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.


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