It can be hard to remember, with all of the champagne and extravagant parties, that while we are about to begin a new year, we are finishing one as well. This past year was filled with joy and love and lots of wonderful food. We saw my niece on her one month birthday and just recently on her one year. In June, Eric and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary with a memorable dinner and a weekend on the Cape surrounded by friends. And we got the terrific news that we have another little one coming in 2011 (“Squish” as we affectionately like to call it).
But, as the saying goes, the sweet isn’t as sweet without the sour.
Last week, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that his father was very sick. Within a matter of a couple of days, things went from bad to worse. And before we could even process what was happening, he was gone.
Eric and I had planned on flying down to Florida this coming weekend, but that all changed rapidly. We booked new flights and rushed off to the airport.
This past week has been filled with reflection. Reflections of my grandfather’s life, trying to piece together the memories like a jigsaw puzzle. This has been a particularly tough time for my dad, who will be a grandfather himself in just a few short months.
I have no doubts that he will make a wonderful grandpa. He will instill all of his humor (no matter how corny it is) and all of his wisdom. Like my grandfather, I know he will support the little one in all of his or her endeavors.
Ever since receiving the news regarding my grandfather, I’ve spent a great deal of time cooking and baking. It’s been my way to decompress.
Now, I don’t have memories of my grandfather cooking, but I did spend a lot of time with my father in the kitchen. He’s the one who taught me how to make some great stir-fry dishes (still some of the best fried rice I’ve ever had) and showed me how to grill meat and fish.
But it is the Bananas Foster that he would make each New Years Eve that I have the best memories of. It was our tradition. We would all gather around the stove in our pajamas and, just before igniting it, I would turn the lights off so we could get a good look at the flame.
This represents the very best way to start another year. And given the way the last one ended, I think beginning this upcoming year with butter and sugar and rum is much needed.
4 bananas peeled, halved, and cut lengthwise
In a large skillet, melt butter. Using a wooden spoon, add brown sugar and stir together. Add the bananas and cook until caramelized on both sides, over medium-high heat. Move pan off heat, add the rum and return to the stove to catch a flame from the gas stove or a long lighter. Stand back when ignited and flambe the bananas. Be careful a flame will shoot up above the pan. Let flame die down and the alcohol cook out. Serve bananas over vanilla ice cream.
Before you thank me, I want to give credit where credit is due. And that needs to go to our friend Katusha, who was generous enough to bring us a container of her hot buttered rum mix to the Thanksgiving meal we hosted last month. Since then, Eric and I have been tearing through it, sharing it with friends at the end of a long day of work.
As the contents of the jar quickly disappeared (where did it all go???), I knew it was time to not just make my own batch, but to pay it forward. Seeing that we were attending our friends John and Molly’s Christmas party this past weekend, it was the ideal time to whip up some more and give them a container.
Normally when I embark on such an endeavor, I immediate start searching for recipes, but I knew exactly what ingredients went into it. And it really was as simple as it looked, making it the ideal last minute Christmas gift.
For those who have never had it before, hot buttered rum mix is a blend of butter, sugar, and a variety of spices. The spices you include can vary depending on your preference, but this is a fairly resilient recipe (with limits of course), so feel free to play around a bit.
When consumed with some rum and hot water, you have the perfect after dinner beverage. But, be warned, you WILL want to go to sleep after you’re finished.
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Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Boston during the winter months knows the man on the Common selling roasted chestnuts from his cart. The aroma hits you as you walk past and, despite the blazing cold winds, instantly warms every inch of your body. With just its scent, you experience the joys of those sweet, buttery treats.
Now, there are some cookie recipes that I’ve tried that are very labor intensive and the results, unfortunately, are less than stellar. Others, however, are labor intensive and completely worth the time, the energy, and any frustrations that may come with them. This is one of those cookies.
The first challenge in preparing these was roasting and peeling the chestnuts. A lesson to all: don’t just gently score the shell with the knife… pierce them. I found the ones with a nice, healthy incision to be the easiest to work with.
Lesson two, let the chestnuts cool a little before cracking them open. I even put them in the fridge for a little bit so I wouldn’t burn my hands.
Once I got past this stage, the cookies were quite easy to make. The dough consists of just a couple of ingredients (mostly butter and sugar) and it can all be produced in a food processor. Of course, as Deb mentions, it’s not required… but I can’t imagine doing all of this by hand.
These are great cookies to make for a party (you get quite a few of them out of the dough), served by a roaring fire and a cup of [spiked?] hot chocolate. They are, in a nutshell, the perfect holiday cookie.
(From Smitten Kitchen, Adapted generously from Epicurious)
Smitten Kitchen’s Note: “My main changes to the classic formula, aside from the chestnuts, were to add some spice, salt, give instruction to make a smoother, easy-peasy dough in the food processor and to warn about the baking time. These cookies can go from “holy buttery chestnuts!” into the dry territory with just a little overbaking. Better to err on the side of caution.
I also encourage you to start with a whole pound of chestnuts, although you’ll only need about 2/3 of them, because chestnuts are notorious for surprising you, once roasted, with rotten centers. If you’ve got a winning batch (as I did), you get a little to snack on and everyone wins.”
Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch cookies
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon + additional for coating
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut a small X on the top of each chestnut with a very sharp knife. Don’t be afraid to cut into the “meat” of the chestnut a little; I found that the the ones that were the most easy to peel start with a deep enough cut that the skin peels back while roasting. Roast chestnuts on a baking sheet for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a darker shade of brown and the X peels back to reveal the inner nut.
Cool on tray and then peel. Don’t worry if they break up as you do so if you have to dig them out in pieces, you won’t need whole ones for this.
Once the peeled chestnuts are fully cool, chop them coarsely on a cutting board. Measure 1 cup of chopped chestnuts, and dump them in the bowl of a food processor. Grind them until they are very well chopped, then add the softened butter, and pulse again until combined. Add 1/2 cup of your powdered sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour and pulse until an even dough is formed.
[No food processor? Chop-chop-chop those chestnuts as fine as you can, then use an electric mixer to whip the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, flour and chestnuts and beat until well blended.]
Divide dough and wrap each half in plastic, chilling for one hour or until firm. Once chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and a few pinches of cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside. Working with one half of the chilled dough at at time, roll it into 2 teaspoon-sized balls (I use my 1 tablespoon measure, but didn’t fill it) in the palm of your hand. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet but no need to leave more than 1/2 inch between the cookies; they won’t spread.
Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 to 17 minutes. (See Note up top about baking times.) Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. To touch them up before serving, you can sift some of the leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture over them.
Do ahead: Dough can be chilled in the fridge for a day or two, longer in the freezer. Chestnuts can be roasted in advance, kept at room temperature for a day or so. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week.
The decision to stop eating “meat” was an easy one for me. At the time, it had very little to do with ethics and was almost entirely driven by health. I gave up eating red meat first, but that didn’t last long and soon I was eating veggie burgers while the rest of my family continued in their carnivorous ways.
I knew that there would be things that I’d miss. My mom’s fantastic brisket with ladles of gravy and a side of braised carrots or the whole roasted chicken we’d have virtually every Friday night.
And I did miss these for a period. That feeling, however, faded when I became a more adventurous pescatarian and learned the simple pleasures, and enormous flavors, that came from vegetables or tofu or a fillet of salmon.
Despite this, some of my cravings still linger. But it’s not what you think. I’m not itching for a big steak or a hunk o’ hamburger. What I miss the most are the dishes that contain meat, but are masked by vegetarian-friendly ingredients Try finding a bowl of matzo ball soup that doesn’t have chicken stock in it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
So, I decided if there was ever a chance that I’d get to eat it again, I’d have to make it myself.
Matzo ball soup is a staple in our house this time of year. The dumplings are filling and flavorful and can be made in under an hour. A cup of matzo meal, a pinch of salt and pepper, a couple of eggs…. there isn’t much that goes into the preparation.
But the result is the ultimate in comfort food. Each week, I prepare a batch and we consume it over a few days, Eric bringing it to work, then having a bowl in the evening. For those who grew up with matzo balls, it’s one of those things that’s hard to get bored by.
That being said, it is a lot of fun to play around with their flavor. I’ve used curry powder, sriacha sauce, and tomato paste in others. But the simplest, lightest, and most aesthetically interesting, in my opinion, are ones made with spinach.
Spinach Matzo Balls
Makes approx. 10 matzo balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
2 tablespoon seltzer
3/4 cup fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
In a bowl, add all of the ingredients, with the exception of the spinach. Mix everything together and set aside.
Run the spinach leaves through a food processor until finely chopped. Add to matzo ball mixture and stir until full incorporated.
Place the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 1 1/2 quarts of salted water and bring to a boil.
When it has come to a rolling boil, spoon a tablespoon of the matzo ball mixture into your hands and roll into a ball. Gently drop it into the water. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
Cover the pot with a lid, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
At this point, heat up your veggie or chicken broth (either homemade or store bought), add some chopped carrots and celery if you’d like.
Ladle some soup into a bowl and add two matzo balls. Top with fresh dill or parsley.
During a season when we are forced to eat heartier fare to stay warm, it can be refreshing to break things up with a little citrus. The produce section of the store has been loaded with lemons, blood oranges, and grapefruits… all of which are at the top of their game
Besides purchasing crate after crate of clementines (they never seem to last more than a couple of days in our apartment), Eric and I don’t typically buy citrus. That’s the joy, I guess, of being a part of a CSA. We don’t have a choice in what we get and it’s a pleasant surprise when we find that our produce box has been filled with things we wouldn’t normally pick up.
The grapefruit that we received last week only sat in our fridge for a few days before I knew what I wanted to do with them. While many people find them to be too tart, I am well aware that is not always the case… and with a sprinkle of sugar and a pop in the oven, you could probably convince anyone that grapefruits are heavenly (especially the sweeter, red varietal)
I couldn’t bring myself to post a recipe that told you to just toss some sugar on top of a grapefruit half and bake it in the oven. But brown sugar and ginger… that is something to write about. The result is revelatory, a blend of sweet, sour, with a punch at the end.
This changed the way I look at citrus. While I was chowing down on one of these grapefruit halves, my brain was frantically coming up with other concoctions. Maybe a little cayenne pepper on top (too crazy)?
The one thing I am still uncertain of is whether this constitutes as breakfast or dessert. On one hand, you’re eating a piece of fruit that is full of wonderful vitamins. On the other, it’s quite sweet and somehow I can’t see doctors recommending this as a viable way to start your day.
But I did (I’m an adult, I can do that from time to time) and I plan on doing it again in the future.
Broiled Grapefruit with Brown Sugar and Ginger
1 grapefruit, cut in half and segmented with a grapefruit knife
2 to 3 Tablespoons brown sugar, you can eyeball it
a few generous sprinkles of ground ginger
Set the oven to broil and place a rack on the top shelf of the oven. You want the grapefruit to be as close as possible to the broiler heat.
Halve and segment a grapefruit. You may need to trim the bottoms of the grapefruit so it sits up straight.
Place in a broiler safe pan and sprinkle with brown sugar and ginger. Place in the oven under the broiler. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, keeping an eye on it as it cooks. Feel free to rotate the pan as the grapefruit browns.
Remove from oven and serve warm or at room temperature. Be sure to squeeze all the juice out when you’re done eating. It’s the best part!
I hate to say it, but I have trouble relaxing. Each morning, I’m up at six, walking the pup. I come home and take pictures, drink a cup of coffee, and then I’m off to work. When I return, I make dinner and then proceed to edit photos and work on my next blog post. And repeat.
All of these things I enjoy immensely (yes, even walking the dog in brutally cold weather). But by the end of the week, I feel a bit drained.
Sundays are my day of rest. I don’t mind lounging, sitting in front of the TV with fresh baked muffins and a cup of Joe, the New York Times in my hands, the dog and husband by my side (no need to read into the order… you know which one is more important). This is the time when I feel the least amount of stress, when I can rejuvenate myself… before the next work week begins.
On a recent Sunday morning, while Eric was taking the dog out for her morning walk (sometimes I can guilt him into doing it), I ruffled through the contents of our cabinets in search of some inspiration for breakfast. We have oats, we have raisins. Oatmeal? Nah!
And then I saw the jars of jam that were given to me by Gina, of Gina’s Skinny Kitchen, at the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival. This, however, was not your ordinary store-bought jam. This was berry jam from Sarahbeth’s Kitchen in New York.
There are so many things I want to do with this jam (I’ve already used it to make some shortbread cookie sandwiches), but, really, I just wanted to eat it on top of a homemade corn muffin. With that being said, I have had terrible luck with finding a good recipe for corn muffins. Many of the ones that I’ve tried have come out dry or flavorless… hardly worth the effort of preparing or consuming.
So, I made a call out on Twitter for recipes and was given a few options. The first one I received came courtesy of Elle, from Elle’s New England Kitchen. The muffins were just what they needed to be, a light, feathery pastry that worked wonderfully as a vehicle for getting the jam to my lips.
Thank you to all of you who voted for me in the Marx Food “A Chile and a Spoon” recipe challenge! While I did not win the public voting, I did receive the most votes from fellow bloggers… which means I GET 10 LBS OF PRAWNS! Click here for the official announcement. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all of your support!
Featherlight Corn Muffins
1 stick unsalted butter, melted (Elle’s Note: I doubled this recipe and used 4 oz Greek yogurt instead of 2 sticks butter)
Oven to 350. Grease or line 8 muffin cups.
Sift dry stuff together. Whisk eggs and milk in large bowl.
Add a third of the dry stuff to the egg mixture, then a third of the butter, stirring gently just until incorporated. Repeat with remaining dry stuff and butter–don’t over mix.
A little flour not mixed in at the end is fine (she says-but I always mix everything in, lol).
Use an ice cream scoop, filling muffin cups half full.
Bake about 15 mins, till risen, light golden brown, and firm to the touch.
Let cool about 15 mins in pan.
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