Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Christmasy Home for my butter: Butter Bell

Santa brought me a butter bell in which to store my homemade butter. I just fill the bottom with cold water, refill every three days and the butter in the cup stays spreadable and good. Thank you, Santa!

Winter, Winter Chicken Dinner

With welcome time on my hands between Christmas and New Year's, I decided to fill a hole in my culinary repertoire: the roast chicken. Its a surprisingly easy and flavorful weeknight dinner. Not to mention pretty foolproof. To make it even simpler, add cut carrots, potatoes and onions to roasting pan and serve instead of panzanella. The skin on my chicken turned out particularly savory and crispy (if I do say so myself) which I attribute to using homemade butter.

Simple Roast Chicken
Serves 4

1 5-6 lb. organic roasting chicken
kosher salt and ground pepper
1 lemon halved
1 head garlic cut in half crossways
4 tablespoons butter
bunch of fresh thyme

Vinegary Panzanella

3/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 large spanish onion, diced
1 loaf of ciabatta bread, halved as if for a gigantic hogie
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove gizzards from chicken cavity and snip off neck fat with kitchen shears. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

2. Liberally salt and pepper cavity. Stuff cavity with lemon halves, garlic and as much thyme as you can fit. Tuck wings under chicken body and tie together legs with kitchen twine.

3. Rub butter over chicken, salt and pepper liberally and place on a roasting pan. Roast in oven for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

4. Remove chicken from oven and place on cutting board. Cover with aluminum foil and let sit for approximately 15 more minutes.

5. While chicken sits, saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until translucent. Remove onions to a large bowl. Then toast bread in pan. Once bread is toasted, cut into chunks and toss with onions, parley and rest of olive oil and vinegar.

6. Carve chicken and serve on top of panzanella.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Morning Brunch: Herbed Baked Eggs and Spicy Sweet Bacon

Christmas morning at my parents' house begins later than it used to when my little brother bounded out of bed at 6 and begged everyone in the house (which included me, mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother, aunt and uncle) to pleeeeaase wake up so he could start opening presents. This year the coffee was made and the pastries set out in the living room when my mother implored me to 'go get your brother, it's 10:30 already.' Thus starts a Christmas at home with grown children. Another thing that has changed is that I can take over cooking a meal from my overworked mother who typically cooks Christmas Eve Dinner, Christmas Day Brunch and Dinner for a median of 10 hungry family members.

I decided to make the Herbed Baked Eggs that I first blogged about in July -because the holidays is really no time to experiment. I did make one substitution -my mom had lots of fontina and not enough parmesan, so I sprinkled fontina on the top. Success. I also made Gourmet's Sweet and Spicy Bacon (recipe below) which, being basically Bacon Candy, was a big hit. We served it with crusty bread and a fruit salad. Please enjoy the photo blogging from my mother's beautiful, big kitchen.

Sweet and Spicy Bacon

Active time: 10 min Start to finish: 45 min

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 lb thick-cut bacon (12 slices)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Stir together brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper in a small bowl.

3. Arrange bacon slices in l layer on a large broiler pan and bake in middle of oven (or upper third of oven if baking with eggs) 20 minutes. Turn slices over and sprinkle evenly with spiced sugar. Continue baking until bacon is crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes more, then transfer to paper towels to drain.

Favorite Latkes and all the fixings

On this final night of Hanukkah, I thought I'd share my favorite recipe for latkes and accoutrement. The latke recipe, adapted from Daniel Boulud, is extremely simple, though I've found the key to tasty success (cakes that don't fall apart, yet are not overly oily) is to drain and squeeze your shredded potatoes of extra starchy liquid at every possible point. I prefer an even mix of olive oil and butter for sauteing. Even though it isn't purely traditional, the high smoking point of the oil and taste of the butter makes a perfect combination.

Leslie's Favorite Latkes
serves 4

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil (not extra-virgin) and 3 tablespoons butter, for sautéing

1. Grate the potatoes in a food processor using the thinnest grating blade. Place grated potatoes in a colander over a large bowl. Press potatoes down multiple times to drain liquid. Let stand 30 minutes.

2. Mince chives. In a large bowl beat eggs then add the chives, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Add grated, drained potatoes. Mix with large spatula or clean hands.

3. Depending on the size of your nonstick saute pan, you may need to work in multiple batches. Place olive oil and butter in pan over high heat. Using your hands, scoop enough potato mixture for one pancake (I like to make mine palm-sized) and squeeze excess liquid back into bowl. Being careful not to burn yourself, place cake into pan and flatter further with spatula. Repeat until pan is full, but not packed tightly, with pancakes.

3. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the pancakes until the bottom browns, flip with spatula and repeat on the other side. Once done, place pancake on a serving plate (if they seem too oily, drain on paper towels before moving to serving plate). Repeat until you've used entire potato mixture.

Serve Sunday Bagel Style with crème fraîche, smoked salmon, capers, minced red onions or Traditionally with sour cream and chunky spiced applesauce (recipe below)

Chunky Spiced Applesauce
from Cooking Light

This recipe is great with your favorite sauce-apples or a combination. I love to use Cortland, Golden Delicious and Macoun. Yields 7 cups.

10 cups cubed peeled apples (about 3 lbs)
1/2 lemon
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of grated nutmeg

1. Placed apple in a large bowl; cover with cold water. Squeeze juice from lemon half into bowl; lace lemon half in bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine cranberries and remaining ingredients in a Dutch over; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook 3 minutes or until cranberries pop.

3. Drain apple; discard lemon. Add apple to pan. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until apple is soft. Uncover, bring to a boil, and cook 15 minutes. Mash apple mixture with a potato masher. Pour into serving dish; cover and chill at least 2 hours.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Confections

Just before Christmas is the perfect time to practice (or acquire) candy-making skills. Cold weather keeps you indoors and boiling up sugar helps keep the chill away. Confections are great to give as gifts or just keep around for holiday visitors to nibble. I've made three different confections this week two new and one oldy but goody.

These recipes require one thing in common: lots of sugar. Also, you will want to buy a candy thermometer like this one.

Candied Citrus Peel
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

A great way to use the part of citrus that usually get tossed (the peel), this recipe yielded great results, but seemed like it contained a few too many steps, so I may see if I can simplify it in the future. In the meanwhile, only attempt this when you have a few good hours to sit in or near your kitchen, perhaps while watching a movie you've already seen.

Peel of around 3 oranges, 2 grapefruits or 4-6 lemons (or a combination)
2 cups sugar, divided
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup water

Remove peel from citrus by using a tool like this citrus zester or by cutting off in chunks with a knife and then slicing into strips.

Place in a saucepan: citrus peel and water to cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Drain.

Cover peel with fresh cold water and simmer until tender about 30 more minutes. Drain.

Place peel into a bowl, refresh under cold water and remove any pith from peel by using a spoon (or your nails)

Back in the saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar, corn syrup and 3/4 cup water. Stire over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Ad peel and cook gently over low heat until most of the syrup is absorbed (this can take up to an hour depending on amount of peel, hence the recommended movie watching).

Turn off heat. Cover pan and let sit overnight.

Bring pan with peel that sat overnight to a simmer then let cool slightly and drain. Pour 1 cup of sugar into a shallow dish. Working quickly, dredge each piece of peel in sugar and spread on parchment or wax paper to dry. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four months.

Home-made Marshmallows
Adapted from Epicurious

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water, divided
3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or other extract such as peppermint, cinnamon, etc.)
1/2 cup potato or corn starch
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Warning: This is an extremely sticky project. Coat anything that you would not like coated in marshmallow with cooking spray.

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil.

Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes. If dry gelatin remains, sprinkle a bit more water over until it is all semi-translucent and gel-like.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 5 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 10 minutes. Add extract and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with hands coated in cooking spray. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

*A food thickener made from cooked,

dried, ground potatoes, this gluten free flour is also known as potato flour; available at most supermarkets.

Stir starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Spread generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat scissors with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat, shaking off excess mixture.

These can be layered between sheets of parchment and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Enjoy in your holiday cocoa with or without peppermint schnapps

I've made these Sugared Cranberries every holiday since the recipe appeared in a 2003 Cooking Light. They're easy and cheap to make. Perfect for a gift since they don't require refrigeration. Plus, they're very pretty and make a delightful 'pop' in your mouth when you bite into them.

Sugared Cranberries

from Cooking Light

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup superfine sugar

Combine granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring mixture until sugar dissolves. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. (Do not boil or the cranberries may pop when added.) Stir in cranberries; pour mixture into a bowl. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Drain cranberries in a colander over a bowl, reserving steeping liquid, if desired. Place superfine sugar in a shallow dish. Add the cranberries, rolling to coat with sugar. Spread sugared cranberries in a single layer on a baking sheet; let stand at room temperature 1 hour or until dry.

Note: The steeping liquid clings to the berries and helps the sugar adhere. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to a week.

Yield: 9 servings (serving size: about 1/3 cup)

Welcome Jauntsetters!

Our friends over at the excellent travel journal, Jauntsetter have kindly linked to my SF restaurant posts on Zuni Cafe and Mexico Au Parc. Welcome to all Jaunsetter readers who have found us through that site. I hope you'll return!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Have your cake and drink it too

Being an enthusiastic fan of both bourbon and chocolate, I knew I needed to bake Melissa Clark's Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake when I spotted it a few weeks ago in the New York Times.

I made it this weekend as dessert for a football watching dinner/party and I have to say there are few better ways to end a testosterone-filled Sunday night. The guys were enthusiastic at the thought of a boozy treat and even more so when they smelled their slice. Yes, the 'nose' on this confection is strong! I would discourage bakers to add more whiskey to drizzle over the cake once it comes out of the oven and instead add some milk chocolate shavings when serving which I found balanced the flavors a bit more. Otherwise, it's a great, unique dessert. Moist and flavorful. Plus, the bundt shape makes it a bit more portable than say, a layer cake, for your holiday potlucks.

Happy drunken eating!

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake
by Melissa Clark

Time: About 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, more for greasing pan

2 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting pan

5 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/4 cup instant espresso powder

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup bourbon, rye or other whiskey, more for sprinkling

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (optional)

1. Grease and flour a 10-cup-capacity Bundt pan (or two 8- or 9-inch loaf pans). Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In microwave oven or double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Let cool.

2. Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2-cup (or larger) glass measuring cup. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Add whiskey and salt; let cool.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter until fluffy. Add sugar and beat until well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.

4. On low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whiskey mixture. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt pan (loaf pans will take less time, start checking them after 55 minutes).

5. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. Let cool before serving, garnished with confectioners’ sugar if you like.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How I fell in love with habaneros

By 3pm it had been a very long day. We had gotten up at 5am to catch our flight from New York to Atlanta and another from there to Cancun. When we finally sat down to lunch at the Le Meridien pool restaurant all I wanted was a drink and a bite that was at least vaguely Mexican. What I got instead was a new love in the form of an extremely spicy sauce: the habanero pepper. The waiter called it 'green fire' and warned me to use just a little of it on my shrimp tacos. I tried it, my mouth spiked and burned and I fell in love.

Habaneros are native to the Yucatan peninsula and popped up unripe (green) and mixed with olive oil to drizzle over foodstuffs at nearly every restaurant we visited in the Cancun area. They are the smallest, hottest pepper. A mere drop of the stuff can set your lips tingling.

I haven't yet been able to find green habaneros in my local grocery store, but the ripe (orange) ones work just as well. Warning: Once the peppers have been roasted, you MUST wear latex gloves or put your hands in plastic bags to handle them. If you don't your hands will burn and itch for days. If you happen to touch them with a bare finger, please resist the urge to touch your eyes. Yeah. Not fun.....I've, uh...heard.

Orange Habanero Sauce

8 Habanero Peppers
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A bit of water

Set your over to 'broil.' Remove stems from peppers. Place in a single layer on a baking dish. Broil until peppers are blackened and blistered. Remove from oven and dump into food processor. Process until the peppers resemble a paste. With motor running, add olive oil and a little water until mixture has a 'saucy' consistency.

Put judiciously on any food that benefits from a big kick.

Habanero Mayo

Mix the Habanero Sauce with mayo in a 1 to 4 ratio. Enjoy on sandwiches and burgers.

Have fun...and make sure you keep some milk nearby to fight potential flare-ups!

San Fransisco is Burritoville

It was a little walk down memory lane for my husband when he took me to lunch at Mexico Au Parc in a surprisingly quiet and green area of the SoMa neighborhood in San Francisco. He used to go there for weekday lunches when he worked in the area in 1999 and was thrilled to find it still running (and popular!) almost 10 years later. The line was well out the door when we arrived before noon with our still-on-east coast time stomachs growling. I had time to ponder the pleasant oval shaped park with its playground and why this Mexican restaurant had a French name while we inched surely towards ordering.

We barely had enough time to study the menu above the cafeteria-style ordering/serving area. My hubby immediately spotted their biggest, baddest burrito, The Azteca (pictured above). A cross between a burrito and enchilada, it encloses rice, beans and meat of your choosing (I believe he went with pork), is topped with enchilada sauce, melted cheeese, sour cream, guacamole & salsa plus whatever extra hot sauce you may choose from their condiment bar. A lunch with enough leftover for dinner
I opted for a salad of sorts...with pork. What astounded me was the freshness and ultimate lightness of the meal. It was not greasy or weighed down with distracting extras. Just simple, clean classic mexican flavors. Plus, they offer free water! A great, cheap lunch in San Fran. After lunch, be sure to stop by the playground in the street's median and enjoy the swings!

Mexico Au Parc
24 S Park St,
Btwn 2nd & 3rd St San Francisco 94107

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Thanksgiving that wasn't

When my husband and I got married we started a new family tradition: taking a vacation instead of spending Thanksgiving with our families. It makes sense, we see them one month later for Christmas, and there are usually some great travel deals to be found. But boy am I missing the food this year. Last year we went to Barcelona and two weeks before I did an entire Thanksgiving meal for 5. It was hard work, but delicious. This year....well, I'm hoping there might be some stuffing and cranberry sauce leftover when we arrive at our Cancun hotel. We'll see. I may have to do a post-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving feast if my cravings don't cease.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all domestic agenda readers, wherever and however you're celebrating.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fresh Deer Meat

My husband's good friend is a champ at the hunting video game/bar pastime Big Buck Hunter. Little did I know he actually hunts deer AND recently bagged a big buck. The deal was if we went to pick up the meat at the deer dressing place in rural New York (he was stuck working on the West Coast), we could keep half! A culinary adventure+drive in the country+excuse to shop at the outlet mall? I was in!

So...it was a little "Green Acres." Desertos deer cutting is housed on a residential street in an unassuming building barely larger than a double-wide trailer We were greeted with the "Drop Deer Here" sign pictured above which answered the first of my many questions about the mysterious hunting and dressing process. Inside, a group of friendly Deserto ladies divvying up a Sara Lee apple pie greeted us while two silent burly men looked on. I believe if I looked close, I would have seen a fair amount of blood on their clothing. So goes the butchering of large game. Anyway. They were expecting us and thrilled that we had made it all the way from the city. We quickly received our box of packaged, frozen meat from deer #148, paid out $95 and were on our way. The classifications of meat were: Chopped, Tenderloin, Loin, Cutlet and Stew.

With very little (no) experience cooking venision, my husband and I set to researching and decided to marinate and grill pieces of the loin. All it took was a simple marinade of salt, pepper, olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic and worcester sauce (for about 8 hours) and a very quick sear to yield incredibly flavorful, tender meat. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised since it was incredibly fresh, but this venison was some of the best tasting meat I've eaten in recent memory.

So, I urge you to get out of your comfort zone and try some game yourselves. Next up, venison chili! Thank you, Big Buck Hunter....and, of course, The Big Buck!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

THE place for roasted chicken (in SF)

One of my friends says she judges a restaurant by its chicken. The idea being the joint isn't worth much if it can't master or doesn't care enough to pay attention to this 'basic' dish. I agree with this....though, who wants to order chicken each time he or she eats out?

Well, if I ever go back to Zuni Cafe, I am going to fast for a week so I can order TWO full roast chickens. Yep. It's that good. Roasted in a huge brick oven whose insides (and the roasting foodstuffs therin) is visible from many seats in one dining room, the chicken is just perfectly moist and fatty, with crisp skin enhanced by vinegar. It's served, cut up into sections (thigh and leg, breast and wing) on a platter on top of a savory tuscan bread salad that soaks up the birds juices and is, itself, delectable. It's a dish that you have to order an hour in advance, a dish that necessitates getting your hands dirty. It is fun and deceptively simple meal, elevated to its platonic ideal. The rest of our dishes (a ricotta gnocci, caesar salad, fennel and orange salad) were solid, but ordinary. The roast chicken is special. Don't waste your hunger on anything else. It's not to be missed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In 'N Out!!!

As soon as we booked our flights to California, I started planning my pilgrimage to that temple of California cuisine -no, not Chez Panisse, In-N-Out Burger!! High-end fast food, served by squeaky clean teens, In-N-Out has a short, but sweet menu. There's a hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double (two cheesburger patties) -all served with or without onions, plus fries and drinks.

We drove our rented convertible (how very west coast!) up to the In-N-Out, Napa on our way from San Francisco to California Wine Country. It was only 11:30am, but already the place was packed. Not surprisingly, given the crowd and the quality, it wasn't the fastest of fast food, but after 10 minutes, we had our double-doubles, fries and chocolate shakes.

And it was awesome. I'm sure the taste was enhanced by eating in the sun while staring at Napa's vineyards, but it was, hands down, the best fast food I've ever tasted. The closest (Yankee) analogy I have is to NYC's Shake Shack, which also uses a premium blend of meat in their never-frozen patties (read about In 'N Out's own meat processing plant and other food quality boasts here).

The burger had the perfect thickness and juiciness of meat, a buttery bun and american cheese oozing out every side. The fries were crinkle cut, full of actual potato and not overly salted. And my shake. Ahh. Real chocolate ice cream, NOT pre-fab shake substance. The real deal: gooey, thick and sweet.

My only regret is that we didn't have time for a second trip. Needless to say, if you find yourself in the vicinity of an In 'N Out Burger, walk, don't run. Or rather, drive...quickly.