Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Baking - Dec 23, 2011

Cardamom Crescents

Merry Christmas Dinner Clubbers! It seems we all have cookies on our minds around here!  I, too, have been doing a spot of baking in preparation for the Christmas holiday. I usually make traditional German Christmas cookies, but this year I decided to try something different. I've already made two batches of the delicious cardamom crescents. The first had me follow the recipe almost exactly, but for a small mistake I made by pulsing the pecans with granulated sugar in the food processor, rather than the powdered sugar called for in the recipe. They actually turned out so well that I repeated that 'mistake' in my second batch. The second batch also saw me adjust the cinnamon to cardamom ratio, since in the first batch the cinnamon seemed to overpower the more delicate cardamom flavor. I love cardamom, so in order for it to shine as the premier flavor, I replaced the cinnamon with more cardamom and simply added a dash of Penzey's Vietnamese Extra Fancy Cinnamon so as not to omit it completely. Both batches are delicious, but I'm a bit more partial to the second.

Rosemary-Lemon Shortbread

Next, I made some rosemary-lemon shortbread. Rosemary and lemon are two of my favorite winter flavors. They remind me of time spent in Northern California visiting Nick's brother and sister-in-law when they lived there. One Christmas, Greg and JJ were living in a house with a giant Meyer Lemon tree in the backyard and they sent a big bag of the happy, yellow fruit home to Minnesota with us. It was my first introduction to this delicious citrus fruit and I've been hooked ever since. They taste like sunshine on a snowy winter day. This recipe is one I've adapted from a Rosemary-Lemon Sandwich Cookie recipe in the February 2008 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. It's a basic shortbread recipe flavored with lemon zest and chopped fresh rosemary leaves. To really bring out the lemon flavor, I've replaced the vanilla with fresh squeezed lemon juice. It works fine to use regular lemons for this, but Meyer lemons give it an extra special flavor. These little guys are so good on their own that I've never felt the need to make the mascarpone cheese filling.

I am also going to make a batch of the Butterfinger truffles from December 2011's Bon Appetit, since Nick is a huge fan of that particular candy bar. Chocolate seems like just the right thing to complete this year's cookie offerings, don't you think?

A very Happy Christmas to you and yours! I hope your holidays are delicious.
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Holiday Cookies - December 23, 2011

Happy Festivus, Dinner Clubbers! Let the airing of grievances commence!

In addition to Festivus, today is "prepare-for-holiday-travels" day in the Hartman house, which included assembling cookie tins to bring our family and friends. I've been baking cookies and treats all December and stashing them in the freezer. I've rather enjoyed playing around in the kitchen and am grateful for the excuse to try out new sweet treats!

Almost every recipe this year was a new one, with the exception of the sugar cookie cutouts and the toffee bars I made on the last minute since I realized there was no chocolate represented among the selection. The sugar cookies and frosting are my sister's recipe and I make them every year without any modification. I'm pretty sure she got the recipe from someone else, but in her binder of recipes it doesn't indicate the source so I'm now going to give her credit. I love how the directions are so streamlined and assume this all pretty much common sense!

Lisa's Traditional Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Mix thoroughly, cover and chill for 1 hour. Roll dough 1/8 inch thick, cut into shapes. Bake for 6-8 minutes at 400 degrees.

Lisa's Vanilla Butter Frosting

1/3 cup unsalted butter (soft)
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk

Blend butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk. Beat until frosting is smooth. Color as desired.

The other cookie recipes came primarily from two sources: the cookie spread in our Washington Post food section a few weeks ago and the cool cookie Advent calendar on Saveur's website. All were good, some outstanding!

Coconut Cookies (modified to use coconut oil instead of butter)
Cardamom Scented Spritz Cookies (recipe from cookie press manual)
Toffee Bars (recipe from old Betty Crocker Cookbook)

A note for making cookies corn-free: Traditional baking powder and powdered sugar contain corn starch to keep everything from clumping, but corn-free varieties do exist. The organic powdered sugar from Whole Foods uses tapioca starch instead (you can also get some at Trader Joe's, but it is a seasonal item for them). The only baking powder without corn starch on the market is Hain's Featherweight. You can also get that at Whole Foods and other health food stores.

Other ingredients that can be problematic for someone who needs to avoid corn include the vanilla, butter, flour, and even the milk. Vanilla extract contains alcohol, which may or may not be made from corn. There is no way of knowing because they aren't required to list that on the label. To be safe, I make my own vanilla extract by seeping whole vanilla beans in potato vodka. Butter is tricky because some contain "natural flavors" which may or may not be derived from corn and sometimes lactic acid which is commonly derived from corn. I actually haven't had any problem with regular butters, but to be safe I use Trader Joe's (regular, not organic) unsalted butter which is the only one I've found that just has one ingredient: Grade A cream.

For the flour I use King Arthur All-Purpose Unbleached White Flour. I'm told bleached flour can be contaminated, but I never buy that anyway. Some people also have problems with the enrichments that they add to flour and to milk, but I seem to be fine with them. If you do want un-enriched flour and milk, look for organic flour and find a source for raw milk directly from a farm (unfortunately, not an option in Virginia as raw milk is illegal here). 

Hope everyone has a very happy holiday, whatever you celebrate, and a happy, healthy, and delicious 2012!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Roast Beef & Gravy - December 17, 2011

Yet another hearty, comfort food post from Jaime! The weather has finally turned wintry here in the DC area and this felt like the right kind of meal to warm us inside and out.

I seared the beef in my dutch oven, then transferred it to a roasting pan and slow roasted it for about 2 hours at 275 degrees, until it was medium rare. Meanwhile I utilized the fond and drippings in the dutch oven to make a gravy. I browned a "mirepoix" (love using fancy French cooking words!) of onions, carrots, and celery. Then tossed in some chopped garlic and flour and cooked for about a minute, then deglazed the pan with some red wine and added a full carton of beef broth. I let it all simmer for a good 20 minutes, until the gravy was thick, and strained out the solids. This was based roughly on a recipe I saw that included mushrooms before the mirepoix, but didn't have any on hand. Next time I'll try to include them. This was delicious but could definitely have been improved with an earthy counterbalance to the acidity of the wine.

If you have gravy, you must also have mashed potatoes which were prepared the standard way using lots of butter and milk.

During the last 30 minutes of roasting, I threw together some brussel sprouts tossed with olive oil and some of the sage and rosemary herb rub I made earlier this fall. I can't believe I used to turn my nose up at brussel sprouts! I adore them now, especially roasted so the outer edges get dark brown and crispy. I need to pick up a few more bags before the holiday season ends and they disappear from the stores.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Soups - Dec 2011

I think that I mentioned being sick for the better part of three weeks. It really set me back (perhaps you noticed my lack of blog presence of late). One thing that seems to help sooth my throat and build my strength is homemade soup. I made a couple renditions over the past few weeks. The first, shown above, was a quick cheater chicken noodle soup utilizing my Penzey's chicken stock base, along with some ginger and spices that I broiled in the oven for a few minutes to build the flavor. I added some of our CSA carrots and parsnips, along with some noodles.

The second version was a sausage and white bean soup that utilized the better part of a head of cabbage to help build the flavors of the broth. I used sweet Italian sausage, cannellini beans and carrots in addition to the cabbage, and seasoned with some homemade celery salt. I found the recipe here, but again had to omit fresh rosemary and parsley, which would have added a lot. 

I am so happy to be feeling better.  It always amazes me how the common cold can really knock me out of commission.  It hit at a horrible time, as Nick and I had a bunch of travel plans and meet-ups with friends and family that could not be rescheduled.  It was so frustrating not to be able to fully enjoy all the special events on our calendar.  And, since we were so busy, I couldn't really take care of myself the way I should have...not getting enough sleep and the like, so I think my sickness really took it's sweet time to clear up.  So, my sincere apologies to all our family and friends who had to put up with me not at my best, and to you Dinner Clubbers that put up with a long absence.  I'm back now, and excited to start all my holiday cooking.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta - Dec 2011

This is another 101 Cookbooks recipe utilizing broccoli and cauliflower. I actually found it when I was searching for the salad I posted about yesterday, and it sounded so good, that I put it on the list for later that same week.  I had to swap dried rosemary for the fresh and omit the fresh parsley due to my limited pantry.  I also omitted the golden raisins since I don't like the texture of raisins reconstituted in water.  Usually I'll replace them with dried currants, which are smaller and don't bother me as much, but it's been so long since I cooked this I can't honestly remember if I did that for this dish.  Probably due to these changes, the dish fell a little flat of my expectations.  Dried rosemary is a pale comparison to fresh, and the pasta could have used some of the bright green notes that fresh parsley brings.  I would make this again, but only if I had all the ingredients on hand.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Broccoli and Apple Salad - Dec 2011

This was a delicious broccoli and apple salad that Nick and I enjoyed awhile back. I found the recipe here.  The dressing sounded very curious, a combination of ingredients that I would not think to put together, namely garlic, almond butter, lemon juice and honey.  But, I trust Heidi completely, and so jumped right into the recipe.  As usual, it was delicious, and a big hit with Nick too.  I did have to omit the pan-fried shallots, but other than that, stuck to the ingredient list. It's a wonderful, fresh, crunchy fall and winter salad, perfect when you're craving something green and comforting at the same time.
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Borscht - Dec 2011

Isn't borscht the perfect holiday soup? I made this ages ago now, but I remember it fondly. It was a great use of some CSA root vegetables including beets, parsnips, carrots and cabbage (not a root vegetable, I know).  I used this recipe, and even made a special trip to the store for sour cream and fresh dill for garnish.  It was very worth it.  One thing I did, after consulting with Nick, was to puree about half of the soup to make it a smoother consistency.  I mixed the pureed soup with the non-pureed for our finished bowls.  It was delicious.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thumbs-Up Turkey - Nov 24, 2011

Hello Dinner Clubbers! My sincere apologies for my long absence from the blog. Between travel, visitors, sickness, holidays, and one broken refrigerator things have been a bit hectic for Nick and I of late. I will attempt to bring you all up to date on our culinary adventures, starting with Thanksgiving. Nick and I travelled to his parents, where every year Nick's Dad makes his famous "Thumbs-Up Turkey." This year Nick and I had front row seats for a tutorial.

The story of this family tradition begins with the November 1986 Gourmet Magazine article on 'how to de-bone a turkey.' Chip thought that sounded like a fun project and has used this method nearly every year since. The idea is to cut out and remove the rib cage from the body of the bird, leaving the bones in the appendages, and then stitch up the incision made along the spine. This allows you to stuff the bird with dressing, to plump it back up to it's original robust shape, and to carve it directly into cross sections, for a slice of stuffing surrounded by an edge of meat. It also allows you to use the rib cage to make some of the best gravy known to man, which is the real reason that Chip goes through all the work. Every year, with the successful completion of this undertaking, Chip gives us the thumbs-up and we all feast like kings.

Here is Chip putting the final touches on the bird. The meal was delicious, as always, although due to a nasty little virus I contracted the week before, I actually ended up sleeping through the meal this year. Lucky for me, the leftovers are nearly as good!
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Bagels - December 10, 2011

I've been really into baking lately and have wanted to tackle bagels for a while. It all started when I discovered that my corn allergy precluded pretty much all commercially produced baked goods, but now I'm having so much fun testing out new techniques and recipes (and eating the results) that I'm almost grateful for my adult-onset food allergies. Almost.

I've seen several bagel recipes on the internet and in books, and decided that the recipe from my Baking Illustrated cookbook (actual recipe here on someone's blog) seemed to compile the best of all of them and was relatively easy to follow. I believe, as they do, that a good bagel begins and ends with the flour. I followed their advice and ordered high-gluten flour from King Arthur Flour (where would we be without the internet!). 

At $6 for a 3 pound bag the per-bagel cost is somewhere between $0.40 - $0.50 each, so this is not really a cost-saving exercise. But worth every penny for taste!

You also need to plan ahead. The bagels need to proof in the refrigerator over night, so mix up the dough the night before the morning you want to eat them. Then the baking process is two-steps... a quick dunk in the boiling water...

Here are my bagels waiting for their turn in the hot tub.

Then, 15 minutes in the oven, a few minutes to cool... and in the belly!!

The only change I needed to make for my corn allergy was to substitute semolina flour for the corn meal.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Moravian Chicken Pie - December 2, 2011

Wow, it sure has been quiet around here! Guess all the Dinner Clubbers are busy celebrating the holidays and a Badger football Big 10 Championship win! I've started my Christmas cookie baking and will post about that later... for now here is yet another comfort food dinner.

This dish was on the cover of Cook's Country magazine this month and Richie thought it sounded fantastic. "Like the world's best chicken pot pie!" said my non-vegetable eating husband. I thought it sounded bland, but I was willing to give Moravian Chicken Pie a shot.

The final dish was tasty, but a bit on the too-salty side. I think that may have been because I used kosher chicken which is already brined and then seasoned the chicken generously before beginning to brown it. I also didn't love the crust... I thought it was a bit too dense and not very flaky. But the pie kept very well in the refrigerator and made for some great leftovers!


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