Archive for December, 2006

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Bangin’ in the New Year

December 31, 2006

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Ah, so it’s New Year’s Eve and we don’t have much to impart from the culinary perspective. Both my wife and I are worn to the nub… we have cooked up a storm while on the road with family. We had 20 for Christmas dinner, and then 7, 7 and 15 on the days afterward. It was exciting, but exhausting. And the biggest tragedy is that we have left you, our faithful and loyal readers, with no good recipe for tonight or tomorrow. That means empty pots and pans. Luckily, we know how to put them to use.

Here in Cincinnati, which we will leave shortly to be back inside the beltway for the New Year, we have a strong set of German, Irish and Appalachian heritage. This means that we have traditions. One of those traditions is perfect for your empty pots and pans.

The story goes that at midnight on New Year’s, you break out your pots and pans and beat them to ring in the holiday. There are myriad traditions that follow this same idea — Persians, Finns, Poles… Yes, the pots and pans are cheap noisemakers. But all these traditions agree they also ward off bad spirits. So, if you find yourself with an empty dutch oven around midnight, feel free to give a good whack in hopes of celebrating a glorious 2007. Happy New Year’s from us to you!

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Savor a slice: Blood orange bundt cake

December 28, 2006

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I’m running out of adjectives.

That’s right: I unfurl such effusive praise of my husband’s cooking that I start to sound like a broken record. Now, when something truly noteworthy rears its beautiful, bundt-cake head, I’m hard pressed to express its majesty in words.

But you can’t blame a cake-lover for trying. Here it is folks, a blood orange bundt cake. It was B-E-A-utiful coming out of the oven… completely golden and perfect for devouring. It filled our kitchen with that luscious smell that only a perfectly cooked cake can emit. Part vanilla, part ambrosia, that fragrance whirls up the nostrils and sets the tummy rumbling.

But wait… there’s more. My husband next drizzled sweet, blood-orange flavored icing all over that golden dome. It ran into a sweet confectioner’s sugar stream under the cake, perfect for dipping your finger into. (You know as an appetizer or something.) Finger-lickin’ never was so sweet.

The finished cake had a subtle blood orange flavor that was reinforced by its fragrant icing. The slices were moist, warm and delicious. I’m only sorry that we had to give the rest to our cabdriver on our way out of town! (But you can’t just let good cake like that go to waste!)

If you’ve got blood oranges and a hankering for cake, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy!

Click here to download the recipe for Blood Orange Bundt Cake

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Merry Christmas (or Happy Christmas if that is your cup of tea)

December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas versus Merry Christmas… Happy is always a tough one for me. As an American, I rarely hear Happy Christmas unless you are consuming British pop culture–Oh how you confuse me BBC America and Love Actually! Whether your favorite is happy or merry, we just wanted to extend you our very best Christmas wishes.

As for what we are doing on this holiday, we are with our family in Cincinnati and will be cooking up a storm come noon. We’ve got 20 ravenous Midwesterners who are ready to get their grub on soon enough.

So for those of you also cooking, good luck. If you looking for ideas, go ahead and click the recipe index. From that list, we’ll be doing ramen noodle salad, parsnip chips, and cornbread stuffing. We’ve got a few more dishes to take care of like the turkey and debuting a show piece that will make its appearance on the blog soon if it’s good enough.

So good eating on this holiday. I hope you all get to enjoy time amongst your family and friends. Merry Christmas!

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Have Christmas Stress? Need a no fuss dish? But want it to shine? Try Ramen Noodle Salad! Yes, I said Ramen Noodle Salad. Sheesh.

December 24, 2006

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I enjoy food, as you know. But it isn’t often that I eat something and then sincerely plead, “I have to have this recipe.” (Perhaps because I prefer to have others prepare food for me, and then, who needs the recipe?)

But after sampling the Ramen Noodle Salad at my in-laws’ house, I had to demand the recipe. Twice. That’s right. I got it, lost it, and then wasn’t too embarrassed to call the next week to get it again. It’s that good.

Ramen Noodle Salad is simple to prepare and absolutely delicious. I think it’s a well-kept secret, in part, because the recipe seems so unlikely to yield anything as awesomely good as it is. Cabbage, some nuts, some sugar, oil and vinegar… and Ramen noodles and their “flavor packets”?

Doesn’t really set the tummy rumbling, does it?

If that’s the case, it’s only because you haven’t had the salad. It requires nothing more than the ingredient list and a little time to marinate. No baking… no heat of any kind. And it fulfills my requirements for a salad that I will absolutely rave about: It’s incredibly delicious… and not that healthy for you, after all. (Think: Nuts, nuts, noodles and oil. Not really your heart specialist’s dream.)

But who cares? It’s so damn tasty. And by publishing the recipe on the Internet, I — and any other Ramen Noodle Salad lovers — can fulfill our Ramen Noodle Salad cravings anytime – without having to make repeated phone calls for the recipe!

Click here to download the recipe for Ramen Noodle Salad
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What’s a little fried food between friends? Parsnip chips.

December 22, 2006

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Munch, munch, munch.

Let’s face it: Homemade chips are the bomb. We are genetically and evolutionarily driven to consume salty fried snacks. And while you can’t always yield to Mother Nature’s urges, if you’re going to sock away that many calories, you want them to be worthwhile, don’t you?

That’s where these homemade parsnip chips can come in.

They’re delicate, sweet and light — yet fried and salty. It’s a contradiction I can’t explain, particularly with my mouth full of parsnip chips. Honestly, I found these unexpectedly tasty. Viewing the vegetable that they come from, I was duly skeptical. But from that oversized white carrot, that humble root, comes a superior chip. It tastes a lot like what I thought a sweet potato chip would taste like — except I’m usually disappointed by sweet potato chips (they’re often too chewy, thick and mealy).

In fact, it turns out that parsnip chips were what my imagination, and tummy, were craving.

So when you’re mindlessly reaching for that bag of Lay’s, bat your hand away, man. Pull out that other white root vegetable and get a fryin’. You won’t be sor… Munch, munch, munch.

Click here to download the recipe for Parsnip Chips.

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Five cookies that are worth sliding down a chimney

December 20, 2006

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You’re Santa. You’ve been laboring for months as a supervisor in a toy factory. You’ve gotten your creaky butt up in the middle of the night, hauled it into a sled weighed down with packages, and are now diligently directing eight cantankerous reindeer (of all things) all over the world to deliver these packages.

You’re tired. You’re cranky. You have hardly a “ho, ho, ho” in you… Until you squirm down the chimney and see a beautiful plate of cookies in the offing. Yes, tucked next to the fireplace (or other magical entrance) is a nice tall glass of milk and some mighty fine Christmas cookies. Suddenly, you feel a spring in your steps. Your belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly (or, more accurately, Christmas cookies) as you laugh with delight. You wolf them down and brush the crumbs from your beard, ready to face Christmas night again.

Those are some darn fine cookies.

Yes, Christmas cookies are magical — and not just because they get Santa through a harrowing night and contribute to his legendary waistline. Making cookies is a holiday rite of passage, and one that we couldn’t neglect. The trouble is, we’re not cookie-masters, and we don’t want to disappoint Old Saint Nick.

The solution? Call on the expertise of our baking fellow bloggers. Yes, we baked a variety of Christmas cookies and have others’ genius to credit. Each is tasty, delicious, and different from the next. And it just goes to show what amazing bloggers there are out there. No doubt Santa will reward them.

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Backgrounder…
Santa is a big man with big cookie issues, and this holiday season my wife had the same issues. This little project was completely her idea. She got it in her head that we needed to make cookies for her co-workers as gifts (Hence, the picture of the tissue paper forest on our dining table).

Now, I don’t mind making food for other people. Heck, I often send baked goods I’ve cooked on with her to the office. This minor obsession by my wife became a full on brilliant idea when she suggested we cook other people’s cookies. So she did all the research and found four others she liked plus our own Crème Fraîche Clouds. So in these final days of the holiday season, these recipes got the MHC seal of approval, plus the approval of many of my wife’s office mates. So if you are looking for ideas to bake, then go head and click the links while the oven preheats.

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1. Chocolate Shortbread Fingers from Bake or Bake or Break—These are great. I love shortbread with its beautifully buttery flavor. In this version, the chocolate with a sprinkling of sugar truly make a dramatic impact. One of the best cookies I’ve ever had.

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2. Korva Cookies from Dessert First—If you love chocolate, this is your cookie. It is rich, crisp and intoxicating. It’s pure chocolate perfection. It’s a bit harder to make then the other recipes here, but if you have the need for chocolate, make these. I just want to note quickly that we add the powdered sugar for a visual effect here. We also used a very dark cocoa powder. Dessert First’s cookies are prettier and perfect.

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3. Snickerdoodles from the Kitchen Wench—A classic cookie and well done. My wife loves snickerdoodles. When she thinks of cookies, I’m pretty sure she thinks of snickerdoodsles. These from the Kitchen Wench are beautifully spiced and have a touch of nutmeg which really adds depth to flavor while keeping that combination of soft and crispness that make snickerdoodles so great. If nothing else, who doesn’t like to say, “Snickerdoodle.”

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4. Toasted Pecan Toffee from Cookbook 101—Okay, you win. It’s not technically a cookie. It’s a candy. But, it’s the holiday season so we can all be generous. For the candy making novice, this is a great recipe to get your feet wet with. It’s delicious, impressive and not overly complex. Also, when you break your toffee for service-sized pieces, be sure to save the little pieces for ice cream or other cookies.

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5. Crème Fraîche Clouds from MHC—Yeah, we decorated them for the season. These delicious derivation from tradition sour cream cookie really are great. They are simple to make and I enjoy them, but the best part was spray painting them to look festive. Yes, I said spray paint. The local grocery didn’t have the colored sugar we usually use this time of year for cookies, but did have this colored spray.

Boy did we get a chuckle out it. I felt like I was tagging my food. I wanted to start my own gang of bakers and cooks after doing a couple dozen cookies. But alas, I didn’t get that far with my gang. I don’t think my wife even wanted to join. So alas, I’m back to cooking as a family project. Enjoy the baking. Enjoy the season.

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Breakfast fit for a cartoon sailor: Spinach and caramelized onion frittata.

December 18, 2006

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“He’s strong to the finich cause he eats his spinach…”

If you weren’t brainwashed into eating this perfect vegetable by a husky sailor with a muscle disorder, you’re missing out. Not only is spinach tasty by itself — sauteed with butter and garlic, eaten raw as a salad, or apparently, following Popeye’s example, straight out of a can — it also plays nicely with others. What others? Well, eggs, bacon and carmelized onions, for example.

Well, you might argue, lots of things probably taste good with eggs, bacon and carmelized onions. … Exactly. This recipe can satisfy the spinach lover or the spinach faint of heart. Fluffy eggs surround a mound of dense, green goodness, which is punctuated by sweet carmelized onions and the wonderful maple-salty goodness of bacon. And of course, the cheese — a lovely golden topping to cap off the verdant frittata.

Try it. You know Popeye would eat it — it’s gotta be better than spinach straight from a can; though, we don’t recommend trying to lift a car over your head after eating it. I mean, it won’t make you that strong. (Which is a shame, really.)

Click here to download the recipe for this fritatta.

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Top Chef Week Eight: Bailey’s with bites, swanky small food and Mia breaks down and goes home.

December 14, 2006

topchef_desktop_thumb1.jpgSynopsis:
What makes Top Chef producers salivate? No, it’s not the tempting dishes that the intrepid contestants create. (And it’s only partially Padma’s, ahem, choice attire.) In fact, what makes producers salivate is the frayed nerves that six weeks of grumpy chefs living together in tight quarters can produce. It’s Marcel’s bed head and scores of irritated eye rolls. It’s Mia’s complete and tearful breakdown. Slurp. (That’s the producers drinking up some tasty drama. Ahhhh.)

Yes, folks, it was an action-packed episode, complete with tears and enough swear words to keep the censors on their buzzers. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, there was the QuickFire. And the secret ingredient was… booze! Yes, it was a regular commercial for Bailey’s of all varieties (and silly us, we thought there was only one Baileys). There was a bit of cognitive dissonance as the scantily clad host and guest judge repeatedly referenced the “winter holiday” season while wearing clothing fit for a Mediterranean cruise. But the contestants seemed unfazed and set to work creating one cocktail using the mass quantities of Baileys (and other sponsored products) and one tapas to go with it.

In the end, the usual suspects bubbled to the top: Cliff and Sam made great dishes… and surprise(!) Michael, with his vast knowledge of all things alcoholic also made a great cocktail and tasty ice cream sandwich. (Not shocking. He knows booze, and he knows ice cream.) But Cliff took the prize and immunity.

It wasn’t until the teams divided into two for the Elimination Challenge that the drama really got rolling. Team Black (Sam, Ilan, Betty and Marcel) and Team Orange (Cliff, Elia, Michael and Mia) were charged with feeding 200 hungry revelers using $1,500 each at some swanky LA magazine party. The criteria for judging: taste, originality, leadership and wow factor. Team Black, led by Sam, quickly put together a menu of more than a dozen high-fallutin’ hors d’oerves – and, in a heart warming moment, Betty and Marcel seemed to bury the hatchet (or at least throw some dirt over it) and get along quite well. Impressive.

Team Orange was another story. Cue the dramatic music. Elia and Cliff seemed to have a meeting of the minds and came up with only a handful of dishes (Two? Three? Four?) that they would attempt, though Elia was elected team leader. Mia – who in ham-handed foreshadowing was featured throughout the show – attempted without success to suggest more and less-seafood heavy dishes. Evidently she was ignored, and vigorous complaining and dissecting of decision-making ensued.

The handwriting may have been on the wall when Cliff and Mia argued over cellphone walkie talkie in the grocery store about a menu change, and when the Orange team’s cart contained about 1/3 the food of the Black team’s. Or maybe it was when the Black team’s table looked fantastic… and the Orange team’s looked completely devoid of food. In any case, the judges had to kill some time pretending to decide that the Black team had won. Sam took home the win despite Marcel’s best efforts to suddenly diminish his leadership. The rest of the team confirmed Marcel is a bonehead, and Sam walked away with a crateful of knives and probably some desire to show Marcel how sharp they are.

As for the Orange team? Well we’ll save some of the drama for our Q&A. Suffice it to say that Elia was the team leader and in danger. Cliff was harboring a grudge against whiny Mia but had immunity. Mia was ready with an axe to grind and healthy lungs. And Michael just kept his hands in his pockets and his mouth shut. Smart cookie – clearly we don’t give him enough credit. In the end, with Elia’s head on the chopping block, Mia’s breakdown hit its apex. In a move that looked like “to hell with this show,” she sacrificed herself and agreed to go in (presumably) Elia’s place. And the producers lick their lips. Delicious drama.

Who came off worse at the judge’s table, Mia or Cliff?
Husband: I think Mia. The producers were setting her up from the start. I called it when we were just starting to watch the Elimination Challenge. Yet her explosion at Cliff struck me as over the line; Mia has thrown “under the bus” at least three others – but when the tables were turned, she couldn’t handle it. I don’t think she was absolutely wrong in her feelings, but the sob stories killed me. Though kudos to her for letting Elia off the hook.

Wife
: Neither came off smelling like roses. Cliff dropped several notches in my book, and I admit that I was sympathetic to Mia. Through fiendish editing, all of her points about being ignored and slighted resonated with me – though who knows whether the team would have worked better under her ideas, or whether it really all went down that way. In any case, Cliff came across as a bit of jerk… and considering the fact that the main problem was the team’s lack of food, he and Elia – who were in the kitchen and the team’s brain trust – struck me as to blame. But maybe that’s just what those wily producers want me to think. I didn’t think she was such a hero for sparing Elia, though. She looked like she just wanted to get the heck out of there at the end. Massive breakdown.

Winners and next off?
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: I like Cliff now. I think it’s from growing up watching sports; you have to have a little bit of nasty to win. I think Cliff has got it. Next off? I’m thinking Betty. She’s been in the bottom group a good deal and I think she benefited from being on a good team. I only hope the producers are OK with making the show more testosterone-ridden.

W
: Sam is the man. Now he has the knives – and the knowledge. Ha! I also like Ilan… and he’s so tan! Clearly the “holiday” weather agrees with him. Next off? Marcel maybe. The animosity toward him is growing… and he has yet to become loveable like our old pal Michael.

Your winner? Your next off? Your thoughts on Mia’s meltdown and departure? And your favorite hors d’oerve for parties this time of year?

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You’re French aren’t you?: BLT’s Popovers.

December 13, 2006

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Even the name “popover” sounds like an invitation to eat. And who could refuse, really?

These roly poly, inflated and chewy bread rolls were the conversation starter at a meal my husband and I ate at a swanky French bistro-cum-steakhouse in DC called BLT Steak (for Bistro Laurent Tourondel…. Steak). Comically large and mishapen, with balloon-like tops crusted with baked on cheese, they also came with a meaty salt shaker and — we were told — special European butter that is 98% butter fat. Yes, please!

I liked them well enough in the heady atmosphere of a swanky steakhouse, but would the novel recipe conjure similar culinary magic in our humble abode? Answer: Yes, and then some.

Following Tourondel’s gratis instructions, my husband concocted these beauties in our very own oven. And maybe it’s just my bias talking (he is my husband, after all) but I think they were even more delightful than the restaurant’s. (Sacre bleu!) The popovers weren’t quite as dark brown and crusty, which to my mind is a good thing, and I could eat them with something besides steak. (Because I don’t think popover when I think steak.) Instead, they were properly golden brown and delicious, chewy on the inside and with a more cheesy and less eggy bread interior.

Am I saying that my husband made better popovers than Laurent Tourondel — using the chef’s own recipe? Well, if a wife can’t say it, then who will?

Click here to download the recipe for BLT Popovers.

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Well Fed’s Food Blog Awards 2006!!!

December 12, 2006

It’s awards season and I didn’t even break out my tuxedo! Oh wait, no, it’s not that kind of awards season. For these, my wife can stay in her pajamas and I can still be in my work-out clothes cooking — oh, why is there never one night out! What sort of great awards don’t require red carpets, couture and jewels so big that they come with big burly security guards?

Well Fed Network is doing their annual Food Blog Awards! You should head over there and nominate your favorites. I know the folks over at Well Fed are working their backsides off to really do something neat. So nominate your favorites early and often!