Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Nana turns 90

Only a few days after Christmas, my grandmother celebrated her 90th birthday.  It was lovely having her for the holidays and for her special day.  You would never ever guess she is 90; she spent the visit watching and playing with the little one and hopefully, eating well.

My mother was kind enough to cook the main course, steak, since I have such limited experience with it.  I'm pretty sure we had mashed potatoes (there you go, it's been less than a month and already I have no memory) with it.  And I provided the brussels sprouts.

altered only slightly from the amazing Balaboosta cookbook - I can't wait to use more recipes from it!

1 lb Brussels sprouts
1/4 C honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 gala apple, peeled cored and grated
2 T olive oil
sprinkle of kosher salt

Preheat your oven to 425.  The original recipe calls for 400 but my oven needed to be hotter.
Cut the bottoms off the brussels sprouts and then peel off the outer leaves.  This takes a reasonable amount of time and also reduces the amount of brussels sprouts you have by a lot.  I gave them a good rinse too.  Then I patted them dry, laid them on a sheet pan and tossed with the garlic, honey, olive oil and then sprinkled them with salt.  I added the apple last because you really don't want the fruit on the pan, if you do it that way, it will just burn on the pan.  If it's on the sprouts, it drips down its juices which is much better.

Pop the tray in the oven and roast until tender.  The outside will get a nice crisp on it, but they shouldn't be super crunchy throughout.  I tossed them a few times to get more of a crisp on the outside and to make sure the apple-y parts were okay.  The recipe called for a shorter cooking time than I used. Mine needed at least 40-45 minutes to be finished, so watch yours and taste test frequently.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas Dinner (belatedly)

I very much meant to keep up with my posting but I'm afraid I got buried under and avalanche of hosting and cooking duties.  And toys, never forget the toys. I even neglected my photography, so you're getting recycled everything here.

Our menu was:

Duck Breasts
Scalloped Potatoes 
Roasted Carrots, Turnips and Fennel (with Bonus Parsnips)

It sounds fancy.  It tastes fancy.  But it was actually very simple to make.  The potatoes and roast veggies tend to themselves in the oven while you make the duck breasts so you really don't have to
split your focus.

Recipe Alterations:
I added an extra potato to the scalloped potatoes and therefore it needed to cook longer.
I didn't check the carrot and turnip recipe before going to the store and remember it as carrots and parsnips instead.  So I had to go back out for turnips and fennel and then just added the parsnips anyway.  It was still delicious.

What did you serve on Christmas (or eat, if you're not the chef)?  Also, do you have a traditional menu that you have every year or do you change things up?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Morning Coffee Cake

 Given the collective cooking skills of my mother's side of the family, it should not be terribly surprising that our "family recipe" for our traditional Christmas morning sour cream coffee cake came from one of my mother's neighbors, Mrs. Krantz.  My mother made this coffee cake every year until I was 16.  I have made it every year since.  But it just isn't Christmas without our coffee cake.


for the cake 
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 C sugar
1 1/2 C sour cream
4 eggs
pinch salt
1 T baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 t vanilla extract
3 C flour
for the streusel
3 T butter
1/2 C packed brown sugar
2 t cinnamon
1 C chopped nuts (we usually use walnuts, but sometimes use pecans)

I often make the streusel ahead since I make the cake on Christmas Eve, so I'll do the streusel that morning and then do the cake at night, just to save a bit of work.  So basically you just put it in a bowl and mix it together (I use my fingers) until everything is evenly distributed throughout.  Then I set it aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer (or using a hand mixer) until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs mixing after each one, then add the vanilla.

Sift together the dry ingredients; the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.

Add the dry ingredients to the creamed sugar mixture alternately with the sour cream and mix to make it a batter.

Spray or butter a bundt pan thoroughly.  Sprinkle the bottom of the bundt pan with some of the streusel (maybe a third of it?).  Then add half the batter, sprinkle the rest of the streusel to create an even layer over the batter in the bundt.  Add the rest of the batter.  Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer or toothpick comes back clean and the cake springs back a bit at the touch.  When you cut into it, the streusel should make a nice sugar swirl through the cake.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Dinner last night came off beautifully. I'm afraid the pictures will have to wait though...

  • Heated the empanaditas at 400 for 25 minutes and then transferred them to the toaster oven to keep warm.  They hold up very well.
  • Took the puff pastry for the chorizo puffs out of the freezer to thaw.
  • Rounded up serving dishes, covered baking sheets with foil to ease clean up afterwards and made sure the table was set.
  • Started to layer the strata for Christmas morning.

  • Transferred the empanaditas to the toaster oven.
  • Put the pork pie and the cheese and spinach pie in the oven at 3:25 to heat for about an hour.
  • Spooned the hummus into a serving bowl, took the green beans out of the fridge and prepare a saucepan for boiling them in.  
  • Finished making the strata and popped it back in the fridge so it only needs to bake tomorrow.

  • Began making chorizo puffs (recipe below).
  • Took the grape leaves out and put them in a serving dish
  • Took the plastic wrap off the eggplant

  • Kept making chorizo puffs
  • Set out the deviled eggs
  • Warmed the flour tortillas and corn tortillas by putting them in the toaster oven (at 140F) 
  • Put the hoisin sauce into a bowl
  • Set out serving spoons

  • Took the pork pie and cheese and spinach pie out of the oven
  • Heated up the asian chicken
  • Set out the dipping sauce for the empanaditas
  • Put the chorizo puffs in the oven

We serve buffet style, with platters all around my kitchen/dining room counters.  Everything turned out wonderfully.  The best part was knowing that I can do it faster and better next time.  Honestly the chorizo puffs were the most work of the evening and I was supposed to make them on the weekend and freeze them but I'd had a bad cold so I had to do them last minute.  But everything else was simply warming up or cooked quickly. 


1 package chourico or linguica, if you can get the Portuguese kind, that's what we use
1 package puff pastry
1 egg, well-beaten (egg substitute would be fine here)

Take the puff pastry out to thaw according to the package directions.  Mine (Pepperidge Farms) needed 40 minutes to thaw.  Prepare a rolling area with a decent amount of flour, the puff pastry tends to release some water as it thaws so you'll want to make sure it doesn't stick.

We are usually using frozen chourico because you can't get the Portuguese kind locally, and it's what we prefer.  If you are doing it from frozen too, you'll need to have thawed it earlier.  The puffs are a little bit better if you remove the sausage casing and this is very hard to do with fresh sausage, but with cold/thawed, you can usually slit it with a knife and just peel back.  If you can do it, it keeps you from needing to eat the puffs in one bite.  If you can't, consider chopping up the chourico into bits rather than in rounds.  Anyway, once you've removed the casing, slice rounds of the chourico, probably 1/4" thick.  Roll out your puff pastry till quite thin.  Lay out a single row of chourico along one edge.  You want to fold the puff pastry over that row, so guess how much you'll need to cover the chourico and then slice down the puff pastry so you have one big piece set aside for use later and then a narrow strip that's just twice as wide as the chourico.  Paint the half of the narrow strip that doesn't have the chourico on it with eggwash.  Then fold over the pastry and using a knife, cut in between each round of chourico to make a square packet.  I then use an extra dab of egg and fold down the corners so it is round and pop it on a waiting sheet pan.  Once you've done one strip of chourico filled pastry, go back to your big piece of pastry and then repeat the process until you are done.  It is not particularly fast work and your fingers get gross, so wipe and wash when needed.

When all your puffs are done, put them in a 450 oven for 8 minutes or until puffed and golden.  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Can you call it that on Christmas Eve?  We're halfway through!

This morning after my post, I finished making the eggplant and it's marinating on the counter until dinner.

We took a break to eat some sandwiches with sweet soppressata, tavern ham, hot capicola, prosciutto and provolone.

We had some turkey on hand for Ryan as well.

Then after lunch I finished layering the streusel and the batter in the coffee cake (for tomorrow morning) and then popped it in the oven.

Christmas Eve Countdown

Again, I collapsed into bed last night before managing a post.

Yesterday at 5pm

The bolognese sauce is bubbling away on the stove for that night's dinner.

Chicken sausages are warming on the stove and cheese is being grated for the Christmas morning strata

Yesterday at 5:02
We decide to heat up the roast half duck to begin preparing the faux peking duck for Christmas Eve (we toss out the orange sauce packet).

Yesterday at 5:03 pm

My mother explains that she assumed I had bought the duck.  I explain that it is not readily available up here and therefore I could not have possibly bought the duck.

Yesterday at 5:08 pm

We call Uncle John and explain we are a protein short for our meal and need a replacement dish that will not involve going to the store.  After learning I have over 5lbs of chicken drumsticks available (Shout out to Costco!) he explains that I should confit my drumsticks and use them to make little asian chicken pancakes.

Yesterday at 7pm

The chicken drumsticks come out of the pot, shedding luscious moist chicken meat as they do.

8:30 am

The streusel is made for the coffee cake I'll be baking for tomorrow and the dry ingredients are sifted together and set aside.  I'll do the wet and bake it later so it's fresh.

The dipping sauce (far right) for the empanaditas is mixed up and popped back in the fridge.

Need to cook some eggplant right after breakfast, but then I'm pretty sure the rest of the cooking will be done right before dinner.  Hoping it's not too much!

Full Menu for Tonight
Cheese and Spinach pie - in the freezer -  (heat up in the oven)
Empanaditas and Dipping sauce - in the fridge and freezer - (heat up in the oven)
Traditional Pork Pie - in the fridge - (heat up in the oven)
Asian Chicken - in the fridge - (heat up on stove)
Hummus and Pita - in the fridge and on the counter - (cut up pita and put hummus in a bowl)
Grape leaves -
    Two kinds, traditional Greek and Turkish with currents, pine nuts onions (purchased) - in the fridge 
    (plate and serve)
Deviled eggs - in the fridge - (put plate on counter)
Asian duck - in the fridge - (heat stovetop and prepare pancakes)
Eggplant - not made!  Will start it after breakfast.
Green beans - not made!  Made on stove top, right before dinner
Chorizo in puff pastry - not made!  At this point it needs to be done right before dinner.  Boo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

T minus 2 Part 2

Around 1pm

The deviled eggs are done, if a bit salty.  Maybe don't use the full 1/2 tsp?  

The rice pudding is on the stove.

1:30 pm

The rice pudding is still on the stove despite Ina Garten having said it would be done at 1.

Ina Garten's Rice Pudding
(my version)

3/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons dark rum
3/4 cup white basmati rice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 cups milk 
1 cup cream
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 extra-large egg beaten
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Put the raisin in a bowl and pour in the rum.  Put the rice in a pan with the 1 1/2 cups of water.  Bring to a bowl, then reduce to a simmer, and simmer covered 8-9 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the milk and the sugar, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer again.  Simmer 25 minutes uncovered until the rice is soft.  Well, my rice was not soft and my pudding was really just milk with rice grains floating in it, so I can't sign off on this.  Maybe my simmer was too low, because I have a legit simmer burner?  At any rate, after 25 minutes of nothing, I moved the rice to the hotter burner, gave it another 15-20 minutes and it started to seem more like rice pudding.  Then add the beaten egg and cook for one more minute.  Remove from the heat; add the vanilla, the cup of cream and the raisins and any rum they may not have absorbed. I forgot to add the raisins.  No worries.  I stirred them in once I poured it into the bowl.  If I hadn't told you, you'd never have known.  Pour it into a bowl and pop it in the fridge.  Cover with plastic (right up against the pudding, to prevent a skin).


T minus 2

I took the pictures needed to update you last night, but then I went to bed instead of updating you.

Last night…7pm
I had rolled out and baked the sugar cookies and then set about icing them. I was working with dried egg whites rather than meringue powder and so I made up the recipe for the royal icing which maybe wasn't my finest culinary moment.  It ended up too drippy and I fixed it, but by then I was tired and did an unimpressive job icing the cookies.

Moral: If at all possible, bake then take a break before doing the icing.

2 days until Christmas…9am

A dozen eggs have been hardboiled and popped in the fridge ready to become deviled eggs.

I finished icing the Christmas trees!

The rugelach pinwheels are coming out of the oven in batches.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I know, I know, I've been a long time gone.  But I am hosting this Christmas for the first time ever!  I ran into an acquaintance at the library and she asked if I'd be cooking brunch or dinner.  I laughed.  One meal is for wimps.  I am hosting from today straight through to next Monday.

I figured I'd give you all the blow-by-blow in case you felt like living vicariously (or having a guide on how to host people for 8 days without going insane).

3 days until Christmas

Current status (8:30 am)

One batch of ginger crinkles in the oven and one on the counter.  I made the dough, rolled the balls in sugar and froze them a week ago.  This morning I just spread them in parchment and baked them.

Sugar cookie dough is in the fridge, waiting to be rolled out and cut.

Rugelach pinwheels are in the freezer, ready to pop in the oven.  As much as I claimed this recipe was a pain when I made it before, it's actually perfect if you've got to work in small batches.  I made the filling and the sugar dip while the baby ate his breakfast.  I mixed the dough while he ran around the house with the mower like a wild man.  I rolled out the dough and added the filling (the hardest step) while he napped.  Then I sliced it and dipped it in cinnamon sugar while he ate his dinner.

Christmas Eve Buffet:
The empanaditas are in the freezer, ready to bake.
The hummus is in the fridge.
My mother is bringing more today!

Fridge supplies:
Between the baby and the baking I have an epic amount of milk on hand.  I also have pounds and pounds of butter.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

First Ever Birthday Weekend!

Not for me of course, I have long believed that having a birthday entitles one to having a full weekend celebration, but this was the very first birthday for my little one.  And I cooked up a storm.

The most complicated thing I made the whole weekend, was the birthday cake.  I wanted to make it gluten-free, so that my father would be able to join in the festivities.  I also had a mini-crisis in which I decided my baby was way too little for chocolate.  In the end, I baked this lemon layer cake from Annalise Roberts* with some minor adjustments.

1.  I did not make homemade lemon curd.  I am lucky I managed to bake a cake, the lemon curd was beyond me.  I bought and used one whole jar of Dickinson's Lemond Curd.

2.  I made Ina Garten's cream cheese icing because I'm not really a buttercream person.  The recipe is here.  I substituted lemon extract for the vanilla extract and vanilla extract for the almond extract.  It was heavenly.

Now, I may be a decent baker, but I am generally not a cake baker and despite my three cake stands, I own nearly nothing in the way of cake paraphernalia.  No piping bag, no offset spatula, nothing.  So what you see above was achieved through hyperventilation, hand-wringing, a knife, some water and a ziploc bag.

This particular layer cake required cutting the layers in half, so I did that with a bread knife, holding my breath, while my father said "up, down, no - hold steady".

Gluten-free cakes are even crummier than regular cakes, so I did a crumb coat.  I popped it back in the fridge, then pulled it for a final layer of frosting.   It was a warm day so whenever things got a bit too squishy I popped everything back in the fridge and walked away.  I used a knife wet with a titch of water to smooth the coat of icing, then piped on the dots with a ziploc baggie. High class I tell you, high class.

Absolutely everyone thought the cake was ridiculously delicious, except the birthday boy, who spat out any morsel of cake or frosting that we managed to sneak past his lips.  It wasn't exactly the reaction a mother could hope for, but I'm sure by next year he will be more into the whole idea of cake.

*I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog that her baking recipes are divine - her cookbook is Gluten-Free Baking Classics and I highly recommend it if you do any amount of gluten-free baking.


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