of hot espresso? You could also just eat the pizza by itself off of paper plates in front of the TV and find it just as satisfying.
Ricotta and pesto pizza
Dough recipe adapted from Louise Pickford's book Grilling.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
For the pizza dough:
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the hot water and olive oil. Stir with a spoon until it has formed a soft dough. Knead the dough with floured hands, pressing it against the bowl until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and cover the bowl with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it has doubled in size. (You can also make it the night before and store it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic or stored in a large plastic Ziploc bag.)
For the pizza topping:
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
(Makes about 2 cups)
3 handfuls of basil leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Pulse until slightly pureed. Pour in the olive oil gradually, pulsing with each addition until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt. Taste as you go, making sure it's balanced. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator.
To assemble the pizza:
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Use your hands or a rolling pin to roll out the pizza on a floured surface so that it's about 1/2 inch thin. Place the rolled-out dough on a pizza stone or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a large spoon, spread the ricotta evenly over the pizza dough. Top with the pesto, then drizzle the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil on top. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and bubbling. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve hot.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I usually contribute a dish (or three) to family Thanksgivings and I've made my share of pumpkin pie. But I've never been responsible for the entire shebang. Cooking the whole bird? Nope.
Am I nervous? A little. I'll be cooking for Dan and his parents (visiting from Florida) at our house in Brooklyn. They are great people, and lovely in-laws, but I have a bit of an entertaining sore spot with them otherwise known as The Saga of the Lamb Chops.
The last time I made a proper sit-down dinner for them was over three years ago, and let's just say I was a little green. Long story short, dinner involved $100 worth of tiny lamb chops foolishly purchased from the neighborhood butcher. Extreme sticker shock. I had never spent $100 on ONE ITEM OF UNCOOKED FOOD in my life and probably never will again. "Don't overcook these," the butcher warned me in his thick Brooklyn accent. I nodded seriously and took home the little chops worth their weight in gold.
Back at home, I made a rosemary-white bean soup as a starter, and served the meat with salad and roasted onions. And we all cut into our lamb chops, which were, shall we say...pink. Blood started to pool on our plates. I felt a little faint.
Now, I don't mind a rare piece of meat. But someone (I won't name names) sent their dinner back to be recooked. Sent. It. Back. Trying to play it cool, I shakily collected everyone's chops, put them on a plate, and returned to the kitchen to stick them under the broiler, fretting about whose lamb chop was whose and whether anyone would be offended if they got a different one. It was horrible. Although funny in retrospect. And the soup wasn't half-bad.
I have made successful dinners for my in-laws since this disaster, but something about it still lingers in the back of my mind. Thanksgiving seems like the MOST important meal of the year to me and I dread screwing anything up. Like, God forbid, undercooking the turkey. Judy, Dan's mom, is a very good cook. The bar is high, people.
Did I mention that my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day this year? It is!
And so, dear readers, please give me your best advice as to how to tackle this beast of a holiday. What are your tricks, your secrets, your strategies to pulling it off? Mom, are you out there? Halp!
[Note to Judy and Larry: I'm totally joking about being freaked out! Well, sort of.]
Monday, November 9, 2009
1. Name, occupation, and city
A. Amanda Hesser, co-founder of food52 and author, Brooklyn NY
2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
M: My last "dinner party" was actually a barbecue in Prospect Park at the end of the summer. I invited all of my good friends who live in New York, as well as a couple of out-of-towners. There were lots of small children, which meant the chocolate chip cookies disappeared in a hurry.
3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
A. I once made turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck that's stuffed with a chicken), which was really fun because all of the work happens before people arrive and when the turducken is ready, it makes a great, sort of hilariously odd presentation, and is very easy to serve because you just slice it like bread. On a more practical level, I like making a Laotian catfish stew from the New York Times. It's very simple, can be made almost entirely ahead of time and the flavors are fragrant and unexpected -- a real crowd pleaser.
M: Wine, hands down. That said, my ideal dinner party would include a pre-dinner cocktail along the lines of what Amanda described above.
5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
M: Nowadays, classical or something else very mellow. Gone are the days in which I entertained with alternative rock blaring in the background.
6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
M: Bruschetta with ricotta and thyme; roasted salmon or char with herb aioli; mashed potatoes; green salad; pears poached in red wine with mascarpone.
7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
A: I cook and my husband sets the table, does the flowers and comes up with the seating arrangement -- and we chat while we're both working. We also keep a dinner party diary, in which we record the menu, the guest list, the flowers and the highlights from the conversation. We both write in it, and since we usually sit at opposite ends of the table during the party, it's fun to read each other's version afterward. Sometimes it's as if we were at two different parties.
8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
A: I agree with Merrill, entirely.
9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
A. I always make dessert first, and I like a dessert that I can prepare the day before so it's done and is a psychic weight off my shoulders. One of my favorites is an almond cake recipe from my husband's mother. Its flavor actually improves after a day, so you have to make it ahead of time. And you can pair it with any seasonal fruit -- I particularly love blueberries in a grappa syrup with mint.
10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
M: Jane Austen. The post-party commentary would be epic.
A: I say on food52 that it would be Tina Fey, but I'm feeling a coin toss between her and Stephen Colbert.
[Photo: Sarah Shatz]
Friday, November 6, 2009
Food & Wine has a helpful round-up of Thanksgiving hors d'Oeuvres options: porcini mushroom tartlets, chicken liver crostini, toasted pumpkin seeds [via F&W]
And so does Saveur, including prosciutto-wrapped parmesan and pecan dates, stuffed celery, and bagna cauda [via Saveur]
Six "instant appetizers" from Bon Appetit featuring store-bought foods that are special enough for a holiday like fancy artichokes and peppers, foie gras with black truffles, and interesting crackers. [via BA]
Food Network has 50 ways to top a piece of toast, if you're going in that direction [via Food Network]
And a bit of unrelated news: I finally decided to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. Follow me to find blog updates and random musings, as well as ask dinner party-related questions. Need help figuring out how many pigs in a blanket to serve? I'm all ears!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I am turning 30 this month...ahem, as you know. I am going to have a party--probably 20 to 30 people at my house--and I wanted to do something FUN, so I have decided to make it French themed. (Quelle suprise!) Beaujolais nouveau comes out soon, so I am going to grab some bottles (if not a case, LOL) and I want to have a signature drink. I will have an assortment of cheeses, maybe a cantaloupe and ham dish, and of course, pastries. Do you have any ideas to add to the mix?
Your party sounds so fun! And how smart to pick a theme around a limited-time-only wine.
It sounds like you already have a good start menu-wise, but here are some ideas based on whether you feel like cooking or shopping. After all, you should only cook a big meal on your birthday if you really feel like it.
If you feel like cooking:
Croque monsieurs (Perfect drinking food!)
How about a sweet or savory galette? Maybe butternut squash and caramelized onion or apple
Maybe some spiced nuts with herbes de provence?
One large quiche or mini quiches
Baked brie in puff pastry
Some fresh vegetables and dips like aioli and tapenade (or artichoke tapenade)
Or, for a more formal meal, how about ratatouille, some grilled sausages, and a big salad?
And for dessert, in my book, nothing is more birthday-worthy, and French-y than a chocolate soufflé cake
If you feel like shopping:
Pick up some pre-made tapenade and serve it with poached, chilled shrimp and crackers.
Serve pâté with cornichons and mustard with baguette slices
Ham and cheese sandwiches on mini croissants
Chocolate truffles (Whole Foods has really good ones)
Maybe something light and refreshing with Lillet, like Lillet au Citron?
Or a French 75?
Or a French martini
Does anyone else have French party food ideas for my friend? Help a mademoiselle out!
[Image from James Beard's Fireside Cookbook]
Monday, November 2, 2009
Last week, I had an early-morning haircut appointment in the East Village, so my co-worker and friend Courtney let me stay at her apartment, which is just around the corner from my hairstylist. Sleepovers are way more fun when you're an adult. You don't stay up quite as late, but there's no homesickness and teary calls home to Mom. There is wine, and good music on the iPod, and dinner is much better than delivery from Domino's.
That said, we kept the menu pretty simple. Unlike twelve-year-olds, we had worked all day and were pretty exhausted by the time we got to Courtney's apartment. So we kicked off our shoes and nibbled on cheese and crackers over wine, then cooked up fried chicken cutlets topped with a peppery arugula salad--a fast and tasty dish that has become one of my weeknight staples.
Dessert was chocolate chip cookies. Some things always stay the same.
Sleepover at Courtney's
Cheese and crackers
Fried chicken cutlets with arugula salad
Chocolate chip cookies
Fried chicken cutlets with arugula salad
The chicken is sort of a Milanese, dredged in parmesan and flour and fried in olive oil until golden brown. Instead of serving a salad on the side, I just toss some arugula in lemon juice and olive oil and pile it on top of the warm chicken. I also add whatever vegetable I have on hand--this time, cherry tomatoes, but I also like thinly sliced fennel, or roasted veggies like mushrooms. Feel free to mix it up.
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling on top
1 package thinly-sliced chicken (about 4 strips, or two chicken breasts, cut in half and pounded thin)
2 large handfuls arugula
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and pepper
In a small bowl, beat the egg and set aside. In another small bowl or plate, combine the flour, parmesan, and a pinch of salt. In a large pan, pour in olive oil until it is about 1/4 inch deep, covering entire the bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-heat. When the oil is ready, a bit of flour will bubble when sprinkled in the oil.
Dunk each piece of chicken in the egg and then in the flour, coating it in flour thoroughly. When the oil is hot enough, place the chicken in the pan. Fry the chicken in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Set aside the cooked chicken on a paper towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt.
In a medium-sized bowl, toss the arugula and tomatoes with the juice of 1/2 a lemon and 2 Tbsp. olive oil.
To plate, place two pieces of chicken on each plate and squeeze the other half of the lemon over them. Add the salad on top and sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese.