Friday, November 28, 2014

Holiday Gift Tip: Four Great New Cookbooks

If you have cooks and food lovers in your life - or if you just want to treat yourself - read on!

I have recently become the grateful recipient of these four new publications and each one of them would make a wonderful gift.  All four would make an exceptionally wonderful gift!

All of these publications are much more than "cookbooks" - each one provides a very good read as well!

New Cookbooks that I am currently loving
 Eat:  The Little Book of Fast Food by Nigel Slater (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley)

Anything by Slater is an an enjoyable and educational read.  This is a wonderful collection of recipes for the home, with an emphasis on using what's on hand and what's in season.  Slater's genius is the manner in which he creates new combinations and still produces recipes that are ultimately do-able for the home cook, even the beginning cook.  If you love to cook, you will use this book - a lot.
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Root Vegetable Tangle"

One Good Dish by David Tanis (Artisan)

By now, most of us in the food loving world know that Tanis worked for years at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters and has authored two other books:  "A Platter of Figs" and "Heart of the Artichoke". That first book made devoted followers out of many of us.  Tanis also writes a weekly column for the New York Times called "City Kitchen".  He is a master of combining incredible flavor with amazing simplicity.  Here's another cookbook that I predict will get  a lot of use.  The beginning cook will learn a great deal about the ways in which very basic techniques can yield delicious dishes and the more experienced cook will have a number of "A-Ha" moments. 
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Save Your Life Garlic Soup". 

Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton (Random House)

If you have had the opportunity to read Hamilton's memoir, "Blood, Bones, and Butter", you know that that Chef Hamilton can write.   This newest offering from her is actually a very different kind of cookbook, ranging from highly technical recipes to incredibly easy preparation (i.e. Radishes, butter, and sea salt).  Prune, her restaurant and the topic of the book, is not dedicated to one particular type of cuisine - this for me,  makes the book even more interesting.  It has a very different layout from most cookbooks, with notes from Hamilton scribbled on the sides of pages, and with a whole section devoted to "family dinner" - the meal shared by the restaurant staff before service. As Julia Moskin points out in a New York Times review of the book (November 5, 2014), and I agree, it seems to be written with sous chefs in mind.  The recipes in Prune are not for the beginning cook, but for anyone who developed a moderate level of skill and confidence in the kitchen, it can be a private tutorial in the creation of some really good food.
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Cod in Saffron Broth with Leeks, Potatoes, and Savoy Cabbage"

America Farm to Table by Mario Batali with Jim Webster (Grand Central Life & Style)

It just so happens that we haven't learned or heard all that we need to know about the concept of Farm to Table!  In this, his 11th cookbook, Mario Batali takes us on a wonderful tour of farms, farmers, and producers, and introduces us to lots of wonderful recipes using their products.  A beginning cook could do well with this book - the only real challenge is recognizing that the farms and producers are all over the country.  So,  for example, an East Coast cook would have to understand that an Asparagus recipe from Southern California would need to wait until late Spring in order to be true to the message of the book.  The book is laid out and photographed beautifully and it is fun to read the side stories of growers and producers. 
Highlight Recipe for me so far:  "Apple Salad with Salami and Wine Marinated Mushrooms"

***Please Note:  if you are planning to purchase any or all of these great new books, consider your local, independent bookstore as your source.  Even if they do not have the book in stock, in most cases, they will be able to get it for you in the same amount of time it will take for it to be shipped to you. Thank You!***

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Consider a Bit of Indulgence: Thanksgiving 2014

Pretty Farmers' Market Fall Fruit

Thanksgiving is always one of our favorite days of the year.  I would like it to be so for other folks, too. This little missive offers my thoughts and plans for holding onto Thanksgiving as a time to relax and gear up for the busy days to come.  Of course, it's all about the food. And, it's a four day weekend. And - here's the important part I ask you to please consider -  there are lots of times for relaxing.  Now, understand, we are not Black Friday shoppers.  We're all about shopping at small local business and buying gifts from local artisans whenever possible.  We start our shopping the week after the Thanksgiving holiday.  We don't decorate for Christmas on Thanksgiving weekend either.  The point is this is a good time to relax a bit!

Generally, we are away at our friends' farm for a few days of the holiday - and usually when we return we are inclined to hold off on decorating, doing a tree, and definitely shopping.  Both of us grew up decorating the tree on Christmas Eve and it is still what we prefer, although generally now we start a day or two before the 'Eve.

As it turns out, this year we are not traveling, but we are nursing one of our dogs after major spinal surgery.  As we took stock of the situation, and our limitations regarding not leaving the pup home too long by himself, and who among family and friends were doing what, we decided to go ahead and have some fun with the situation. We're pretty good at that.  Frankly, 2014 taught us nothing if not how to roll with the punches!

So, to put it bluntly, we are going to be a bit selfish. And, if you at all can, please consider doing it too! We are planning a treat filled long relaxing weekend here at our urban homestead.  We're starting out on this path with our Thanksgiving dinner for two (I know.  It's not very often we get to do this either, but since it fell in our lap, why not?).  We have a fresh Heirloom Turkey on order from a local farmer.  And I ordered a smaller organic turkey that I will be smoking on Friday (sliced smoked turkey in the freezer? Why yes, thank you).  We've ordered Cape May salt oysters and a small tin of caviar for appetizers.  From there, we go totally traditional.  We'll do the simple stuffing we both grew up with - made by our grandmothers -  bread, butter, celery, onion, tons of sage and thyme, and lots of ground black pepper and cooked inside the bird.  Crudite' tray?  Of course! Green bean casserole?  Absolutely.  Except it will be made with green beans we grew ourselves and fresh local mushrooms.  Yes, we are making cranberry relish from fresh cranberries, but we also have a can of jellied cranberry for sandwiches - as it just has to be.  Stewed tomatoes, pan gravy, buttermilk mashed potatoes and cole slaw rounds out the menu items for Thursday.   And of course, some amazing sweet potato pie with whipped cream for dessert.

After a very busy, hard working year during which we dealt with a number of unexpected challenges, we've decided it's time for us to engage in a little indulgence.  It's time to sit back and enjoy foods familiar to us all of our lives.  It's also time  - and this will be a challenge - for us to "go off of the grid" for a few days, too.  I shall report on how well that went, I promise!

Please understand that I offer all of this because I know that, for many folks, Thanksgiving is the first of many stressful, busy, demanding days that go on until January 1st.  I sincerely hope that you consider letting go of some of that and slow it down -  if just for this glorious weekend.  I understand the issues of shopping for kids and having to host family and all that goes with that.  But that said, we all need to be better at saying, "No", and taking a little time to enjoy home, hearth and the power of a rested us.  The holidays will be so much more enjoyable, and so much more relaxing,  if the "makers" in the family aren't exhausted and burnt out by the time it arrives.

And, for sure, whatever you do, and however you celebrate this wonderful holiday, don't forget to do something to share your blessings with those that are still waiting for their blessings.  I promise you, knowing that you were able to do something for others will make your holiday even more enjoyable.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

NOTE:  A suggestion, not a recipe.  My late father in law insisted on stewed tomatoes at every Thanksgiving dinner.  We make them ourselves.  They are totally easy to make.  Now the point of having stewed tomatoes -  I understand, not a "usual" dish on the Thanksgiving table -  is to make Irish Pizza, which is that wonderful basic turkey stuffing, topped with stewed tomatoes.  Think I'm crazy?  Try it!  You will thank me.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recipe: Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts with Caesar Dressing

This is one of the best ways I have found to use brussels sprouts - which are very popular in our home - it is both delicious and addictive.  And really, except for the usual clean up post deep frying, it is relatively easy - and did I mention delicious and addictive!?

Recipe:  Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts with Caesar Dressing

This could feed 4 as a side dish.  That said, two of us ate more than half of it as a side with some pasts.


For the Brussels Sprouts

One pound of medium brussels sprouts, halved

Three cups of regular olive oil, or whatever oil you like to use for frying.  I used a 1/2 and 1/2 mixture of regular olive oil and canola oil.

A heavy pot, like a Dutch Oven; a deep fryer; or a fry pot with a basket.

For the Caesar Dressing

NOTE:  This is the basic caesar dressing used in our home.  Whatever your favorite recipe is, use it.
I do, however,  recommend a caesar dressing.  The combination of the the tartness and saltiness of the dressing on the fried sprouts is amazing.

One "Coddled" egg - put an egg into boiling water and remove it immediately after one minute.  Let the egg cool
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
One clove of garlic, minced
Three to six anchovy filets, minced - the amount depends on how much you like anchovies; I used three
One half of a fresh lemon
1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
One dash of Worchestershire sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Technique for the Dressing

In a mason jar with a lid, shake together the extra virgin olive oil, the chopped anchovies, and the minced garlic.  Shake it very well.
Break the coddled egg into the jar and squeeze the lemon over the egg.  Shake very well - until the mixture is emulsified.
Add the parmesan, worchestershire sauce, and pepper and shake a bit more.

ADDITIONS:  based on some of the recipes that I read, I added one tablespoon of good red wine vinegar and one teaspoon of chopped, rinsed capers to the dressing.

Technique for the Brussels Sprouts

Get the oil very hot; I like to test it with a leaf to see if it will sizzle.
Add some of the halved brussels sprouts - do NOT overcrowd the pot.  Continue to watch the frying sprouts.  When they are browned and seem to be floating on the top of the oil, remove them with a strainer and put them onto paper towels or brown paper to drain.
Start the next batch.  When the fried brussels sprouts are drained sufficiently, put them into a bowl.
Continue this process until all of the brussels sprouts are fried and drained and in the bowl.

Give the dressing another good shake and pour over the brussels sprouts.  Toss well to dress all of the sprouts.

These can be served hot or at room temperature.  They are also wonderful late at night when eaten cold by the light of the refrigerator!  Enjoy.

Brussels Sprouts Heaven1

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Storing Kitchen Staples: Part Two

The last time I blogged about the topic of maintaining  a well stocked pantry,  it was in reference to oils, vinegars, and other liquids.  This time let's take a look at some of the other items that we all store for long term periods.

Sugar:  store granulated sugar in an airtight container.  Basically it is long lasting, but you want to avoid moisture from compromising it and/or critters from taking up residence in it.

Honey and Molasses:  both should be kept in your pantry and not in your refrigerator.  They, too, are long lasting.

In contrast, maple syrup (and I refer here to real maple syrup, not the "Aunt" or other high fructose corn syrup blends masquerading as maple syrup!) can be stored in the pantry - until it is opened.  Then it's time to move it into the refrigerator  Real maple syrup has no preservatives and can begin to grow molds and bacteria after opening.   Note:  If for some reason your honey has been stored in the refrigerator and has started to crystalize, open the jar and put it in a pan filled with a inch or two of water and heat it for a bit.

Brown Sugar:  the biggest issue we all run into with this is that it hardens into big clumps - no matter how it is stored.  A long term way to avoid clumping can be provided by a product called a "Brown Sugar Bear", a small terra cotta bear which is dampened and then added to the bag of brown sugar. I store brown sugar in a relatively air tight container and I still find myself using a baggie and a meat tenderizer when I go to use some of it.  An option that I have been enjoying for the past few years is to substitute commercial brown sugar with  "sugar in the raw" when I can.  It is basically a light brown sugar known as Turbinado sugar.  It does not clump.

Baking Powder and Baking Soda:  These have a shelf life of about six months and should be kept away from moisture.  Do keep an eye on their dates because your baking recipes will be disappointing if your powder or soda have lost effectiveness.

Yeast (dry):  the best bet for storing yeast, whether active or instant, is the freezer.

Flour:  figure on a year of shelf life for all - purpose flour.  I pour this flour into a glass jar with a tight cap and keep it in the pantry.  Whole wheat flour will be fine for about a year, BUT,  it should be kept in the freezer.  Most experts say that cornmeal should also be stored in the freezer, but since I tend to use it pretty regularly, I find that it's fine when I store it in the refrigerator.  "De-bag" (is that a word?) both whole wheat and cornmeal into good, zip lock bags prior to storing.

Bay Leaves, Nuts and Seeds:  all will keep much better and longer if stored in the freezer.  In particular, pine nuts - which are usually pretty expensive - go bad very quickly if not stored in the freezer. Again, store each in a good zip lock freezer bag.

Butter and Eggs.  These are two items, although certainly not "long term" in the way the other items are,  that can invoke a lot of discussion and debate among food folks.  Eggs:  In places other than the U.S.,  eggs are generally not refrigerated.  One of the reasons is that they tend to be fresher than the eggs many Americans buy in chain supermarkets.  The eggs they sell may already be up to two months old by the end of the "sell by" date.  If the supermarket is your only access to eggs, three to five weeks in the refrigerator tops would be the best storage practice.  I buy our eggs from local farmers.  Especially in the colder months, I like to store them on the counter top in a ceramic "egg crate".  I use eggs a great deal, but you have to decide on your own usage patterns and store your eggs accordingly.  Butter is a very absorbent item.  It can quickly pick up flavors and odors from other items in the refrigerator.  I have been making my own butter about every other week for a few years.  I store "rounds" of this butter in the freezer.  I also purchase local farm butter and cut it into "stick" equivalents - this makes this butter easier to measure to use for baking and recipes. With that said, I love to keep at least one "Butter Keeper" on the countertop.  These are great inventions - they are French, I believe - they keep your butter fresh and you always have softened butter at hand.  I especially appreciate that with my morning toast and jam!  You pack your butter into a cup on one piece of the keeper and invert it into a bit of water in the other piece.

With a little bit of attention to detail and an awareness of the dates of purchase of pantry items a successful pantry can easily be maintained.  And a well maintained pantry will definitely make life easier, especially when putting together week night meals.  It is worth a bit of tending from time to time.  You will be glad you did!