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!