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Monthly Archives: December 2012

What We’re Cooking: A New Year’s Eve Dinner Party

Oysters with Champagne-Vinegar Mignonette

Instead of hitting the restaurant scene on New Year’s Eve, I host an intimate candle-lit  dinner party. With my closest friends in attendance, we start our celebration by toasting to the new year with fresh and festive Champagne Punch, which pairs perfectly with an iced tray of Oysters with Champagne-Vinegar Mignonette. And for the fancy food lovers in my life, I turn to Foie Gras Toasts with Sauternes Gelée for the ultimate finger-friendly appetizer.

A few hours before the clock strikes twelve, I gather my guests for a four-course treat. We start with a luscious Mushroom Consommé with Morels and Pastry “Hats” served alongside glasses of celebratory Champagne. Clinking glasses and numerous toasts soon make way for delicate portions of Asparagus Salad with Celery Leaves, Quail Eggs, and Tarragon Vinaigrette. The light and refreshing dish is followed by the crowd-pleasing casserole for the evening, classic Macaroni and Cheese, which is served alongside Lobster in Crazy Water. For dessert we shove forkfuls of Mile-High Chocolate Cake into our mouths just in time to catch the final New Year’s Eve countdown with a final sip of bubbly.

How do you celebrate New Year’s Eve?

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Weekly Roundup: Handmade Pasta and Dumpling Recipes

Chicken Dumpling Soup

Have you ever tried making pasta or dumplings from scratch? It’s a fun project to tackle over the holidays (hint: New Year’s Eve appetizers!) and it’s one that yields delicious and often Instagram-worthy results. This week, we’re rounding up our favorite handmade pasta recipes from across the Web.

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How Fresh Is Nine-Week-Old Bread?

Ten-Week Old White Bread

Photo: Kemp Minifie

These slices of bread look fresh, right? They certainly felt fresh to me when I snapped the photograph on Friday, December 21, 2012. The crusts curled—no breakage—as I pulled the slices from the bag.

But guess how old this loaf of bread is? I bought it nine weeks ago when I was testing the Turkish Spiced Meatballs for our New Year’s Eve Party Modern Menu.  I knew it was a while ago, but I was shocked when I checked my receipts to discover I’d bought it on October 12, 2012.

Here’s the kicker: the loaf has been sitting at room temperature on my kitchen counter the whole time. I never refrigerated it or froze it. The loaf got lost amidst the clutter of a small New York City apartment kitchen heavily used by someone who loves to cook.

It’s not natural for bread to last that long at room temperature. When I was a kid, bread barely lasted four or five days without showing signs of mold. I shudder to think what a green furry mess a loaf from the days of my childhood would have become in only two weeks at room temperature. That’s why my mother insisted we store our bread in the fridge to help it last longer.

Continue reading
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New Year’s Nibbles

Bite-Size Chipotle Chicken Soft Tacos

Photo: Lara Ferroni

New Year’s Eve is a night for champagne, toasts, songs, celebrating, and hors d’oeuvres. With bite-sized delights like pigs in blankets, spanitkopita, mini quiche, crostini, deviled eggs, arancini, crab cakes, gougères, chicken satay, meatballs, bacon wrapped dates, shrimp cocktail, blinis with caviar, and empanandas, there is plenty of finger-friendly fare to choose from. But, we want you to tell us:

What’s your favorite hors d’oeuvre?

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Image of the Week: Squash Soup

Squash and Carrot Soup
This herb-speckled Squash Soup with Rosemary and Spice by Allison Sklar of the Bacon Eating Jewish Vegetarian is a fitting repast for a cozy night in. A dollop of sour cream adds contrast to the carrot-hued concoction.
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A Merry Christmas Breakfast

Crispy Oven-Fried Potatoes

Photo: Mikkel Vang

Good morning and Merry Christmas! Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, a holiday morning is an ideal time to indulge in the pleasures of a homemade hearty breakfast. Christmas traditions in our household begin with a big breakfast, and potatoes, eggs, and bacon still reign as the top choices. Even though our girls have become quite proficient with their hash browns, the real family favorite when it comes to potatoes is what is affectionately known as potato gratin, but titled Crispy Oven-Browned Potatoes on gourmet.com.

Think of it as a lazy person’s Pommes Anna, the French buttery potato cake. Instead of carefully layering thin slices of potato with melted butter, you quickly toss the slices with butter in a large bowl, then slide them into a shallow baking dish, and cook the gratin in a hot oven until the potatoes are, indeed, browned and crisp on top. Former Gourmet magazine food editor Melissa Roberts developed this winner of a recipe for the Christmas breakfast menu in the December 2008 issue of Gourmet. In fact, all her recipes for that menu are winners. Thanks to Roberts, we’ll also be making her Maple and Black-Pepper Bacon, as well as her Baked Egg Custard with Gruyere and Chives.

Fortified by the potatoes, eggs, and bacon in our bellies, we have the energy for unwrapping presents, as well as the cleanup afterwards, which is then followed by a long nap before dinner. That means there are only two meals to cook on Christmas Day. Now that’s what I call a gift!

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Food Blog of the Week: parsnips aplenty

Parsnips Aplenty

Name: Lauren Mitchell
Blog: parsnips aplenty

Location: Portland, Oregon

What is the first meal you ever cooked?
See, I grew up in rural Appalachia, with well water that turned the white laundry rusty-colored, so every couple of weeks we had to go to the laundromat to wash the light-colored clothes. One day when I was 14 or so I ripped out a ridiculously complicated carbonara recipe from Family Circle, and I spent approximately two hours and twelve pans to make it. And even if it wasn’t actually carbonara, it was pretty stellar.

If you had to blog about one ingredient every day for a year, what would it be?

I will never eat:
Blue cheese (yuck), foie gras (unless it comes from that one guy in Spain who raises his happy animals), and probably not the still-beating heart of a cobra. I also find jackfruit revolting.

Who would you love to have over for dinner?
If “dinner” is a euphemism, Nathan Fillion. If it’s not, then I like making food for people who treat it like a cooking lesson. If Nathan Fillion wants a cooking lesson, I mean, that’s cool too.

What is your all-time favorite recipe from your blog?
There are so many, but the Garlic Chive Pesto was probably one of the better surprises I made, and every time I eat it I’m ecstatic that it’s there. The entry I wrote above it is one of the more personal ones, too, and it carries the satisfaction of saying just what I needed to say.

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What We’re Cooking: All Things Nutmeg

Banana Upside-Down Cake

Ok, I’ll admit it: I didn’t know that nutmeg and mace were parts of the same plant. Did you? (Why didn’t you tell me?) Nutmeg isn’t a nut—it’s a seed—and mace is the vibrant red anil, or covering, that protects it.

I prefer nutmeg freshly grated. It contains myristicin, a natural organic compound which can trigger hallucinations in large doses—but that’s not why I like it, no no. Nutmeg is just one of those ingredients that brings warmth and complexity to dishes when added in small amounts.

Bananas and nutmeg are a dynamic duo. Together they remind me of a trip to Jamaica in late 2010. The island air had a spicy-sweet smell, and desserts featuring nutmeg and bananas were plentiful. This Banana Upside-Down Cake (above) exhibits all their best attributes. As advised in the recipe notes, do not use overripe bananas: they may disintegrate and can take on a rather disconcerting purplish hue. I learned this from experience.

A generous pinch of fresh nutmeg makes my creamed spinach transcendent. Use it in yours and taste the difference. Or try this Lasagne Bolognese with Spinach. It’s the kind of meal that readies you for a long winter’s nap. For a multi-course extravaganza, begin with Potted Crab, where nutmeg adds earthiness to Alaskan king crab meat; have the lasagne for a main; and end with Eggnog Ice Cream. Three courses’ worth of nutmeg may be enough to produce a gentle state of euphoria—but, for me, any well-cooked three-course meal usually will.

Are you ready to break out the nutmeg?

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Weekly Roundup: Christmas Cakes

Eggnog Mini Loaves

Now that the Chrsitmas countdown is in the final stretch, we’ve got one thing and one thing only on our minds: dessert! Celebrate the holiday season with a handful of our favorite festive cakes from across the Web.

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Cookie Craze

Pistachio Cranberry Oatmeal Icebox Cookies

Photo: Lara Ferroni

Christmas is just around the corner which means holiday baking is in full gear. People all over the world are mixing up batches of festive cookies to snack on, give as gifts, bring to cookie swaps, or leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve. With favorites like chocolate chip, linzer, sugar, butter, shortbread, gingerbread, thumbprint, pecan sandies, ginger snaps, and peanut butter, there are endless ways to indulge your holiday sweet tooth. But, we want you to tell us:

What’s your favorite kind of cookie?

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The Secret To Beautiful Cut-Out Christmas Cookies

Salted Brown Butter Cookies

Photo: Lara Ferroni

With a blizzard sweeping across much of the country today and tomorrow, and only four days before Christmas Eve, this weekend is shaping up to be prime cookie-making time. There are few things more tantalizing than the aroma of buttery sweet cookies baking in the oven, but as much as I love the ritual of holiday cookies, I do remember being frustrated as a kid when the shapes I’d cut out didn’t bake up the way I expected. Details disappeared as the dough puffed and spread in the oven. Snowflakes morphed into unrecognizable blobs. Stars bulged and lost their points.

I didn’t know then that the secret to clean-edged butter cookies is to chill the dough repeatedly after it’s rolled out. You want the dough firm and cold when you cut out the cookies, and when you transfer them to the baking sheet, and chilly again when you pop a sheet full into the oven. The freezer makes quick work of this process. Five minutes is often all you need to firm up the dough. The refrigerator can do it, but it takes a lot longer.

Always chill your rolled-out dough on a baking sheet or flat tray. It needs a firm foundation. Being able to fit a baking sheet of cookie dough into the freezer is the reason why I’m a fan of refrigerators with freezers that are either on top or on the bottom. Side-by-side door designs often don’t allow the space for a large baking sheet on the freezer side. If you’re a baker, keep that in mind if and when you renovate your kitchen.

So keep the mantra of chill, baby, chill in your head this weekend when you’re baking, but forget about it when you’re shoveling the snow! And if you’re looking for a terrific recipe for Christmas cookie cut-outs, we are crazy about the salted brown butter cookies pictured above.

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Image of the Week: Caramel Pineapple Cheesecake

Caramel Pineapple Cheesecake
It may be cold enough to see your breath on the city street, but this Caramel Pineapple Cheesecake by Karen of Citrus and Candy will transport you to a tropical clime. Its sunny yellow pineapple and deep amber caramel are the colors of a Caribbean sunset.
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The Gift For Italian Food Lovers: Coming Home To Sicily

Coming Home to Sicily

Photo: Courtesy of Sterling Epicure

If you’re looking for a gift for the Italian food lover in your life—and these days that description fits most Americans—grab a copy of Coming Home To Sicily. And while you’re at it, get one for yourself, too.

It’s far more than a cookbook focused on the unique food ways of the island that forms the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped country. It’s Fabrizia Lanza’s personal rediscovery of the taste treasures of her homeland. Lanza, the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, who opened and ran a well-known cooking school on her family’s estate in Sicily, left the island to study art history, and worked in northern Italy for many years as a museum curator, before returning home in midlife to help her mother with the school that she eventually inherited when her mother died in 2010.

With an art historian’s perspective, Lanza shares her excitement at learning how to recreate the taste memories of her youth. Just reading about making pasta reale (almond paste) from scratch, made me want to run right into the kitchen and start blanching almonds. Her orange marmalade makes you yearn for a piece of toast mounded with the glistening orange jam.

To say that the book is loaded with gorgeous photographs by Guy Ambrosino, a documentary photographer, is true, but the statement vastly understates how beautifully his pictures chronicle a way of life in which the growing, harvesting, and preparation of food form the underlying rhythm of each season. You can’t really fathom what it’s like to make Sicilian estratto, the intense, sundried tomato paste, until you see the Old World process Ambrosino captures. You can feel how hot the summer sun is in the pictures of the tomato purée spread on wooden tabletops in the courtyard to dry.

Nor did I have any idea of what the famed wild fennel—essential to pasta con le sarda (pasta with fresh sardines and wild fennel)—looked like until I saw Ambrosino’s photos of it growing on a hillside, then harvested and tied in a bundle on the back of a motor scooter, and finally in close-ups of it cooked. You just want to be there. Continue reading

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Featured Food Blog: APT. 2B Baking Co.

Apt. 2B Baking Co.

Location: New York, NY
Name: Yossy Arefi
Blog: Apt. 2B Baking Co.

If you had to blog about one ingredient every day for a year, what would it be?
Fresh, seasonal produce. Living somewhere with four distinct seasons has taught me to love and appreciate the changing gifts that nature gives us every few months.

I will never eat:
I have a “never say never” attitude when it comes to food, but there are certainly things I wouldn’t choose to eat twice. The tête de veau I sampled once on a cookbook shoot comes to mind…

Who would you love to have over for dinner?
This isn’t very exciting, but I’d love to have my family over for dinner. We live on opposite coasts and I’ve never had the pleasure of cooking for them in my own home. I’d just love to host a big party where my little nieces could run around the table and cause a ruckus while the adults sipped wine and indulged in a delicious meal.

What’s your go-to quick and easy dinner?
Marcela Hazan’s tomato sauce with butter and onion. I always have the ingredients in the pantry, it takes about 1 minute of hands on time, and it is incredibly delicious, which I think is the appropriate time-to-satisfaction ratio for a quick and easy dinner.

What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you order there?
I am notoriously indecisive, so I don’t have a favorite restaurant, but when I go out to eat I love to try fresh and unique dishes that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make for myself at home. On the other hand, I also love a good-quality cheeseburger with fresh, crispy fries.

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What We’re Cooking: A Christmas Eve Feast

Spice Roast Goose with Dried-Fruit Pan Sauce

I hear a slight jingle of sleigh bells ringing through New York City’s crisp winter air and I know that Christmas is soon to arrive. While I enjoy a good stocking-stuffer or paper- and bow-wrapped surprise, Christmas Eve dinner is what I truly look forward to. This year I will serve friends and family an exquisite, tasty, and memorable meal featuring my Christmas holiday favorites.

My Christmas Eve menu begins with a few festive h’ordeuvres including Foie Gras with Date Purée and Pomegranate. These perfectly-proportioned bites combine flavors of tart pomegranate, sweet date, and smooth foie gras. A silver tray of Pecan and Goat-Cheese Marbles replaces a tired cheese plate and nut assortment for a new twist on older snack traditions.

Guests then rush to the dining room with obvious anticipation as bowls of lush Olive-Oil Mashed Potatoes and steaming Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds grace the table. As the sides are dished out, a Spice Roast Goose with Dried-Fruit Pan Sauce with crisp skin and sweet aroma swoops in. At the Christmas Eve table, stories are shared and a hearty chuckle travels across the room as we all catch my grandfather characteristically licking his dinner plate. When no one has the belly room to reach for another bite, little bowls of Warm Sweet-Potato Pudding with Apples and Chestnuts line guest’s place-settings to finish the meal.

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Great Greens

Winter Greens

Photo: Condé Nast Archive

No need to pack on the pounds this holiday season. Along with the cold weather, winter brings along a stunning array of leafy greens. With options like to escarole, Swiss chard, beet greens, sorrel, cabbage, mustard greens, chicory, dandelion greens, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, cress, spinach, tat soi, and turnip greens, there are endless options of nutrient-rich, delicious veggies to help keep you eating healthy through the holidays.

What is your favorite winter green?

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Weekly Roundup: Festive Hot Chocolate

Slow Cooker Peppermint Hot Chocolate

The holiday season is here and it’s time to get festive. Whether you are caroling Christmas songs, frying latkes, or opening gifts, a steaming cup of hot chocolate is the perfect way to celebrate your holiday spirit. From spiked hot chocolate to hot chocolate for marshmallow-lovers, we’ve rounded up a tasty bundle of seasonal hot chocolate recipes to please.

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Holiday Baking Made Easier

Pastry cloth and rolling pin cover

Photo: Courtesy of Norpro

Know about pastry cloths and rolling pin covers? They’re what my mother and grandmother swore by for rolling out pastry and cookie dough, but Mon Dieu, I never saw them used at cooking school in Paris, nor were they used by anyone in the Gourmet test kitchens. No, marble was the mantra for pastry, because it stays cool for those finicky French butter-rich doughs.

I’m tickled whenever something old-fashioned is new again, and pastry cloths with rolling pin covers—my mother called them rolling pin socks, and that’s exactly what they look like—are back in vogue. I see them for sale not only in cookware shops, but in the baking aisle of my local supermarket, which says a lot because Manhattan supermarkets are notoriously small and cramped with limited shelf space.

I couldn’t be happier about this development, because pastry cloths and rolling pin covers work like a charm. You rub a little flour into the cloth and the sock-like cover (once it’s on the rolling pin), then start rolling. The cloth and the cover hold the flour, creating non-stick surfaces, which helps keep the dough from absorbing it. The less flour a dough absorbs, the better the outcome. Continue reading

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Image of the Week: Pain au Chocolat

Pain au Chocolat
Christelle Tanielian of Christelle Is Flabbergasting captured this picture-worthy pain au chocolat on a recent visit to Le Fournil du Trait-Carré in Québec. Fresh croissant needs no embellishment, but filling it with deep dark chocolate certainly never detracts.
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The Mysterious Case of The Cremini Meringue Mushrooms

Cremini Meringue Mushrooms

Photo: Lara Ferroni

For the meringue mushrooms to decorate her Tiramisu Yule Log, Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez definitely did not want to go the traditional route. “Do I have to do the boring white mushrooms?” she asked. “How about I add a little cocoa to the meringue and do mushrooms that look like cremini,” she continued, her voice rising with enthusiasm.

“Great idea!” I shot back, because although I’m a fan of meringues of any kind, especially ones made to mimic mushrooms, I’ve often thought they looked too bright a white up against the chocolate brown bark of the log.

When Eriquez turned in her Christmas menu recipes, she was particularly proud of  how her mushroom idea turned out. “Just wait till you try them,” she told me, “they’re really cute.”

It’s no surprise, then, that her Yule log with the mushrooms was the first recipe I tested. Everything was going beautifully until it came time to pipe the cocoa-tinted meringue onto the baking sheet. The meringue was super stiff when I began folding in the tiny amount of cocoa Eriquez called for, but when I tried to pipe the “stems,” which are supposed to stand straight up on the baking sheet, the tops kept leaning over. Continue reading

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