Sunday, December 27, 2009

Baked Eggs with Mashed Potatoes & Leeks

There were a couple times when I was a kid that my brother Sean and I slept over at my grandparent's house. My Papa was a pretty no-nonsense type of guy who didn't talk much but was captivating in his own way. He would stump me with questions like, "what's the price of the rice in China?" and would take me to Baskin Robbins, with one nod letting us get two scoops(!) of ice cream on our cones.

One day Sean and I were obediently sitting in the kitchen watching as Papa fixed us breakfast. He started scrambling some eggs, making toast and everything was going along fine until he took out some leftover mashed potatoes and with two big PLOPS, spooned them right into the pan with our eggs and mixed it all together. We shot eachother a concerned glance but didn't dare question his wisdom, especially since this was the house where bologna was fried and pig's feet were consumed. To our delight, the potatoeggs were delicious...a taste sensation! These baked eggs are my homage to that breakfast so many years ago.

Baking is my favorite way to prepare eggs and a perfect brunch dish when guests are arriving as they go right in the oven without much fuss at all. I love the creamy leeks at the bottom and the faintest bit of cream on top enhances the silky smooth texture of the egg and potato. Anytime there are mashed potatoes left over, I encourage you to give this dish a shot.

For 2 servings:
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup mashed potatoes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter two 4-ounce ramekins and set aside.

In a small skillet melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, season lightly with salt and pepper and saute for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Divide the leeks between the ramekins. Spoon a 1/3 cup of mashed potatoes over the leeks in each ramekin and smooth the top. Crack an egg into each ramekin. Drizzle a teaspoon of cream over each egg and sprinkle with pepper.

Place the ramekins into a glass baking dish. Pour hot water into the dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the dish tightly with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the eggs have reached the desired consistency. Remove from the water, place on a plate and serve with toast for dipping.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Brussels Sprouts with Sriracha, Lime and Honey Glaze

When my New Yorker Magazine arrives in the mail, I read through it in a ritualistic fashion: first the Tables for Two article, then the movie review, Talk of the Town next, and lastly, I proceed to the feature articles. The Tables for Two article, which is concise yet satisfyingly descriptive, allows me to dream of all the places in New York I'd like to eat.

In one of the last issues, The Vanderbilt was reviewed which proclaimed that one of the best dishes on the menu was the brussels sprouts dressed with sriracha, lime and honey. I don't know why my view of Brussels Sprouts has been so narrow but I never considered any sort of Asian-influenced preparation.

I grow brussels sprouts in my garden, I love them, and realize that I have been in a definite rut in the way I've been preparing them. Typically, I cook up some diced pancetta while the sprouts are roasting in the oven. I toss the pancetta with the sprouts, and then drizzle some balsamic reduction to finish. It's delicious and a crowd pleaser. After I read that article though, I was ready for something new. I have no clue how this recipe is supposed to be prepared but I took a stab at it and the results were tremendous. I can see using this simple glaze for other vegetables, as well as tofu, chicken or seafood.

For 2-4 servings:

  • 3 cups brussels sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • ½-1 teaspoon sriracha
  • The juice of half a lime
  • 2 tablespoons peanuts

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Trim the woody ends off the brussels sprouts and then slice them in half lengthwise. On a baking sheet, toss the brussels sprouts with the peanut oil and season lightly with salt. Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Toss the sprouts and roast for 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, whisk together the honey, sriracha and lime juice until combined. After the brussels sprouts have roasted for 20 minutes, pour the glaze over them, toss to combine, and roast for 2 minutes more. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with the peanuts, and serve immediately.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes

There have been many holidays that I have hosted and attended where the person in charge of mashed potatoes is dealing with the boiling and mashing right before it's time to eat which is hardly convenient. This recipe is fantastic because it calls for the potatoes to be made the night before and refrigerated. This isn't a gimmick because the potatoes themselves turn out creamy, fluffy and luxurious.

I got this recipe from my good friend Diana, an excellent cook, and it's become a go-to dish whenever the event calls for mashed potatoes which should be always, in my opinion. I'm not sure why exactly, but these reheat really well too, maybe because of the cream cheese, and so if there are any leftovers I'm sure you'll be pleased with the results.

For 8-10 servings:
  • 4 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup whole milk, divided
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 2-inch chunks. Add the potatoes to a large pot and cover with cold water. Stir in 2 teaspoons of the salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.

Drain and add the potatoes to the bowl of a mixer. With the whisk attachment, beat the potatoes for about a minute until mashed and then, with the mixer running on low, add the cream cheese, butter, 1/4 cup of the milk and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, transfer to an oven-safe glass baking dish, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of milk over the potatoes, cover the dish, and place in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, stir the potatoes, and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. Stir once more and serve immediately.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Gingerbread Caramels

Gingerbread might just be one of my most favorite things in the world and this recipe, infusing traditional holiday spices into a delicious caramel is genius. It appeared in Martha Stewart Living 3 years ago and I've been making them ever since. I've tweaked the recipe by increasing the spices and changing the method a bit.

Caramel making has that danger element to it as the molten mixture bubbles and boils in the pot. When it first comes to a boil, it seems as if it might boil right over which is a little terrifying but keep stirring and it will all be fine. The first time I made these they were good, but not spicy enough, and I had pockets of spice that weren't incorporated so I've remedied this by stirring the spices together beforehand and then mixing them in thoroughly once it comes to temperature.

I can say with confidence that these are some of the best caramels I've ever had.

For about 12 dozen:

  • 2 pints heavy cream
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
  • ½ cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves

Coat a 12x17 rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line it with parchment paper leaving a 2-inch overhang on the short sides of the sheet. Lightly spray the parchment with cooking spray.

In a large pot over high heat, add the heavy cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high, stirring frequently, allowing it to reach a temperature of 248 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, stir together the salt and spices in a small bowl. As soon as the caramel reaches 248 degrees, take it off the heat and stir in the spices and vanilla carefully as it might spatter a bit. Stir the caramel continuously for 30 seconds to incorporate the spices into it, making sure there aren't any pockets of spice hiding. Pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet. Martha says not to scrape the pot--I scrape the pot and things always turn out fine. Allow the caramel to set for 24 hours without moving it.

Place a large cutting board over the baking sheet and flip it over. Peel the parchment off of the caramel and discard. With a large sharp knife, cut the caramel into 1-inch wide strips and then cut each strip into bite-sized pieces. Cut wax paper into approximately 3x3 squares and wrap each caramel in it. The caramels will keep for at least a month.

Adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ginger Honey Lemon Tonic

The Chef and I had a major case of the sniffles recently. I spent days laid up on the couch, a pile of kleenex, cough drops, and NyQuil grossly surrounding me. I'm sure like most people I crave specific, uniquely comforting things to eat when I'm sick--in my case, Mrs. Grass's soup, grape popsicles and strawberry shakes from McDonald's (I can't explain it).

Luckily for me, The Chef recovered first and kindly waited on me and my snots. He made this soothing tonic one night and I am convinced it sped me on to a quicker recovery. Honey and lemon are one of those classic flavor combinations, sweet and tart, and the added zing of ginger keeps it interesting. I've already been daydreaming of making a sparkling, chilled version of this in the warmer months.

For 2-3 servings:
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • Honey, to taste
  • 3 cups water

Peel and slice the ginger into thin strips. Mash it with the side of a knife to release the juices. Pack the ginger into a tea ball.

In a saucepan, add the water and the tea ball. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the hot ginger water into a glass, squeeze the wedge of lemon into it and stir in 1-2 teaspoons of honey. Taste and add more honey and lemon if desired.

The ginger water can be stored in the refrigerator until ready to reheat and use.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Peppermint Delights

My mom has one of those recipe boxes, notecard sized, stuffed with handwritten family recipes and clippings from old Chicago Tribune newspapers. She has an inordinate number of Apple Cake recipes that she cut out of the paper which I can say I have never seen her bake.

These cookies came from that recipe box and as good as they taste, the memories I have of helping bake them are even better. The candy canes that go into these cookies need to be crushed and so my mom would arm me with a hammer and a sealed baggie filled with candy canes. I would hunker down on the ground and crush away. It felt very official and like serious work--I loved it.

These cookies are unique not only because of the crushed candies but also because of the large amount of oats in them that bake up crisp and crumbly. I love the minty flavor and can't imagine a Christmas without them.

For 3 dozen cookies:

  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup regular rolled oats
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/3 cup crushed candy canes
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, for flattening cookies

Combine butter and sugar and beat until creamy. Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts. Gradually beat in the flour. Stir in the oats and candy. Wrap the dough in wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them, 3 inches apart, on an ungreased baking sheet. Place the granulated sugar into a bowl. Butter the bottom of a glass, dip it into the sugar and flatten the cookies, redipping into the sugar for each ball of dough.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes until the edges are barely golden. Let cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies will keep for about a week or so.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

I was a notorious vegetable-hater when I was a kid and cauliflower was at the top of my list. I would give it the side-eye while it laid there limp and tasteless on my plate. I suspect my dislike was partly due to the way it was prepared (I hope my mom is not reading this). She would buy a frozen blend that included cauliflower, broccoli and small flecks of red bell pepper. It was boiled and heaped on my plate where it would ooze water. This bothered me because I didn't want any byproduct of said veggie mix to invade the goodness of whatever else I was eating.

It's only since I've grown up and realized that normal, healthy humans eat a variety of vegetables that I started to both force myself to like them and come up with ways of preparing them that pleased my formerly picky palate. I have been especially enthusiastic about cauliflower recently and this simple soup is a great example of turning an ordinary vegetable into something special.

Cauliflower, a little wine, whole milk and a sprinkling of nutty Gruyere blends together to create a delicate tasting soup. I had the perfect wintery lunch the other day serving this soup with some crusty bread and a green salad.

For 4-6 servings:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large head cauliflower, cored and chopped into 2-inch pieces
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 3½ cups vegetable stock
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • Gruyere, for garnish

In a large pot, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic, sautéing for about 15 minutes until soft and translucent.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the cauliflower, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a boil. Cook, allowing the alcohol to evaporate, about 2 minutes more. Stir in the stock, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer the soup for 20-25 minutes until the cauliflower is very soft.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or, blend it in batches in a food processor or blender. For an extra-smooth texture, pour the soup through a sieve. Return the soup to the pot over medium heat. Stir in the milk, taste and add salt if needed. Cook until heated through and serve, sprinkled with some freshly grated Gruyere.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Date, Orange and Fennel Salad

Every year as December approaches, I tell myself not to overindulge in holiday merriment. I perpetually fail at this and wind up on a sweets-free January detox which is mostly miserable. This year I am trying to make a go of eating as healthy as can be expected during the holidays. Each day I try to load up on fruits, vegetables and have had good success at whipping up interesting and good-for-me meals like this salad.

I made this for lunch the other day after buying some dates on a whim. I really love the contrasting and complimentary flavors. The citrus bite of the oranges, the mellow sweetness of the dates, the sharp crunch of the fennel and the toastiness of the hazelnuts makes for a delicious combination - both unique and healthy.

I wasn't sure at first how to dress this salad but ultimately decided to keep it simple and light. A small drizzle of walnut oil along with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and the barest sprinkling of sea salt was just what it needed.

For one serving:
  • 1 orange
  • 2-3 dates, pitted and sliced into thin strips
  • 6 slices of shaved fennel
  • 8 hazelnuts
  • 2 large leaves of butter lettuce
  • Walnut oil
  • Lemon
  • Sea salt
In a small skillet, toast the hazelnuts until browned and fragrant. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Place the hazelnuts in a towel and rub them together to remove the skins. Coarsely chop the nuts.

Cut off both ends of the orange and then slice off the peel and pith. With a sharp paring knife, cut out the orange segments from the membranes.

Toss the lettuce, hazelnuts, orange segments, fennel and dates in a bowl. Drizzle a little walnut oil and lemon juice over the salad. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and serve immediately.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brown Sugar Walnut Ice Box Cookies

When I was a kid I went crazy for these cookies my Gram baked around Christmas. I knew them simply as "Ice Box Cookies" which are actually a type of cookie, meaning, the dough is stored in the freezer. Ice box cookies are absolutely ideal for the holidays as the dough can be prepared and frozen well ahead and then simply sliced and baked when convenient.

This might be the most well-loved recipe in my Gram's repertoire and she was the only one who ever made them as far as I know. She wrote down the recipe for me years ago but this is the first time I've made them and I can't tell you how many memories they brought back when I could smell them baking. They are just as I remember - humble in appearance, but perfectly delicious in flavor and texture.

I'm a sucker for any sort of crispy cookie and these are my gold standard. The key is to slice them very thinly...if a thick one manages to sneak into the bunch, the magic is lost.

For 6 dozen or so:

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and shortening together. Add the sugars, then the eggs, mixing well and scraping the bowl down once or twice.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add to the mixing bowl and beat until just combined. Fold in the walnuts.

Turn the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper and with your hands, form it into a rectangular-shaped log about 4 inches in diameter. Roll the log up with the wax paper, tie both ends, and place in the freezer overnight or until ready to bake. One long log can be made, or several, depending on your preference and freezer space.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Thinly slice the dough about an 1/8-inch thick and place 1-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the edges are just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Keep the remaining dough in the freezer until ready to use. The cookies will keep in a covered container for several weeks.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Adult Eggnog

'Tis the season for boozy holiday drinks! When I was growing up, I loved eggnog. My idea of sweet, thick, yellow eggnog was a bit shattered when one of my neighbors started giving my mom a bottle of her own homemade variety. I had a small sip and gasped at the burning alcohol taste. Blech! I couldn't understand why anyone would ruin one of my favorite holiday treats.

Tastes change of course and several years ago I started making my own "adult" eggnog based on a Rick Rodgers recipe and actually scaled back on the amount of booze that he uses. Depending on your preference you can increase or decrease the amount of alcohol but beware, this is a dangerous concoction. Luckily, it's rich enough from the cream and eggs that it keeps one from overdoing it. Sometimes.

The quality of alcohol is very important here. The nog will taste harsh if the cheap stuff is used. I go with Bacardi Special Dark Rum, Knob Creek Bourbon or a good Irish whiskey, and whatever decent type of brandy I have on hand.

For about 2 quarts:

  • 6 pasteurized eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 3/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/3 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the eggs and sugar. Beat on high for a couple minutes until thick and creamy. With the mixer on low, add the heavy cream, half & half, vanilla, brandy, rum, bourbon, and nutmeg.

Pour the egg nog into a large pitcher and chill overnight. It will keep, refrigerated, for 2 days. Garnish with a sprinkling of additional nutmeg, if desired.