Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chill the Holiday Cheer!

When we were in Minnesota for Christmas, we had quite a bit of foodspiration! We arrived at Justin's aunt and uncle's house in St. Paul, we found that they had two great ways to chill the holiday cheer for the Christmas dinner!

1) Champagne bucket made from ice

This is a beautiful addition to the holiday table that can keep white wine or champagne cold. However, like other ice sculptures, it will last only for the evening. I used to make these as luminaries when we lived in Minnesota. You can make both of them in the same fashion as long as you adjust the size. You can use fresh greenery or holly or artificial- both look lovely. For step by step instructions, click here. Be sure to use large enough buckets to hold a champagne bottle and don't forget to display your creation in a dish that will hold the water as the sculpture melts. If you are in a cold weather climate, the luminaries can last as long the winter is freezing!

2) Brandy Alexander

This classic drink is making a comeback and the frosty drinks were served after Christmas dinner. The recipe can be made with cream, but Justin's family uses ice cream.

The ice cream was conveniently stored in the backseat of someone's car throughout the evening, since it was below freezing!

Justin's family uses vanilla ice cream, brandy and creme de cacao right into the blender. They don't use a recipe anymore but add the proportions to taste. They were frosty and delicious!

This drink might just become a new tradition!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Family Christmas Traditions: German Stollen

While growing up, each year my Grandma would to stay with us on Christmas and she would always bring her homemade German Stollen. This traditional bread would fuel our present-opening frenzy each Christmas morning. My brother and I were allowed to raid our stockings when we first awoke, but had to wait for the adults to emerge before we could go any further. As such we'd typically start ripping the wrapping paper as soon as the Stollen was sliced and coffee finished brewing.

This holiday bread is full of dried and candied fruits, nuts, and fruit zest. My Grandma's recipe contains: cardamom, currants, raisins, candied fruit mix (cherries, pineapple, citron), blanched almonds, and lemon and orange peel. She would also give it an offset fold that would give it a distinctive appearance. The light icing delights kid and adult alike. If you would like the recipe, write us a note and let us know.

So as not to disappoint my mother tried her hand at this recipe -- to my surprise -- for the first time ever! After a consulting my grandmother in southern California, she had the tips she needed to make a stollen that completely met the high bar of my lifetime of childhood memories. Christmas morning was complete! Not to be outdone I am happy to report that my grandma made two batches (six loaves) of stollen this year. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Stocking Stuffer for Foodies: Temporary Food Tattoos

Ok, we know food tattoos are "in" right now as I have seen several articles with photos here at Chow and 53 food tattoos here at Eating Cleveland. But if you aren't ready to fully commit, we found this temporary try-on at a boutique in Half Moon Bay. This book of temporary tattoos is a perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite foodie - celebrating the love of bacon, eating fresh and local and more. You can buy it online here.

This week's tattoo is:

And on a food science note, this tattoo is absolutely true, fat does equal flavor. Flavor compounds are often fat-soluble and additionally, fat adds wonderful texture and mouthfeel to food. So, bring on the butter!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Big Green Egg Thanksgiving Turkey Redux

The Big Green Egg (BGE) made its debut last year in typical Shimek fashion (i.e. it was purchased immediately before Thanksgiving, thus rendering the guests as test subjects). Over the past year I've gained some experience that enabled me to make a few refinements.

One of the most interesting features of the BGE is the eclectic community of users that come with it. You'll always find helpful suggestions on the Big Green Egg User's Forum. One of its dedicated contributors is "Mad Max" who gives out his home number to run a Thanksgiving day hot line (in 2008 he took 30 calls!). His turkey-specific advice is distilled down on the Naked Whiz's ceramic charcoal cooker page. While I took my own approach on the Egg set-up, the information provided by others inspired me in both word and spirit!

The heart of the set-up is pictured above. An inverted ceramic plate setter (legs up) forms the base on which three ceramic feet support a 10 inch round baking pan that holds the vertical turkey roaster. The plate setter, which is designed to provide indirect heat, is placed on top of the fire ring (see top photo above). The airspace between the plate setter and the drip pan is key as it prevents burn-on and preserves the drippings for gravy. Look closely at the grill set-up in the Let's Talk Turkey post to see the (very rough) starting point for this eventual evolution.

As in '07 we used a Diestel Ranch American Heirloom Turkey that we reserved at our local grocery, Lunardi's. The turkey was brined overnight in a salt and brown sugar solution seasoned simply with rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.

Upon removing the turkey from the brine it was patted dry and placed on the vertical roaster with wings folded back and legs tied together. I used a pastry fork to cut Herbs de Provence into a stick of butter and then smeared this mixture over the surface of the bird and under the skin. In the drip pan I placed a mirepoix of sorts: coarsely chopped onion, carrot, and celery along with one cup dry white wine (I used AlbariƱo) to maintain moisture in the Egg. The reduction of these aromatic veggies with the turkey drippings formed one component of the gravy.

Every 30 minutes I basted the turkey with the liquid in the drip pan. This year I pulled way back on the wood smoke using only a few apple wood chips. I've heard great things about pecan for its ability to develop a great skin color and subtle flavor, but since I didn't have any on hand that refinement will have to wait until next year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Starchy Sides: Pomegranate Butternut Squash and the Best Mashed Potatoes Ever

And we're still blogging about Thanksgiving...in hopes that you might be inspired to try these dishes for your holiday dinner. We had two AMAZING sides at this year's Thanksgiving- sadly, sides don't get any love and I don't even have a photo of the best mashed potatoes that I have ever made. So a few quick words about these sides:

  • Roasted Butternut Squash and Pomegranates with Walnut Oil- My Aunt Judy made this dish by roasting the butternut squash and tossing it with fresh pomegranate seeds and drizzling it with walnut oil. Not only was the dish beautifully vibrant, it was delicious.
  • The Most Decadent Holiday Potatoes Ever- I saw Martha and Snoop Dogg makes Martha's mom's mashed potatoes and had to try them. They use Yukon Gold potatoes which you boil in the skins. Once the potatoes are cooked, the skins slide right off and it's easier than peeling ahead of time. Once the skins are off, we use my nonni's potato ricer to take out any lumps. The ricer pushes the cooked potato through small holes like an extruder. Then you add heavy cream, whole milk and the secret ingredient: cream cheese! And, they were the BEST POTATOES I HAVE EVER MADE. The color is a beautiful yellow and they are so smooth and delicious. Click here to get the fabulous recipe or to see Snoop add cognac to his potatoes in the video- it's worth a look. We will be making these every year!
We just have one more Thanksgiving post to go...the turkeys! If you didn't see how we made our pies and rolls, check out thatwouldbelovely.blogspot.com where all the baking posts go.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Edible Bacon Bowls for Thanksgiving

I heart bacon...it's the new cupcake right now as everyone is putting in it chocolate, having bacon parties, and making candied bacon ice cream just to name a few. We were inspired to have edible bacon bowls from the notmartha website. And my mom, Gail, volunteered to take on the challenge.

Not only did she make the bowls, she prototyped, them and wrote about it on facebook! Here was the challenge that I proposed to her: make an edible bacon bowl for a spinach salad to have as the first course at Thanksgiving for 12 people.

So, Gail got to work. First she checked out the Not Martha website. Then she made a few initial prototypes using a mini cake pan and reported that weaving the bacon alone was not effective, it took six pieces and shrunk significantly. We agreed that we don't have the stomach space to dedicate to six pieces of bacon on Thanksgiving not to mention that six times twelve is 72 pieces of bacon and that is ridiculous.

Then she hit the jackpot...using extra thin bacon, she used the back of a muffin pan (sorry the photo is blurry), did a little bit of wrapping and made the little bowls.

Don't they look bacon-licious? She brought the bowls to Thanksgiving and did a quick broil to warm them up before plating.

The salad was a spinach and watercress salad with grape tomatoes and sliced hard boiled eggs. It was a lovely presentation and delicious first course. You could actually almost pick it up and eat it!

She even did some extra credit and invented the scrambled egg bacon bowl which she reported as being excellent. Great job, Mom! We'll be over to have this for breakfast!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Meyer Lemon Martini -- A Thanksgiving Cocktail

Once the turkeys were loaded in the oven and grill I created a few cocktails drawing on significant inspiration from Artisanal Cocktails by Scott Beattie. For each cocktail I combined 3/4 oz. of juice freshly squeezed from a Meyer lemon, 1/2 oz. Meyer lemon infused simple syrup, and 2 oz. vodka. The mixture was shaken vigorously over ice and strained into a martini glass rimmed with granulated sugar mixed with lemon zest.

For the final touch I added a homemade lemon foam produced in the iSi whipper charged with nitrous oxide. The foam consisted of lemon juice, simple syrup, gelatin, and coconut milk.

The cocktails (production and consumption) were enjoyed by all. Cheers!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fresh Cranberry Relish from Grandma S.

We hope you had a great Thanksgiving! We had such a wonderful dinner with lots of things to post about...edible bacon bowls for spinach salad, a meyer lemon drop with a lemon foam, heritage and heirloom turkeys, the best mashed potatoes I have ever made, and more...We will be posting all week about these delicious dishes.

Today I wanted to share an easy recipe for the most delicious fresh cranberry relish from Justin's grandma. We have never been cranberry jelly people and once I had this relish, I knew it would be a tradition on the table. This can be made the night before or a few hours before...

1. Start by washing and coring an unpeeled red delicious apple and washing and cutting one half of an orange with the peel on. Then, put them in the food processor until chopped. You want them to be somewhat coarse but not too chunky.

2. Add 2 cups of fresh cranberries and pulse until incorporated. Again, don't overprocess.

3. Now transfer to a bowl and stir in 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts. Let it sit in the fridge overnight or for a few hours for the flavors to blend.

Grandma says you can freeze this as well. It is wonderfully fresh and delicious!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Setting the table...

It's Tuesday night before Thanksgiving and I have already set the table! One of my favorite parts of hosting Thanksgiving dinner is setting the table and by doing it the night or two before, I can take my time. For the centerpiece this year, I decided to use some mini-pumpkins that I had left over from Halloween with some traditional candlesticks.

I traced a foil tealight holder onto the pumpkin and carved out the pumpkin to hold the candle. It was really easy! I am not even bothering to really scoop out the center and I am keeping these in the refrigerator until Thursday- I don't trust the neighborhood squirrels to leave them alone.

As you can see, these are darling!! I might even make these for Halloween to put on our steps next year. I also debated spray painting these pumpkins a metallic copper.

I decided to keep the table ones in their natural state and go for a "less is more" theme. We have the maximum people at the table this year: twelve.

...and the one I spray painted will go in our guest bathroom during the dinner. I really like the way it turned out!

Thanks to my Great Aunt Enie, I have this napkin folding book by Irena Chalmers and this year the napkins are folded in "the rose" which are then placed in the wine glasses.

Our china is Wedgewood India which I absolutely love! We don't have silver but instead use our everyday stainless which is Reed & Barton Country French. We chose this as our everyday flatware but decided because of the salad fork, that it is formal enough for holidays. I have a few pieces of really neat 1910 antique WM Rogers La Concorde tableware from my great grandmother but only a few pieces. It's a common set and someday I'll put in the effort to complete the set on ebay.

I also am a big fan of table cards as it makes it easy for everyone to take their seats. I made these paper turkey cards 2 years ago and decided to use them again. They are a bit cheesy but they add a bit of whimsy to the table.

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We will be posting about the turkeys, the pies, the edible bacon salad bowls that we will be having and more...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let's Talk Turkey.

Well it is almost that time again...turkey time! Last year we started our tradition of preparing turkey two ways and this year we're taking it to the next level and will be preparing both a heritage and and heirloom turkey. But to whet your appetite, first a word about last year . . .

Preparing the oven turkey, slipping the butter and sage under the skin before massaging it in.

The typical grocery store turkey, broad-breasted white, has been bred to enhance the size of the breast meat and these turkeys have lost their original proportions. Last year, we bought two heirloom turkeys from Diestel Family Turkey Ranch (Sonora, CA). We prepared one turkey in the oven using bacon, sage and maple syrup -- see the recipe here.

Thanksgiving Turkey 2007
Top: Cooking in the Big Green Egg ceramic cooker,
Bottom: off the BGE and ready to carve

The second turkey was prepared on the Big Green Egg. It's a ceramic cooker that burns lump charcoal and really holds the heat, which gives it the flexibility to go low and slow or hot and heavy.

The terms heirloom and heritage can be confusing when it comes to turkey. Heirloom turkeys from Diestel are from a" Bronze and an Auburn male line turkey gene pool sourced from the Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farm" and are not to be confused with heritage turkeys, which are described later in this post and have specific breeds and standards. Heirloom turkeys do not appear to have the same set of standards. Diestel also raises these birds with traditional early 20th century practices, in open, outdoor pens, and processes their birds themselves.

And as a result, they are considerably more expensive. We felt good about the conditions at which our turkey was raised. The turkey looked and tasted great.

But this year, we are going to try a heritage turkey. Heritage turkeys are ancestors of the broad-breasted white breeds. They are identified in the American Poultry Association's turkey Standard of Perfection of 1874 and include the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, and White Holland. Later added to the standard were the Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White. Check out the Heritage Turkey Foundation website here. Three defining characteristics of heritage turkeys are
naturally mating, long productive outdoor lifespan, and slow growth rate. We can't wait to try a heritage turkey this year!

We are buying this year's heirloom turkey from Diestel through Lunardi's and the heritage turkey from Wind Dancer Ranch via our Capay Valley Farmshare. How different will they be? Will we notice a difference other than the price (yikes, they are expensive)?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Lazy Saturday Eggs and Potatoes 2.0

Our friend Dinner Boy and his wife Amy were in SF this week for the Web 2.0 Summit, so we broke bread at Zuni Cafe on Thursday. While the conversation was fantastic, the food rated a B+ (we'd go back, but not rush back given the bounty of alternatives). However, this morning when I peered into the fridge I recalled taste of the red peppers that came along with the grouper I ordered and realized I wanted more (peppers not grouper). So I sauteed a few diced fingerling potatoes and red peppers from the farm share and put them next to scrambled eggs with pepperoncini and cheddar. With the fall season upon us and some more free time I am looking forward to the start of another season of cooking (maybe Foodspiration 2.0? :-).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Scream You Scream, Jeni's is the Most Splendid Ice Cream, Ever!

On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, a fellow food scientist and friend, Kirsten, took me and another food scientist friend, Teresa, to possibly the best ice cream I have ever had...at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a local Columbus ice cream maker.

Jeni Britton Bauer worked at a patisserie for many years. She applies French pastry making techniques to American ice creams resulting in a culinary craftsmanship that I have never tasted in ice cream. She has learned from dairy scientists, chefs and gelato makers around the globe. Read a nice biography here.

What was so incredible about this ice cream? The flavors- hands down. Jeni's had the widest array of blissfully blended, carefully curated flavor creations (click on the photos for a closer look). I've had a lot of ice cream and usually there are one or two flavors that are outstanding or have unique pairing but Jeni's flavors were each created with many complex elements that came together in a delicious marriage in your mouth. Kirsten thinks Jeni has an amazing palate and after tasting, I am inclined to agree.

So how did we pick? Well another thing that I have fallen in love with at ice cream parlors is the ability to have many small tastes. My second favorite ice cream shop, Izzy's in St. Paul, Minnesota also does this by adding an "izzy" or small taste to the top of every cone. Jeni's offers 50/50s and trios. So of course, we ordered two trios and one 50/50 to sample eight flavors and everyone was willing to share.

Lauren's Trio- Cherry Lambic, Gravel Road and Goat Cheese with Cognac Fig Almond

Cherry Lambic Sorbet: This recently one a Gallo Family Gold Medal Award, which honors culinary craftsmanship in artisan foods and I could taste why. This light and foamy sorbet effervesces in your mouth. It is the older, more sophisticated culinary cousin of a cherry ICEE and it completely captured the flavor of Belgian Cherry Lambic. Absolutely delicious!! And one of my must-try recommendations.

Gravel Road: I admit that I am a bit salted caramel out. I have had it in confections and in many different ice creams and if not for Kirsten's recommendation and that fact that they were out of my other choice, I would have skipped it and missed out on an absolutely lovely iteration that takes salted caramel ice cream to new level. The large pieces of smoked almonds added a marvelous texture and noticeable flavor. They were neither small nor stale and frankly, it was outstanding.

Goat Cheese with Cognac Fig Almond: I love goat cheese. I've had fig goat's milk ice cream and fresh goat cheese with fig and I did love this ice cream version. The fig is not spread throughout so you do get a burst of fig flavor- possibly a little bit too intense in some bites if you aren't careful to spread it around. Nevertheless, it was delicious.

Kirsten's 50/50- Ugandan Vanilla, Ohio Heirloom Pumpkin & Mascarpone

Ohio Heirloom Pumpkin & Mascarpone: Yum. Yum, yum, yum! This was my second must-try. Not only does it have heirloom pumpkin, but also kabocha and other squashes as well. You could taste the delicate flavors that you can imagine could be in the best pumpkin/ squash pie ever- but I have never had that perfect sounding pie. Instead I had this amazing ice cream. As far as pumpkin ice cream, Double Rainbow Perfectly Pumpkin used to be my favorite but even it cannot compare to this. Dreyers/Edy's need not even apply.

Ugandan Vanilla: This was also very good but I must confess that I was seduced by the other more flavorful choices. I am not particularly a vanilla fan but this was very delicious.

Teresa's 50/50- Creme Fraiche with Amarena Cherries, Apple Cider Sorbet

Apple Cider Sorbet: This was a delightful fall sorbet with nutmeg and five spice complementing the apple cider. Again, it was almost effervescing in your mouth as the bright, crisp flavors danced on your tongue.

Creme Fraiche with Amarena Cherries: This creamy deliciousness had an amazing ribbon of cherries with barely a tease of lemon. These Italian candied cherries shamed the cones of cherries jubilee ice cream or maraschino cherries I have ever eaten. I didn't know cherries in ice cream could taste like this. Again, make sure every bite has this succulent swirl in it.

Wow. It's all I can say. I love ice cream and these were crafted in such a way that you could taste each of the flavors without overwhelming your palate. I loved the handwritten descriptions as well which explained the compositions. Perhaps I have had an ice cream like this before, in a fine restaurant... but there were 30 of these and I didn't have to pay for a 75 dollar meal to have it for dessert. The decor of the shop is pleasantly modern and like the ice cream, not overwhelmingly or plain in the least. The shop used compostable bowls and spoons as well- which was great!

One last thing that I didn't have room to try (besides all of the flavors) were these ice cream sandwiches based on French macaroons....next time!

I have to thank Kirsten for steering us away from the classic and more well-known Graeter's, to this hidden gem. Kirsten and I are dairy queens as we studied whey proteins together at UC Davis. Thanks, Kirsten!

And Teresa, thanks for being willing to go on this spontaneous ice cream adventure.

We all scream for Jeni's Ice Cream!