24 December 2013

Christmas morning red onion and dill schmear

Bagel with dill, red onion, and pepper schmear

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!

dill, red onion, and pepper schmear

Red onion, dill, and black pepper schmear

cream cheese
red onion
fresh dill
black pepper
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.

Bagel with dill, red onion, and pepper schmear

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

Did I say white grapefruit mimosas?

white grapefruit mimosa

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

Candied white grapefruit peel

candied white grapefruit peels

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.

white grapefruit windfall

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!

white grapefruit peel

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.

white grapefruit peels in syrup

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.

candied white grapefruit 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.

candied white grapefruit peels

Keep those holiday treats coming! What are you making with your fresh winter citrus?

15 December 2013

Dried tart cherry rum orange shortbread cookies

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

Liquid Christmas: cranberry orange liqueur

Liquid Christmas: cranberry orange liqueur

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!

Liquid Christmas: cranberry orange liqueur

Liquid Christmas
(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

A totally normal lunch

crispbread with cream cheese, pickled peppers, and parsley

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

A totally normal dinner

brown rice with spinach and mushroom

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

Fall salad with apples and almonds

apple and sesame almond salad

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.

apple and sesame almond salad

Fall salad with apples and almonds

salad greens
an apple
roasted 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.)

Basic vinaigrette

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

Thanksgiving in pictures

Hand turkeys for Thanksgiving 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.

Thanksgiving 2013 roasted chicken

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.

Thanksgiving 2013 roasted chicken, vegetables, etc.

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.

Thanksgiving 2013

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.

Thanksgiving 2013 leftovers

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.)

Thanksgiving leftovers bagel with chicken, sweet potato, cream cheese, and greens

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.

Thanksgiving leftovers bagel with chicken, sweet potato, cream cheese, and greens

Definitely the perfect ending to a celebratory weekend.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday!

25 November 2013

Judy's amazing apple dumplings

Judy's amazing apple dumplings

I can't wait any longer, you guys, even though I haven't made these myself yet. I have to tell you about Judy's amazing apple dumplings.

I am making these for Thanksgiving and they're going to be epic.

Picture this. You get a whole apple, filled with a sweet & chewy-crunchy mixture of chopped raisins and walnuts, wrapped in its own pastry crust, smothered in cinnamon sauce, and baked until golden brown and steaming. And then you get as much pouring cream as you please. Yeah.

I first had one of these guys at Danny and Bethany's birthday party a month ago. (Yes, October is well and truly birthday month for our peer group. It is EVERYONE'S birthday.) Since these are Bethany's usual birthday dessert, her mom Judy whipped up a huge triple batch of apple dumplings for everyone. There was also a half gallon of cream on the table to serve. I'm just saying.

Of course after that I really wanted the recipe, and Judy was kind enough to oblige. Hooray! Apple dumplings for everyone!

Judy theorized that this recipe may have come originally from an old edition of Betty Crocker. Since my own early 70s copy fell by the wayside some time ago, I searched around and turned up this similar but by no means identical apple dumpling recipe. So maybe someone tweaked that version until they made it their own.

The choice of apple is important: you want to use a flavorful cooking apple that will hold its shape well, such as Mutsu, Ida Red, Honeycrisp, or Cortland. I'm going to give Honeycrisps a try and see what happens.

These can be made vegan by switching out butter and cream with the vegan butter & cream subs of your choice. Yes! You too can have an entire apple encased in pastry all to yourself! Full disclosure, however: Judy said the vegan dough she made was softer & thus more difficult to work with, so you might want to build in plenty of chilling time. Then just get some coconut cream for garnish and you should be golden.

I'm planning to make my dumplings (and maybe sauce?) Wednesday, hold them overnight in the fridge, and bake them whenever it seems most appropriate on Thursday. A dessert you can prep in advance for Thanksgiving? Yes. Let's do it.

Judy's amazing apple dumplings
(Barely paraphrased from the recipe card itself.)

Cinnamon sauce:
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

Combine sugar, water & cinnamon. Cook 5 minutes & add butter. (Note: after making this, I'm thinking you want to boil hard for 5 minutes to really reduce. This will keep you from ending up with pastry sog on the bottom of each dumpling.)

6 apples
2 tbsp chopped raisins
2 tbsp chopped walnuts
1 tbsp honey

Peel & core your apples. Stuff with a mixture of raisins, walnuts, & honey.

2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening (read: butter)
1/3 cup cream

Sift the flour and salt together. Cut in shortening & blend with pastry cutter. Add cream. Mix & shape into ball. Roll out on floured board. Cut into 6 equal squares.

Put a stuffed apple in the center of each piece of pastry. Sprinkle with extra sugar and cinnamon & dot with butter. Fold corners to center & pinch edges together. Put your completed dumplings in a greased baking pan and pour the cinnamon sauce over all. Bake at 375F for 35 minutes, or until pastry is browned and apples are cooked through.

Serve with as much cream as you like.

21 November 2013

Salami tidbits

salami tidbits

Thanksgiving is suddenly next week! How did that happen? Clearly it is time to think about huge platters of appetizers. Okay! How about filling salami slices with a plentitude of delightful bits and pieces, making them into convenient bite-sized rolls, and frying them until hot and crispy?

We invented these guys several years ago, while we were living in Brooklyn and had access to the particularly amazing deli & meat counter at the Greene Grape Provisions. So much salami! Of course we had to find more ways for me to eat it than just in sandwiches, although those were well worth it too. This led to an evening of hovering over the stove, eating hot salami rolls right out of the pan. SO GOOD.

These tidbits would be especially good for a party because you can make a whole huge whack of them the day before, shove them in the fridge, and quickly fry them when you want to serve. It only takes about five minutes of last-minute cooking to produce a big platter of delicious bits. Hooray!

You'll want to either get your salami sliced to order at your local deli or buy it in pre-sliced packaged form. The thinness of the slices is key to making a tidbit that is flexible enough to roll, but not too greasy.

The other ingredients are easily interchangeable to your tastes. No mozzarella? Monterey jack, parmesan, or even a smear of cream cheese will be fine. Don't like mushrooms? Leave them out. Don't have bell peppers? Quarter some grape tomatoes instead. It's all good.

(The mushrooms up there were good too--stuff brown mushroom caps with simple pesto, add cheese if you want, and heat quickly under the broiler--but basil is pretty much over at this point, right?)

salami tidbits

Salami tidbits

thinly sliced hard salami, roughly 3-inch diameter
bell peppers (any color but green)
spinach or chard leaves
fresh parsley
good, solid wooden toothpicks (the cheap ones will break)
paper towels for blotting

Start by cutting all your cheese and vegetables into short, thin strips. The actual size will depend on the size of your salami slices. You want the fillings to fit securely inside a roll of salami for the duration.

Assemble your rolls by stacking a bit of each filling ingredient in a line down the middle of a piece of salami. Roll it up (or fold it in from both sides, depending on how full things are) and secure with a toothpick, punching in and out once like you're sewing a stitch. You don't have to go through the entire roll; just secure the loose ends of salami. Repeat until you have as many rolls as you want.

At this point you can cover your tidbits and put them in the refrigerator until right before you want to serve them.

salami tidbits

When you want to serve, heat the frying pan of your choice on medium. Fry your tidbits, shaking the pan occasionally, until they start turning golden brown and crispy on both sides. Since salami has plenty of fat to render, you won't need to add any extra oil. Use a big enough pan, and you can fry all your tidbits at once for a super fast finish.

Remove your finished rolls to a paper towel and blot briefly. Arrange on the plate of your choosing and serve hot.

Now try to leave a few for your guests instead of just eating them all yourself while standing around gossiping in the kitchen.

What kind of appetizers are you planning for your Thanksgiving festivity?

19 November 2013

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

This may sound weird at first, but stick with me.

You know how we talked about making your own schmears for bagels a few times before? That was clearly a good idea, right? Well, this is a very similar deal, but with cottage cheese and a touch of tangy yogurt or sour cream instead of cream cheese. It's still delicious, and it's still easy, and you can still make big tasty sandwiches with it.

While the first combination I learned is the most dear to my heart--green onion and radish with lots of cracked black pepper, aka salatka--any number of mixes of veg and herbs can go well with cottage cheese. The real question is: what's in your crisper?

This time I found a bag of salad sprouts along with a bunch of parsley and another of green onion: clearly a perfect herby, crunchy mix of vegetable flavors. I mixed everything together, spread the resulting excellence on pieces of sourdough crispbread, and voila! Lunch.

As always, the messiest food tastes the best.

Cottage cheese, mixed herbs, & pepper

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

green onion
parsley or other herbs of your choice
alfalfa/clover sprouts
cottage cheese
sour cream, greek yogurt, or labneh
salt, pepper
crispbread, crackers, or toast to serve

Chop up as much green onion, parsley, and sprouts as you want to eat. I ended up with maybe a half a cup in total. Put them in an appropriate mixing bowl.

Add a couple big spoonfuls of cottage cheese and one smaller spoonful of the sour tangy dairy element of your choice. Season with salt and pepper and stir everything together until well mixed.

Spread on crispbread, crackers, or toast of your choice, grind a little more pepper over the top--seriously, PEPPER--and eat.

Cottage cheese & mixed herb crisps

If you want to fance it up, that's easy enough. I just slivered up a little orange bell pepper and tossed some extra parsley on mine. For more vegetable content, you could also spread it on cucumber slices, red pepper boats, or mushroom caps. Or do a u-turn from the fancy and make a huge sandwich with toasty bread, cottage cheese mix, sliced cucumber, spinach, or whatever else you like as a true all-veg layer. It's so clearly all good.

What fast & easy concoctions are you eating lately?

11 November 2013

Pear schnapps and subsequent pear liqueur

homemade pear schnapps

Fall fruit, you guys. Let's preserve it in alcohol for a winter's worth of imbibing!

The trendy term "infusion" came into widespread use after I started making liqueurs, as far as I can tell. Instead, I use the term "schnapps," which is...the older term for an infusion in vodka or other alcohol! SHOCKING. The only difference I'm aware of is that contemporary infusions usually only steep for a day or two, while schnappses start out at a few days of steeping (for intensely flavored things like herbs), but often go on much longer. Since I'm all about aging my concoctions, the schnapps term is doubly appropriate.

Okay then! Let's make some schnapps!

I chose pear, because pear is one of the best of all fall fruits. Who doesn't want pear in cocktail form? I ask you.

Bartlett pear slice

Pear schnapps

1.5 chopped bartlett pears
up to 750 ml vodka

Wash, core, & chop your pears. Put them in a quart mason jar or the other steeping vessel of your choice. You want to fill the jar approximately 2/3 of the way with fruit, but more is ok too. I more or less said TIME FOR FRUCT (not a typo; "fruct" is slang for "fruit" at our house) and filled the jar with as much pear as I could cram without crushing anything.

Pour in vodka to cover the fruit, all the way up to the neck of the jar. Then lid your jar and stick it in a dark cupboard to age.

Give your jar a gentle shake whenever you think of it. Every few days or so is fine.

infusing pear schnapps

The question of when to remove the fruit from the schnapps is up in the air. I'd leave this for at least two weeks, and up to three months for a deep & full pear flavor. It depends on how strong you like your schnapps, and also on your patience.

When you're ready, strain your pears out of your schnapps. I find it easiest to do this by putting a fine-mesh strainer into a canning funnel and filtering the whole shebang into a second mason jar. Canning funnels: get one.

Strain your schnapps a second time through a coffee filter-lined strainer or other extremely fine mesh to make sure you've removed every bit of sediment. It's possible that some more bits and pieces will settle as your schnapps sits in the cupboard; if this happens, you can just re-strain whenever it's necessary. Real talk: I routinely strain my stuff through tissues or paper towels, since our coffeemaking equipage consists of a french press and nothing else. It's all good.

Voila! Pear schnapps!

At this point you have a choice. You can either use the schnapps as-is, or you can sweeten it with simple syrup to create a liqueur.

Of course, since simple syrup doesn't have to be just sugar and water, this opens up a whole world of possibilities. Rosemary? Cardamom? Vanilla bean? Ginger? Cinnamon and nutmeg? What would be tastiest with pear?

I have a little rosemary simple syrup left over from making Tracy Shutterbean's pear cornmeal cake with rosemary syrup (note: it was awesome & you should make one), so I'm planning on trying that when my schnapps is sufficiently steeped. Ginger and pear also sounds like a really good plan.

In any case, here's how to make a basic flavored simple syrup. The amount of herb or spice components will depend on what you want to use and how strong an infusion you prefer. Several branches of herbs, 3 or 4 cracked cardamom pods, or a single split vanilla bean would all produce delightful results. However, I'd err on the side of strength to make sure whatever flavor you choose can stand up to the pear without getting too sweet.

Infused simple syrup

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
Herb, spice, zest, etc. of your choice

Put everything in a pan and simmer gently until the sugar is completely dissolved, swirling occasionally. Turn off the heat, lid the pan, and let steep for about an hour. Taste your syrup and see if you want to let it steep further.

Strain out your solid ingredients and let your simple syrup cool completely. Use it to sweeten & flavor schnapps to taste or make the cocktails of your choice. I find that simple syrup can last in the refrigerator for a shorter time than most people say. Try to use it within 2 weeks.

Who else is making liqueurs this season?

07 November 2013

At home

wood sorrel

We came back and were totally shocked to see how much clothing we still owned, how stupidly full our pantry, how empty our house without four more people.

I am a whole lot more inclined to just go with whatever we have and do what needs to be done. Eat that freezer. Lighten that shelf.

The first night I was hungry at 9 pm, so I made macaroni with olive oil, garlic, and broccoli, with a lot of cracked pepper and some grated parmesan on top. It was an excellent plan. With some chickpeas, it could have been a full dinner. It took maybe ten minutes from start to finish, including peeling broccoli stems.

Sandwiches are definitely a larger part of the menu. Mustard, turkey, butter lettuce, homemade pickled peppers & cucumber slices. Our usual grocery store has even just now started carrying the Dave's Killer Bread we've been eating for the past month. The components are a touch fancier, if one can claim that homemade pickles are fancy, but the results are almost exactly like the many sandwiches I crammed down to make sure I wouldn't fall flat on my face while biking 5 miles up the hill home.

I want salad. The one I ate all the time in Portland was spinach with chopped apple and almond, topped with some storebought honey mustard dressing. I could go for another one of those right this second. It's not a shock to find I bought all three main components as soon as we got back.

I really missed soup. The night after we came back I made a pureed carrot soup with a mix of pinto and chickpea broth, spiced with cumin seed, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, and stirred in some garam masala at the end. We ate it with half a loaf of sourdough and I for one would not have minded more.

Now that we have our toaster oven, I want cheesy toast all the time. Top a slice of bread with cheddar. Put it in the toaster oven. Toast until the cheese is bubbling. Eat. Mustard is optional and I think not necessary. Simple is nice.

That said, I am never going to be that into peanut butter toast.

03 November 2013

Post-Portland: tea, tea, and more tea

A nice cup of tea

One thing that happens when you live in someone else's house for any significant time is that you start eating like them. And cooking like them. And drinking like them.

This is definitely a good thing, especially when said someone elses have a big box of Tetley tea bags and a jug or two of whole milk in the house at all times.

I started drinking many gigantic mugs of serious black tea with milk, and I like it.

I like it so much that I bought a second box of tea for the house at approximately the 1 week mark of our stay in Portland.

Now that we're back home, we went to the store and got a box of Tetley and another of PG Tips, largely because the only Tetley in said store was decaf. I got some of it anyway, because another thing that definitely happened in Portland is that my caffeine intake went through the roof, but still.

We also bought a quart of whole milk. I can't remember the last time I bought any amount of whole milk that wasn't immediately destined for a white sauce.

I've had approximately three cups of strong milky tea in the ten or so hours since we were at the store. There looks to be at least one more in my future tonight.

28 October 2013

Portland restaurants!

Lovely's kale sausage pizza

Man, I am falling super far behind. So let's talk about some of the best restaurants we've eaten at over the past month, and then we'll wrap up all the Portland with one more post. Good? Ok.

BEST TOTAL EXPERIENCE (and pizza besides): Lovely's 50/50, 4039 N Mississippi Ave.

This was a total surprise, as we had not planned to eat here even a little. Here's what happened: we went to Emily Blackapple's art show, which was excellent, and is running until sometime in November at the Land Gallery. You should go if you're in Portland. Sea creatures! I'm just saying.

Afterward we meandered up & down Mississippi deciding where we wanted to eat. Lovely's was not even on the initial list, but reading their menu of wood-fired pizzas was more than enough to get us in the door anyway. At that point we saw the house-made ice cream cooler, which included both basil and salted caramel flavors, and settled down to wait the ten minutes for a table quite happily.

Lovely's olives

We knew we'd made the right decision when our appetizer of marinated olives came out...and they were warm. I don't think I've ever eaten so many olives in a row ever in my life.

And then: PIZZA. John got lacinato kale with calabrian chilies, provolone picante, lemon & ricotta. I got housemade fennel sausage with red chard, kale & rosemary. And holy shit, you guys, they were so good. I haven't had pizza that good since we were last in Brooklyn and spent an evening at Franny's. OH. Why is there no pizza like this anywhere near where we actually live? Also, in case you were wondering, kale is a fantastic pizza topping. You should absolutely try it.

Lovely's miso toffee ice cream

We finished the night with a scoop of miso toffee ice cream--very much in the salted caramel family. This was the only slightly off note in the night. It didn't actually taste of miso--just salt. It was certainly good, but it just wasn't miso. Maybe that's actually a good thing, but it was a small disappointment nonetheless.

But you know what? I don't even care. Everything else was so amazing that I have no complaints, and will certainly be back at some point.

BEST FOOD CART: Tabor, SW 5th & Oak pod


We had lunch with Michelle of The Hoot Eats at Tabor, home of the evidently famous schnitzelwich. How can you not eat something called a schnitzelwich? I got classic pork, because I knew there was no way I would be able to eat another one during the trip, considering how many other food choices are everywhere. Why not go with the most heritagenous version?

It was pretty amazing: a huge breaded fried pork cutlet on a ciabatta roll with crunchy lettuce and a roasted red pepper/eggplant? sauce. The texture of the pork was excellent: tender and delightful and not at all stringy or difficult. And I could barely even eat half of it. Next time I would definitely get a half schnitzelwich, which they also sell. SO GOOD.

Plus we got to eat outside on a bench and people-watch and hear all about Michelle's trip to Thailand and Cambodia. You can't argue with that!

Obviously there have been PLENTY of other very good food cart experiences, considering Portland, but still.

BEST RANDOM PLACE ON HAWTHORNE: Zach's Shack, 4611 SE Hawthorne

Here they have an assortment of hot dogs, including veggie dogs, that are all fancy and have many delightful toppings. John got two tofu dogs piled with jalapenos and sport peppers; I got one actual beef dog with cream cheese,tomato, and chopped onion. DELIGHTFUL. There is also beer and a full bar and ping pong! ZOMG.

It's very divey and comforting and relaxed, and of course you get to stuff your face with the dogs of your choice. I don't know about you, but I have a slight obsession with hot dogs--I mean, what person who's worked within a couple blocks of any NYC park doesn't?--so this was the best possible plan.

BEST BAKERY: Tabor Bread, 5051 SE Hawthorne

blueberry hazelnut spelt bread

I got a loaf of their special wood-fired blueberry hazelnut spelt bread for Bethany's birthday, fresh out of the very smoky wood-fired oven at 8 am, and dang. There's definitely some actual bread happening here. The loaf was super tangy and a bit damp, almost like a sourdough. Do they use a poolish? Something like that. It wasn't a cake like banana bread; it was BREAD. We discovered that a quick toast and a whack of butter are an exceptional plan. I am also very interested to try it out in french toast form. This will probably not happen, since we've eaten most of the loaf, but hey.

I seriously regret being unable to eat more than a couple slices of bread at a time, is what I'm saying. Otherwise I would have bought several more loaves.

There is also a carafe of almond milk just out on the coffee bar. I'm just saying.

BEST DINER: The Cameo Cafe, 8111 NE Sandy Blvd.

Cameo Cafe kimchi ramen saute

John and I are definitely diner enthusiasts, which means it is especially unfortunate that we live in Silicon Valley, where the diners certainly aren't. What I would not give for a good diner within walking distance of downtown MTV! UGH.

Anyway, this means that when we're out of town we are always, always on the lookout for diners, and this time we found a doozy. The Cameo Cafe's menu is part very breakfast-oriented diner standard, with pancakes bigger than a plate and a massive slab of hash browns in process always covering half the grill top, and part Korean food, with things like pindaetuck (veg-stuffed pancake with rice) and kimchi ramen stir-fry. And it's all in this little oddly shaped building on one of Portland's many weird triangular blocks, filled with a long, angled bar, a bunch of little tables with wire-frame chairs, and a whole bunch of decorative paraphernalia everywhere.

Cameo Cafe coconut waffle with raspberry sauce

Everyone is nice and the coffee flows freely & often, and if you order the french toast special you get a full three tablespoons of butter with it. There is also a coconut waffle filled with shreds of coconut, and homemade raspberry sauce to squirt across the top.

Every item at the Cameo Cafe is too big for me to eat, but that won't stop me from trying.

HONORABLE MENTION: Produce Row, 204 SE Oak

Produce Row banh mi

I ate my first banh mi ever here just last week. We're going again tomorrow night. Hooray!

23 October 2013

Chicken, broccoli, and coconut milk

coconut milk chicken and broccoli

I was about to leave the office a couple days ago when Bethany said, "so, any ideas for dinner?"

After giving the least helpful answer ever--that is, "Dinner??", accompanied by the classic deer-in-headlights stare--I mentioned that we had both chicken and broccoli. Bethany mentioned coconut milk. Ok! Chicken, broccoli, and coconut milk it is!

As you can see, this was super simple. As you can perhaps imagine, it was also delicious.

The big issue was defrosting the chicken, and even that turned out not to be such a big deal once we got the pieces actually separated. It's just hard to submerge a long thin row of chicken breasts in hot water when all you have is a medium-sized bowl or two.

Obviously we were eating meat, but I'm thinking you could do something very similar with a bunch of chickpeas or navy beans and a hit of extra spice for ultimate bean & green & coconut milk goodness.

This fed four adults and two children, with no leftovers.

coconut milk chicken and broccoli

Chicken and broccoli with coconut milk

a big yellow onion
5 chicken breasts or equivalent amount of meat/beans
~1 cup coconut milk
~2 heads of broccoli (we used 3 small heads)
salt, pepper, curry powder

Start by warming some oil or butter in a wide, deep saute pan (make sure you have the lid) while you chop up an onion. I'm pretty sure we just used standard veg oil for this one, but whatever you like should be fine. Special bonus if you have coconut oil around.

Dump the onion into the pan, stir to coat with oil, and cook for about five to eight minutes, or until it starts turning translucent.

When your chicken is reasonably defrosted, put the pieces into the pan with your onion. Cook to brown on one side. When there's some beautiful golden caramelization going on, flip all your pieces of chicken over and brown the other side.

Next, pour about a cup of coconut milk, well shaken, over the pan of chicken and onion. You can use more if you want a saucier end product. Season with salt, pepper, and curry powder (or the spice combination of your choice. We had curry powder, so that's what happened). Then put the lid on your pan, lower the heat slightly, and let cook for a good ten or fifteen minutes. You want to get the chicken cooked through, but also keep it moist. Coconut milk certainly helps with the moist & juicy aspect of the situation.

While you're waiting, chop a head of broccoli into reasonable pieces. Peel the stems and chop them too. Nose to tail, you guys. Plus broccoli stem is delicious. Speaking of broccoli stem, if you happen to have some CSA kohlrabi hanging around, you could peel & add that too.

When your chicken is closing in on done, dump your broccoli into the pan. Put the lid back on and continue cooking for another seven or eight minutes, or until your broccoli is done to your liking. Test to make sure the meat is cooked through, & let cook a bit longer if needed.

Serve everyone big chunks of chicken and spoonfuls of broccoli and onion. We had ours by itself, but this would obviously be excellent over a pile of rice or egg noodles too.

Hooray! Dinner!

Wow, did writing this all out make me hungry. It was really good, you guys. Also, maybe I should have eaten something besides a piece of peanut butter toast so far today.

What delicious dinners have you randomly created lately?

21 October 2013

Portland bars and the drinks thereof

Retrosex cocktail at the Sapphire Hotel Portland OR

Ok ok! I am catching up with what we've been doing in Portland. One thing is visiting bars and drinking delicious beverages. Here are some of them.

Most of the time I've been drinking beer in dark shadowy places, which means I have very few pictures. Oh well. We all know what a pint of beer looks like anyway, right?

The Old Gold, 2105 N Killingsworth

We went to meet friends here for not only drinks but, as it turns out, also a giant plate of kale with bacon and a platter of house-made pickles including cucumbers, beet, and even pears. SUPER interesting. I had a red ale, which was excellent, and then a cocktail called the Birds & Bees, which is "Aviation Gin, Aperol, grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, grapefruit bitters, served up." DELIGHTFUL.

The Old Gold is actually a whisky/ey bar and has an entire blackboard full of options, if that's your thing. It is actually my thing, but it was a gin night. It's all good in any case.

bottles, 5015 NE Fremont

Possibly my favorite new discovery of this trip. bottles has both a multi-roomed, multi-purpose bar, with a variety of both indoor and outdoor nooks, and an array of cases filled with bottles available to drink there or take home. It's super relaxing and neighborhoody, and you can easily escape the drone of tv sports with a simple change of room. Win win!

Bar of the Gods, 4801 SE Hawthorne Blvd

"Darker than Plato's cave, but only in terms of lighting." BA HA NERD JOKE

I love a good dive bar, and one called Bar of the Gods definitely deserves a visit or two. There's a double-sided bar with booths along one side and a couple of pool tables down the other: good for all your beer-drinking and socializing needs. Bonus: faux-Olympian gold columns flanking the door and sparkly grape lights hung from the rafters!

We were thinking we'd go a second time last Friday, but we discovered a quite loud band was playing. While this is probably what a lot of people want out of a bar, I'm not really at that place anymore. Be aware! Instead, we decided to go back to our airbnb with a couple bottles of our own, and spend the evening accidentally about forgetting said beers in favor of code. Yeah.

The Sapphire Hotel, 5008 SE Hawthorne Blvd

This place was dark--dark red, to be precise, with a cascade of philodendrons curtaining the doorway--and crowded, with many carefully dressed hipster customers and a substantial menu of fancy cocktails with fancy names to match. It was loud, but not unbearably so, and the drinks were certainly delightful.

The highlight of the evening was a cocktail called the Retrosex, because of course. It's the drink at the top of the page with the gigantic basil leaf: gin and basil and grapefruit, served in a freezing cold copper tumbler full of ice. Hey, did you hear that metal conducts heat? Yeah. The cup was cold, and that absolutely added to its charm. I wouldn't spend every weekend here by any means, but if you want a fancy cocktail or two--and maybe dinner besides--it's definitely a good candidate.

We still have awhile, so I'm sure we'll go to some more exciting places in the future.

In conclusion, the Portland bar scene is numerous and worth it. Hooray!

14 October 2013

Brussels sprout, onion, and apple hash

brussels sprout, bacon, onion, and apple hash

One thing about Portland is that it's actually cool outside. The sky is grey. It rains occasionally, although I for one am finding it surprisingly dry so far. And that means the seasonal vegetables actually feel seasonal.

In California, we're often eating broccoli and kale while it's still 75F outside. Here, not so much--and it makes the winter veg taste so much better.

What I'm saying is: I made some brussels sprouts and they were great.

Sprouts definitely have a few natural partners in the food world. Onion, apple, and bacon all play extremely well with them, or really with any dark winter green. So it was lucky for me that all four of those things happened to be in the kitchen one night when I was looking for dinner. I chopped everything up, threw them in a hot pan, and was eating a big plate of dark green hash in under fifteen minutes. Hooray!

The amounts in this recipe are really flexible. You want maybe 1 slice of bacon per dinner-sized serving, roughly equal amounts of onion and sprouts, and a touch less apple. And if you don't do bacon, you can always use butter or the oil of your choice, and then add a bit of liquid smoke to the pan at the end of cooking--or just eat it as-is. It's not like brussels sprouts and onions aren't going to be delicious, right?

I considered frying an egg to put over the top of my finished hash. If you're in the runny egg yolk club, you should definitely try this out. Rich egg yolk over a smoky, hearty, veg-filled hash is clearly one of the greatest things in life.

brussels sprout, bacon, onion, and apple hash

Brussels sprout, onion, and apple hash

bacon/oil of choice
brussels sprouts
salt, pepper
optional sage, thyme, maybe some smoke seasoning

Start by chopping a piece of bacon into small bits. If you prefer to use oil or butter instead, that's cool too--just be prepared to spice a bit more heavily later.

Put your bacon into a hot frying pan or skillet of your choice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the meaty bits are starting to crisp.

While you're waiting, dice an onion. Add the onion and a pinch of salt to the pan and continue to cook.

Wash, trim, and slice your brussels sprouts. I quartered mine and then cut any particular big pieces in half again. If you want to go for the thin shred, you can do that too--the pieces will just need less time to cook.

When your onion has softened, add your sprouts to the pan. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, while you dice up half an apple.

Add the apple to the pan along with some salt and pepper. If you didn't use bacon, you may want to add some other spices, such as sage and thyme; I just let the bacon be my main seasoning.

Cook for another three to five minutes, or until everything is done to your tastes. If you want to top your hash with a fried egg, now is the time to fry it.

brussels sprout, bacon, onion, and apple hash

Serve, either alone or with egg on top.

I found this to be excellent with a beer on the side for dinner, but it could take a cup of strong coffee for breakfast equally well.

What fall veg are you cooking and eating lately?