24 December 2013
So many people have family traditions of an elaborate christmas morning breakfast, full of every dish imaginable: sweet sticky cinnamon buns and coffee cakes, waffles and french toast drenched in syrup and buried in compotes, muffins bursting with blueberries or cranberries, platters of crispy bacon, savory sausage, or both, and of course the most classic of all breakfast foods: the egg.
We make none of these things. Instead, the traditional holiday breakfast around here is the bagel.
Bagels, unlike most of the breakfasts above, require almost zero effort. All you really need to do is slice them in half, toast them to your specifications, and spread them with your choice of deliciousnesses. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and you have the perfect breakfast.
But on a holiday morning like this, I want at least a little fance. This calls for a homemade schmear!
I decided to try out a combination I've had kicking around in my head for awhile: red onion and fresh dill. I wanted to add chopped capers as well, but our jar of capers turned out to be way too old to use, so I opted for black pepper instead. The results were not only delightfully crunchy, savory, and herbal, but also oddly reminiscent of my favorite egg salad. But then, I tend to use as much dill as possible there, so that makes sense.
If you aren't into red onion and dill, have some more schmear ideas: one and two. So many delicious combinations!
Red onion, dill, and black pepper schmear
plain yogurt or milk, optional
Finely mince about a quarter of a red onion. Pick the leaves off about ten stems of dill and chop them up too.
In a small bowl, combine a couple large slices of cream cheese with the red onion and dill. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over the top. Add a spoonful of yogurt or a small splash of milk for ease of mixability.
Mash everything together with a fork until well combined. Check out the ingredient proportions and add more of whatever you think might be lacking.
Spread your schmear on the toasted bagel of your choice. Eat with impunity.
Also, have a cup of coffee. COFFEE.
Now you will be well fortified to rip open presents.
Hope you all have a wonderful holiday and get some much-needed relaxation in!
22 December 2013
Yes, I did.
White grapefruit mimosa
freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice
dry sparkling wine
Combine equal amounts of juice and wine in champagne flute or coupe.
Don't even bother garnishing this. Just drink it.
If you have a mimosa tradition on Christmas morning? Try this. You won't be sorry.
20 December 2013
The other day I was super excited to find a big boxful of white grapefruit marked FREE in one of my neighbors' front yards. Backyard white grapefruit from someone's random tree! Very likely unsprayed, definitely unwaxed, off the tree for under 24 hours, beautiful and fragrant and abundant! I took four (leaving plenty behind for everyone else) and ran home to plot and plan.
Needless to say, I am totally enamored of white grapefruit. They're a lot more tart than the store standard ruby red, which means that freshly squeezed white grapefruit juice makes some truly superior cocktails. Grapefruit versions of mimosas and lemon drops? YES. So I knew I wanted the juice first and foremost. But I also took one look at the beautiful peels and decided it was time for my first foray into candied citrus.
I looked at the Joy of Cooking only to discover their recipe involved quite a lot of corn syrup. That's clearly not happening at our house. But fortunately, what popped up in my blog reader? The Tart Tart's candied citrus peel recipe!. Linda made some amazing-looking candied peel with no corn syrup in sight--just a plain simple syrup combination of sugar and water. Perfect. I broke out my knife and got to work.
As you might imagine, you don't have to stick with white grapefruit. Ruby reds, various oranges and tangerines, lemons, and limes should all produce different tasty candied peels. Hooray!
Candied white grapefruit peel
Adapted from the Tart Tart's candied citrus peel.
3 white grapefruits
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
additional water to blanch
additional sugar to coat
Start by scrubbing and peeling your grapefruit. I made mine by slicing off the top and bottom of each fruit, putting it down on its flat surface, and cutting several vertical slices of peel as I worked my way around the circumference. Then I cut each peeled fruit in half, squeezed out the juice, and reserved it for later.
While this peeling method worked well, it also produced thick slices of peel with a lot of bitter pith attached. I might try using a standard vegetable peeler for future endeavors, since those catch much less pith.
Cut your peels into narrow strips approximately half an inch wide, or into your choice of shape. Put them into a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring the pan to a boil, and then turn off the heat and drain off the hot water. Cover with cold water again and repeat this blanching step. Then repeat it one more time. Your peels should be soft and flexible and a bit squishy to the touch.
Give your peels a few minutes to cool before using a small paring knife or a spoon to cut or scrape off as much white pith as you can. Go to town with this, since pith is bitter and yet you want a reasonably sweet finished peel. Be gentle but thorough, since it can be easy to tear the softened peels. Also? If you are tall, you'll want to stand at a reasonably high counter, since otherwise I guarantee you will end up working at a super uncomfortable angle. Actually, make sure you have a good work surface no matter how tall you are. I just personally have the tall-person-at-a-short-counter experience.
We're ready to candy our peels! Start by heating an equal amount of sugar and water in your saucepan, swirling gently until the sugar has dissolved. I used 2 cups apiece, but if you're making a larger or smaller batch of peel you'll want to adjust accordingly.
When your sugar has dissolved, add your prepared peels. Bring the whole business to a slow simmer and cook until your peels are translucent and your syrup has thickened slightly. This took me something like an hour and fifteen minutes, but you'll want to start checking after half an hour or so, since the time depends on the thickness of your peels.
Spread your finished peels in one layer on a drying rack and let dry for about two hours. You'll probably want to put the rack over a cutting board or something similar to catch any sugary drips.
Finish your candied peels by tossing them to coat in a bowl of granulated sugar. Put them back on the rack (rinsed and dried, if it was totally sticky) to dry out for several more hours or overnight. Voila: a beautiful array of candied grapefruit peels!
And then? You can dip them in melted chocolate, chill them, and give them away to all your friends. Or chop them into little bits and bake them into cookies. Or arrange them in a pattern across the top of a glazed citrusy cake. Or just put a little dish out along with the rest of your holiday sweet spread and let everyone go to town.
Keep those holiday treats coming! What are you making with your fresh winter citrus?
15 December 2013
Are you ready to descend into the holiday cookie vortex? I mean, the entire foodblogging population seems to be there already, wildly waving quarter sheet pans and spatulas and sporting an amazing array of holiday aprons as they spin through billowing gusts of flour and sugar. Let's go!
First on the agenda: dried tart cherry rum orange shortbread cookies. Super festive!
I have a taste for teeny tiny cookies, and also for homemade slice-and-bakes. So what did I do? I made a simple shortbread dough and mixed it up with fresh orange zest and dried tart cherries soaked in rum. I made the dough into four long, thin rolls, squared them off (just for a change--although round cookies are probably technically superior since they don't have any corners sticking out for accidental burning), let them chill, and cut them into a plethora of little squares. Then I baked them and cooled them and wow! Tender, fruit-filled cookies for all!
I made these for our annual knitters' cookie exchange, which meant I needed a whole lot of cookies to divide up and distribute. One batch of dough made roughly 180 tiny cookies. Perfect! If you make bigger rolls of dough, you will get fewer cookies, but it's still going to be the same amount of overall goodness, so hey.
I actually only had to bake half the dough to get a full complement of cookies for all; the other half is still hanging out in our fridge, waiting for future cookie-baking endeavors (i.e. for us to eat all the other cookies I brought home from said exchange). This brings us to another selling point: you can make up a couple rolls of dough, refrigerate or freeze them, and bake whenever you so desire. Super convenient for those late-night cookie impulses.
Also, the leftover rum that the cherries didn't soak up? HIGHLY recommended. There was only a tiny bit left in my pan, but it was amazing: almost like a cherry-flavored port. I'm definitely going to experiment with infusing a batch of dried tart cherry rum now.
Dried tart cherry rum orange shortbread cookies
Adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches' cranberry rum shortbread cookies.
1 cup dried tart cherries
1/2 cup plain old white rum
1 cup softened butter
zest of one orange
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
Start by finely chopping your cherries. This will be especially important if you want to make tiny cookies; big chunks of cherry tended to encourage crumbling in the finished product. You can avoid that by chopping your cherries now. The smaller your cookies, the tinier your cherry pieces should be for overall physical stability. My cherries were too big. Take note!
Put your cherries and your rum in a small saucepan. Bring the pan to a boil, lid, and turn off the heat. Let the cherries soak up all the rummy goodness for at least half an hour.
To make the dough, cream together your butter, orange zest, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Sift the remaining dry ingredients together in another bowl (I actually did the separate dry mixture this time! A culinary first). Add the dry mix to the wet in batches, beating well with a wooden spoon or the implement of your choice. You may need to get in there and use your hands with the last batch of dry ingredients. Add the drained cherries and mix or knead to distribute them throughout the dough.
Separate your dough into four equal parts. Form each part into a roll, wrap in plastic wrap or foil, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. At this point you can also chuck a roll or two in the freezer to save for later instant-cookie baking.
To bake, preheat your oven to 375F. Cut a roll or two of your dough into quarter-inch slices and arrange them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for about ten minutes, checking a bit earlier if you're making particularly tiny cookies. Your cookies are done when they are set and have turned lightly golden around the edges. Let cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes before removing to a rack.
Eat with tea, coffee, or the proverbial nog. Or pack your cookies into bags and send them home with all your friends! It's all good.
What kind of cookies are you baking this holiday season?
11 December 2013
Okay! Who's ready for holiday cheer? I certainly am. So, to kick off the season, let's make a batch of liquid Christmas.
What is liquid Christmas? It's a beautiful sweet-tart BRIGHT RED liqueur made with fresh cranberries and citrus zest: super festive and super delicious.
I first heard of this combination about two years ago on a certain Ravelry message board. The original version called for cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg along with the cranberries and zest. My version is stripped down to the bare essentials--cranberry, orange, and vodka--for a clean and versatile liqueur. After all, you can always make a spiced simple syrup for future cocktail application, right?
This liqueur is great in all kinds of cocktail applications. Tiny chilled sips are excellent straight, and a simple mix with tonic works perfectly. Best of all, add half a shot to a champagne flute, top it up with the sparkling wine of your choice, and garnish with a twist of orange peel. Beautiful pink champagne cocktails for everyone!
Making liqueurs, as always, is easy. The only real requirements are patience and forethought, since they do take time to infuse. I like to give this one approximately three weeks to steep, but you can go a little shorter or longer as you prefer. Two weeks should be fine, and will ensure drinkability by Christmas. And if you want to steep yours longer, never fear! There's always New Year's Eve!
(aka cranberry orange liqueur)
1 lb fresh or frozen cranberries
zest of 2-3 oranges
up to 750 ml vodka
simple syrup to taste
quart mason jar or other receptacle of your choice
Wash your cranberries and give them a rough chop. Zest your oranges, taking care to avoid the white pith. You can leave your strips of zest in big pieces with no problem.
Put everything in a mason jar or two, filling each container approximately 1/2 to 3/4 full of fruit. Add vodka to fill to the top of the jar. Lid and stow in a dark cupboard to age. Shake occasionally during the steeping period.
When your steeping period is over, strain out and discard the fruit. You may need to strain a few times through coffee filters or other very fine sieves to ensure that you eliminate all the solids.
Sweeten your liqueur to taste with simple syrup. I'd start by adding 1/4 of a cup, taste, and adjust from there. Since this liqueur is cranberry-based, it will be tart to begin with, so you may decide to add quite a bit of syrup. It really depends on on your personal tastes.
Makes approximately 1.5 pints of liqueur.
Basic simple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
(or any equal amount of sugar and water)
Combine your sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat over medium swirling occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Let cool and decant into a bottle or jar. Use to sweeten your liqueur to taste. Any leftovers can be used in the cocktail recipe of your choice.
What concoctions are you drinking this holiday season?
09 December 2013
Before we jump entirely into the holiday fray, let's talk about one more ordinary thing.
Nearly instant lunch? Yes.
Get yourself some crackers, crispbread, or actual bread of your choice. This is sourdough crispbread, which is delicious & optimal, but you can pretty much use any bread-type item you have lying around.
Spread your crispbread with cream cheese. Sprinkle with pickled peppers, or fresh chopped bell peppers if you prefer. (You totally want pickled peppers, however. I've been making these pickled peppers from Emmycooks for a good year, and I plan to continue for the foreseeable future. SO GOOD.) Do you want to add any other raw veg? Go for it.
Add chopped parsley. Grind some black pepper over the whole plate.
Hey, look! Lunch!
Have an apple or a couple of clementines and feel well satisfied.
Tomorrow (or whenever I next post): HOLIDAY ZOMGG
08 December 2013
Who wants immediate dinner? I definitely do. Check out the contents of your crisper and let's go.
First, put some brown rice in the rice cooker (or use a pot, whatever). Turn it on and let cook until done.
Chop up some onion, mushroom, orange bell pepper (these have been big in our house this season because they are cheaper than red or yellow but taste nearly the same), and parsley. Wash, destem, and roughly chop a bunch of spinach. Throw the washed stems in the freezer to save for veg stock. Do you have other veg you want to use? If so, go for it.
Add some oil or butter to the wide frying or saute pan of your choice. Throw in the onion and cook to soften. Add the mushroom; season with salt and paprika, stir, and cook. Give it up to ten minutes, stirring occasionally, for the mushrooms to cook down and start turning golden.
Add the bell pepper and any other herbs or spices you think sound delicious. I think I put some marjoram in this one. Marjoram is one of the most underused & delicious herbs out there, in my opinion.
When your bell pepper is cooked, add all the spinach to the pan. Stir everything up and cook until the greens are wilted. This should take maybe a minute total.
Turn off the heat and stir in your parsley and a substantial grinding of black pepper.
Serve a scoop of rice and top with veg. If you have some parmesan around, you can grate a big cloud of it over your serving. Or you can cube some mozzarella or other mild white cheese and bury it in your veg to let it melt. Grind some more black pepper over all.
You'll notice that this pan of veg could totally take some cooked chickpeas or white beans. You would be correct. This time I wanted cheese, but beans are absolutely another good way to bulk this up and make it a complete & potentially vegan dinner.
In conclusion, hooray! Hot delicious dinner!
03 December 2013
You can absolutely rise to meet the challenge of the delicious fall salad. After all, with the waning of the year come two of those most amazing categories of edibles: apples and nuts. As long as you have access to some salad greens, all you really need to do is add said apples and nuts. Dress your salad with your choice of vinaigrette and you're good to go.
So that's what I've been doing. This was not only the salad I made for Thanksgiving dinner (plus pomegranate arils in that case) but also the only one I've wanted to eat for weeks.
I think a crisp texture is best in this kind of salad, especially if you're going to serve it as a counterpoint to a plate of potatoes, rolls, and gravy. So I tend to choose sturdier salad leaves, such as romaine or butter (yes, they have good texture, especially at the core), and use crisp apples, like fuji or honeycrisp. The nuts are crunchy by virtue of roasting. Put it all together and you have a mouthful of delightful & refreshing salad. Hooray!
I prefer almonds above other nuts, although I am also totally planning to use some of my leftover cashew, walnut, and almond mix from T-day in the next incarnation of this salad. Any good roasted almond presents a great counterpoint to the tartness of apple. Lately I've been going for the super-indulgent sesame-glazed almonds that Rodin Farms sells at our farmer's market. They are REALLY GOOD. I need to figure out how to replicate these guys at home, but until then, I am more than happy to eat plenty of theirs.
Fall salad with apples and almonds
Wash, dry, and chop your salad greens. Distribute them evenly among your plates.
Core an apple and cut it into appropriate chunks. Roughly chop a couple handfuls of nuts. Scatter handfuls of each over the plates of greens.
Dress with the vinaigrette of your choice, grind some black pepper over the top of each plate, and serve.
(You could, of course, dress and toss your entire salad together before serving it. I tend not to, because I am lazy. Besides, the layers makes for a much prettier presentation.)
1 tbsp champagne vinegar (or your choice)
4-5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
good grind of pepper and shake of salt
handful of finely chopped fresh parsley
Put all the ingredients in a small jar, lid, and shake until well emulsified. Shake again immediately before serving. Hooray!
Which salads are your fall favorites?
02 December 2013
Everyone needs some arts and crafts to start off the holiday right. We ate a lot of Paper Doll Parade's maple rosemary roasted nuts while searching through every shade of brown, orange, yellow, and red the Crayola 64 assortment had to offer.
This was the first Thanksgiving at which I've had meat since 2006. I made some salami tidbits (which, true to form, everyone stood around the stove and ate as soon as possible) and Veronica and Simon, who were so kind as to host, brined and roasted a chicken.
The full dinner menu: the aforementioned chicken, roasted potatoes and carrots, mashed sweet potatoes mirepoix, salad, and lots of gravy. I also made apple dumplings for dessert. Needless to say, everyone was VERY FULL.
Here's my plate before liberal application of gravy. SO MUCH GRAVY. That was by far the best part of having meat for Thanksgiving. I can totally cook and eat a gigantic vegan celebratory meal with no problem except for the lack of good gravy.
SO MANY LEFTOVERS. The chicken carcass got tossed immediately into a stockpot for stock. (I also made stock a couple days later from the few bones and skin and etc that came home with me.)
Of course you know what leftovers mean. They mean that the next morning you can cut open a bagel, toast it nicely, and layer on all the sweet potato, chicken, and salad greens in the land. Some cream cheese made an appearance as well. So did a big cup of hot black tea with the season's first big whack of eggnog.
Definitely the perfect ending to a celebratory weekend.
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!