Sunday, December 31, 2017

Crustacean Crush and Happy New Year!

Don't tell my husband, although I'm sure he already knows, that I have a major crush on crustaceans; specifically, crab legs! Anyone who's eaten crab legs with me knows that I can plow through them with efficient velocity! (Maybe that's why I prefer to enjoy these babies at home.) King crab is the obvious choice, but I would never turn my nose up to snow crab either. With their sweet, briny flavor and meaty texture, they are an excellent choice for any celebration, like New Year's Eve! However, I'm sure that I am not alone in buying crab legs at the last minute, frozen and without the time to let them thaw overnight. This is the kind of spontaneous purchase you make and then dread when you're not sure what to do with them. Well, I think I can help you out!

(The spoils of my most recent conquest!)

How to Buy, Reheat, and Serve Crab Legs

Purchase at least 1 pound per person.

It is recommended that crab legs be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, thaw them under cold running water, which is usually what I do.

Unless you buy a live crab, the legs are already cooked. The main goal is to reheat the meat without overcooking or drying it out. Some people like to reheat them in the oven, boil them, or even reheat them in the microwave. My preference is to steam them. 

To steam them, fill a large pot big enough to hold the legs with enough water to come up about 1 1/2" from the bottom. Add half a lemon, one bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and 1/2 cup white wine. Insert a steam basket, like the cheap folding kind available at almost any grocer. If you don't have a steam basket, you can wad up some aluminum foil to hold the crab legs above the water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, then add the crab legs and cover. The crab legs should be done shortly after you begin to smell them, about 5-9 minutes total. Remove the legs with tongs and place on a serving platter. Serve immediately with necessary utensils (kitchen shears or shellfish scissors, seafood or lobster crackers, and seafood or lobster forks), clarified butter for dipping, and lemon wedges.

Clarified butter is also called drawn butter. Clarified butter is melted butter in which the milk solids have been removed. To serve 4-6 people, melt 1/2 pound unsalted butter (2 sticks) in a small saucepan over low heat. Allow the butter to come to a boil. As it begins to "sputter," it will separate into three layers: foam on top, clear liquid in the middle (this is the clarified butter part you want), and milk solids on the bottom. When the top foam subsides, remove the pan from the heat and skim off the top foam with a spoon. Pour the butter into a measuring cup and allow it to continue to cool. When cool, gently pour the butter through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into another measuring cup, stopping short of the very bottom of the butter where the milk solids lie. You can store the clarified butter in the refrigerator until ready to reheat. Reheat in a small saucepan over low heat until returned to liquid state. (Note: I do not recommend reheating in a microwave. I have had it explode numerous times, even when set under 10 seconds. It's makes a terrible mess and you'll have to start all over.)

What to serve alongside? Take your pick: buttered new potatoes, corn on the cob, green salad, toasted bread, etc. Although, if you are a true crustacean aficionado, the answer is always, "More crab!"

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise"

No Retro Christmas would be complete without Jello! Jello was invented by Pearle Wait in 1897 in Le Roy, New York. Wait, who was experimenting with combining a cough remedy, a laxative tea, and gelatin, came up with a fruit flavored dessert which his wife, May, named "Jell-O." Lacking the capital and expertise to market his creation, Wait sold his formula to Orator Frank Woodward, a successful medicinal manufacturer and proprietor, for $450 in 1899. After sales were slow and disheartening, Woodward sold the "blankety-blank business" for $35 to Sam Nico. In 1900, The Genesee Pure Food Company launched a very successful marketing campaign that resulted in $250,000 sales in 1902. In 1904, the Jell-O "best seller" recipes rolled off the presses with 15 million booklets distributed, and the rest is history!

At the tail end of the 19th century, the "domestic science/home economics" movement had taken hold of the Victorians, in which they became obsessed with control. The idea of a tossed salad with mixed greens made them cringe, for it was "messy"! Oh my! Instead, they preferred an "orderly presentation," in which ingredients were painstakingly separated, organized, and presented. Thus molded gelatin (Jell-O) salads were born. They put everything in gelatin, from fruit and nuts to mayonnaise and tuna! It was so prevalent, that Pulitzer Prize winning composer William Bolcom composed the novelty song "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise" for his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Bolcom based the song on his experiences playing the piano for women's clubs in his youth, after being fed absurd and unappetizing concoctions, including jello salads. Be warned: This video may induce dry heaving!



Don't worry, this fabulous recipe, which I nicked from my equally fabulous mother-in-law, for "Seven Layer Jello" is neither absurd nor unappetizing! Not only does it look like a beautiful present on your plate, it tastes light and refreshing, and is a MUST for any retro Christmas! Everyone loves it! Honestly, along with Meringue MushroomsPeppermint Bark, and Lacy Nut Cookies, I make this every year and it just wouldn't be Christmas without it! This recipe does require time to allow each layer to set, so plan accordingly! For a chic adults only gelatin dessert, see Wine Jelly with Grapes!


Seven Layer Jello

Makes one 9"x13" pan.

Ingredients:
4, 3 ounce packages Jell-O (lime, lemon, orange, and cherry)
2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1 pint sour cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups scalded milk, cooled
1 cup sugar

Directions:
Lightly oil a glass Pyrex 9"x13" pan. Dissolve the lime jello in 1 cup boiling water, stir. When dissolved add 1/2 cup cold water. Carefully pour into the oiled dish, carefully place in the refrigerator to set.

Meanwhile, bring the 2 cups of milk to boiling. Add the 1 cup of sugar and stir until dissolved. 

Dissolve the 2 envelopes of Knox gelatin in 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand 2 minutes. Add the gelatin mixture to the milk/sugar mixture.

Mix the vanilla extract in 1 pint sour cream. Add to the gelatin/milk/sugar mixture. Beat with an electric mixer until well blended. (I actually just whisk it very well until very smooth.) This is your "white" mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature. Do not refrigerate!*

At this point, the lime jello should be set, you will know it is set when it's "sticky" to the touch. Measure 1 1/2 cups of white mixture and carefully spoon or gently ladle over the lime layer. Gently tilt the pan from side to side to spread the mixture evenly over the lime layer. Carefully place in the refrigerator to set.


Next, dissolve the lemon jello in 1 cup boiling water, stir. When dissolved add 1/2 cup cold water. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature. When the first white layer is set, carefully spoon or gently ladle the lemon layer over the white layer. Gently tilt the pan from side to side to spread the mixture evenly over the white layer. Carefully place in the refrigerator to set.

When the lemon layer is set, stir the white mixture, measure 1 1/2 cups white mixture, spoon on lemon layer, tilting as before. Refrigerate to set.

Repeat each layer as directed above, using orange, then the last 1 1/2 cups white mixture, and finally the red mixture.

When done, allow the mold to set overnight. To serve, cut into squares. To store, refrigerate covered with plastic wrap. Keeps fresh for several days.

*If you must refrigerate the white mixture and it sets up, gently reheat in microwave about 10 seconds at a time, stirring each time until smooth. Don't let it get hot or it will melt into the other layers!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Flagon of Seasonal Stimulation? and a Holiday Ham!



Continuing my week of vintage recipes, perfect for a Retro Christmas, I want to share this incredibly easy and surprisingly delicious recipe for "Monte's Ham." After all, what could be more elegant than a glazed ham studded with cloves? (Beats a turkey carcass any day!) In fact, archaeologists believe that the early settlers of Jamestown raised swine, and to this day, a large ham, not a turkey, is the preferred centerpiece of Christmas dinner in the U.S.! I made this recipe on a whim and absolutely love it! The instructions made me laugh: "Buy the cheapest ham possible, glaze the hell out of it, and cook it for a long time." The result is fantastic, positively dreamy!


Monte's Ham

Serves a crowd!


Ingredients:


1, 15-pound smoked bone-in ham (I use boneless because it carves nicer.)*
1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
1 cup Dijon mustard (I like Grey Poupon.)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 rounded tablespoon whole cloves

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and set a rack in the lower-middle level.

Cut off and discard the tough outer skin and excess fat from the ham. Put it in a large roasting pan and, with a long sharp knife, score it, making crosshatch incisions about 1/2 inch deep and 1 inch apart all over the ham.

Roast for 2 hours. Remove the ham from the oven and increase the heat to 350 degrees.

For the glaze, stir together the marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud the ham with the cloves, inserting them at the points where the cuts intersect. Brush the entire surface of the ham generously with half of the glaze and return to the oven.

Cook for another 1 1/2 hours, brushing on the remaining glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Carve the ham and serve warm or at room temperature.

*If using half a 15 pound bone-in ham (7-8 pounds), halve the glazing ingredients and cook for half the time.

Recipe courtesy of Saveur Cooks Authentic American, submitted by Monte Williams.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Retro Christmas

Even though I would love to spend time with distant family and friends, I am happy to embrace a low-stress holiday with my husband and two kids, no travel, no trying to hide "secret" gifts in your trunk, no forgetting something, it can be a real nightmare!!! So you get to stay home and begin the cheer? The best way to ensure a fun filled holiday is to go retro! These vintage recipes make things fun and easy, like mock-Polynesian "Rumaki" (a true cocktail classic), marmalade glazed ham studded with cloves, and I would be remiss not to include a spectacular jello dessert! So put up your tinsel trees, dust off those bubble lights, and get the cocktails flowing! 


Rumaki

Makes about 20

Ingredients:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1, 8 ounce can whole water chestnuts, drained
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1/8 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 pound bacon, preferably center cut

Directions:


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a shallow glass or ceramic dish, combine the soy sauce, ground ginger and curry powder (if using), add the water chestnuts and allow to macerate for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

In another shallow dish, combine the brown sugar and the mustard, mixing well. Cut the bacon into 4-inch strips and dredge in the sugar mixture.

Drain the water chestnuts and wrap a strip of bacon around each. Place the wrapped water chestnuts on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. 


Bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the bacon you use), or until the bacon is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and insert a toothpick into each water chestnut. Place on a serving platter and pass hot.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Simple Jacques

Jacques Pepin was born in France in 1935. Pepin's love of cooking began at his parents' restaurant, Le Pelican, where he worked in the kitchen after school. At age 17, he moved to Paris and began working in some of the best restaurants at the time. In 1956, he worked as a chef for the French Navy, and then became personal chef to three heads of state, including Charles de Gaulle. In 1959, Pepin came to the United States, where he began working at Le Pavillon in New York City. After a few years, he was hired as director of research and new development for the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain, while simultaneously earning his Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in French literature at Columbia University. In 1970, after leaving Howard Johnson's, he opened a soup restaurant called La Potagerie, and later was in charge of food operations at the World Trade Center. Jacques has since published over 20 books, numerous articles for The New York Times and Food&Wine magazine, and hosted 9 acclaimed public television cooking programs. Busy man!

I read an article a few years ago, where Jacques was discussing how his food philosophy is simplification, inspiring his Fast Food My Way series of books. To his surprise, they have become his most popular cookbook series out of all his books! His belief that good food does not have to always be complicated has really resonated with people around the globe. A great example of this is his recipe for "Butternut Squash Velvet." This elegant soup takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, can be made ahead, and even freezes well! Although this chic velvety soup is effortless, it truly elevates any occasion, and would be a thoughtful beginning to any Thanksgiving feast!


Butternut Squash Velvet

Makes 5-6 cups.

Ingredients:
For the Soup
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup dices (1-inch) onion
1 cup sliced, leek, including some of the lighter green inner leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium if store-bought
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
For the Garnish
1/4 cup crushed pistachio nuts
A few sprigs of fresh chervil, dill, chopped fresh tarragon, or chives

Directions:
For the Soup
Put the squash, onion, leek, olive oil, salt, pepper, stock, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover partially, reduce the heat to low, and boil (I think he means simmer) gently for 20 minutes.


Emulsify with an immersion blender (See Gadgets) until smooth. You can use a regular blender or a food processor, but an immersion blender is more convenient. (The soup can be prepared to this point a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated or frozen.)

At Serving Time
Add the cream and bring the soup to a boil. Serve garnished with a sprinkling of crushed pistachios and a sprig of fresh chervil or dill or a sprinkling of tarragon or chives.

Recipe from More Fast Food My Way, by Jacques Pepin.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

There's No Place Like Rome! There's No Place Like Rome!

This recipe is not named after Dorothy's dog, but rather a trattoria in the center of Rome. This is a great pasta recipe to have up your sleeve, especially around the holidays. I find that when preparing for a full blown holiday meal (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), I often overlook the fact that I need to feed my company the night before. What to do? Nothing is easier than pasta, right? Only one problem: the men in my family find pasta dishes unsubstantial. The solution: add Italian sausage! Don't let the ingredients fool you. They may seem simple, but the result is divine! This recipe is easily doubled, to suit your needs, and served with a big green salad, wine, and crusty bread, and the result is a surprisingly quick, satisfying and elegant meal.


*Because it is a cream sauce, you need to serve it right away! Also, don't skip the addition of the fennel seeds!

Rigatoni alla Toto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (if necessary)
1 cup dry white wine
6-8 whole fresh basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/8 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds, or ground fennel (but freshly crushed is better)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Kosher salt
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup freshly grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving (this dish really needs real Parmigiano-Reggiano)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and red pepper (if using) and brown on all sides, breaking up the sausage as you stir. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the basil, crushed fennel, and cream and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the sausage is cooked through.

While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni in the boiling water until al dente. Drain well and add to the sauce and toss. Add the 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss well. Serve immediately with additional Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top. 

Adapted from Rome, at Home, by Suzanne Dunaway.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pan de Muertos

Halloween is over. Now what? Let me take you to Mexico, for Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. In Mexico, Day of the Dead is celebrated on November 1 (for children and infants) and November 2 (for adults), to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead. These dates correspond to the Catholic, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, brought to Mexico by the Spaniards. However, Day of the Dead has been celebrated for centuries, all the way back to the Aztecs, when it was celebrated for the entire month of August. Day of the Dead is a time to remember the dead, by cleaning their grave sites, adding flowers (particularly marigolds), gathering pictures, favorite foods and drinks of the deceased, and by eating sugar skulls and Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. It may sound morbid, but it isn't. After all, wouldn't it be nice to know that you wouldn't be forgotten?

In honor of the tradition of Day of the Dead, I'm offering an authentic recipe for Pan de Muertos or Bread of the Dead. It is an exotic yeast bread, flavored with a hint of anise, sugar, milk, and eggs. Sometimes other flavors are added, like cinnamon and orange, but it is it's shape that makes it distinctive. Pan de Muertos is traditionally decorated with sugar, two "bone-shaped" pieces of dough, and topped with a skull or tear shape to represent sorrow. Something like this:


Pan de Muertos (Bread of the Dead)

Serves 14-16

Ingredients:

For the dough
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest

For the glaze
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons colored or white sugar

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the milk and butter until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the warm water.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, and sugar, blending well. Stir in the warm milk mixture, eggs, and orange zest, mixing until well blended. Slowly add flour, 1 cup at a time to create the dough. Place the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch the dough down, removing 1 fistful of the dough and set that aside. Take the larger portion of dough and place it on a baking sheet, shaping it into a round dome.

Using the dough you had set aside, shape two small, long bone shapes to be placed on top the dome. Lightly cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to double in size, about 1 hour. Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for about 25 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire rack to cool slightly.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together the 1/4 cup of white sugar, orange juice, and orange zest, stirring until it comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and brush over the warm bread. Sprinkle with colored or white sugar. 

Recipe adapted from Texas Cooking Online.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Happy Halloween and Goulash Madness!

Want to go mad? Try finding an "authentic" recipe for Goulash! Goulash, which is considered to be a national dish of Hungary, can take many forms, depending on which region of Europe it is made. Goulash is not the hamburger helper-like ground beef/macaroni/tomato bastardization peddled by cafeteria ladies across the US. From what I can tell, Hungarian goulash is a beef (or veal or pork) soup, made with equal parts onions and meat, seasoned with garlic, paprika, caraway, and sometimes additional vegetables, like turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and peppers. Goulash is traditionally served with steamed dumplings or tiny egg noodles called csipetke (like German spaetzle), which are pinched off (csip means pinch) and added to the simmering soup. Traditionalists consider tomatoes a faux pas, as well as using flour to thicken the soup.

Goulash, or "guylas" meaning "herdsman," originated with the cowboys of the region. Comparable to what chili is to Texas cowboys. It's also important to note that paprika was not an original ingredient in the dish, as paprika was not introduced to the region until the 16th century. Let's add a little bit more confusion, enter "porkolt." Porkolt is a meat stew that also has it's origins in Hungary. Porkolt is a stew, not soup, made with meat, vegetables but not potatoes, and seasoned with the ever important paprika. In fact, most goulash recipes that I have tried (which is a lot!) are actually the rich porkolt stew. In addition, I've also read that goulash is soup made with leftover porkolt!?! Oh, and then there are "paprikas" (aka., Paprikash) which are made with meat, paprika, and thickened with sour cream. Feeling a little mad, yet?

Anyway, with Halloween almost here, I can't think of a better meal to ward off the sugar comas my kids are soon to induce, than a nice rich bowl of hearty goulash! This recipe is adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe for Beef Goulash. I found his version to produce a more complex and appealing flavor, from caramelized onions to the addition of a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Changes I made were to brown the meat first, reduce the amount of caraway as it is quite strong (note: caraway and cumin are not the same thing, nor do they taste similar), upped the amount of paprika, added a dash of cayenne pepper, and opted to serve it with buttered egg noodles rather than spaetzle, to make it a little more streamlined. Although this delicious recipe is more accurately a cross between goulash and porkolt, the name "goul-ash" is just more fun to say and perfect for All Hallows' Eve!

Beef Goulash

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 pounds beef chuck, cut into approximately 2" cubes, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground (don't leave them whole!), optional
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (can also use red wine vinegar instead)
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced (if you don't have fresh, use 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sour cream, for serving
1/2 pound cooked and butter egg noodles, to serve

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmery, add the beef cubes in batches, as to not overcrowd the pan, and brown on each side, adding more oil if necessary. (This step is very important to ensure a nice beefy flavor.) Set aside.


Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and sugar. Stir until the onions are caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and caraway. Cook for 1 minute. Deglaze with the vinegar and add the tomato paste, paprika, cayenne, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, stock, reserved beef cubes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven until the meat is very tender, about 2-2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. If the mixture looks too soupy, remove the cover the last 30 minutes in the oven.


When tender, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in some of the parsley, reserving some for garnish. Serve over egg noodles with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

"A Soul, A Soul, A Soul Cake"

I stumbled across an old English custom of "Souling", in which the poor would go around begging for money and food, specifically, "soul cakes". In return, the poor would sing souling songs and offer to pray for the family's dead on All Saints Day or All Hallows Day (November 1). This custom, apparently, has is roots in the Druid celebration of Samhain, or Summer's End, to honor the dying sun on the last night of October (October 31). Combine these two, and you get All Hallows Evening, Hallowe'en, and now, Halloween! No doubt, souling has adapted into modern trick-or-treating, but I like the idea of helping the departed. They believed that for each soul cake eaten, one soul would be released from purgatory!

Traditionally, soul cakes contained saffron to make them yellow like the dying sun, and topped with currants in the shape of a cross. They evolved into more of a tea-time treat, omitting the saffron, adding yeast, and served with butter and jam. I chose the traditional route. I doubted that in a land of candy bars, my kids would find these to be a "treat"; however, to my surprise, they liked them! Try it, and maybe you and your family can help a poor soul!


Soul Cakes

Makes about 17-20, 2-inch cakes, palm-sized cuteness!

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup currants (optional)
A pinch of saffron, or a few drops of yellow food coloring (optional)
1 beaten egg yolk, for the glaze

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. Warm the milk over low heat, until just hot to the touch. Add the saffron or food coloring. Remove from the heat.

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the 2 egg yolks and blend thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and continue to mix. (The mixture will be dry and crumbly.) One tablespoon at a time, begin adding the warm milk, until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. When you have a soft dough, stop adding the milk. You probably won't need the entire 1/2 cup. I only needed 4 tablespoons.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead gently, until the dough is uniform. Roll out to a thickness of 1/2-inch. Using a floured, 2-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as you can and set on an ungreased baking sheet. You can space them closely, they do not spread.

Brush liberally with the beaten egg yolk, and decorate with currants. If you don't want to use the currants, use the back (widest part) of a table knife, and place an "X" across the top. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until just golden and shiny. Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe adapted from T. Susan Chang.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Aztec Chocolate Skulls

The cacao tree, which yields the berries, or "beans," that are the basis of chocolate, first appeared somewhere between Mexico and South America; but, the processing and culinary use of cacao was first developed in what is now Mexico. Mexican chocolate (which also refers to the foamy drink) is the round, flat disks of cinnamon-scented chocolate. The word "cacao" can be traced back to the Olmec inhabitants of Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz, and parts of Central America, and was passed on to the lowland Maya who succeeded them in this territory. The Maya, who flourished for eight centuries before the Spanish arrived, used their beloved chocolate in rituals such as wedding ceremonies. The Aztecs, who later came to dominate central Mexico, believed that chocolate symbolized power and glory, and used it as part of their rituals by giving the drink to human offerings in order to bless the sacrifice. Creepy! 

With Halloween and Day of the Dead almost here, I wanted to share this delightfully spooky, super easy recipe for "Aztec Chocolate Skulls." I used commercially available silicone skull molds (mine were made by Wilton and designated for ice cubes), Ibarra Mexican chocolate, milk chocolate chips, rice krispies, and edible gold flakes (purchased from Sur la Table). The combination makes an exotically delicious treat, perfect for the Aztec Gods! 


Aztec Chocolate Skulls

Makes 15 skulls, depending on the size of your mold.

Ingredients:

1 disk Ibarra Mexican chocolate
5 ounces milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup rice krispies
Edible gold flakes (optional)

Directions:

Sprinkle the mold with gold flakes, set aside. Bash the disk of Ibarra (still in it's package) against a cutting board, to break it up a bit. (It's hard as a rock!) Open the package, and drop the Ibarra and half the milk chocolate chips into a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. (See Gadgets, for "No Double Boiler?") 


With a spoon, keep turning and squashing the chunks of Ibarra until it is completely softened and mixed with the milk chocolate. 


Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining milk chocolate until completely melted. Stir in the rice krispies. With a spoon, spoon the chocolate evenly in the mold, pressing down with your fingers.


Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. Pop them out of their molds and serve!

Thanks to Karen Hursh Graber for the background on Mexican chocolate via Mexconnect.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Devilishly Good Chicken!

Foods that are highly seasoned (e.g., mustard, chilies, etc.) or sinfully rich (e.g., chocolate cake) have been referred to as "deviled" since the 18th century. In 1868, The William Underwood Company began selling a mixture of ground ham with seasonings which they named "deviled ham." In fact, their devil logo is one of the oldest trademarked logo still in use today. While I love highly seasoned food, canned ham is not my kind of thing. Trust me. I used to audit food processing plants (like Ballpark Franks), haven't eaten one since!
Image result for deviled ham
The original Underwood Deviled Ham logo.
With Halloween almost here, I want to share this wickedly addictive recipe from Williams-Sonoma for "Chicken Thighs Diavolo." Diavolo means devil in Italian, but only dishes invented by Italian-Americans use the term. In Italy, they would refer to a spicy dish as all-arrabiata meaning "angry-style." I digress. Anyway, these chicken thighs are marinated in a wonderful blend of cider vinegar and five different chili spices, then grilled to juicy perfection. Delicious! I love this marinade so much! In addition, you could use it on practically any cut of chicken or even pork. I don't know who created this spice blend, but they must have sold their soul to the devil to create it!


Chicken Thighs Diavolo

Serves 6

Ingredients:
For the marinade
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Thai chili paste or red pepper flakes (I use Chili Garlic Sauce by Huy Fung Foods, Inc.)
1 teaspoon hot-pepper sauce (I use Cholula.)
1/2 cup water

For the Chicken Thighs
3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of any excess skin and fat
1 or 2 handfuls wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes. (I use mesquite.)
1 large disposable aluminum roasting pan

Directions:
In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients and whisk until the salt and granulated garlic dissolve. Taste and adjust the seasonings; the sauce should be bright red and very spicy. Pour half the sauce into a small serving bowl and set aside.

Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, score the chicken to the bone in several places to expose the flesh. Place the chicken in a large disposable aluminum roasting pan, pour the remaining sauce over the top and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes before grilling.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling over medium heat.

For a charcoal grill: Sprinkle the wood chips over the coals. Place the pan with the thighs on the cooler side of the grill, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the coals, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

For a gas grill: Increase a burner to high. Heat a smoker box half full of chips until smoking, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Place the pan with the thighs over unlit burners, cover and cook until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Transfer the thighs to the grate directly over the heat, brush with the marinade from the pan and grill, turning often, until nicely charred on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Transfer the chicken to a platter. Serve immediately and pass the reserved sauce alongside.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Batten Down the Hatches!

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast and have been through several hurricanes. I realize how absolutely boring it can be, being couped up inside your home. For my friends and family in Eastern South Texas (or even if you're not), try this beautiful (and potent) cocktail in horror of Hurricane Harvey. Drink this and you are guaranteed a little fun! Good luck! X0X0


Hurricane

Ingredients:

3 parts dark rum (1 1/2 oz.)
3 parts light rum (1 1/2 oz.)
2 parts passion fruit syrup (1 oz.), if you can't find passion fruit syrup, just try any grenadine syrup blend
Fresh lime juice (1 tablespoon)

Directions:

Shake all ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

This makes one beautiful cocktail!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Just in Time for 4th of July - Strawberry Shortcake!

I just got back from my Texas road-trip to my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, just in time for 4th of July! After seeing fields, and fields, and fields of strawberries growing along the gulf coast, I just had to make my absolute favorite, "Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake!" I'm not sure where I got this recipe, but I love it! Instead of a biscuit, it is a moist, light cake, made with cake flour, poppy seeds, crushed strawberries, and even some almond extract! Topped with sliced berries and whipped cream, it makes a nice presentation and tastes fantastic! In addition, it only takes 30 minutes, start to finish! It is a nice variation of a true American classic!


Long-on-Strawberry Shortcake

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:
For the Cake
2 cups cake flour (like Swan's Down)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup crushed (with a fork), ripe strawberries
1 teaspoon almond extract
2, 9" round cake pans and parchment paper

For the Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
2 pints fresh ripe strawberries, sliced
3 pretty, small, whole berries, for garnish

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9" round cake pans. Cut parchment circles to fit the pans, place in the pans, grease the parchment, and flour the entire inside of the pan. Tap out any excess flour.

Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a bowl.

With an electric mixer, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine 3/4 cup water and the almond extract with the crushed strawberries. Add the fruit mixture in thirds, alternating with the dry ingredients. Continue beating until all the ingredients are well incorporated.

With the mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold them into the batter.

Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the layers for 5 minutes in the pans. Remove the layers from the pan and continue to cool on cooling racks.

For the Topping
While the cakes are baking, whip the cream and 1 tablespoon of the confectioners' sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Combine the sliced strawberries with the remaining confectioners' sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time, until desired sweetness.

Assembling the Cake
Remove the parchment rounds from the layers. Transfer one layer to a serving plate. Top with half the sliced berries and spread 1/2 of the whipped cream over the berries. Top with the remaining cake layer, the rest of the sliced berries, the remainder of the whipped cream, and garnish with the 3 remaining whole berries. Pretty and Yum!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Keep Austin Weird!


In honor of my recent Texas road-trip, I am going to share an excellent recipe for Texas sheet cake, specifically, "The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake!" The Driskill Hotel was built in 1886 in downtown Austin, as the showplace of cattle baron Jesse Driskill. In addition to being a legendary landmark of Texas hospitality, it is listed as a member of The Historic Hotels of America and Associated Luxury Hotels International. If you ever find yourself in Austin, staying at the Driskill will put you in the center of everything, including the Texas State Capital, the Austin Convention Center, Lady Bird Lake, The Long Center, Austin City Limits at the Moody Theater, as well as excellent shopping, dining, and convenient access to the colorful 6th Street Music Scene

Like Austin, known as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird," Texas sheet cake is unique all it's own! You bake an incredibly moist cake in a sheet pan, and while it is still warm, you pour the warm icing over the cake! This cake is so good, it is a cherished recipe of the Heritage Society of Austin! In addition, because this cake is so moist, you can even make it up to 2 days ahead, covered and refrigerated! It's perfect for any celebration!


The Driskill's 1886 Room Chocolate Sheet Cake

Makes one 9"x13" sheet cake

Ingredients:
For the Cake
1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup water
1/2 heaping cup cocoa (unsweetened)
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping teaspoon baking soda

For the Icing
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 heaping tablespoons cocoa (unsweetened)
4 tablespoons half-and-half
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
For the Cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9"x13" cake pan.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the water and cocoa, stirring well.


Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt, and stir them into the chocolate mixture.


In a large bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, and baking soda, add the chocolate mixture, and mix well.


Spoon the cake batter (or gently pour) into the prepared pan, and bake 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the Icing
While the cake is baking, melt the butter with the cocoa in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the half-and-half, and heat it through. Mix in the remaining ingredients, blend well, and remove the pan from the heat.


Finishing the Cake
While the cake and icing are still warm, gently pour the icing over the cake. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Texas Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Crab Cakes for a Homesick Texan


Concluding my series of recipes, paying homage to my recent Texas road-trip, I must mention Texas's extensive gulf coast of 372 miles! That is more coast than any other state, with the exception of Florida, Alaska, and California! This beautiful shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico is brimming with such shellfish as shrimp, blue crabs, and oysters, and fish, such as red snapper, black sea bass, grouper, mackerel, and marlin, just to name a few! Considering that not everyone has access to stellar fresh seafood (like me, unfortunately), I'm going to share my favorite recipe for "Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli!"

These crab cakes are exceptional, loaded with jumbo lump crab meat (which can be purchased at almost any grocery), elevated with the fiery habanero chile, and adorned with a delicious jalapeno aioli! Remember that habanero chiles are HOT!!! So, be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, etc., or better yet, wear gloves! A simple green salad or Tri-Color Salad with Lime-Honey Vinaigrette makes a nice accompaniment. So, whenever I feel homesick for some excellent Texas seafood, I always make these, and I feel better!!!


Mexican Crab Cakes with Jalapeno Aioli

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
For the Jalapeno Aioli
1 jalapeno chile, seeded (optional)
1 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


For the Crab Cakes
1 pound jumbo lump crab meat
1 habanero chile, seeded (optional), chopped
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
3 teaspoons bread crumbs
1 egg
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more or less to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
For the Aioli
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Crab Cakes
Combine the crab meat, habanero, cilantro, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, and lime juice in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Form 4-6 crab cakes, depending on how chubby and big you want them. You can prepare them in advance and keep them refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Heat a large skillet (non-stick is nice here) over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter into 1 tablespoon of oil. Once it starts to sizzle, add as many crab cakes as will fit without being crowded. Cook 3 minutes per side, or until golden.

To Serve
Top each crab cake with some of the jalapeno aioli and sprinkle with some freshly chopped cilantro. Nice!

This recipe, created by Chef Alfredo Solis of Ceiba Restaurant in Washington, DC, comes to me from Pati Jinich of Patis Mexican Table. Thanks Pati, I owe you one!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Remember the Alamo!



I think everyone has a place where they instinctually feel at home, for me that is central and south Texas. The kindness and generosity of the people is truly infectious, and not surprising due to the long history of the area! Let's start with the beautiful city of San Antonio! In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, and named the place and river "San Antonio" in his honor. Following several Spanish missions established in the area, from 1718 through 1731, sixteen families who had been colonists in the Canary Islands, arrived in San Antonio, by royal decree of the King of Spain, and founded La Villa de San Fernando, and established the first civil government in Texas and the San Fernando Cathedral (built between 1738-1750). The San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in the United States, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition, the Cathedral is the resting place of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, besides visiting the Alamo, the San Fernando Cathedral should be on your list!

View of the San Fernando Cathedral from my amazing terrace at the Drury Plaza - San Antonio Riverwalk located in the restored Alamo National Bank Building, Room 971, in the San Fernando Tower! (Great Hotel Room!) 

My favorite part of San Antonio is the enchanting San Antonio Riverwalk, aka., Paseo Del Rio. The San Antonio Riverwalk was transformed in the 1920s, diverting the river's flow and paving over the riverbanks, creating a pedestrian mall, home to galleries, shops, and restaurants, it is a must-see! The oldest restaurant along the Riverwalk is Casa Rio. The restaurant founded in 1946, sits on land first granted title in 1777 by the King of Spain. The existing Spanish Colonial hacienda became the core of Casa Rio, where the huge cedar door and window lintels, the fireplace, and the thick rock walls, are still evident. Although the food is typical, sub-par tourist faire, like most along the Riverwalk, Casa Rio is definitely a place to visit.

View of Casa Rio from the Commerce Street Bridge, the first bridge built to span the river!

So, in honor of San Antonio, I made a classic "Chiles Rellenos," found on any self-respecting Mexican menu! Chiles Rellenos, or stuffed chiles, are one of the most emblematic dishes in Mexican cuisine, with origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. It consists of roasted poblano chiles stuffed with cheese or meats and covered in an egg batter, fried, and served with a light tomato broth. Because the chiles relleno is traditionally made with poblano chiles, a term used to refer to people and things from the city and state of Puebla, it is widely considered to have originated in Puebla, and is rumored to have been created by the local nuns! This delicious cheese stuffed version is truly simple, no toothpicks, no dipping, no freezing, if you've never made chiles rellenos before, this is your recipe! You'll love it!


Chiles Rellenos

Serves 4

Ingredients:
For the Salsa
1 pound Roma tomatoes, cored and halved
1/2 medium white onion, cut into 1/2" slices
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 medium serrano chile, stemmed
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or more to taste

For the Chiles Rellenos
5 medium poblano chiles (I always make an extra one, just in case one tears beyond repair)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season chiles
8 ounces (about 3 cups) shredded Monterey Jack, Chihuahua, or queso Oaxaca cheese
4 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, for the egg whites
1 cup canola oil

Directions:
For the Salsa
Preheat your broiler and arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Place the tomato halves, (skin-side up), onion slices, garlic, and serrano on a baking sheet. Broil until the tomato skins start to blacken and blister, about 7 minutes. Remove from the broiler and transfer the ingredients to a blender. Add the lime juice and salt, and blend into a smooth puree. Taste and season with additional salt or lime to taste.

Transfer to a small saucepan and keep warm over very low heat.

For the Chiles Rellenos
Lay 1 chile on a cutting board so that it sits flat naturally without rolling. Using a sharp pairing knife, make two cuts forming a "T" by first slicing down the middle of the chile lengthwise from stem to tip, them making a second cut perpendicular to the first about 1/2" from the stem, slicing only halfway through the chile. Don't cut the stem end completely off! Carefully open the flaps to expose the interior of the chile, and using a pairing knife and/or kitchen shears, carefully remove all the seeds, ribs, and any core. You can rinse the chile under cold water to flush out any extra seeds. Dry thoroughly with paper towels, inside and out. Repeat with the remaining chiles.

Turn 2 gas burners to medium-high heat. Place 1 chile directly on each burner and roast, turning occasionally with tongs, until blackened and blistered on all sides. Repeat with the remaining chiles. Check my "Techniques" tab for additional guidance on How to Roast a Chile. If you don't have a gas stove, place all the chiles directly on a high oven rack under the broiler, turning occasionally with tongs, until the chiles blacken and blister on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. When the chiles are blackened, place in a large, heatproof bowl, and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Let cool about 15 minutes.

Using the side a knife, can use a butter knife to prevent tearing, scrape away and discard the charred skins. Try not to tear the chiles! Season the inside and outside of the chiles with salt and pepper. Stuff each chile, trying not to tear them, with a quarter of the cheese (about 2/3 cup) and close the flaps over the cheese. Set aside.


Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until lightened in color and frothy, about 2 minutes, set aside. Place the egg whites and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the egg yolks with a rubber spatula until just combined. Set aside.


Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 4 minutes. Check to see if the oil is hot by submerging the handle of a wooden spoon until it touches the bottom of the pan, the oil is ready if bubbles form around the handle.


Working with 1 chile at a time, drop about 1/2 cup of the egg batter into the oil using a rubber spatula to spread it to about the same size as the stuffed chile. The batter will puff up considerably, it's supposed to! 


Lay the chile, seam-side down on top of the mound of batter.


Drop another 1/2 cup of the batter on top of the chile, spreading it with the rubber spatula to cover the sides and encase the chile.


Cook without disturbing until the bottom of the chile relleno is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Using a spatula and a fork, carefully flip the chile relleno over and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. (If the sides of the chile aren't browned, using a spatula or tongs, carefully turn it onto each side to brown.)


When done, transfer the chiles rellenos to a cooling rack and season with a pinch of salt. You can place them in a low oven to keep warm, while finishing the remaining chiles.

Plating the Dish
Place about 1/4 of the salsa into four individual wide bowls or plates, top each with a chile relleno, garnish with a sprig of cilantro. Serve immediately, passing any remaining sauce on the side. Delicioso!

***You may also be interested in Chorizo Stuffed Poblano Peppers!