Monday, December 27, 2010

the morning after

Is it really over? Goodness, how quickly a day goes by. This year's Christmas dinner in my home was the usual juggling act as I attempted to serve 27 people at a table meant for 10 at the most. I had to resort to two seatings, not what I would have preferred, but honestly I did not have a choice. The first seating was for "the kids" and by that I mean anyone younger than 22 years old. Our very youngest is not yet two but the twelve other kids range in age from 16 to 22, which is a scary thought. They are very big. It seems not that long ago they all could just fit on our laps. Now they want their own chairs. Ok, ok.

The KIDS asked me to make enchiladas for dinner, an unconventional choice for our traditions, but why the heck not?
Despite all the hard work and my overly ambitious menu that started off manageable, I truly feel this dinner is a labor of love. It is the one day of the year when my entire family gathers to spend time together, enjoying each other's company and acknowledging the changes that time brings.  I wouldn't change a thing about it.
The ADULTS were more interested in the braised short ribs and spinach timbale.
This year's menu. No, not vegetarian.

The blizzard that arrived the day after Christmas was perfectly timed to keep me home, to rest and reflect on my good fortune and the blessings of the love of my large and ever growing family.
This cock-eyed cutie captured my heart when I met her at the Cluny Museum in Paris this October.
 I can relate to her weary expression.
The very persistent snow and wind caused drifts to form INSIDE my doorway!
The view from upstairs looking down into my garden. The amazing sights of the season.

My favorite recipe from Christmas dinner was the Spinach Timbale.  The easiest version to make is by using frozen spinach, thereby saving several steps:
-chop an onion and saute till tender in butter
-blend a package of defrosted spinach with the cooked onion, a bunch of chopped dill and salt and pepper in a food processor till fine. 
-add 2 cups of heavy cream, 3 eggs and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and blend another few seconds till well combined.
-butter a baking pan and pour the spinach mixture in.
-bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes till the timbale sets.

This delicious, savory treat will be a great side dish for just about any hearty winter meal.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

in the mood

I once heard a Mid-Western visitor comment that he did not like the North East landscape, complaining "you can't see anything because of all the trees." At the time I thought what a strange comment. Aren't trees the whole point? But I did appreciate the humor of the image and in fact every winter I look forward to a landscape revealed through the spindly fine lines of bare tree branches.

This weekend I went up to The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park to hear The Waverly Consort's holiday concert of music from the Middle Ages.  The museum was decked out in holiday mode and the atmosphere was warm & cozy within the heavy stone-faced interior.
The vocal music was heavenly, echoing around the hall. 

I have been making holiday cookies, candies and latkes all month and have many more big festive meals to go. My friend Joann, a wonderful home cook, turned me on to a really tasty appetizer she served us last night from a recipe found in Cooking Light Magazine. The Artichoke and Fennel Caponata was so good, filled with fresh zippy flavor. Cooking Light has very reliable recipes and this one was no exception. It is an addictive treat that won't fill you up. Try it on the IT Crackers from last weeks post. A big batch will go a long way and makes a great condiment on grilled or roasted foods.
Artichoke and Fennel Caponata
This delicious caponata is worth a try. The recipe is simple to make and loaded with tangy capers, sweet golden raisins, lemon zest and parsley.
the wine pairing:
Beautiful pictures, Deb. I wish I had known about this recipe prior to my big holiday party this past Saturday night, which by the way was a big hit. Lots and lots of food. Passed hot hors d'ouerves with an antipasto table, shrimp cocktail and sushi platters. The Artichoke and Fennel Caponata would have fit right in with the other antipasti.

For occasions such as a holiday bash or informal get together where there are a variety of finger foods such as this caponata, I recommend a crowd-pleasing selection of wines. I had plenty of Pink Prosecco on hand which really contributed nicely to the festive atmosphere. For whites, I had an inexpensive French blend from the Cotes de Gascogne called Domaine Sancet. It's a blend of wonderful white varietals such as Colombard, Ugni Blanc, Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc. Lots of upfront fruit and extremely food friendly. And only $7.99 per bottle! For reds, I had plenty of d'Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz 2008 to go around. Rated 90 points by The Wine Spectator, this ripe, juicy, fleshy Shiraz retails for around $8.99. These are the types of wines I like to offer at my parties - especially when they are on the larger size and the wallet is an issue. Simple, easy-quaffing juice is what I seek out! I save the more serious, expensive selections for smaller, more intimate gatherings where people are in attendance not only for the food and company, but for the wine as well!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

hale to the kale

It is hard to avoid kale these days as it lingers perpetually at farmers markets, a hero to the end, the last of the greens to withstand the ever chilling temperatures. Hook Mountain Growers latest blog post is all about kale and includes some wonderful recipes to check out. It got me thinking about this rough and ready green that has enough ruffle-y bounce to wear as a ballet tutu.

Bringing kale home from the market the bag bulges as if stuffed with new down pillows. When preparing, trim off the chewy stems and cut the leaves into bite sized strips before cooking. I was making a standard sauteed kale with garlic for a client this weekend and jazzing it up with a balsamic reduction, when I decided to go in a different direction with the bunch I bought for myself. This quick making dish of curried kale with chick peas and raisins is satisfying and warming on a cold almost winter day.
 Simmer the meaty kale and earthy chick peas with sweet coconut milk and tart raisins to make a delicious meal of balanced flavors and textures.

Curried Kale with Chick Peas and Raisins 
2 quarts water, salted
1 Bunch of kale, stems trimmed off and leaves chopped into 1" strips
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 onion thinly sliced
1.5 Tbs. curry powder
1.5 cups cooked chick peas
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup golden raisins

Bring water to a boil and blanch the kale for about 6-8 minutes until tender and bright green. Drain and set aside. In a saute pan heat the canola oil and saute the onions about 5 minutes till golden. Add the curry powder and stir to combine completely with the oil in the pan. Add the chick peas, coconut milk, rasins and kale and stir to combine.  Simmer ten minutes and taste to adjust seasonings adding salt as needed. Serve with a grain like basmati rice or quinoa.

the wine pairing:
This is great! I am on a kale kick but have been running out of ideas for its preparation. Lately I have been eating it raw - simply chopping it very small and enjoying it mixed with some finely chopped celery and cabbage and tossing it with one asian vinaigrette or another - whatever is inspiring at that moment. So thank you, Deb, for another kale option!

Curry is something else I have been enjoying. In fact, aromas of this spice fill my house at this very moment, having just made a curried yellow-split pea soup which came out quite good if not a little thin. (oops). Deb, as usual, I have a question. Is the coconut milk you used sweetened? I am never quite sure which one to use when cooking.

For this particular recipe, I would open a great bottle of Gewurztraminer. This white varietal has extremely distinct aromas and flavors of lychee fruit. And, there are heavenly "spicey" characteristics as well. One of my favorite whites, it has its admirers and its opponents. I think most people either love it or hate it. If you have not yet had the "gewurz" experience, I strongly urge you to run to your local retailer and purchase a bottle!

Many Gewurztraminers are off-dry (slightly sweet) but there are many drier styles available. The grape is at its finest in Alsace, France. For outstanding representations of this grape, look to producers Trimbach or Zind Humbrecht. They are absolutely two of the finest producers of this white in Alsace. 

The unique floral, spicy aromatics and distinctive flavors of this wine make it an ideal match for Asian, Thai, and Indian cuisines. Gewurztraminer would definitely complement Deb's dish perfectly!

Monday, December 6, 2010

the IT cracker

The wreath has hit the door. There is no turning back now. Tis the season. Yes, the hustle and bustle, but I LOVE IT! Life would be awfully dull if every day was the same. A change of pace quickens the blood and reminds me that I am alive.  Racing along Fifth Avenue last week on the way to meet a friend I caught glimpses of holiday lighting displays that made me stop in my tracks. Fendi had a three story high wall of animated lights that resembled dripping icicles. Sublime!
(I forgot my camera, but found this blog with fantastic photos of the Fendi display)

Today, is a stay at home day to begin organizing the home-front. It takes me a while to get into full holiday mode. I am always late to get the tree up and even later to take it down.  Hannukah came early this year and I have been cranking out batches of LATKES for my clients. My niece and I have just scheduled our annual marathon cookie baking date. We are hoping to try some new recipes this year. The last of the thanksgiving leftovers went into the soup pot and now we are down to our last few bowls. Looking for something new to serve with it before the family threw it at me I found a recipe by Mark Bittman for Cheese Crackers that I had cut out of the NY Times almost a year ago. The recipe had caught my eye because the crackers resemble Cheeze-Its, a truly evil product that I absolutely adore but never allow myself to buy (I think each IT is about 150 calories.) Could I possibly make my own less evil version of this? I trust Mark B. completely. He is a straight shooter and tells it like it is. The recipe was simplicity itself, took no time and was a really tasty treat. I think it is my new go-to for a while.

Mark Bittman's Parmesan Cream Crackers- click here for recipe 

The ingredients (flour, salt Parmesan cheese and butter) get dumped into a food processor. Just add some heavy cream and your dough is done.

The dough was easy to roll out and score. This is what the crackers look like coming out of the oven.

I made three versions of toppings: Chipotle Chili powder, Fleur de Sel and Black Pepper

Make big batches of these and keep them in tins, they will last the holiday season as a wonderful savory treat to serve with cocktails or A GLASS OF WINE!

Gotta give this a go for this year's holiday block party! This time of year, many a weekend night consist of sitting around my living room fire with a few friends nibbling on cheese and crackers and drinking good wine. This ritual is a wonderful way to spend a cold winter's night! A block of cheese, these Parmesan cream crackers, and a glass of red are exactly what I envision.

But what red? That is the question...Hmmmm....It is a regular practice of mine to serve cheese with wines from the particular region of origin of the cheese. Right now, I am on a big Burrata kick - a fresh Italian cheese made from Mozzarella and cream. While savoring cheese and wine in a friend's wine cellar, I fell hopelessly in love with this wonderfully buttery, rich cheese. The outer shell is mozzarella, but when sliced open, a deliciously thick cream oozes out. Yum! So, I'm thinking some Burrata, a nice piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, some olives, the Parmesan crackers and an Italian red would be a scrumptious combination!
A nice Sangiovese is an ideal match. Sangiovese is the main varietal in Chianti, so I wouldn't hesitate to pour this alongside these terrific delicacies. Right now, one of my favorite everyday reds is Rubio, from Poggio San Polo. It is 100% Sangiovese and hails from Tuscany. It is fresh and fruity, yet has great elegance and finesse as well. Aromas of fresh cherries abound, and the subtle spicy notes on the palate are marvelous. An intense wine, it is also delightfully quaffable and makes the ideal partner with a variety of cheeses and "antipasto".
At only $11.99, this little gem is definitely worth seeking out. But if you are putting together a spread like this, and can't find it, simply ask your neighborhood retailer to make a recommendation on a nice Sangiovese!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I am on a first name basis with my vegetables now. Well, perhaps it is a surname. But it is THIS baby's first name, as in Gilfeather Turnip. Actually it is a rutabaga. Why quibble?
 Gilfeather, ready for his close-up.

The turnip/rutabaga in question was bestowed upon me by the besotted. I was told it was THE BEST rutabega, the finest in the land. That is not saying much, I'm just saying.

Turnips, rutabagas, whatever, they are not all that exciting. I knew nothing about the revered Gilfeather so I  humbly accepted the gift and went forth to prepare it for consumption. Mashed, grated, yeah yeah yeah. I'm thinking fried, DEEP fried. Root vegetables taste pretty damned good deep fried and I had a hankering.

I cut Gilfeather fairly thin so he would fry quickly and have a lot of fried surface area. It did indeed fry up quickly. It was golden within 5 minutes and crispy brown within eight.

Ok YUM! It tasted great! A tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit weird, just like most turnips/rutabagas. If you have tried them you know that indescribable earthy tangy flavor. I liked Gilfeather. I can't say I could pick it out in a blind taste test but it was definitely everything a rutabaga should be, and that is not too bad!
I served these with a quick dipping sauce made from mixing sour cream and mango chutney. The creamy curry flavor worked well with the fried rutabaga.

I like that this recipe is so simple - and yet there are so many different variations you could use in the way of dipping sauce. Sour cream and mango chutney sounds yummy. I still make the chick pea patties featured in a much earlier blog, and this sauce would be perfect with it!

Deep fried anything and sparkling wine are a match made in heaven. This dish would be just great as an hors d'oeurves at a party, with a glass of bubbly on the side. I just love the idea of this combination. For my annual holiday block party, I am going to be sure to have plenty of Riondo Pink Prosecco on hand, which is always a huge hit. This wonderfully crisp, fruit-forward, delicious sparkler would be my first choice to serve with Deb's rutabagas! It is medium bodied and lively with flavors reminiscent of fresh picked strawberries!