Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Miracle of a New Year.

So, here we sit, in the last few days of a year that's been fraught with plenty of good -- but enough bad that I can't imagine wanting to hit "replay". And yet, I'm feeling very peaceful.

It's remarkable to think about the hope, the potential, and the joyful mystery of the new year.  I'm certainly not delusional, but I've always somehow believed in the hope that springs new upon the eve of the new year.  And, as I sit here contemplating what's to come -- I feel that hope.

Tomorrow we will wake up early. If we get up early enough, there will be coffee. And a bit of kranzkuchen. Steph will arrive and we'll drive off to gather our wares for another New Year's feast.  This year, we're exploring Asian cuisine.  We'll make up a bit of sushi, maybe some Chinese dumplings, a few eggrolls, some tempura, and whatever else we feel inspired to create. We'll cook all day, and nibble as we go. We'll laugh. Play games. Drink wine. And enjoy one another's company.  At midnight, we'll crack open a bottle of champagne and toast the new year.

And when it's all over, we'll drift off to sleep with smiling faces and full bellies. And we'll wake up to a blank slate. A new calendar. And the hope that, somehow, an exciting stretch of days just waiting to be shaped into something new, lay before us.

Although it's virtually impossible to simply place all of our burdens down at 11:59 p.m. on the eve of the new year, and wake up to an utterly clean slate on the first of the year, it's certainly a contemplation worth having. 

Our hopes and goals for 2010
Stress less, and pray more.
Love freely and deeply. 
Judge less, and be generous with our grace cards. 
Open up, and reach out. 
Stretch our boundaries.
Do more creating, and less tearing down. 
Eat well, and share meals often. 
Explore the boundaries of new cooking worlds. 
Focus on the immense possibility of possibility.

As you reflect on 2009 and step over the threshold of the new year, may only good await.
And may your 2010 hold nothing less than miracles.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Roast Beast and other random shots

So, how were the holidays at your place?
Our hope is that you were delighted by the company of your most cherished friends and family, satiated by platters of scrumptious food, and made all bright and cheery by a few glasses of great wine.

We certainly were!  Nope, I cannot tell a lie. Christmas dinner at our house this year was a positively delicious affair:

We started off by ordering a standing rib roast of beast from our local butcher...  Bunzel's Meat Market bequeathed us with ten delicious pounds of USDA prime first-cut beef.  We couldn't really argue with that, now, could we?

 Preparation of the roast beast began a couple of days ahead. We slashed the roast and slathered it liberally with a mixture of garlic (lots!), fresh thyme (3 T chopped), olive oil (2-3 T), and salt (2 T).

 We also threw together ten adorable hot buttered rum cheesecakes (and their accompanying rum caramel sauce -- which we should mention is positively To. Die. For.  I think that I could live on it!). 

Awesome, huh?

Yeah, well. It turns out we're not the best when it comes to taking pictures of our actual holiday feasts.  We get all excited about the preparations, snapping pictures every other minute... but once the festivities begin, we lose all sense of direction when it comes to recording the final product.  

We did manage to get a shot of the salad, which we served while the roast was resting in the kitchen... but everything else seems to have gotten lost in the "ooohs" and "aahhhs" and the mumblings of satisfaction as we consumed the roast beast and its swoon-worthy accompaniments.

I'm particularly sad that we didn't get a shot of that bacon porcini gravy and the uber cheesy spinach gratin... soooo good.

*sigh*  Maybe next year.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Burp!'s Holiday Sweet Kitchen (and no, it's not more ice cream!)

I couldn't tell you what it was, but this morning I suddenly got this eerie feeling that I needed to check my calendar.  Boy, was I shocked to see that Christmas is just over a week away!!  Where did the time go?

Fortunately, we have been doing more than simply resting on our laurels for the last few weeks.  Our Christmas shopping is done (yes, done!!), we've ordered our standing rib roast for Christmas day dinner, and we just finished wrapping our gifts.  Oh -- and we did manage to whip up a nice big batch of chocolate covered cordial cherries.

These delicious tidbits have become a holiday tradition at our house.  And we couldn't envision Christmas without them.  As of this year, we've been making them for twelve years running.

The cherries soaked in brandy for over a week this year, so these little gems are packing a bit of a punch.

And they're tasting particularly fantastic.  We've packed up most of them to give as holiday gifts. But, we'll set aside a few for eating as well... I might even manage to hoard a few long enough to enjoy them on New Year's Eve, if Peef doesn't find them first.

Of course, if you're not a fan of cherries, you could make another one of our favorites: Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark.  This stuff is hauntingly similar to the stuff you can buy at Williams Sonoma, without the hefty price tag.  A full recipe of this stuff would cost you about $50 at WS.  The ingredients to make your own will cost about $12.  Yeah, trust me. It's worth the effort.
I also have a pretty fantastic recipe for fudge bourbon balls.  You take barely-cooked brownies as its base. They're completely fudgey and wonderful.  Come to think of it, we haven't made them yet this year. But, just the thought of them is making me a little bit drooly.

So, it's back into the kitchen with me...

In the meantime, I just want to take the opportunity to wish each and every one of you a Very Merry Christmas!  I hope that your celebrations are filled with incredible joy, the company of your favorite people, and plenty of delicious food.  And if we don't talk before the new year, may your 2010 be blessed with all that was good in 2009, and then some!

Recipe:  Chocolate covered cordial cherries

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Autumn Ice Cream: Browned Butterscotch Pumpkin

Yeah, yeah, alright. So everyone else is blogging about Christmas cookies... so what? I'm here to prove that ice cream can be just as festive!

We've doing quite a bit of experimenting with ice cream flavors lately (hey, if David Lebovitz can spend his time doing it, so can we). And I'm here to reveal a recipe that makes it well worth your while to drag that ice cream machine out of storage again.

We've created the perfect seasonal pumpkin ice cream... many thanks to the wonder that is browned butter. You'll need just a few ordinary ingredients (pictured)...

... plus a few spices, about 5 eggs, and a little bit of patience.

First, you'll brown five tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. You'll add brown sugar, a bit of salt, and about a cup of heavy cream to the mix.  You'll swoon.

Once you've regained some semblance of your composure, you'll whip together five egg yolks.  You'll stir the browned butter mixture into the egg yolks (slowly, and whipping them continuously with a whisk so as not to cook them), and then return the whole mixture to the stove to make a delicious browned butter custard.  Your entire kitchen will smell absolutely fantastic, and the next 5-10 minutes will fly past at breakneck speed.

At that point, the custard should be coating the back of a spatula or wooden spoon.  You can pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl containing yet another cup of cold heavy cream.

It will look so pretty, you'll want to take a picture. So, you do. And then, you'll whisk it all together -- adding a cup of pumpkin puree and a bit of vanilla.
At this point, you'll place the ice cream base over an ice bath  and stir it until it's completely cool. Then, you'll pop it into the fridge until it's fully chilled (about 3-4 hours, or overnight).

If you're like me, you'll take the opportunity to whip together a delicious pecan pie with pecan shortbread crust...
When the ice cream base is cold, you can whip it up in your ice cream maker.  Be sure to add a tablespoon or so of Scotch to the icecream during the last few moments of churning. The flavor is divine.

Once the ice cream has churned, you can pop it back into the freezer for a while while your pie cools.

And then, when the pie is still ever-so-slightly warm, and the ice cream is perfectly frozen, you can serve them all up together on a nice little dessert plate.

You spoon up a nice little scoop of the melting ice cream. Mmm. Buttery and rich. Cool and creamy. Spicy and dreamy.  It's like the best pumpkin pie you've ever had in a cup. Or a bowl. Or next to that perfect slice of warm pie.

Your fork gravitates toward the pecan pie. The shortbread flakes under the weight of your fork, and then falls into a fantastic abyss of brown sugar custard.  You raise the fork to your lips and take a bite. It's toasty and buttery and nutty and perfect.

You take a forkful of the icecream and the pie together. The convergence of flavors is like the best of Thanksgiving and Christmas all at once.  OOOh...  Yum!

You don't even care about the extra layer of body fat that you've acquired in the last five minutes or so. After all, you'll need it for the long winter ahead.  And you can blame it on the holidays. *smirk*

Recipe:  Peef & Lo's Perfect Browned Butterscotch Pumpkin Ice Cream

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Make Ahead Bliss: Corn Bread Pudding with Cranberries, Sausage, and Leeks

Mention bread pudding, and most people think of dessert.  But, savory bread pudding is actually some seriously good stuff -- and it not only makes for a great side dish, but it can also serve as a main entree when served with a nice pile of veggies or a side salad.

A frugal way to use up that loaf of stale bread sitting on the counter, savory bread pudding is a great way to create a comforting main dish from things you just have "lying around."  Flavor combinations are just about endless, and if you play your cards right you can create a time-saving main course for just about any cool autumn evening. You can even assemble the bread pudding the day before you intend to bake it... a great idea for those busy nights before Christmas when every moment counts.

We've done savory puddings before, but this Thanksgiving we came up with a flavor combination that really seemed to bring out the best in local ingredients.  Fresh cranberries, bulk Italian sausage, and leeks come together with melted fontina cheese and fresh herbs to create a dish that's as great as a side dish or main-dish entree as it is as a breakfast food (and yes, I was even gobbling the leftovers from this dish cold right from the fridge). This variation uses corn bread as its base; but, the recipe would work with just about any type of bread (just adjust the moisture content accordingly).

First, you need to gather up your bread.  We added fresh chopped cranberries to our favorite corn bread recipe and used it as the base for our pudding. But, you can feel free to substitute your favorite cranberry walnut bread.  Or simply use your favorite regular corn bread recipe and throw in a handful of dried cranberries (or even currants) when you mix together the pudding.

Cube the bread, and toast it in a low oven for about a 1/2 hour to dry it out and prime it for absorbing all the delicious flavored custard.

Depending on how dry your corn bread is, you might be able to skip the step of toasting it in the oven.
While the bread is toasting, you can saute up about 1/2 lb of Italian sausage and 2 cups of leeks.  And don't be tempted to scrimp on the leeks. Two cups might seem like a bunch, but good fresh leeks will cook down considerably once they let off their liquid in the saute pan. Plus, you'll want plenty of that mild, sweet, leek-flavor; it really complements the corn bread and offsets the tartness of the cranberries in this recipe.

Stir together your cubed corn bread, sausage, leeks, and a nice handful of chopped fresh parsley and thyme.  If you're using regular corned bread for your recipe, this would be a good time to throw in that handful of dried cranberries if you didn't add them to your corn bread recipe.

Shred up a bit of fontina cheese, and beat together 5-6 eggs with about 3 cups of milk and/or cream.  Add the cheese and egg mixture to the bread and allow it to soak for 20-30 minutes, or until the bread seems to have taken up most of the liquid.  Then, pour it into a buttered 2 quart baking dish.
Bake the bread pudding for 50-60 minutes -- or until set and browned. 

Now just look at that and tell me that you don't just want to snarf it right up.
Be careful, though, and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes before digging in... it's hot, and you might just burn your too-eager tongue.

Recipe:  Corn Bread Pudding with Cranberries, Sausage, and Leeks

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Surprising Side Dish: Brussels Sprouts with Apples & Juniper

For years, I took in the flavor of juniper berries primarily through my consumption of gin and tonics.  But, lately, the balance is shifting. And I've begun to look for new ways to use the flavor of juniper in my cooking.

At first I was afraid that anything I made with juniper would end up tasting of pine needles.  But, I've learned that that simply isn't so. While the juniper berry is a bit resinous in its flavor, it actually bears a pleasant tart-sweet flavor which pairs brilliantly with a number of other ingredients, including apples, bacon, duck, venison, and pork.

It's affinity for apples explains why this side dish, which we ate with our Thanksgiving dinner, was so fabulous.

First, you'll need a pound of fresh brussels sprouts -- cleaned and trimmed -- and one tart apple.

You'll also need a couple of teaspoons of juniper berries.  They're available through Penzey's Spices online, if you don't have a local source.
Core the apple and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Prepare the brussels sprouts by cutting a small "X" in the bottom end of each (this helps the brussels sprouts to cook evenly). And crush the juniper berries with a mortar and pestle, or by smashing with the side of a knife.

Place about 2/3 cup of apple juice in the bottom of a large skillet and bring the juice to a boil.  Add the brussels sprouts, apples, and juniper.  Season with salt & pepper.

Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 5 minutes or until the brussels sprouts are tender.

This is decidedly one of the most unusual side dishes we've ever tried; but, it's positively delicious. The apple flavor tames the cabbagey tendency of the brussels sprouts and the juniper berries lend a sweet, almost floral quality to the dish.

Definitely one to try the next time you're looking for a new way with brussels sprouts!

Recipe: Brussels Sprouts with Apple and Juniper

Random Factoid:

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs gives some insight into the herb's long-standing reputation as a protective element:  "The plant's pungent aroma has long recommended it for driving away evil spirits and disease. Legend has it that juniper planted beside the front door will keep out witches; the only way for a witch to get past the plant was by correctly counting its needles."

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