December 31, 2007

One last look back...

I'm not sure I followed last year's advice to myself very well, but here we go again.

1. Wishing all my blog friends best wishes for a happy, healthy and tasty 2007!.
2. -
3. I haven't fallen off the face of the earth -- February just got crazy.
4. Here it is, the moment you have all been waiting for... the unveiling of March's best dressed blogs.
5. I couldn't resist Sam's recent invitation to a bit of culinary exhibitionism...
6. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones...
7. First, I want to thank David for offering me the privilege of hosting episode 6 of Leftover Tuesdays, his event celebrating the underdog in all of our kitchens.
8. I don't think it's any secret that sweet and sassy Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice is someone I look to for inspiration.
9. The package arrived at my doorstep during the height of "Battle Bug" (a war we're still waging against a few hearty stragglers).
10. Remember when I mentioned I portioned part of my bun dough off for another project?
11. Last November was so much fun, I'm doing it again.
12. Last week's teaser probably gave it away, but I have a confession to make...

That's it, ladies and gentlemen. The first sentences of the first posts for each month of 2007. And last year's summary holds true: it's been quite a journey through the magical, mystical world of food. I thank each and every one of you for taking it along with me. However you choose to celebrate tonight's turning of the page, please raise a virtual glass with John and me, join our toast to wonderful New Year. We hope 2008 brings you health and happiness, laughter and love, good food and great friends.

December 30, 2007

Hey Mikey, they LIKE me...

When I tossed my blog into the Holidailies hat, it was about the personal challenge of committing to post during that most busiest time of the year. And maybe enticing two or three new readers to grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, pull up a chair and join us here.

I never expected to *win* anything.

But someone in their "distinguished panel of readers" considered my recent Little House essay "exceptional" and honored me and it with a "Best of Holidailies" award. Over the month, I've read some of the other posts selected as "Best of..." There's some really good stuff there. I'm honored and privileged to be considered among them. Thank you, Holidailies! And happy New Year!

December 23, 2007

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

I have a confession to make.

John usually helps me with my Daring Baker challenges. Sometimes more than just a little bit. But with this month's buche de noel he took the lead.

The light, airy genoise? I sifted the flour and the cornstarch together. The rest of the effort was John's.

The mocha butter cream worthy of licking off someone you love? I cubed the butter, measured the coffee extract (which we used in place of espresso powder we couldn't find in any of five grocery stores) and the Kahlua, and melted the chocolate. Combining the sensitive ingredients into a velvety smooth finish with no sign of curdle was all John's doing.

And the marzipan, which should be labeled as a controlled substance and is probably illegal in seven states? I whipped the almond paste with confectioner's sugar into a crumbly meal and considered it a failure. John patiently incorporated the corn syrup into marzipan perfection and molded some mystical mushrooms while I shredded chocolate to dirty the plate.

Oh and I took a page from Peabody's book, tossing some rosemary and cranberries in sugar for that snow covered look.

In the end ladies and gentlemen, the majesty you see before you is John's creation, not mine. But I couldn't be more proud of it if it were my own.

We want to thank Lis and Ivonne for hosting this beautiful holiday challenge. And Helene for the invaluable advice on how to avoid its pitfalls. If you want to make one of your own for New Years Eve or Twelfth Night celebrations, you can find the recipe over at Ivonne's. And hundreds more variations on the theme at the Daring Baker blog-roll.

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December 22, 2007

If a tree falls in the forest...

Yes, John and I made the yule log, December's Daring Baker Challenge hosted by our fearless leaders Lis and Ivonne.

No torn genoise.

No curdled butter cream.

But as this masterpiece wraps up a rather adventurous Christmas Eve menu, you all are going to have to wait until the in-laws leave to get the extended play version of our story.

In the mean time, there are plenty of other logs out there to keep you warm and satisfied... just head on over to the Daring Baker Blog Roll to see how my partners in pastry fared with this one.

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December 20, 2007

One holiday; five days of preparation

As I return from the grocery store with the makings of this year's holiday feast and find room for stuff in the 'fridge, I find myself pondering the amount of effort that goes into the food for these special holiday celebrations. On my side there's the menu planning, shopping and a couple of days of preparation. Then there's the grocers and the farmers and the transportation industry that traverses them. Most of my meal didn't travel cross country or even across the state... but it's a large menu, and it probably touched hundreds of hands -- and lives -- on it's journey... I hope all of *them* have a joyous holiday!

Enough with the deep thoughts. What are we having this year? Well Christmas Eve's going to be one big celebration of Magazine Monday; 90% of the menu hails from Eating Well:

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton

Endive and Watercress Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
Parmesan Bread
Spinaci con Pignoli e Passerini
Bulgur with Ginger and Orange
Pork Tenderloin Rosa di Parma
and the super-surprise December Daring Baker challenge for dessert!

Check back in a couple of days to learn how it all turned out.

From the archives: a year ago today, I reminisced about restaurants visited in 2006.

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December 17, 2007

Fruit of the sea

Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sautee it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.

-Bubba in Forest Gump

This week's Magazine Monday entree is Bubba's favorite protein: Shrimp Roasted with Potatoes and Prosciutto. I guess in Bubba-speak that's shrimp and potatoes. In my world, it's a satisfying healthy dinner.

The recipe comes from the back cover of the January 2008 issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. I've found a winner here -- this one's easy enough for a weeknight, impressive enough for company, and uses mostly staples (at least they're staples in my kitchen). And it's adaptable... I didn't have prosciutto so I used pancetta piana. It is for recipes like these that I subscribe to food magazines to begin with.

Shrimp Roasted with Potatoes & Prosciutto
Fine Cooking Magazine, January 2008

1-1/2 lb. yellow or red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt; more as needed
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp (21 to 25 per lb.), peeled and deveined
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven, and put a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet on the rack. Heat the oven to 500°F.

In a medium bowl, toss the potatoes with 3 Tbs. of the oil and the salt and cayenne. Carefully spread the potatoes in a single layer on the preheated baking sheet. Roast, loosening and turning the potatoes with a metal spatula after 15 minutes, until tender and golden, 20 to 25 minutes total.

Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry with paper towels. In a medium bowl, toss them with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil, the lemon zest, a pinch of salt, and 2 to 3 grinds of pepper.

Stir the prosciutto and garlic into the potatoes and continue to roast for another 5 minutes. Push the potatoes to one side of the pan and add the shrimp to the empty side. Spread in a single layer and roast until the shrimp curl and are just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley, stir everything together, and serve immediately.

From the archives: last year I employed my new mini bundt pans.

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December 16, 2007

Little the kitchen

No plans had been made for Christmas Eve at home, so everyone had much to do. In the kitchen Laura was popping corn in the iron kettle set into a hole of the stove top from which she had removed the stove lid. She put a handful of salt into the kettle; when it was hot she put in a handful of popcorn. With a long-handled spoon she stirred it, while with the other hand she held the kettle's cover to keep the corn from flying out as it popped. When it stopped popping she dropped in another handful of corn and kept on stirring, but now she need not hold the cover, for the popped white kernels stayed on top and kept the popping kernels from jumping out of the kettle.

from These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

When Naomi of Straight into Bed, Cakefree and Dried announced that the theme for Retro Recipe Challenge #10 was Story Book Food, I knew I was going to turn to the Ingalls clan for inspiration.

A bit of background for my non-American audience: Born in the 'big woods' of Wisconsin in 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the "Little House" series, a lightly fictionalized account of her family's life on the American frontier in the late nineteenth century; chronicling their migration from Wisconsin through Kansas, Minnesota and South Dakota in search of the American dream. When NBC decided to televise the story in 1974 with Michael Landon playing Charles "Pa" Ingalls and Melissa Gilbert in the role of our heroine, Laura Ingalls became an American icon.

Much of Laura's story focuses on food: hunting, growing and harvesting it, losing it to natural disaster, cooking or preserving it, sharing it with family and friends.

When they were gone, Mrs. Boast took a full paper bag from under the dishes. "It's a surprise" she told Laura. "Popcorn! Rob doesn't know I bought it.
They smuggled the bag into the house and hid it in the pantry, whispering to tell Ma what it was. And later, when Pa and Mr. Boast were absorbed in checkers, quietly they heated fat in the iron kettle and poured in a handful of the shelled popcorn...
Ma dipped the snowy kernels from the kettle to the milkpan, and Laura carefully salted them. They popped another kettleful, and the pan would hold no more. Then Mary and Laura and Carrie had a plateful of the crispy, crackly melting-soft corn, and Pa and Ma and Mr. and Mrs. Boast sat around the pan, eating and talking and laughing, till chore-time and suppertime and the time when Pa would play the fiddle.
from By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder

So I reached into my trove of childhood favorites, pulled out The Little House Cookbook (published in 1979 by Barbara Muhs Walker) and started paging through it. I wanted something quintessentially Laura, but with Christmas rapidly approaching I couldn't spend a lot of time on this project. Pancake men would have to wait. Same with Vanity Cakes and the holiday Heart Shaped Cakes. It's 60 degrees in California, so Molasses-on-Snow Candy won't work either.

Wait...what's this? Popcorn? Sure... I can make popcorn.

Or so I thought until I went shopping, and learned that in the grocery stores of 21st century America, microwave popcorn reigns supreme. It took trips to five stores to find popcorn of the 'old fashioned' variety... and the best I could do there was a jar of Orville Reddenbacher.

I used my 14 quart stockpot as a makeshift kettle and followed the "Golden Years" method:

For 6 quarts of popped corn, you will need:
3 handfuls coarse salt (kosher or pickling salt) (3/4 cup)
3 handfuls popping corn (3/4 cup)
1/4 pound butter (optional)

1 5-6 quart kettle, with lid
1 6 quart pan
1 tin cup (for melting butter, if using)

Cover the bottom of the kettle with salt (about 1/2 cup). Using two kernels as a test, cover and heat the kettle until they pop. Remove them, add a handful of popping corn, and cover. Return to heat and take off cover only after popping noise stops.

Try Laura's method (stirring then adding more kernel while popped corn serves as a cover) only if your kettle is at least 8 inches deep. Otherwise, spoon the popped corn into the pan, throw away any unpopped kernels, and replenish the coarse salt. Repeat until all corn is popped. Serve in bowls with a shaker of table salt. (Or, like Almanzo's family, melt the butter in the tin cup, pour it over the full pan of corn, sprinkle with table salt and toss lightly before serving).

The result? No waste: every single kernel popped. And cleanup was a breeze. Rinse kettle. Dry kettle. Done.

In terms of taste: if you're looking for that chemical tasting "movie theater butter", look elsewhere. But if you want a bit of the sweet corn flavor (yes, even Orville has sweet corn flavor... heaven knows how much better a less industrial popcorn would taste) with a bit of salty contrast, sit down and join me for a bowl...

From the archives, last year today I shared my picks for Menu for Hope III.

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December 15, 2007

Cibo di benessere i celebrazione

Holiday foods.

They're the flavors, scents and memories without which it wouldn't much feel like Christmas. Or Chanukah. Or Kwanzaa. Or Solstice. Or whatever it is you celebrate this time of year.

They're a delightful delectable combination of flavors that provide both a sense of comfort and an aura of celebration. They're comfortable and familiar, warm and inviting and yet they never fail to deliver that sense of "this is special". They're the culinary equivalent of coming home.

For some of you the quintessential holiday food is the main course: the turkey, the ham, the roast beast around which you gather your loved ones to celebrate. Others lean toward the sweet side: pumpkin pie, holiday cookies,or a buche de noel. Or perhaps it's the vegetables of the season, whether they appear on your table as latkes, beet salad, roasted brussels sprouts, or green bean casserole.

For me, it's lasagna.

Growing up, I took lasagna for granted; my dad made it all the time. Sometimes he'd add mushrooms, onions, and zucchini for a vegetarian. Others he used the same secret combination of ground beef, veal and pork that made his meatballs magnificent. But always there was ricotta. Always there was marinara. And always there was besciamella.

So when I spied "vegetarian lasagna" on the menu at the dorm early in my freshman year of college, I thought I was in for a real treat and I loaded up my plate.

'What?' I choked down my first bite. 'This isn't lasagna. It's an impostor -- a melange of mushy leftover vegetables, smothered in canned tomato sauce and covered with cardboard disguised as pasta.'

I chucked the rest and disgusted, headed to the salad bar. And when I talked to dad that night, I made him promise me that next to the Thanksgiving turkey there'd be a lasagna with my name on it.

And thus began a holiday tradition. For the next 15 years, if we were celebrating something -- anything -- as a family, there was a lasagna in attendance. Lasagna became food-code for home, for happy, and for love.

Over the last several years, I've reproduced many of my family's traditional dishes in my "adult kitchen."

But not the lasagna.

Until now.

In September I discovered Maryann's Ricotta e Besciamella Lasagna and I knew instantly it was going to be the perfect canvas on which to experiment. So this weekend I took a deep breath, gathered the ingredients and took the dive. I prepared it as published, adding a layer of sauteed Italian sausage tossed with toasted pine nuts and shredded Parmesan. I was surprised at how easy it was to prepare... the hardest part was the waiting.

My dinner guests loved it. And I'll enjoy the leftovers for lunch all week.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mo would have been proud. Thank you Maryann, for giving me the tools, the technique and the confidence to live up to his legend and share his love.

In the archives: A year ago today, I was sniffling & sneezing.

More praise for Maryann's luscious lasagna from Kimberly Ann of Nostalgic Homemaking.

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December 14, 2007

Conservative, yet... Purple?

Kitchen Appliances and Gadgets at The Purple Store

Like the purple family car that inspired the subject line (an inside joke among my friends a decade ago) this defies explanation.

It doesn't match anything in my kitchen.

I already have a nice fully-functional, goes-with-everything white one. And a hand mixer. And several whisks.

But I found this while I was blog surfing, and it's like a magnetic field I can't control -- I keep gravitating back to it.

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December 13, 2007

Butternuts and Bocce

When I was a child, Friday night was bocce night at my grandpa's. A dozen sons of Italian immigrants gathered in the alley behind grandpa's suburban Chicago home. They drank a lot of wine. They ate a lot of pasta and Italian sausage. They tossed a bunch of wooden balls around. As the evening wore on, they yelled at each other in Italian words I didn't yet understand. At the end of the evening, they parted with hugs and hearty handshakes.

For the uninitiated, bocce is the Italian cousin of the British lawn bowling, the French petanque. You roll a target ball, and then you roll a series of colored balls, trying to get your team's "big ball" next to the target "little ball".

Thursday is bocce night in John's world and mine.

While the courts have improved a bit over the decades, the guys are far more open to allowing women to play, and in some arenas the game's being marketed as a corporate team building activity, John's Thursday bunch is still a group of guys playing in backyard courts. Drinking wine. Eating Italian sausage. And swearing in Italian. It's good to know some things are sacred.

During the winter months the group gathers on covered courts at a local park. This keeps them dry in the rain, but while bocce's a sport, it's not aerobic and the guys are looking for more than wine to keep them warm. At John's special request I sent down a crock pot of Heidi's Thai-Spiced Pumpkin Soup tonight. I modified the recipe only slightly, using leftover turkey stock in place of water to control the soup's consistency. The turkey flavors married beautifully with the squash and coconut -- warm and soul-soothing with a hint of heat. And it appears to be a hit... John says to expect a couple of requests for the recipe.

For more information about bocce in the United States, check out the USBF website.

Others who have enjoyed Heidi's sensational soup recipe:
Alexandra of the eponymous Alexandra's Kitchen... I'm now looking forward to trying her Sweet & Salty Pumpkin Seeds.
December 17 Update - Soup's generally not her first choice, but Skrockodile of Cookbook Catchall has all kinds of applications for this one.

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December 12, 2007

We have a winner

Some good guesses out there.

In the end, Barbara had it right: It's an ice cream scoop. The little key at the top twists, and runs a scraper along the inside of the cavity to loosen the ice cream.

Barbara, if you'll drop me a note in email (dolores dot ferrero at gmail dot com) with your address, I'll get this out to you in the mail.

A year ago today, I discovered Laura Rebecca's Retro Recipe Challenge #5. Stay tuned as later this week I'll participate in the tenth edition of this event.

December 10, 2007

Disappointment: Duartes

Guy Fieri recommended it.

Diners/Drive-ins/Dives Episode DV0204 focused on local flavors, and one of Guy's stops was Duarte's, a century old tavern turned restaurant on the Northern California coast with a focus on fresh, local flavors. The segment highlighted the restaurant's artichoke soup, calamari, abalone, and crab cioppino. We were intrigued.

Thanksgiving weekend found us with a bit of free time, so we decided to make the drive over to the coast. Along with hundreds of other Northern Californians in search of the area's best Christmas trees. We stopped at La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay to stretch our legs and regain some sanity -- and discovered a lovely orange muscat in the process.

We pulled into Pescadaro a bit after 2 and learned we'd have an hour to kill before we could get a table. We wandered through a half dozen antique shops and a really fun old-world grocery store building up an appetite.

After all that, Duarte's was more than a bit of a disappointment. The early November oil spill in the bay meant that the crab in the cioppino was coming from Washington, so we weren't as willing to endure another 45 minute wait for that specialty. The artichoke soup was good enough, but we were actually far more impressed with the cream of green chile variety. And if this was Guy's idea of top-notch diner calamari, we've got to get the man educated. Eight wedges of greasy, over-breaded rubbery squid with a side of ketchup wasn't worth the $10 we paid. Since the cioppino was out, we opted to split the special sandwich of the day, an abalone club. A thin strip of abalone breaded and fried (far more carefully than the calamari) slapped between two slices of lightly toasted bread and a pile of Sysco fries. For $20.00. In retrospect I wish I'd chosen the crab, even if it did hail from out of state. In the end, the best thing to grace our table was the fresh-baked sourdough bread.

We closed the afternoon with a visit to Santa Cruz's eclectic Bonny Doon Winery where again we were drawn to the dessert wines.

We'll be enjoying the wines long after the Christmas tree's gone...

Duarte's Tavern | 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, CA | 650.879.0464
7:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. Daily (Closed New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas)

A year ago today, I had some fun with word association.

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December 09, 2007

Congratulations readers!

You're apparently an educated group of people:

cash advance

A year ago today, I reflected on my introduction to sushi.

December 08, 2007


I got this from Liz over at Bits & Bites. She got it from Julius. I enjoyed reading their answers, and getting to know them better in the process. I know I've got some new readers here (thanks to NaBloPoMo and Holidailies), some of whom are probably wondering who I am. This won't tell you that, but it'll give you some insight into where I come from in terms of food.

What were you cooking/baking ten years ago?

Ten years ago I was just beginning to discover that pretty much anything you can order out, you can make at home. Often better and cheaper. But not always without significant effort. I was probably most obsessed with fresh seafood and Asian flavors. Some things haven't changed much.

Ten years ago I'd never kneaded bread by hand. Made caramel. Or mousse. Other things have changed quite a bit.

What were you cooking/baking one year ago?

Lots of fun and interesting things. My foray into the food blogging world has exposed me to many new recipes from all over the world. The Daring Baker experience has expanded my boundaries with flour, sugar, eggs and butter. And I've learned a bit about the politics of food -- how the choices I make affect not only my cardiac health, but my spiritual well-being as well. It feels GOOD to know the farmer that grows my greens, the fisherman, the rancher, the baker, the sausage maker who bring their bounty to my table.

The snack you enjoy the most:

Sungold and sweet 100 tomatoes in the summer. Grapes when the leaves begin to fall. More Halloween, Valentines and Easter candy than I should. Christmas cookies. And popcorn and edamame, all year long.

A culinary luxury you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:

A world tour, using Anthony Bourdain's books as a guide.

A couple of million and I'd quit my day job and go volunteer to intern with Thomas Keller. Or Michael Symon. Or Kelly Degala. Or all of them. Learn from them. Soak their lessons up like a sponge. Then open my own restaurant.

What do you bake the most?

Bread, and cookies.

Five recipes you know by heart:

Coffee. Spinaci con Pignoli e Passerine. Grandma Cramer's Egg Salad. Guacamole. Aunt Bev's Cole Slaw.

One thing you cannot/will not eat:

I'm still learning to appreciate offal. Some of the stuff on the fringe is still substantially outside of my comfort zone.

I've been told I have ueber-sensitive taste buds. That if something is full-flavored to you, it's over the top for me. as a consequence, I struggle with even mild liver, and anything remotely gamey.

Favorite culinary toy:

No contest. This.

A must on your “last meal” menu:

Sushi. Lots and lots of sushi.

Happy food memories:

Way too many to count. Thank you for indulging me, and allowing me to share them.

A year ago today, I shared my Christmas wish list.

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December 07, 2007

What is it?

On a recent road trip to the coast, we found ourselves wandering through antique shops with time to kill before our late lunch/early dinner reservation. I was fascinated by this well worn household tool I found among the relics.

Who is willing to guess what purpose it served in the 19th century kitchen?

A small prize for the first person who gets it right...

Last year today, I reflected on learning to let go of a recipe and to cook by instinct in Maria's kitchen.

December 06, 2007

Peabody's having a PARTY!

Peabody and her husband have bought a house! With a ginormous kitchen! She's having a housewarming party this weekend. And she's invited me (and a few hundred of her other blog buddies). I've spent the last several weeks trying to figure out what to bring...

Perhaps a new collection of baking spices? A new collection of recipes? A gadget or two to occupy her expansive counter top?

Huh? What?!? She wants me to bring *food*?

Ruh roh.

Have you looked at her blog?

And I'm thinking it would be rather poor form to show up toting a Peabody...

After some serious deliberation, I settle on one of our favorite desserts for potluck contributions this time of year... with a bit of a twist; a sweet-sensation we discovered several years ago in a back issue of Gourmet magazine. A Maple Syrup Pie, made famous at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec. Made this evening in Peabody's honour as tartlets.

Maple Syrup Tartlets
recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Issue #41 and Gourmet Magazine, November 1999

10-1/8 ounces (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon cold water
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Maple Syrup Pie filling

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse 3 to 4 times to blend. Distribute the butter in the bowl and pulse 7 to 8 times. Process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. In a small bowl, beat the egg, egg yolk, water, and vanilla with a fork. Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and pulse 5 to 6 times. Process until the mixture just begins to form a mass, 8 to 10 seconds. Empty the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 6 to 8 times until the dough is just smooth and malleable. Shape it into an evenly thick 6-inch square. Using a pastry scraper or the dull side of a long knife, score the dough at 1-inch intervals so you get thirty-six 1-inch squares. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Lightly spray three muffin tins with vegetable oil. Using the score lines as a guide, cut the dough into 36 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball in your palms (lightly flour your hands, if necessary). Put one ball in the center of each muffin cup.

Use a narrow, flat-bottomed glass or your fingers, lightly floured, to press the dough into the cups.

Tilt the muffin tin to see if the dough reaches the same level in all the cups; also check for any holes in the dough, which could cause the tartlet to stick to the pan. Rub your thumb around the rim of the dough in each cup for a clean, smooth edge. Slightly less than 1/2 inch of each cup should be exposed. Chill for at least 10 minutes to firm the dough before filling and baking.

Fill tartlet shells 3/4 full with maple syrup mixture from pie recipe. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until pastry is golden and filling is puffed and looks dry but still trembles.

Cool and serve with creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream.

Last year tonight, this story was honored as among the "Best of Holidailies 2006".

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December 05, 2007

Shooting for a BLUE ribbon!

Those of you who've been around since the summer may remember that one of my company's summer socials was a day at the fair. Complete with a baking contest. A contest in which my "Peabody" and I took third place.

Well the event itself was so popular, they've decided to do it again with a holiday theme. Next Thursday at this year's holiday party, they've announced another baking contest. This time with categories. Cakes and Pies. Cookies. Or candy.

There's no question I'll enter something. The question is what?

There's an impressive Daring Baker challenge coming up later this month. If I choose that, you're going to wait a while for the results...

I could try another Peabody...

Or you all could give me some ideas on what to make...

Let me know what YOU think in the comments.

After forty-some consecutive posts, a year ago today I found a solution to writer's block.

December 04, 2007

When life hands you mandarin oranges...

...make booze out of the peels! Oh, and the juice makes some sensational citrus curd too.

This weekend found us peeling and de-pithing 35 mandarin oranges. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to remove the pith from a mandarin orange peel? How thin the result is? I do now. John experimented with various tools and techniques until he could denude the fruit in under thirty seconds.

In a week dedicated to creating Christmas gifts in the kitchen, we took inspiration for our orange liqueur from Giada's recipe for Limoncello, substituting orange for lemon peel. And for the curd, we turned to a variation of this recipe, published in Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food.

And I have pictures of the process, which I'll post when my camera's battery cooperates...

A year ago today, I burnt a bunch of sugar.

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December 03, 2007

Magazine Monday makes tempting holiday treats

Edible gifts were a hit in the office last year, so I'm going that route again. And recipes like this turn my indulgence in miniature bundt pans into an investment.

I've got cranberries from my CSA delivery, and I've picked up several packages of almond paste for a project I'll tackle later this month. So this looked like a logical contribution to this week's Magazine Monday:

Cranberry & Almond Bundt Cakes
adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine Issue #61 (Holiday Baking 2003)

1 cup all-purpose flour (more for dusting the pan)
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (more for lubricating the pan)
7 ounces (2/3 cup) almond paste (not marzipan)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries, picked through, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 10- or 12-cup bundt pan (or twelve 1-cup mini bundt pans). Tap out any excess flour.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With a stand mixer using the paddle attachment beat the butter and almond paste in a large bowl on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer to scrape the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop the mixer at least one last time to scrape the bowl and then beat at medium speed until the batter is smooth, about 20 seconds. Fold in the almonds and cranberries with a rubber spatula.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan (or pans), spreading it evenly with a rubber spatula. Run a knife through the batter to eliminate any air pockets. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (about 20 minutes for mini cakes). Set the pan on a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto the rack, remove the pan, and let the cake cool completely. If you’re making the cake ahead, wrap it while still barely warm. Serve at room temperature dusting the top with confectioner's sugar, if you like.

A year ago today I turned to the internets for recipe inspiration.

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December 02, 2007

Great Greens

If strawberries signal springtime, sun gold tomatoes are my late summer candy and grapes herald the early autumn harvest, then spinach is one of the best winter vegetables to grace my CSA box.

And the recipe here is one of my favorite simple ways to prepare it.

Be forewarned that I never measure with this one; I make it as my grandmother did and a bunch of this and a handful of that is the best I can do for you. Try it. Experiment. And enjoy.

Spinaci con Pinoli e Passerine

Rinse one or two bunches of spinach with cold water. Remove stem ends. Shake spinach gently over sink to remove excess water. Place damp spinach in a large saute pan and cook over medium heat until greens begin to wilt. Drain well and set aside.

Coat saute pan with 1-2 glugs of olive oil, swirling pan to ensure even coverage. Place over medium heat and add 2-3 finely chopped shallots or one onion. Saute until tender and golden but not brown, 8-10 minutes.

Add spinach, one healthy handful of raisins and one scant handful of pine nuts to onions; continue to saute until they're warmed through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

This can be served warm or cold as a side dish, and is excellent mixed into scrambled eggs ala Joe's Special.

Resources used:
organic spinach from the CSA box.

Welcome Holidailies readers. Last year at this time I explained what Culinary Curiosity's all about.

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December 01, 2007

Banishing Orowheat - Potato Bread Revisited

Last week's teaser probably gave it away, but I have a confession to make...

It's no secret I enjoy good bread. But for the most part, I try to choose healthy whole grain options that have some nutritional value and don't turn to instant sugar in my bloodstream.


I LOVE their Country Potato Bread. With its thirty-some multi-syllabic ingredients. And not much to recommend it nutritionally. So when Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups selected Tender Potato Bread -- a recipe with seven total ingredients, one of them *whole wheat flour* -- as November's challenge I was one happy camper indeed.

I wasted no time heading to the grocery store for a couple of pounds of potatoes, and soon I was elbow-deep in the sticky goodness that signals the start of this recipe. My satisfaction grew as the dough came together with the addition of more flour. Yes it was soft and sticky, but I could tell it was going to be something when it grew up.

In my excitement, I made dinner rolls. I made a loaf swirled with pesto and pine nuts. A loaf studded with olives, onions and rosemary. And photographed none of them -- they disappeared too quickly. In four weeks, I made this recipe four times. And I have plans to make it again next weekend with dates and cardamom, now that the savory restriction has been lifted.

Thank you Tanna. This is a recipe I'm going to continue to grow with, pushing a little farther with each iteration, as you suggested when you issued the challenge.

Curious how over 300 other bakers around the world experienced the November challenge? Check out the blog roll. Want to try it yourself? Head over to Tanna's kitchen for the recipe.

A year ago today, you would have found me wandering through the cooking section of my local library.

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