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Thanksgiving 2012

8 Jan

Thanksgiving in my family is a pretty epic event.  There are about 40 people every year, and we bring pretty much the same dishes ever year. I love the traditions and I love the food.  We’re one of those few families that actually get along and it’s the day I look forward to most every year.  

And even though we walk to the train station (through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade) and take a train, I still can’t resist baking up a storm.  I last blogged about our Thanksgiving in 2009, but I realized that there are a few recipes that I consider classic to my repertoire that I haven’t yet blogged about.  Also, 2012 was the year of the Brownie Battle.

Thanksgiving is also a time of experiment for me. While I bring a lot of the same things, in the weeks prior I try to refine them and make them better, and I try to bring something new each year.

My peanut butter cups are pretty much set in stone at this point, but I did have an accidental experiment when a drop of water splashed into my chocolate cups. They always warn you that water is melted chocolate’s worst enemy. But here I had some side-by-side proof.  Check out the consistency of the one cup that got a single drop of water (center of the shot) versus the rest.

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And Thanksgiving also happens to be a time when I am very thankful for my KitchenAid (Thanks again, Mikey! Best gift ever!) One of my favorite moments is when the chocolate hits the batter and makes perty swirls.

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I have been making a family brownie recipe for years (from my Grandmother’s recipe folio) that was noted as being from my (totally awesome and inspiring) great Aunt Dinah (who is currently in her late 90s, but you would never believe it).  I actually made the one’s from Grandma’s recipe when I was on the Wendy Williams show, and you can find that recipe on the Wendy site.

I always assumed that the recipes were the same, but my cousin (Dinah’s granddaughter) noticed some differences between our recipes.  So… what else to do besides an epic Brownie Battle?

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I put a sprinkle on Grandma’s recipe to differentiate, but turns out the color and texture were different enough to be able to tell.

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Aunt Dinah’s was a bit fluffier and fudgier. And while I love Grandma’s recipe, Aunt Dinah’s recipe won hands down (recipe at the end of this post).

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I also made my Drunk N’ Nutty Pie, but I have refined it a bit and replaced the chestnuts with pecans (for texture, added after the slow cook but before the crumb topping).

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I could eat this filling with a spoon! Slow cooked apples and cranberries in red wine. SOOO good. And such a beautiful scarlet color.

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I also changed out the crumb topping for a new blend and cooked it a bit longer (until the top browned, about an hour) at a lower temperature (350 degrees) to get it a little crisper. The new topping is simple to remember:  1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 stick unsalted butter cut into 4 or five chunks, and 1 cup pecan halves. Pulse a few times in the processor to make a coarse meal.  I definitely liked this new topping even more!

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And then there are the meringue kisses.  I absolutely love these and they are a family favorite. My grandmother used to make them, and I took them over for Thanksgiving to make sure they would always be around.  They sit in the oven overnight (which made for some fun times the next morning when I preheated the oven and forgot they were there… but luckily only lost one tray and not all!) This recipe also at the end of this post and I also posted about how NOT to make them and did a tutorial on making meringue in a vlog. The vlog is instructions how to make a meringue torte, but the same principles apply to the cookies, just with different ingredients and ratios.

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So we schlepped peanut butter cups, Drunk N Nutty pie, meringue kisses, two sets of brownies, apple cider salted caramels, and Mike’s famous butternut squash souffle up to White Plains.

My dad’s cousins host every year, and they always set a beautiful table and we all get name markers.  The rule of Thanksgiving is that if you bring a date (which must be approved by Dinah, by the way), you get to sit with them during year 1, but after that, they’re on their own.  

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And my cousin Eric and Aunt Linda are our expert turkey carvers each year.

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Mike was kind enough to go in early and grab a turkey leg for me. (Awww)

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And the dessert table always just looks like something to dive into, mouth first.

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Here is the final Drunk N’ Nutty pie:

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And brownies.

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And meringues with other brownies.

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And the peanut butter cups.

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 With my cousin adding a sign to remind the family that these were famous peanut butter cups.

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And the final apple cider salted caramels (with a spice cake behind that my aunt made). (IT”S JUST ALL SO GOOD!)

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The day after Thanksgiving every year, we have a leftovers party at my dad’s house in New Jersey. We invite our friends and ask everyone to just bring some leftovers for everyone to share. It’s a great gathering and I look forward to this every year (almost as much as Thanksgiving itself).  And every year I make a cider recipe that is an absolute crowd pleaser.

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And my favorite breakfast the day after: leftover sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows on top!

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Gosh I just love Thanksgiving!!!

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RECIPES
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Aunt Dinah’s Winning Brownie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter (softened)
  • 1 stick margarine (softened)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar (it used to be 2 cups, but at some point in history it was changed)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened or bitter Baker’s chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Melt 4 ounces unsweetened or bitter Baker’s chocolate.
  2. Mix together 1 stick butter, 1 stick of margarine, 1 3/4 cups sugar.
  3. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beat well after each egg.
  4. Slowly pour the melted chocolate into the sugar/butter/egg mixture.
  5. Add 1 cup four, 1/4 cup at a time.
  6. Add a pinch of salt.
  7. Add 3/4 cup (or 1 cup) of walnuts.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees. (The recipe says for 18-20 minutes, but it took me 25-30 each time, so just bake it until a toothpick comes out clean)

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THE Peanut Butter Cups

Ingredients:

  • Good quality chocolate (I like Ghiradelli and frequently make milk, semi-sweet, and white chocolate versions to please everyone’s pallettes) 
  • Creamy Peanut butter – 1/2 cup
  • Salted butter- 1 stick melted
  • Confectioners Sugar- 1 & 1/3 cups
  • Graham Cracker Crumbs – 1 cup

Directions:

  1. Prepare either mini candy cup molds (these are my favorite and I use them for all sorts of things) or cupcake liners (full size, cut down in about half)
  2. Melt chocolate and pour half into prepared molds (you can use your finger to spiral it up the sides of the cups so it makes a mini dish)
  3. Put these in the fridge until hardened
  4. Combine the peanut butter, butter, confectioners sugar, and graham cracker crumbs in a mixer until blended
  5. Put peanut butter mixture into the chocolate cups (Only put in enough peanut butter mixture so they are below the top level. You can smooth out the top of the chocolate with a bench scraper or knife)
  6. Top cups with the other half of the melted chocolate and put into refrigerator until set
  7. Pop out and try not to each all of them in one sitting (but I will totally understand if you do)

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Meringue Kisses

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites (room temperature)
  • pinch of cream of tarter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1. Preheat to 350
  2. Beat egg whites until frothy
  3. Add pinch of cream of tarter and salt and beat until stiff
  4. Add sugar 1 tsp at a time
  5. Fold in chocolate chips
  6. Slowly add vanilla
  7. Put cookies on silpat
  8. Turn off oven and leave off over night
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Apple Cider Salted Caramels from SmittenKitchen

3 Jan

One of my favorite food blogs is SmittenKitchen. Her recipes are great and she does a great job of describing how to make certain things. Also, I find her recipes pretty crowd pleasing so I usually go to her site first when it comes to baking.  She released a book recently and when asked to pick out her favorite recipe, she managed to point to her Apple Cider Salted Caramels.

I read the post during Hurricane Sandy (while we somehow got insanely lucky and kept our power) and knew immediately I had to try this recipe. I love salted caramels and I love apple cider. This sounded like everything wonderful about fall.

So the day after the storm, I put on my boots and went a few blocks away to the grocery store in search of cider. By some odd fortune, there was one, single carton of cider left… laying down on an empty shelf.

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The recipe is actually incredibly easy. I know that a lot of people are intimidated by caramels and making candy, but it really just comes down to a bit of patience and a good thermometer.

I put mine into a silicon baking dish and they came out perfectly.

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I sprinkled some flake salt on top of mine as well.

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And I used my bench scraper to cut them into perfect squares.

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And managed to get through the cutting only eating one… 

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But these little nuggets of heaven didn’t last long as I rolled them in parchment paper.  I think I ate almost half during the next hour.  They were freakin’ amazing. 

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And they got accolades from my office. Perfect little candies.

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I made them a second time and I think that the cider I used impacted the final texture.  It just refused to reduce to the same syrupy consistency of the first time, even after I cooked it for twice as long.  I went with it, and they still tasted GREAT, but they were a bit stickier and harder to handle.  I had to keep them in the fridge just to make sure they could be peeled from the wrappers.  But still… delicious.

The recipe specifically says to use unpasteurized cider, but I couldn’t find that, so both times I used pasteurized cider that was in the refrigerated section.  I’ll have to try a few more times (damn!) The first time around I used Red Jacket cider, so if you find that, I’d scoop it up for this recipe.

This recipe is going straight into the KEEPER section.

Maine Take 2: Wild Blueberries

14 Jun

A few months after going to Maine and blogging about all our Nomming adventures, my father and sister decided to take a trip back to our favorite state.  I was between two jobs so, at the last minute, I joined them.  This was nearly 2 years ago, and these drafted posts have sat in my Drafts folder since then. At first I was avoiding posting so much about Maine back-to-back, and then time just got in the way.  I cannot believe these are back from August 2010!

We are embarking on another trip to Maine this weekend, so I figured it was time to update!

First things first… if you are going to Maine, find yourself a roadside stand advertising “Fresh Maine Blueberries” and make sure you stop.  We wound up buying huge containers of these and munching on them throughout all our trips, including on our way home.

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They are smaller than grocery store blueberries, and packed with more flavor and bit of extra sweetness.

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There ain’t nothing like them!

And if they happen to be selling some jarred wild blueberry jam, I recommend you don’t pass that up either!

Recipes with Homemade Bread: Grilled Cheese and French Toast

17 Apr

It was very exciting to have finally successfully made bread.  We gave one loaf away to friends, but that still left us with more bread that we could eat between the 2 of us.  So… it was time to come up with some meals that included bread.  Which led me directly to grilled cheese and French toast.

Grilled cheese was up first.  I browned some shallots in butter first.

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Then I sliced some apples very thin and layered it up with Gruyere and the shallots and placed each sandwich in a pan with hot butter to brown up.

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The bread was browning but the cheese wasn’t quite melting  yet… so I turned the heat down and let ’em melt.

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And melt they did.  

Boy were these good!  The sharp cheese combined with the sweet apples and shallots made for an incredible grilled cheese sammie.  The homemade bread browned up nicely and maintained a crunch on the outside with some fluff on the inside.

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Next morning it was French toast time.  I actually realized that I hadn’t made French toast in quite some time, and really didn’t remember exactly what to do.  One thing I always disliked about French toast at restaurants is when it is nicely browned on the outside  but still tastes like normal bread on the inside.  I decided that if I really buried these slices in the egg and cinnamon mixture and left it for a while to absorb, that should do the trick.  Problem is, the bread was so fresh and fluffy that it started to fall apart.  Damn.  Had to just make do.

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They browned up really nicely and tasted great… on the outside.

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The inside was still lacking in the flavor… so I vowed to learn a better way.

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It was just a few days later that I saw a perfect “How To” from America’s Test Kitchen. Turns out, if you bake the bread first to dry it out, that solves the problem that I saw and helps it absorb the right amount but not be soggy. (Here is their recipe)

Next time!

Frying an Egg on a Salt Block

3 Apr

We like salt in this house. A lot.

And we like experimenting with random food things that probably have no good purpose taking up shelf space in our small NYC apartment.

But hell… why not?

So when my awesome sister got Mike and me a Himalayan Salt Block, we were excited.

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What is a Himalayan Pink Salt Block?  It’s a big block of pink salt.  OOOOOOOO!

It also allows you to serve thinly sliced fruits, cheeses, etc on a pretty salt platter that adds a hint of saltiness, and, MUCH COOLER, the ability to heat it up and then cook food directly on it.

The rules… heat it slowly so it doesn’t crack, and get it to a high enough temperature that you can cook on.  You are supposed to put your hand over it and when you can’t keep it there for more than a few seconds, it’s hot enough.  We heated it for the requested period of time but the hand test proved that it wasn’t hot enough.  So we heated for another… hour… and it still really wasn’t hot enough according to our hands.  But… away we went.

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We decided to go with breakfast, and we had some pancetta just sitting around, so we tried it.  After a good amount of time, we realized it wasn’t going to heat it enough to make me feel confident about not eating raw pork, so we finished it in the pan.

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Next try?  Eggs!  We left the pancetta grease on there to add some flavor, cracked an egg into a small bowl, and got ready to fry an egg on a salt block.

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I would have a picture of what happened next… but when an egg flows off the block, off the catch pan below, and onto the stove and into a flame… the camera gets thrown to the side.

20 minutes of scrambling to clean up later, we decided we needed a way to contain the egg… so I went through the cabinet and decided the outside rim of a tart pan would be the right size of containment without foregoing too much surface area.

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Once the whites were sufficiently cooked, we removed the ring to allow it to cook up the yolk a little more.  It took… a very long time.

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And still could have probably been a bit more “done,” but I do love my runny yolk!

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When we tried to do more than 1 at a time, it got a little messy, but the ring worked at least!

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Conclusion?  Fun to play with, but probably not very useful.  It didn’t really add the saltiness we were hoping for to the egg and it was a bitch and a half to contain and to clean.

I think very thinly sliced pieces of fish or meat will work much better, and no more playing with things that run all over the place.

I am happy to have a much cooler version of a cheese plate though!  (And a huge paperweight)

Chrismukah Dinner

9 Feb

For Chrismukah (our annual family celebration) this year, I decided to try to make Grandma’s brisket again.  I had tried one time before, and it wasn’t QUITE right.  So I called up my aunt to get the low down on the recipe.

We started by browning up some onions.

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Then we put slits into the pot roast and put in slices of garlic.  (I think our meat was not exactly the best cut for brisketing… but it was all Whole Foods had that day).

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Then we browned the meat.

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And set it up to cook on top of the onions for a good long time topped with ketchup , red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a bit of water.  We covered and simmered it, removed the liquid as it formed (from the onions breaking down) leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of liquid in the bottom (because, to quote my aunt quoting my grandma, “You want a pot roast, not stew meat”).  I cooked it until fork tender.  And it was close… but still not quite right.  I think the cut of meat was definitely a big part of the problem.  Well… guess I gotta try again!

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Mike set to making some latkes.  He went ahead and grated up the potatoes (one of my LEAST favorite jobs).

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And fried them until golden.  They tasted great at first, but we put them in the warming tray to keep them warm and they were never quite the same. Bummer.  Note to self: Always fry latkes to order.

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We also made our famous brussels sprouts and some roasted cauliflower.

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While I wasn’t 100% happy with how it all turned out, luckily, the family thought it was great (or they at least told me it was).  I looked at it as a learning experience!

Anniversary Sausage Fest

19 Jan

I happen to live right near a New York Institution: Esposito’s Pork Shop/Sausages/Finest Quality.  I’m not sure what their real name is, but it doesn’t matter… all that matters is that they have meat and it is good. And cheap.

I stop by often after work and pick up a meal.  A few weeks ago, I stopped by to pick up some sausages to have a special breakfast on Mike and my 4 year anniversary.  I went in for just a couple sausages, but wound up walking out with 4 varities: Chicken Apple Sausage, Bratwurst, Breakfast Sausage, and Sage Sausage.

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I made some sunny side up eggs and we dove in.

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All the sausages were great, however, the sage sausage was especially delicious.

Best Recipes of 2011

29 Dec

As I reflected on the past year and searched for recipes, I realized a very important thing about 2011… we didn’t cook NEARLY as much as we did the years prior (2010 best recipes here) or at least didn’t post as many recipes.  And almost everything I cooked was of the dessert variety. Hmmm… Reflection is 20/20.

So without further ado… please enjoy my favorites of 2011:

Pancakes

Bailey’s Frosting

Fudged Fudge

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

The Famous Cider

Strawberry Shortcake

Salted Caramels

Grandma’s Plum Tart

Homemade Popovers

Drunk ‘N Nutty Pie

Happy Nomming!

Spiked/Spiced/ Sloshed/Sloppy Cider

29 Nov

A hit at fall parties has always been a special hot cider recipe.  It is easy to make for a large group of people and is always a crowd pleaser.  The recipe below is for about 10 people and you can just increase the amount from there.  We usually make it in a big lobster pot and let it boil away. Added bonus: It always makes the house smell AMAZING!

If you have kids, a fun project is putting cloves in the apples so they look like medieval torture devices.

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Ingredients:
  • 1 gallon of apple cider
  • 2 apples (you want something firm… I usually use granny smith but anything works as long as it’s not super soft)
  • 1 orange, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons of whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • ~4 tablespoons of cinnamon (I do this to taste since it depends on how strong the cinnamon is and if they added cinnamon to the cider you bought)
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon allspice (or more to taste)
  • Spiced Rum
Directions:
  1. Pour cider into a big pot and bring to a simmer
  2. While it is heating, poke cloves into the apples
  3. Add the cloved apples and the sliced oranges to the pot (it doesn’t have to be simmering yet, just add it whenever you are done slicing and assembling)
  4. Add the brown sugar and spices
  5. Let it simmer for at least 1 hour (the longer it simmers, the better it is)
  6. Taste it along the way and spice it up as you like it. If it’s not sweet enough, add more brown sugar.
  7. When you are ready to serve it, pour it into a hot cup and then add as much rum as you would like (don’t add it until right before drinking or else all the alcohol burns off… and what’s the fun in that?)

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Pork Bone Soup: If you are easily grossed out by gross things, SKIP THIS POST

3 Nov

I will start with the finished product. Why? Because the process is absolutely gross to look at… so if you do not like knowing what your food looks like before it shows up on your plate, skip this post.

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Ok… you have been warned!

Mike threw me an awesome birthday party at Albert Hall Tavern.  (You can see pictures of the party on my sister’s Facebook album)

The party consisted of a sampling of food and drinks and peaked with a suckling pig roast.  It was fantastic, delicious, and fun. We had the private room in the back and Chef Bill treated me and my guests to a night to remember.  (Ok… maybe I don’t remember ALL of it… but I will say that the beer was flowing and I MAY have eaten an eyeball AND a snout… but I’m not copping to anything)

Chef Bill was nice enough to send me home with all the pork bones to make pork bone soup.  I diligently picked off the meat, broke up the bones, and set it in a pot with spices, herbs, and vegetables to boil. And boil. And boil. And boil.

When you are making soup from bones, it is variable as to how much flavor will come out and how much fat. So you boil it for flavor then put it in the fridge to let the fat rise to the top. Then you skim off the fat and reboil it.  Repeat until desired flavor/fattiness.

The first time I boiled the pork bones, I decided it wasn’t quite enough flavor so I put it in the fridge and readied it to be boiled the next day.  What I didn’t anticipate, however, was what would rise to the top…

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Well hello piggy!

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I’m not going to lie… the science nerd in me thought this was SUPER cool.  So cool in fact that we actually tried to preserve the skull, however, it wound up disintegrating when we left it in detergent for too long. OH WELL.

After I got it to the desired flavor, I drained out the bones and refrigerated. Skimmed off the fat (which I froze to use to make bread at a future date) and then at the soup with rice and bok choy.

And it was good!