Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

link-o-rama, holiday gifts

Got a few names left on your Christmas shopping list that you can't seem to cross off? Homemade gifts are usually the perfect solution. Here's a few ideas for simple yet special holiday treats.

Salted caramel hot cocoa
(!) [via Good. Food. Stories.]

Cranberry orange scone mix
[via Food in Jars]

Mondel bread
[via Lottie + Doof]

Panaforte with candied quince [via Wednesday Chef]

Holiday sangria [via Sprouted Kitchen]

18 homemade candy recipes [via Saveur]

Tons of gift-worthy recipes (truffles, barbecue sauce, cheddar shortbread) and their purchase-able counterparts, if you just need buying inspiration [via Epicurious]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

easy like sunday evening

It was a dark and cold night. Father-in-law was in a cab on the way over to our house after dropping his bags at the hotel and making his usual just-got-into-New York pit stop at Uniqlo. The man is very stylish.

I was standing at the kitchen counter, figuring out what to make for dinner. It was a few days after Thanksgiving and all I wanted to eat was a big mess of greens, but I knew that wouldn't cut it. How would you feel, entering someone's home for supper, shrugging off the horribleness of air travel and frosty air and dirty sidewalks, and being presented with a bowl of salad? Not good, I'll bet.

But at the same time, I didn't want to go overboard. Sundays are all about comfort in our house. It's a day to maybe spend a little extra time on supper, but it's about eating simple things that taste good, watching 60 Minutes, and cozying up on the couch.

The day before, I bought a pork tenderloin and a bunch of nice looking carrots. Some olives for snacking. There was some celery root puree leftover from Thanksgiving. (I'm not a big leftovers person but this puree is delicious and reheats really well.) Oh, and a salad. I really wanted that salad, dammit.

This would not be a feast for the record books, but hopefully father-in-law would be so delighted to see us (and his Uniqlo goods) he wouldn't even notice.
I rolled the tenderloin in a mix of thyme, rosemary, grated garlic, salt, and pepper. Into the oven it went. I sliced the carrots into rounds and boiled them, then sauteed them in a few pats of butter, a handful of parsley, and a squeeze of lemon. Boiled carrots sound like something on a school cafeteria menu, but that little bit of lemon and butter elevated them into something much tastier.

We sat around the table, tucking into our lettuce, and pork, and carrots. Dinner was eaten up unceremoniously, with a quickness. We talked about Obama, and birthdays, and Britney, then retired into the living room for ginger-apple crisp and Boardwalk Empire

It's a nice feeling to serve guests what you'd normally eat and discover that they are happy with exactly that.
Sunday dinner with Larry

Red leaf lettuce with pickled red onions and blue cheese
Herbed pork tenderloin
Parsley carrots
Ginger-apple crisp

Herbed pork tenderloin
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 pork tenderloin
3 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 2 Tbsp. dried)
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced (or 1 Tbsp. dried)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated (I use a microplane for this)
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Create a rub for the pork by combining the herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a small bowl. Stir the mixture together and slather on the meat, covering all sides. Place the meat on a baking sheet and cover. Store in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or overnight.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Roast pork until the exterior is golden and a thermometer inserted into center registers 155 degrees, about 20 minutes. Transfer pork to cutting board and let it rest for minutes. Slice pork as thinly as possible and place it on a platter. If you have any pan juices, spoon them over the meat before serving.

Monday, December 13, 2010

kicking out the holiday jams

Christmas is going to be very different in the Cericola household because my mom and I made the executive decision to forgo gift-giving this year. Money's tight for everyone, and we're all fortunate enough not to need anything, so why not take a year off from presents? My grandmother protested a little, but I'm downright delighted.

Venturing out on Fifth Avenue on my lunch break last week, I was surrounded by a crush of people hefting shopping bags with a slightly crazed look in their eyes. After I elbowed my way free, I couldn't help but smile. I don't have to make a list, re-think the list, find cute wrapping paper, figure out how to ship gifts home, worry about my credit card bill, and on and on and on.

Like rethinking the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast, there is something liberating about celebrating the holidays without shopping. Instead, my family will do a cookie exchange after Christmas dinner. Everyone will bring a dozen or so cookies, and take home a plate of treats, and no one will have to hunt for a gift receipt later on in January.
Other homemade gifts aren't out of the question. I decided to bust out the canning set and went a little jam-crazy last weekend, cranking out jars of shelf-stable preserves for co-workers, friends, and gift-loving types like my grandmother. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon, much less stressful than navigating Fifth Avenue or the aisles of Target during holiday crunch-time. And homemade gifts always feel more special, at least to me.

I decided to make three different types of jam: slightly spicy pear cardamom ginger, tangy grapefruit cranberry marmalade, and an apple honey lemon jam that kind of reminded me of a Hall's cough drop. But in a good way.

Like a squirrel gathering acorns before winter, seeing the colorful pile of jars on my kitchen counter makes me feel hopeful and prepared for the year ahead, whatever it may bring. At least we'll have jam, right?
Grapefruit cranberry marmalade
Adapted from Brooklyn Supper. My fruit was pretty tart, so I added some honey at the end for extra sweetness. Adjust as you see fit.
(Makes 6 ½ pint jars)

2 14 oz. packages of fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed
6 ruby red grapefruits 
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup water (if needed)
3-4 Tbsp. Pamona’s Pectin powder mixed with 3-4  Tbsp. calcium water (or regular pectin)
1/3 cup honey
pinch of salt

Using a sharp pairing knife, peel the rind off the grapefruits, leaving the white pith attached to the fruit. Then peel the pith off of the fruit. Cut the rind into thin strips and reserve. Supreme the grapefruits into sections over a large bowl, catching any juice. Squeeze the remaining membrane over the bowl to get all of the juice. Set aside.

In a non-reactive pot or dutch oven, combine the grapefruit rind, sections, and juice. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the cranberries, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to simmer for 2 hours, stirring frequently.

Put a teaspoon in the freezer. When the marmalade has cooked down considerably and is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, add the honey and pectin. Bring the jam up to a boil, and then turn the heat off. Place a small amount of jam on the frozen spoon and see if the jam runs slowly down the spoon when the spoon is tilted. If it is weepy, add another tablespoon of pectin and calcium water, bring back to a boil, and then turn off the heat and test again. Keep doing this until your jam is just right.

Meanwhile, wash 6 1/2 pint jars, lids, and rims in hot, soapy water then sterilize them by placing them in a large pot of boiling water. Let them boil for five minutes, then remove them from the water and let them dry.

Fill your jars with jam, wipe the rims, and screw on the lids. Put the jars back in the boiling water and let them boil for 15 minutes. Carefully remove them, and set them aside. You will hear the lids pop as they seal. (I love that part.)
Pear cardamom ginger jam
Adapted from Food & Wine, with the addition of ginger, just because I had some on hand. The original recipe says it yields 2 1/2 pint jars, but I found it made double that amount. I think this depends on the size of your pears.

4 lbs. ripe Bartlett pears—peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 cups sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
1 Tbsp. honey

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, toss the pears with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Put a metal spoon in the freezer. Transfer the pears and their liquid to a wide, heavy pot and bring to a boil. Put the crushed cardamom in a tea ball and add it to the pot, along with the ginger. (I did not have a tea ball, I just fished out all of the pods and the ginger in the end. It's more time consuming but works just fine if you're careful.) Cook the pears over high heat, stirring frequently, until the liquid starts to thicken and the pears become translucent, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

Transfer one-third of the pears to a food processor or a food mill and puree until smooth. Add the puree to the pot. Boil over moderately high heat, stirring, until the jam is very thick, about 5 minutes. To test the jam, drop a small amount on the chilled spoon and freeze for about 30 seconds. When you tilt the spoon, the jam should be thick and run down the spoon slowly. If the jam is runny, cook it for a few minutes longer, then test again. Remove the tea ball (or cardamom pods and ginger) and stir in the honey.

Ladle the jam into three clean, 1-pint jars and let cool completely. Tightly close the jars and store the pear jam in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Or, make the jam shelf-stable by placing the jars back in the kettle of boiling water and process for 15 minutes.

Apple lemon honey jam
Adapted from Food in Jars
(Makes 7 pint jars)

12 cups peeled, chopped apples
2 cups lemon juice
1 cup honey 
5 cups sugar
1 envelope of liquid pectin (or 2 Tbsp. Pomona's Pectin with 2 Tbsp. calcium water)
zest of three lemons

Fill a large pot with water, then boil your jars, lids, and rings for five minutes.

Place a teaspoon in the freezer. Combine the apples and lemon juice in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (an enameled Dutch oven works well here) and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the apples have broken down. When the consistency is a nice, chunky applesauce, add the honey and sugar and stir to incorporate.

Bring the fruit to a boil and cook for at least five minutes at a roll. Add the pectin and boil for a few minutes more, to active the pectin. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Place a small amount of jam on the frozen spoon and see if the jam runs slowly down the spoon when the spoon is tilted.

Fill the jars, wipe rims, apply the lids bands. Put the jars back in the pot of boiling water for fifteen minutes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

two holiday party-worthy apple desserts

Holiday parties often mean bringing a dish to share, and if you're sick of bringing dip, or nut mix, or the usual cookie platter, I've got two fantastic dessert options for you, both using apples. (Uh, I hope you like apples.)

Last month, I made a spiced applesauce cake for a cozy Sunday night dinner with some friends. As far as desserts go, applesauce cake sounds really boring, but this one was a keeper--moist, rich with spices, and topped with the most delicious cinnamon cream cheese frosting. It was kind of like a carrot cake, but with apples. Dan and I ate every last crumb and I've been thinking about it ever since. Applesauce cake, who knew? And if you're headed to a potluck or dinner party, it's sturdy enough to travel and can be cut into nice little squares upon arrival. Everyone will love you and your cake.

My other current apple obsession is of a warmer variety: ginger-apple crisp. My recipe is a fairly classic version that's jazzed up with little bits of crystallized ginger in the crumbly topping. It's the kind of dessert that begs to be served piping hot with a melty scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. For parties, simply prep your apples and place them in a baking dish, then prep the topping and put it in a plastic bag. When you arrive, put everything in the refrigerator, then during dinner, assemble the crisp and bake it in the oven. Easy!

Spiced applesauce cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting

From Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

For cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup walnuts (optional), toasted, cooled, and chopped (I reserved the nuts and sprinkled them on top of the frosting)

For frosting:
5 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. Butter an 8- or 9-inch square cake pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in applesauce. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in walnuts (if using). Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Remove the cake from its pan onto a rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer at high speed until fluffy. Sift confectioners sugar and cinnamon over cream cheese mixture, then beat at medium speed until incorporated. Spread frosting over top of cooled cake. Top with nuts, if desired.

Ginger-apple crisp

Adapted (heavily) from Ina Garten via the Food Network.
(serves 5 people)

For the filling:
2 1/2 lbs. apples (I used Braeburn)
1 1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. apple or pumpkin pie spice

For the topping:
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup oatmeal
¼ cup crystallized ginger, plus extra full pieces for garnish
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 by 14 by 2-inch oval baking dish. Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the lemon juice, sugar, and spices. Pour into the dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, ginger, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and top each serving with a piece of crystallized ginger.

Monday, December 6, 2010

what's for dinner, numnum girls?

Today's Q&A is with the always adorable and inspiring NumNum girls, A.K.A. Lisa Butterworth and Caroline Hwang. The two Brooklyn-based friends host an ambitious supper club and document their efforts on the NumNum Chronicles. Although we've never met, I felt an immediate dinner party kinship when I discovered their friendly, funny site. From creative cocktails to multi-course menus, they really know how to entertain. Here, they share some of their favorite menus and ideas. Thanks, ladies!

1. Name, occupation, and city
L: Lisa Butterworth, writer/editor, Brooklyn

C: Caroline Hwang, illustrator/artist, Brooklyn

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

This past Saturday! We had six of our nearest and dearest friends over to test out a couple of recipes we’re including in an upcoming project (including the biggest steak either of us had ever seen!). The evening ended with a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit: Pop Culture edition, as all good dinner parties should.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

Since we’re both from California and rarely make it back to spend Thanksgiving with our families, we host an orphan Thanksgiving every year for our Brooklyn-bound friends. And hot damn, those menus are delicious. Last year’s spread included baked brie with cranberry-orange sauce, roasted acorn squash, cornbread chestnut stuffing, Brussels sprouts, turkey, mashed potatoes, Mississippi mud for dessert, and cranberry-ginger-gin punch.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

L: Cocktails, for sure. Especially ones that involve gin.

C: Agreed, cocktails. They’re tasty little things that pack a punch.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

We like all varieties of music, from 60s R&B to riot grrrl to folk. Most of the time we like something that will give us a bit of a beat while we eat.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

Pizza is our go-to crowd pleaser. The dough usually takes at least an hour to rise, but if we don’t have that kind of prep time, a pit-stop at our local pizzeria for some pre-made dough makes the dish easy as pie (ha!).

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

We usually like having help, it makes the meal feel like a group effort. Our kitchen isn’t very big and it gets real crowded real fast, but we always enjoy the company.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

We try to make everything from scratch, but we definitely make exceptions. Canned cranberry sauce, for instance, can not be made, and it’s a Thanksgiving must!

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

We never met a cake, cookie, or piece of pie we didn’t like so we’ll serve just about anything sweet for dessert whether it’s ginger-rhubarb ice cream, a blueberry cream cheese tart, or good ol’ sugar cookies with buttercream frosting.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

L: I would love to gather four generations of my family’s women around the dinner table: my mom, my grandmothers (who are still alive) and my four great-grandmothers (two of whom I had the amazing pleasure of knowing). The gratitude I have for them is immeasurable.

C: My grandma, who is now passed away. Most of my childhood she would make my brother and I breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So in return, I would love to make her dinner to show her how much she inspired me and influenced my life.

Friday, December 3, 2010


We're in the thick of holiday things, folks. I feel like I've turned a corner and suddenly there's Hanukkah and Christmas parties, cookie swaps, and a general festiveness in the air. In other words, I need to get cooking! Here are some links for seasonal inspiration:

Recipes for Hanukkah from latkes to apple cake [via NYT]

Hanukkah menus, kosher wine suggestions, and more [via Epicurious]

Apple latkes with a decadent salted caramel sauce [via Smitten Kitchen]

Creative, gorgeous cocktails for holiday gatherings of all types [via NYT]

Tips on hosting a cookie swap (plus recipes) [via Epicurious]

A holiday-themed sparkling wine and cheese party [via F&W]

Holiday cookies from around the world [via Saveur]

And some holiday-worthy treats from the Dinner Party archives:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

apple-blue cheese-pomegranate salad

I try very hard not to buy specialty ingredients that I will only use in a single recipe, but it happens from time to time. We all have a few random ingredients in our kitchens that make us feel slightly guilty whenever we see them hanging out in the back of a cabinet or cupboard. The tin of mustard powder, the chestnut oil, the jar of black sesame seeds, the mango barbecue sauce. It's almost always condiments, isn't it?

I have bottle of pomegranate molasses in the back of my refrigerator that's been there for a very long time. I have used it to dress Lebanese-style tomato salads and once incorporated it into a cocktail recipe, but other than that, it doesn't get pulled out much. Which is a shame--it has fantastic flavor, tangy and sweet, the thick, concentrated essence of pomegranates. I recently had a dish of roasted cauliflower drizzled with the stuff that gave me ideas.

Anyway, I was on the hunt for a fall salad to serve before Thanksgiving. I wanted something with apples, and blue cheese, and some sort of crunchy nut. Maybe a handful of greens. And then I found a Bobby Flay recipe for that very thing AND it had pomegranate molasses in the vinaigrette. Sold!

This is a fine salad, but the dressing is something pretty special. The pomegranate molasses adds a nice tang that's balanced out by honey and Dijon mustard. It's like your typical salad dressing but with something a little mysterious in the mix. People will say, what's in this? This is so delicious! And you'll just smile, knowing that you can whip the salad up any old time because that bottle of pomegranate molasses is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chopped apple salad with toasted walnuts, blue cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette
By Bobby Flay via The Food Network
Don't have pomegranate molasses on hand, or can't find it? Here's how to make it.
(Serves 6 to 8 people, but I easily cut this recipe in half)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. honey, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
6 apples (Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji) any or a combination of all, skin left on, core removed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 cups baby or regular spinach
2 heads endive, thinly sliced
1 cup toasted coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 lb. blue cheese, crumbled (I used Buttermilk Blue)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar, mustard, honey and salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Combine the apples, spinach, endive, walnuts and blue cheese in a large bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat, season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Monday, November 29, 2010

a nontraditional thanksgiving

Last year, I really wanted a traditional Thanksgiving. Turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, something pumpkin for dessert. I bought a pretty new tablecloth and made a handmade centerpiece. I topped each plate with a gingko leaf and felt very Martha-ish in that moment. The rest of the day? Not so much. (Although it all worked out in the end.)

My in-laws had traveled to New York to have dinner with Dan and me and I wanted to really impress them. Instead of contributing a dish or two, as I normally do at my family's potluck-style feast, I had complete control over the menu and wanted to create my ideal version of the classic Thanksgiving feast.

This year? I threw all of that out the window. No cranberries, no stuffing, no gravy, and most importantly, no turkey. It's not that I don't love all of those delicious things smooshed together on one plate, because I really, really do. But this year, it was just going to be me, Dan, and our friend Jamie around the table and it seemed silly to cook so many things for three people.

Yeah, I could have made a turkey breast, but Dan likes dark meat. I could have roasted some Cornish hens for a tiny turkey approximation, but who wants that, really? I could have done a vegetarian meal based around Thanksgiving side dishes. Again, who wants that? I wanted a seasonal meal that felt special occasion-worthy but didn't have the normal Thanksgiving trappings. Because once you get started down that path, it's hard to turn back. You can't serve stuffing without the gravy, and what's turkey without stuffing, and of course you need cranberry relish to go with the turkey. And on and on.

In the end, I decided to make short ribs from the cookbook Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The recipe includes the usual short rib ingredients: wine, celery, carrots, and herbs, plus a few surprising extras like pearl onions and Swiss chard. The meat simmered all morning as we watched the dog show on TV, one of my favorite Thanksgiving day activities. Some rituals can't be messed with.
After several rounds of bacon-wrapped dates and fuji apple-ginger beer-lime cocktails (soo good, make them now!), I served the short ribs atop a bed of Swiss chard and pearl onions with celery root puree on the side. Oh, and an apple-blue cheese salad to start. More on that later.

We picked up our forks and tore into the meat. It was so tender and juicy, knives weren't really necessary. Did it feel like Thanksgiving? Sort of. I wasn't surrounded by the rest of our family, and there was no stuffing on my plate. But everything tasted delicious, and it felt liberating to do something different.

When you are confronted with countless articles and ads about pie crust and turkey the entire month leading up to Thanksgiving, it's tempting to throw in the towel completely. But it's not something most people do. Instead we recreate the same meal over and over again. Because Aunt Alice would be disappointed if there was no green bean casserole, or Dad would complain if you didn't make his favorite pumpkin pie. Although my tastes have grown past Jell-O salads, I still look forward to my grandma's cranberry sauce every year. The holidays are often tied to peoples' expectations. And it can be nice to meet those expectations, to please someone with a dish they've grown up eating every Thanksgiving.

But sometimes it's nice to be free of all of that, to celebrate things in your own way. To serve whatever you want, to not eat at 5 o'clock, to use the fancy napkins and china, or not. To be able to listen to the new Kanye album as you sear your short ribs in your pajamas, watching the parade of cute dogs on TV.

Thanksgiving 2010
Cider-ginger beer sparklers
Bacon-wrapped dates
Olives and nuts
Apple, blue cheese, and walnut salad with pomegranate dressing
Braised short ribs with Swiss chard and pearl onions
Celery root puree
Ginger-apple crisp a la mode

Braised beef short ribs
From Sunday Suppers at Lucques via Smitten Kitchen. I skipped the horseradish cream that is included in the original recipe, and served celery root puree instead of mashed potatoes. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to make this dish. One day for seasoning the meat overnight in the fridge, and another to make the dish. You can also allow for an extra day to chill the short ribs overnight, then scrape off the fat that has risen to the top. I didn't have time for that and made the recipe as written below.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

6 beef short ribs, about 14 to 16 ounces each (ask for 3 bone center-cut)
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. thyme leaves, and 4 whole sprigs thyme
1 Tbsp. freshly cracked black pepper
3 dozen small pearl onions (I used 1 bag of frozen pearl onions)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced carrot
1/3 cup diced celery
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups port (I substituted extra beef stock)
2 1/2 cups hearty red wine
6 cups beef or veal stock
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
2 bunches Swiss chard, cleaned, center ribs removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the short ribs with 1 tablespoon thyme and the cracked black pepper. use your hands to coat the meat well. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Take the short ribs out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking, to come to room temperature. After 30 minutes, season them generously on all sides with salt. When you take the ribs out of the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Toss the pearl onions with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon thyme, 3/4 teaspoons salt, and a pinch of pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast them about 15 minutes, until tender. When they have cooled, slip off the skins (if they are not pre-frozen and have skins) with your fingers and set aside. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees.

When it’s time to cook the short ribs, heat a large Dutch oven [or a large saute pan, if you would like to use a separate braising dish; I aimed to use fewer dishes] over high heat for 3 minutes. Pour in 3 tablespoons olive oil, and wait a minute or two, until the pan is very hot and almost smoking. Place the short ribs in the pan, and sear until they are nicely browned on all three meaty sides. Depending on the size of your pan, you might have to sear the meat in batches. Do not crowd the meat or get lazy or rushed at this step; it will take at least 15 minutes. (Deb notes that this step takes closer to 45 minutes if you're really thorough.) When the ribs are nicely browned, transfer them to a plate to rest.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the onion, carrot, celery, thyme springs, and bay leaves. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping up all the crusty bits in the pan. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to caramelize. Add the balsamic vinegar, port, and red wine. Turn the heat up to high, and reduce the liquid by half.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. (Because my stock pot was slightly small, I did not use the entire amount of stock.) Arrange ribs in the pot, lieing flat, bones standing up, in one layer. If you used a saute pan for previous steps, transfer the ribs to a braising pan at this point. Scrape any vegetables that have fallen on the ribs back into the liquid. The stock mixture should almost cover the ribs. Tuck the parsley sprigs in and around the meat. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven for about 3 hours.

To check the meat for doneness, remove the lid and foil, being careful of the escaping steam, and piece a short rib with a paring knife. When the meat is done, it will yield easily to a knife. Taste a piece if you are not sure. (If you would like to cook these a day ahead, this is where you can pause. The next day, you can remove the fat easily from the pot -- it will have solidified at the top -- bring these back to a simmer on the stove or in an oven, and continue.)

Let the ribs rest 10 minutes in their juices, and then transfer them to a baking sheet. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. Place the short ribs in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes to brown.

Strain the broth into a saucepan, pressing down on the vegetables with a ladle to extract all the juices. Skim the fat from the sauce (if you made these the day before, you will have already skimmed them) and, if the broth seems thin, reduce it over medium-high heat to thicken slightly. Taste for seasoning.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Tear the Swiss chard into large pieces. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the pan, and stir in the cooked pearl onions. Add half the Swiss chard, and cook a minute or two, stirring the greens in the oil to help them wilt. Add a splash of water and the second half of the greens. Season with a heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of ground black pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring frequently, until the greens are tender.

Place the Swiss chard on a large warm platter, and arrange the short ribs on top. Spoon lots of braising juices over the ribs. Yum.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

link-o-rama: details, details

Chances are, if you're hosting or attending a Thanksgiving dinner this week, you've probably got your menu or token dish sorted out. (And if not, here's some links to help.) All that usually remains in the days leading up to the Big Feast are the little details. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you out. If you're celebrating, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Entertaining advice (for Thanksgiving and beyond) from Clinton Kelly [via Epicurious]

Easy Thanksgiving tabletoppers [via BHG]

Fancy floral centerpiece ideas from Design*Sponge [via D*S]

A step-by-step guide to making a classic Thanksgiving floral arrangement [via Epicurious]

And more pretty ideas via Kim Vallee [via At Home with Kim Vallee]

Finger food recipes
for pre-meal snacking [via Martha Stewart]

A video tutorial on how to carve a turkey [via Serious Eats]

And to get all your ducks in a row, here's last-minute checklists for Thanksgiving hosts and potluck hosts [via Real Simple & Yahoo Shine]

Monday, November 22, 2010

guest post: turkey day snacks

Today we have a timely guest post from Casey Barber of Good. Food. Stories. on Thanksgiving Day snacks, for both the cook and the guests. Thanks, Casey!
"A word about Mrs. Flax and food: the word is 'hors d'oeuvre.' Fun Finger Foods is her main source book and it's all the woman cooks." Winona Ryder, Mermaids

Cher had it right. Maybe I was warped by too much movie-watching during my teenage years, but like Rachel Flax, I firmly believe that finger foods are the best parts of any meal.

This goes double for Thanksgiving. When one is tied to making the same potato gratin year after year because the family won't have it any other way, appetizers allow a experimentally-addicted cook to sneak in some unexpected flavors without causing chaos among the nearest and dearest gathered in the dining room.

And though I might not serve cheese ball pick-me-ups accompanied by miniature franks and marshmallow kebabs, I've been known to sneak things that really have no business at Thanksgiving, like deviled eggs, beet-pickled deviled eggs, cheese-and-almond-stuffed peppadews, and a plate of rumaki or two onto my menu this way. No one's made a peep of complaint, not even the folks who are first in line for the cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.

When planning your hors d'oeuvre sneak attack during a big meal like Thanksgiving, logistical concerns should help dictate your choices. Melissa Clark, the always-practical writer, suggests you pick an appetizer or two that can double as a lunch snackie for the hungry head cook. As someone who ends up eating random cheese ends and half the olive plate before it heads out into the dining room, this is a movement I can certainly get behind.

I also recommend choosing nibbles that can be served at room temperature, so if you and your guests are waiting for the turkey to hit its mark, you won't need to worry about reheating the first round of finger foods.

Meeting all these requirements and more are the humble arancini: Italian rice balls. Arancini are filling little buggers, so you don't need to make hundreds of them to keep the hordes satisfied‚ two or three per person are suitably ample. Though they're traditionally deep-fried and served piping hot, the following Food & Wine recipe lets you bake the arancini rather than frying to order, which makes me ever so happy.

Feel free to make these the night before Thanksgiving and throw them into the oven for a few minutes as soon as you remove the turkey. Like most Italian dishes, they also taste just as good eaten cold as breakfast leftovers.

Arancini with gruyere and parmesan
Adapted from Food & Wine.
(makes approximately 36 rice balls)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups water
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup panko
1/2 cup coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, divided in half
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced
2 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, minced
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Heat the olive oil in a high-sided saucepan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the shallot and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes or until softened. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil and aromatics, then add the water and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice completely absorbs the water. Transfer the rice to a large bowl and place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to cool.

While the rice is cooling, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the panko and half the Parmesan (1/4 cup).

Remove the bowl from the fridge, stir all the Gruyere, the remaining half the Parmesan, and all the herbs into the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then gently stir the egg whites into the rice.

Roll the rice mixture into 1-inch balls, dredge with the panko-Parmesan coating, and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Friday, November 19, 2010

link-o-rama, turkey day edition

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and unlike last year, I haven't even started planning. Crazy, right? Maybe my slacking is due to the fact that it's probably just going to be me and Dan this year and I'm starting to rethink the idea of turkey for two. If you're like me, here are some Thanksgiving-themed links to help get you back on track. Or, if you're Sally Organized, maybe these ideas will help you finalize your game plan.

Chef's tips for a Thanksgiving meal (have lots of chicken stock on hand, cut up your bird before cooking it(?), choose your battles) [via NYT]

Worried about getting everything done on time? Here's how to create a Thanksgiving day timeline (plus a handy download!) [via Good Food Stories]

Bargain wines for Thanksgiving [via Food & Wine]

A Thanksgiving turkey slideshow plus recipes [via Bon Appetit]

And Bon Appetit's "ultimate Thanksgiving guide" with recipes for gravy, sides, desserts, and more [via Bon Appetit]

10 fast side dishes (braised greens with tomatoes, oven-roasted cauliflower) [via Food & Wine]

Marilyn Monroe's recipe for stuffing
. Really! [via NYT]

And my Thanksgiving menu from last year:
Cranberry-lime sparklers
Foie gras with cornichon, homemade mustard, and crackers
Turkey and gravy
Mushroom-herb stuffins
Mashed sweet potatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon

Cranberry relish
Chai tea
Pumpkin mousse parfaits

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

zuni cafe roasted chicken and bread salad (omg)

I'm sorry if I've been a downer lately, but I feel like I've been on a mediocre dinner party streak. It happens to the best of us, as we saw in the comments section. But culinary redemption is always just one good recipe away, right? And if you're looking for a way to break out of the cooking doldrums, I've got that very recipe for you.

Zuni Cafe
's roasted chicken made the blog rounds years ago, and while I love a good roasted bird, the recipe seemed overly fussy in spite of the deafening hype. People looove this damn chicken but the recipe is three pages long. Shouldn't roasted chicken be a simple endeavor? And anyway, I already had a favorite chicken recipe--or so I thought.

Recently, I rediscovered Deb's tweaked version over at Smitten Kitchen. (Yes, this is Smitten Kitchen week over here.) Although the recipe still seemed fairly complicated, she took out a lot of the superfluous stuff and whittled it down to the main essentials. Which is why we all love Deb.

So I tried it out on a Sunday night for Dan and myself. And, wow. That favorite chicken recipe of mine? Out the window. What seemed like a lot of steps on paper actually turned out to be not that much work and resulted in the perfectly golden brown bird of my dreams. Not to mention the absolutely delicious bread salad,
a stuffing-like take on panzanella, that goes with it. You could skip this side dish but I can't think of a reason why that would be a good idea. 
After my trial run, I made the chicken again (along with some roasted vegetables) for a cozy Sunday night dinner with two out-of-town friends. And, double success! Maybe the meal was especially great because I rarely get to see these friends, or maybe because I pre-tested this recipe, or maybe because this chicken is really effing delicious.

So why is this chicken so awesome? The recipe includes several techniques that make a difference--and that you can apply to your favorite roasted chicken recipe, if you can't let go of your old standby:

Obsessive drying
Most recipes tell you to wash and pat your chicken dry. This recipe is almost obsessive about this step. Why? A wet chicken will steam instead of turning golden brown. A dry bird also sticks less to the pan, leaving you with more crispy skin to eat! So grab some paper towels and get to blotting.

2. Pre-salted

Salting the bird at least a day in advance helps lock in moisture and some say it also improves the flavor of the meat. And you can leave the salted chicken in the fridge for up to three days.

3. Herbs under the skin

Seems like a small thing, but slipping a few herbs under the skin of the chicken really infuses the bird with flavor.

4. No extra oil or fat

I usually slather my chicken with olive oil before putting in in the oven. Some people do the same with butter. In this recipe no extra fat is needed. The chicken renders its own fat, leaving the skin crisp and the meat juicy, not greasy.

5. Resting

It's hard not to tear into a perfectly roasted chicken the minute it comes out of the oven but if you let the bird rest for awhile, it's worth the self-restraint. Like letting a steak rest before you slice it, this will help retain the juices and make the chicken more succulent. 

Are you sold yet? Here's the recipe.

Zuni Cafe's roasted chicken
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and the Zuni Cafe cookbook from the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco

(Serves 4 people)

1 small (preferably organic) chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 lbs.
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
About 1 Tbsp. salt
3/4 to 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
A little water

1 to 3 days before serving, prepare the chicken. Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or a large cast iron pan (which is what I used). Preheat the pan on the stovetop over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place the chicken in the hot pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set it on a plate to rest. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. (I skipped this step.) Let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or the bread salad, below).

Warm your serving platter in the oven under low heat, if desired. (Make sure your platter is oven-proof!)

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Cut the chicken into pieces and serve on the platter or on top of the bread salad.

Zuni Cafe bread salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and the Zuni Cafe cookbook. The cookbook describes this as “a warm mix of crispy, tender, and chewy chunks of bread, a little slivered garlic and scallion, a scatter of currants and pine nuts, and a handful of greens, all moistened with vinaigrette and chicken drippings.” Yum.
I tweaked this recipe a tad to save a pan, but it's pretty perfect as-is.
(Serves 4 people)

1 baguette, or an 8 oz. loaf of peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 Tbsp. mild-tasting olive oil

2 Tbsp. Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp. dried currants plumped in 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar and 1 Tbsp. warm water for ten minutes or so
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions)
A few spoonfuls of chicken drippings, reserved from the chicken (or chicken stock, or lightly salted water)
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens

Preheat your broiler. Cut up a baguette into irregular 2- to 3-inch chunks, wads, bite-sized bits and fat crumbs, enough to make 4 cups.

Toss the bread cubes with a few tablespoons of olive oil and broil them for about five minutes. If you’d like to toast the pine nuts (recommended) you can sprinkle them over the bread about halfway through the cooking time. Be careful, they burn easily.

Whisk about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. (Kitchen tongs are great for this.) Add a little more salt and pepper, if needed, and toss again.

Heat the pan you cooked the chicken in over medium-low heat. Add the the garlic and scallions, and cook, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape the garlic and scallions into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts, if they were not already mixed with the bread scraps from the broiling step. Dribble a few spoonfuls of the reserved chicken drippings (or stock or water) over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread — a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.

The easiest thing is to pile the bread salad on a big platter, tent it with foil, then place the cut-up chicken on top just before serving. If you want to serve the bread salad on the side, place it in a 1-quart shallow baking dish. (Hang onto the bowl you mixed it in—you’ll use it again.) Put the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, for about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour the hot bread salad back into the salad bowl. Drizzle and toss with another spoonful of drippings. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again, then serve.

Monday, November 15, 2010

what's for dinner, deb perelman?

Does Deb Perelman, proprietress of Smitten Kitchen, need an introduction? If you read food blogs, it's a safe bet that you read and love hers. Smitten Kitchen is one of the most popular and highly regarded food sites not only for Deb's funny, down-to-earth voice and mouthwatering photographs, but for her ability to curate (and tweak) a constant stream of appealing recipes, from elaborate cakes to homey pastas. And she makes all of this beautiful food in a tiny New York City kitchen which is no small feat! Deb graciously took time away from her many projects (and her adorable young son) to talk about her entertaining philosophy. Hope you enjoy!

1. Name, occupation, and city

Deb Perelman, freelancer/dilettante, New York City

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
A terribly long time ago, as we have a baby who goes to bed early and a small apartment. But I used to have people over all of the time, generally just a few of my friends who live in the city and can get together at the last minute, often on a weekday night, and usually because I made too much lasagna again.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
My two favorites are
Julia Child's Moules a la Mariniere and baked pommes frites with a big green salad, crusty bread and dense chocolate brownies for dessert and this onion tart with mustard and fennel and Susanne Goin's ridiculously amazing braised short ribs with swiss chard, a potato puree and horseradish cream sauce. And a ridiculous amount of wine.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
I am picky about wine. I know what I like -- I'm especially fond of New York's North Fork wines and wish I could find them on more wine lists in the city -- but I sort of hate the "wine roulette", as I call it, of the odds of getting what you think you will when you order a glass out (and even if you do, if it's not lukewarm or been open for ages). Because of this, I've become more of a beer person when I'm out. A bottle of great beer will always taste like that bottle of great beer. And I get misty-eyed over a perfect Manhattan cocktail.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
Something unexpected: Beastie Boys with some 1970s-era Aerosmith plus some Duke Ellington and Patsy Cline. I want a surprise.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?
Whatever I was already making. Okay, that sounds terrible, but these days, while working on
my cookbook and website, there's always something cooking and a shortage of mouths to eat it up. Obviously, it's time to get back to having more dinner parties.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
By myself. I've never learned to delegate anything but dishes. Nor have I never had a kitchen that comfortably fit more than one person.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
Something is always store-bought. I love to cook but I'm not a martyr. If I'm having people over, I like to focus on one big ta-da and maybe a couple of sides and let New York City, and it's awesome range of resources, do the rest: Murray's for cheese, Balthazar for bread, an Italian market for olives, and so on. I am happy to "outsource" the filling out of a meal, so I don't look harried, exhausted and miserable by the time friends arrive for what was supposed to be a good time.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
Something compact. If you're going to do short ribs and soup and appetizers and sides for dinner, without a doubt, people will be glutted by the time dessert rolls around. I'm the kind of person who needs something sweet at the end of a meal, but I don't need a lot of it: small cookies, like Dorie Greenspan's incredible, now-classic
World Peace Cookies or something fun, like Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats, cut tiny. If it's more of a long afternoon thing, like friends watching a football game, I love this caramel cake or homemade oreos. Or doughnut holes.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
My kid? Okay, that's weird but he goes to bed really, really early these days so we've yet to experience many family dinners. Everyone loves a bottle-swigging, belching, belly-laugher at the table, right?


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