Sunday, December 30, 2012

NYE: Caprese Bruschetta and a Fizzy Cocktail

Here's a little something simple to treat yourself on New Year's Eve - a delicious appetizer that is deceptively impressive, and a surprising and refreshing cocktail.

Toasted, sliced baguette
Garlic cloves
Grape tomatoes
Pesto sauce

The bruschetta here is made with homemade mozzarella (impressive, but easy), sliced grape tomatoes and pesto sauce. Luckily, Elaine had some frozen from over the summer - but even store bought could suffice in this situation. The real star here is the cheese - I found the recipe here - she provides such great instructions that I'll not repeat them here - I will only say that you NEED TO FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS! For example, when she says to heat the curds until they start to get stringy, you should really do that. Or how she recommends using rubber gloves to handle the hot cheese? YES! Do that! Lastly, you will need some special ingredients, but I had no problem finding them online and they were very inexpensive, so completely worth it.

Elaine and I like to brush our baguette slices with olive oil, toast them, and then rub the cut side of a garlic clove all over them.

Place a slice of mozzarella on your toasts, then top with sliced grape tomatoes. Drizzle pesto over top. Consume with abandon.

Fizzy Cocktail Ingredients:
1 1/2 oz. Campari
Champagne flutes or wine glasses

Campari is a wonderfully bitter apertif with herby citrusy flavors - you will find it most commonly in a Negroni (equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari) or the Americano (equal parts sweet vermouth, Campari and soda water). It pairs wonderfully with a sweet prosecco. Add 1 1/2 ounces of Campari to a champagne flute or wine glass, top with prosecco. So easy!

Happy New Year everyone - we hope you have a safe, peaceful and prosperous 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Roast a Duck for Your Holiday, Serve with Savory Bread Pudding

Recently Jenean and I got together to make a lot of festive food - and when menu planning for it, we decided we wanted to try roasting a duck!  It might be a little late sharing this for you to try this Christmas, but consider it for your next big festive meal.  It's very rich, and a real change from the standard rotation our family tends toward (turkey, ham, lasagna, pork roast - all totally wonderful!  of course!)... one Christmas our dad tried roasting a goose, and truly no one enjoyed it.  But we thought duck was worth a try.

I was on duck duty, and Jenean made a tried-and-true stellar side dish she is known for - a spinach artichoke bread pudding (featuring chunks of brie!).  I'll start with the duck roast, and below that Jenean will tell you about the bread pudding.

It turns out to be relatively simple to roast a duck, and because duck is pretty much all dark meat, it's fairly forgiving as far as cooking time goes.  I used the advice in this article on martha stewart.  The article is very straightforward and helpful, but the only thing that is lame about it is only that it mentions an Orange Marmalade Pan Sauce without any actual recipe anywhere to be found.  I improvised one but I wasn't very happy with it - the fond (the brown bits) were too brown and too greasy to be a good basis for a sauce.  Next time, I will serve my roast duck with my homemade orange marmalade on the side (like cranberry sauce for turkey), or possibly with a mango chutney, or something similar.  The main reason for this is that the duck gives off such an incredible amount of fat during the roasting process that it seems hopeless to me to de-fat it enough to use the browned bits (the fond) to make a not-greasy pan sauce.

Roast Duck

Long Island/Peking Duck (5-6 pounds)
a piece of parchment paper about the size of the top surface of the duck

Remove the duck from its packaging, remove giblets and neck, and rinse with cool water inside and out.  Dry as thoroughly as possible.  If you have time, let the duck air dry, anywhere from an hour to overnight, uncovered in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Cut off the wing tips, and throw them in the roasting pan with the neck (or save both to make stock later).  With a very sharp knife, cut parallel diagonal slits 1 inch apart through the skin and most of the fat on duck breasts, being sure not to cut into the breast meat.  Turn the knife 45 degrees and cut more slits - creating a diamond pattern in the skin which will help the thick layer of fat render off.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper inside and out.  Place it on a rack in a deep roasting pan, breast side up.  To truss the legs without string, cut a small slits in the skin on each side of the cavity opening, and push the end of each drumstick into the slit on the opposite side.  Add about 1 cup of water to the roasting pan to prevent scorching.

Roast for 50 minutes; pull the roasting pan out of the oven and with a wad of paper towels in each hand, pick up the duck and tip it slowly - a lot of liquid will drain out of the cavity of the bird (be careful - it will splatter when it hits the hot duck fat in the roasting pan... use a LOT of paper towels).  Once it's fully drained, place the duck back on the rack, put the piece of parchment paper over the breast, and using the wadded paper towels, flip the bird breast side down on the roasting rack.

Roast for 50 minutes.  Using wadded paper towels or kitchen tongs, flip the duck so it is again breast side up, and roast for a final 50 minutes, or until deep golden brown.

Let it rest briefly before cutting it up and serving.

[To make the gravy (which I didn't love), I strained off as much of the fat as possible, then added finely chopped onion (would have used shallots if I'd had them).  Then I sprinkled in flour and stirred to make a roux with the remaining duck fat.  I added a few tablespoons of sherry, a cup of chicken stock, and water enough to make a good pouring consistency, then added orange marmalade I had made.  I think regular store bought marmalade might have been better in this situation...  I seasoned with salt and pepper.  But it wasn't my favorite pan sauce ever.]

Savory Spinach and Artichoke Bread Pudding:

This is an Emeril Lagasse recipe and will satisfy your starch, veggie and cheese craving - I love it and could eat the whole pan myself.

1 loaf day old French bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (you should have 12-14 cups of cubed bread)
2 8.5 oz cans artichoke hearts - quarter and remove and tough outer leaves
2 packages frozen spinach - you can use fresh, but then you have to add the extra step of blanching the spinach, no thanks.
2 cups chopped onions
1 Tbs chopped garlic
1 Tbs plus 2 tsp Italian seasoning
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
6 eggs
1 lb brie (YES!!)
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup minced flat leaf parsley

Begin by heating the olive oil in a large pan and sauteing your onions until they are golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, 2 tsp Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Add the artichokes and saute for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, lemon juice, remaining 1 Tbs of Italian seasoning, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Add the bread cubes, artichoke and onion mixture, cubed brie, 1/4 cup Parmesan and parsley and stir. The original recipe calls for you to take the rind off the brie - I never do and everything is fine. I happen to like the way it tastes and I would eat it if I was just having the cheese as is so I figure it's fine. It you don't like it for any reason, definitely remove it. Allow the bread to absorb most of the liquid - you may have to let it rest for up to 20 minutes for this to happen.

Pour the bread mixture into a greased 9 x 13 dish. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the center is firm and the top is golden brown, about 1 hour.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Cookie Central

Jenean and I have been making a bunch of different kinds of cookies and sweet treats these days, getting ready for various holiday events, and thought we'd share our favorite recipes with you, our two dear readers.

Clockwise from the top around the outside of the plate we have:
A Gingerbread Man, English Toffee,  Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies, Chocolate Mint Cookies, Black-Bottom Coconut Bites (located at 6 o'clock just above the Chocolate Mint Cookies), Frosted Sugar Cookies, and Dorie Greenspan's Beurre and Sel Jammers.

Gingerbread Cookies:
I make these every year, and I think I make them from a different recipe every year.  This year, I tried the recipe posted on facebook by James Norton, aka's Supertaster.  It's his grandmother's recipe, and I really like it!  Straightforward, very tasty!  He gives baking time in a range from 5-15 minutes - 5 will get you a nice soft and chewy cookie (my preference), 10 was mostly crisp with a little remaining chewiness in the middle, and 15 would be good only for making gingerbread houses, or for a crumble to stir into pumpkin ice cream (i.e. too crispy for eating on their own, in my opinion).  The only change I made was to add more of all the spices, subbing allspice for cloves, and also I added freshly grated nutmeg.  This made two big plastic wrapped rounds that will make more than enough gingerbread for several parties and gift platters (maybe 20-30 men?).  I tried a royal icing recipe this year, but that helped me figure out that I really prefer to just add milk a little at a time to a bunch of powdered sugar until I get the consistency I want - it turns out (and I should probably have known this) royal icing is crazy stiff, best for gluing together gingerbread houses, not so much for using on cookies you want to eat.  I thinned the royal icing with milk, and then it worked fine.

English Toffee:
I got this wonderfully delicious and easy recipe from my friend Emily, who got it from the blog Girls Gone Child.  Scroll down - the toffee recipe appears after a great-looking Yorkshire Pudding recipe.  I made no change to this, except I used more like a heaping 1/2 cup of each kind of nut... I might even use slightly more next time (2/3 cup).  What I love the most about the recipe (aside from how easy and addictively delicious it is, just like Almond Roca!) is how the raw almonds go in with the melted sugar and butter, and the process of caramelization toasts the almonds till they're lovely golden brown inside.

Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies:
Jenean got these from Bon Appetit, and substituted pecans for the macadamia nuts called for.  I thought it was a lovely change.  These were buttery and not too sweet, with a little tang from the cranberry.  Find the recipe here.

Chocolate Mint Cookies:
Like a super classy girl scout thin mint!  Jenean got these from Bon Appetit as well.  Unlike their version which has only a chocolate drizzle, Jenean really racheted up the festive-factor with a sprinkle of crushed candy canes!  SO delicious, and small enough that you can eat two without feeling bad about it!  It's the kind of dough you roll into logs and slice, which is so nice to have around, for baking up when you need cookies.  Well wrapped, there's no reason the dough can't sit in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer even longer, before slicing and baking.

Black-Bottom Coconut Bites:
Jenean got these from Martha Stewart, where they are Black-Bottom Coconut Bars... she baked them in standard muffin tins to make individual servings.  With a brownie base, and a tender cakey coconut topping, they are remarkably good - moist and chewy, not alarmingly sweet, with a deep chocolatey flavor to balance the coconut.  I had one for breakfast, one for a pre lunch snack, and one as a part of my multi-cookie dessert.  I loved these, if you haven't figured it out yet.

Frosted Sugar Cookies:
I can't resist making a half ton of frosted sugar cookies every Christmas season.  I love all the funny shapes, and coloring them in every which way, and how the frosting seals itself onto the cookie (you have to let the frosting dry a couple hours before you let anyone eat them) and keeps it wonderfully delicious for days (even a week or two, if they last that long!).  The frosting and the cookie together equal far more than the sum of their parts.  I ran out of red food coloring, so I stuck with trees and starts...  I like to use Martha Stewart's simple sugar cookie recipe, and I usually add, in addition to vanilla extract, some finely grated lemon zest.  I used that thinned down royal icing from the gingerbread men for these, but you can make an easy frosting by mixing powdered sugar (start with 2 cups) with tiny amounts of milk slowly until you have a stirrable but not too thin consistency (go 1 teaspoon at a time, because you don't really need much and it's easy to go overboard... but if you do go overboard, fix it by adding more sugar till you like the consistency - not too runny, not too thick.  You'll know it's too thin if it dribbles right off the cookie, and it's too thick if you can't spread it around smoothly).  Add a little vanilla too if you like, though it's not necessary.  Then I divide up the white among a bunch of small bowls and dye each bowl a different color with food coloring.  I use toothpicks to spread the icing onto the cookies - I got this method from my friend Emily's mom, Alice.  It works great, very easy to shape the icing using the tip of the toothpick.

Beurre and Sel Jammers:
These are also from Bon Appetit's cookie slideshow.  From pastry chef Dorie Greenspan, the Beurre and Sel Jammers are 1) super delicious and 2) kind of a lot of steps, and ever so slightly fussy (rolling out the dough for the base of each cookie and freezing the rolled out dough for 2-3 hours seemed like more chilling than truly necessary, especially since you freeze them again after completing construction).  But I got to use my favorite organic raspberry spread in half of them, and my homemade orange marmalade in the other half.  Except for shortening the chill times a bit, I pretty much followed it exactly, and they are delightful.  The crumble firms up on top of the cookie round, and melds with the jam/marmalade in a really nice way, and all the steps seem pretty worth it after all.  They don't keep for very long, maybe a day or two.

That's it for what we've made so far!  Some more treats we like to make at Christmas but haven't gotten around to (yet): Rum Balls and a version of my sugar cookies that ends up similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies - I add chopped walnuts to part of my sugar cookie dough along with orange zest and some orange juice, roll it into balls, bake, and roll in powdered sugar.  I also plan (before the season is out) to try a recipe for classic shortbread given to me by my friend Nina.  What are your favorite holiday treat recipes?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fernando's Whole Orange Marmalade

Axel F and I went to Mexico City for a few days last month, and it was such a great trip in so many ways, too numerous to go into here.  The food of course was particularly thrilling (Tacos al pastor! Horchata!  Mole!), and one thing I ate I instantly resolved to make when we got home - a whole orange marmalade that our host Fernando, at the Hostal del Maria Alma in Coyoacan, had made himself and served at breakfast (along with eggs, toast, guava, fresh squeezed grapefruit juice, rich coffee, and very interesting conversation).

I've never had marmalade anything like it - all other marmalades I've had have been sticky, overly sweet but also unpleasantly bitter, with hard bits of orange peel floating in a whole lot of sort of clear sugary stuff.  Fernando's marmalade was juicy, tender, and very orangey, with a bitter and sweet flavor I just loved... Fernando's marmalade is to regular marmalade as homemade strawberry preserves are to strawberry jelly - a real fruit experience, as opposed to fruit flavored candy.  I just wanted to keep loading it onto toast forever.  I asked him what he did to make it so incredibly, addictively delicious.  He said he used agave nectar instead of sugar (which explained why it was juicy and fruity rather than candied), and just cut up whole oranges (commercial marmalades seem to use only the peels, and not the flesh of the orange itself), and cooked it for four hours.  He also spiced it with cinnamon stick and star anise - which is a really... (if I may say) magical flavor with citrus.

Armed with this description, I gave it a try yesterday - and I think I nailed it!  This yielded quite a lot of marmalade, about 1 1/2 quarts.  It is dreamily delicious just spooned on buttered toast, but I'm thinking it would be incredible stuffed into croissants, baked into a tart or thumbprint sugar cookies, or even as an accompaniment or glaze for roasted meats.

Whole Orange Marmalade from Hostal Maria Alma

3 lbs. organic oranges (about 14 medium small oranges.  Fernando said he used Valencia, I used Florida oranges)
2 1/2 cups agave nectar (divided)
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick (mexican canela, if you can get it!)
2 star anise
5-8 whole green cardamom pods

Be sure to wash your oranges thoroughly.  And definitely use organic oranges - it is really necessary for this, since you're cooking and eating the whole thing.  The beauty is that they don't have to be those gorgeous, enormous orange monstrosities that cost an arm and a leg.

To prep the oranges, trim off both ends, and slice in half lengthwise down the middle.  Next time I will cut in half again lengthwise (in other words, cut the oranges into 4 lengthwise wedges instead of just in half) before cutting them into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Remove and discard any seeds as you go.

Very quickly I discovered that a serrated knife and a plastic cutting board to catch the juices were a much better plan and saved me many levels of aggravation.

This is all those oranges (the $5 bag I found at Whole Foods was about 14 small) sliced up.

Cinnamon stick, star anise (don't skip it!), cardamom pods (optional).

 2 cups of agave nectar goes into the pot with the sliced oranges and spices, along with a cup of water.  Bring it all to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.  When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to very low (though it should be bubbling gently in a couple of places) and cover.  Come back to stir now and then, for about 2 hours.

 After one hour.

After two hours.  At this point, I tasted it, and I felt it needed to be slightly sweeter, so I added another 1/2 cup of agave nectar.  Do this to taste - I think it will always depend on the sweetness of the particular oranges you get.  I was looking for a balance between bitter and sweet and slightly tart.

After three hours.  At this point, the flavor was great, but it was still pretty liquid.  So I removed the lid and upped the heat till it was bubbling a bit more quickly, and let it go one more hour uncovered, stirring often.  This was when I decided next time I'll quarter the oranges before slicing, because as they cooked the strips of peel seemed to get longer and longer, and I spent some time cutting as many in half with my wooden spoon as possible - not a hard task, because they were very tender, but the problem is easily solved with better planning!

After that fourth hour at a slightly higher temp, the marmalade had thickened up nicely, still juicy and lovely, but not runny.

I'm excited to give some as gifts, and have a lot for myself too.  Thank you, Fernando!