Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

OK, yes, I realize that I'm doing this on New Year's Eve, but I'm headed off to London tomorrow very early (unofficially, I'm co-leading this trip/course) , so I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading the blog in 2007 and invite you back for more in 2008!

Things will likely be quite around here for the next couple of weeks while I'm out-of-town, but things will be back to normal soon enough. Hopefully my digital camera will keep up with me and there will be lots of pics to share along the way.

But until then, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guest Recipe: Lisa's Mayan Mystery Cookies

I used to date a man who loved the cocktail hour at wedding receptions; the combination of elegant mixed drinks with a panoply of carefully prepared finger foods proved too irresistible. Forget the cake, or the carefully plated fish-or-chicken entrees, the cocktail hour was where it's at.

After last night, I'm reminded why I agree.

Nancy hosted an end-of-the-year cocktail party last night, replete with lots of little nibbles: focaccia and olives, several wedges from the European cheese shop, shrimp cocktail, grilled mushrooms, pretzels and spicy mustard -- all delicious.

But my lust for sweets is never vanquished so, as soon as Lisa and Kip, two of Nancy's friends, showed up with a huge platter of cookies, I was on them like white on rice (the cookies, not the couple).

Heaped on the tray were scores of dark chocolate cookies, glittering with a light coating of sugar. They had the lovely, heady aroma of cocoa and cinnamon (a combination I love).
Taking a bite, I was rewarded with a tender cookie and a rich depth of flavor -- the chocolate and cinnamon, of course, but also little bursts of pure chocolate, followed by a gentle Cayenne heat. So delicious -- and a nice departure from the usual holiday-time cookie flavors.

I took a few home with me, but they're all gone now: sacrificial virgins to my hungry sweet tooth god.

Thanks to Lisa and Kip for the delicious treats (and the tip about the mechanic!) and to Nancy for hosting a terrific shindig.

Mayan Mystery Cookies (source)

Note: the recipe directs "tuck[ing] about 5 chocolate chips into the center of each one." Doesn't that seem like a lot of extra effort for what's otherwise a very simple recipe? (Lisa thought so, too.)

After thoroughly combining the vanilla into the dough, and just before chilling, I'd fold in about 6 oz. (half a standard bag) of semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate chips, check to see if that was enough chocolate for my preferences, and add more if need be.

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon finely and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Semisweet chocolate chips (see note, above)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Cream the butter and ¾ cup sugar in a food processor. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa in a medium bowl and add to the butter mixture. Add the egg and vanilla and process until the batter is uniform.

Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about the width of a quarter. Tuck about 5 chocolate chips into the center of each one. Put some sugar on a flat plate and roll the balls in the sugar to cover lightly.

Place the balls on the baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes, being careful not to overbake; the cookies should be delicate and soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheets.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole: pretty, by casserole standards.

I've never been a fan of the traditional green bean casserole but Shane really likes it, so I'll make it on occassion -- most recently, for Thanksgiving. I'm not crazy about green beans anyway, and the regular recipe yeilds a bland-tasting and grey-looking casserole.

For Christmas dinner, however, I set out to find a better recipe -- and I did! Not only is it delicious, with loads of onion flavor, it's creamy and even attractive (by casserole standards, anyway). It only requires a couple of extra steps and ingredients, but it makes all the difference (plus, it actually comes together more quickly than the original). They've taken a casserole I normally turn my nose up at into something I crave in the middle of the night -- or right now, even.

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole (adapted)

20 oz. frozen French-cut green beans
2 large red onions, finely diced
6 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2 (10-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup (I used reduced fat)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (6 oz.) can French-fried onions

Blanch the French-cut green beans in hot water for about 3 to 5 minutes, drain and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

In a large skillet, saute the chopped onion in butter. Then add the cooled beans and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the canned mushroom soup and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a greased casserole dish and top with French-fried onions. Bake in oven for about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

This month, Lis and Ivonne challenged all the Daring Bakers to create a Yule Log for the holidays. Mine is a few days late -- it's been a hectic month, and the past few days have been especially sad for me because Chester died-- but the cake is finally here: a Christmas miracle.

Please check out all the other beautiful Yule Logs by visiting the links on the Daring Bakers blogroll and, again, happy holidays.

Yule Log

Orange Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch
Zest of one orange

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted. Fold in zest.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Chocolate Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled a bit
2 tsp. vanilla

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add chocolate and liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Holiday Cheer

Every year, the George Eastman House hosts an exhibition of Gingerbread Houses created by people all over the Rochester area. Take a look at some of the lovely creations!

Vosges Exotic Caramel Collection

The fine folks at Vosges (specifically Paige -- Hi, Paige!) sent me a gorgeous Exotic Caramel Collection 18pc 2-Tier Hatbox . And, let me tell you, it knocked my socks off.

The collection features two samples each of nine different caramels with flavors featuring notes of maple syrup, blood orange, peppercorn, or chile, among others. Each confection, however, is anchored by a superb caramel -- rich, complex and satisfying. They are beautiful little candies, both for the eye and the palate.

My favorite, however, was the "Tart" pictured above. Oooh, it is irrisistible. Maybe Vosges will release an all Tart box soon? (I could always ask Santa to pull a few strings...)

Very Cool Tool at a Very Cool Price

I've been tooling around the American Science & Surplus site, which is filled with all sorts of little goodies at very resonable prices, when I came across this:

Butane Beauty
It's stylish, it's handy, it has a slightly menacing look to it, and-truth be told-it's a lot of fun. It's a handheld butane torch, great for everyone: in the lab, under the hood, working with circuitry, melting copper and other metals; heck, a chef can even use it to flambé the dessert. 6-3/4" tall, 1-1/2" dia base, 4" long at the top, with a textured grip, push-button start with safety, and air adjustment to control the size of the flame. Easy to fill with butane, which you'll need to do 'cause no fuel is included. $14.95 each.

A creme brulee torch for $15?!? That's pretty impressive, especially when you consider how much they can go for elsewhere. Not a bad little gift for your favorite chef/pyromaniac on your list.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pescatore's "World's Greatest Tuna Noodle Casserole"

An email from Mark, verbatim:

It was one of those awkward social mixers at the beginning of my first semester at The University of Alabama in 1990. All the grad students were invited to the home of the one of the professors, so we could get to know each other and meet some of the faculty before the real fun began. It was here that I tasted the world's greatest tuna noodle casserole. The dish came from the girlfriend of one of my new classmates, and she shared the recipe with me. It takes about an hour from prep to serve. It's not a complicated recipe at all, but the results are ... well, the world's greatest. In 17 years, it's never let me down.

1 can tuna (drained)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can peas
8 or 9 oz. noodles (I prefer wide)
1 can french fried onions
3/4 cup milk
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Boil noodles and drain. In casserole dish, mix in tuna, soup, milk, cheddar cheese. Add the noodles, then 1/2 the can of french fried onions. Delicately stir in peas (you don't want them mushy). Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining onions on top and put back in the oven for five minutes at 300 degrees.


Emeril, No Longer Live

I can't believe it, but the Food Network has cancelled it's flagship show, Emeril Live.

From Changing Courses at the Food Network, NYT 12/17/07:

You can find chef Emeril Lagasse’s name and face all over a dozen cookbooks, 10 restaurants, lines of pots and pans, knives, Wedgwood dishes, spices, salad dressings and pasta sauces, and even a deep fryer.

But as of last week, it will no longer be found on new episodes of his signature “Emeril Live” show on the Food Network. The program taped its last installments and laid off a half-dozen staff members, bringing an end to an impressive 11-year, every-weeknight run.

Viewers will not see a difference for at least a year as the new episodes that have already been taped are shown. But industry executives are scratching their heads over why the network canceled “Emeril Live” — which they speculate became too
expensive for its softening ratings — without having a new deal in place, given the role that his program played in the network’s success.

Food Network executives assert that Mr. Lagasse, who declined to comment, remains a valued member of the family. “All good things come to an end, and it was time to do something new,” said Brooke Johnson, the network’s president. “Right now, we’re figuring out what that something new is,” she said, noting that Mr. Lagasse’s “Essence of Emeril” on the network remains in production.
The article goes on to discuss the Food Network's new strategy, namely getting a piece of the pie (ha-ha) when its stars write cookbooks, promote cookware, etc., etc. Check out this quote from Mario Batali:

“They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd [...] a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.”

If he's right, this means more Sandra Lee type programming and less Batali quality. More Cool-whip frosted angel food cake, anyone?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Attention Whore

I signed up for Facebook earlier this year and am completely addicted. Why I (and everyone else on Facebook) find updates on all my friends' minutia so fascinating, or why writing "on walls" is fun, or why challenging each other to movie quizzes is so compelling is not something I've fully figured out, but I'm along for the ride.

Anyway, I created a Facebook page for this blog so, if you're inclined, please join up!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Russian Tea Cakes

Sometimes, a cookie is so tasty that, even though you've planned to blog about it, you eat all the treats before you have a chance to take pictures.

These cookies fall into that category. (But Jerry let me borrow his photo -- Yay, Cooking By The Seat of My Pants!)

On Saturday night, we had dinner with a few of the HWS students with whom we traveled to Russia. We had a very nice time, and I especially enjoyed the Russian tea cakes Mandi brought along for dessert. They're sandy little cookies, studded with nuts and rolled in powdered sugar. They accompany a cup of hot tea very well, and are an ideal holiday cookie.

Russian Tea Cakes (source)

1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
confectioners' sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.

Cream the butter, adding sugar gradually until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, vanilla, and walnuts or pecans.

Roll between hands into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Remove from oven and while still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Corn "Fluff"

It's a pretty wintery day here today -- all the area schools have been closed (except MINE) and Shane is staying home from work, so even though I'm probably going in (let's face it, I am) it still feels like a bit of a vacation day. A good time to play catch-up on a recipe I hadn't posted.

I'm not a big fan of corn bread, but I'll wolf down a plate of corn fluff anytime. It's a blend of savory and sweet, with a consistency approximating bread pudding. I especially love the little bits of corn kernels studding the bread.

This is comfort food at it's simplest, and a great side dish for a winter's night meal.

Corn Fluff
one 15 1/4-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
one 14 3/4-ounce can cream-style corn
one 8-ounce package corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F; grease a glass pie plate or small baking dish.

In a large bowl, stir together the two cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, egg, and butter. Pour into prepared pie plate/dish.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Yields 6 to 8 servings.