Posts tagged holiday
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

I’ve a soft spot for humble meals made quietly, slowly, with nothing more than basic ingredients. Dishes that cook over slow heat for hours, particularly meat. Meat, that when you cut into it, slowly falls apart, so soft you hardly need to chew it. Meat that comes with a rich, thick sauce. Meals like this – I could eat on an almost-daily basis.

brisket. hello, gorgeous!

Sadly, I do not. Partly because I try to be thoughtful about meat consumption, partly because I work hours that don’t allow me, upon getting home, make a meal, that cooks over several hours (albeit, sort of happily cooks itself as time goes by) because that would mean, I would eat at midnight. Or later. And while I’ve fond memories of making and eating goulash at 1 am in college, college this is not, and somehow showing up for work late isn’t the same as skipping your 8am accounting class. The tardiness policy at work just isn’t very lenient.

brisket mise

Beef brisket is just one of those meals that if you’re spending a few hours at home puttering around, or expecting company for dinner, can be made with minimal effort and some glorious results. The concept is rather simple. You take a fatty slab of meat, brown it to lock in the flavor, brown the vegetables, and combine everything with something like wine, pomegranate molasses (with which I’ve been having a decade-long love affair!) and some dried fruit. In this case, the fruit of choice is prunes.

browning the brisketbrowning the brisket

Wait, come back! I know I just said prunes and I know they’re about as sexy as granny panties, but, please give them a chance. Cooked in stews, or slow-cooked in wine, sugar and spices, they transform themselves into something incredible lush and luxurious. I know, I just called prunes “luxurious”, when nothing could be more pedestrian. But, have I ever lied to you? Well then!

ready for cooking

I learned, pretty late in life, that brisket is sort of this traditional Jewish meal served during holidays or Shabbat meals. I didn’t grow up with it, so I felt it was my cultural duty to master the craft. Of course, I was cooking dinner with which I was hoping to impress, and I chose a dish that I’d never cooked before. Smart? I’d say not really. Was I a bit nervous? Absolutely. But everything came together without a hitch and the meat cooked perfectly and didn’t resemble pressed sawdust neither in looks nor in taste. If you’re looking for a centerpiece dish for Passover – look no further than this. And while it is always recommended that you do a practice run with a holiday meal beforehand, I’m pretty certain you will succeed with this one because the building blocks of a great dish are already included in the ingredients and the cooking process. If you cook it patiently and slowly, you will get a “humble” meal that will delicious and festive enough to be fit for a king.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

orangettes

orangettes

Well, it’s Christmas Eve. And when they say “not a creature was stirring” they really do mean it. The subways this morning were empty, almost abandoned. On my way to work, the city streets were quiet, and the air just hung still. For the first time in a long time, we have snow in New York on Christmas. It feels very appropriate.

bright, pretty oranges

I don’t care what anyone says, but I’ve been listening to holiday music since Thanksgiving ended. I can’t help myself. I also can’t get enough of these orangettes; I’ve been eating them as fast as I’ve been making them, which poses a problem since I was planning to give them away as gifts. Come January 1, I’ll have to draft some resolutions: and eating fewer sweets will certainly be one of them.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream-cream-cheese frosting

white chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting

I often joke that my friends no longer allow me to attend their parties without baked goods in tow. Cupcakes – to be more specific. Cupcakes topped with frosting generously slathered on, or piped in tiny dots, or with semi-Impressionist-looking flowers. But cupcakes in their most shining glory – a tiny, single-portion cake made just for you. It’s cake – personalized and it doesn’t get better than this. Somehow, in its miniature form is just that much cuter than its bigger cousin, but then again, baby anything is much cuter than its adult version.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

chicken liver pâté

chicken liver pâté

All right, I’ll get quickly to the point here. If you are celebrating Christmas, you are probably either traveling to your celebration destination or cooking a meal and preparing for the festive holiday. This is for those of you in the kitchen who might be looking for a quick appetizer that makes you look like a three star French chef, while your guests ooh and aah, and you feign hard work and great kitchen skills – this is for you. You can thank me later, but first go and see for yourself how easy and awesome this is.

chicken livers

I will warn you now that this requires three (that’s 3!) sticks of butter which is probably why it tastes so amazing and luxurious. When I served this at book club, the ladies dove right in – a sign of great success. You can make this tonight and serve this during the cocktail hour tomorrow. When you pour the warm pâté into the dish where you will serve it, don’t worry that it might seem too liquid – it will set, I promise. If you are having a bunch of people over, it might work to chill the pâté in several small dishes that you can set around your apartment or house.

i know raw liver - EW!

Or, if you are running short on small gifts to hand out, these make perfect homemade gifts. Pour the pâté into a small jar, affix a double layer of wax paper with a piece of twine or ribbon and attach a gift tag. And in an instant you have a thoughtful and luxurious gift! An appetizer that doubles as a gift too? Now that’s holiday cooking worth spending a few minutes on!

Wishing everyone celebrating Christmas a wonderful and festive holiday!

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

fleur de sel caramels

Fleur de Sel Caramels

I’ve been trying to start this piece for you, not sure where to begin. I mean, I could have just apologized for throwing another sweet concoction your way, but I’m not going to do that. Because, why would I tell you I’m sorry about telling you that you must make these now, when you are just bound to thank me later. Consider this an early present to those of you whom I cannot reach and physically present with these caramels, but a few friends and all coworkers did get a chance to sample these and the overwhelming response has been, and this is all you’ve made for us? Isn’t there more??

mmm... butter....butter and cream... this is so not low fat - ha!

Perhaps I have struggled with writing this because I don’t know where to begin or how to end. These caramels are beyond decadent and when you taste them, it’s the tiny conflict on your tongue between the salty and the sweet that makes them so irresistible. To have just one and not reach for another is a near impossibility.

while dissolving the sugar, stirbubbling caramel - it is clear at first
getting to that golden colorafter adding the cream and melted butter, the caramel bubbles

I cannot tell you how amazing these are because they are beyond words. Something about salty caramels that transcends mere language. But luckily, where words have failed me, the pictures, hopefully rise to the occasion and tell you what I, frustratingly, cannot.

drip

As I have recently learned (the hard way), caramel should be made in a heavy gauge pot that is preferably not a non-stick. The lighter metal ones are perfect; just make sure your sides are tall enough for the caramel to bubble when you add butter and cream to it. You can also use your cocotte for it if you like, as it’s amazing at distributing heat. Be careful not to mix your caramel when you are cooking it, but gently swirl the mixture from one side to another from time to time. And watch and smell for that deep, deep amber color. You might also find that these seem a bit too soft at room temperature, which is fine as you can just keep them in the fridge, as I did. Not only does their consistency improve, but they have a longer life-span, not that you will have these hanging around much if you’re anything like me.

Fleur de Sel Caramels

In retrospect, looking at these pictures, I think I should have cooked the caramel even a hint longer, but it turned out fine enough for this time around. I am still learning how to get it just right, and since salted butter caramel is not a hard thing to enjoy, I think I can just go on making these indefinitely. I know of quite a few people who won’t have a problem with it. That is – if I choose to share.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

caramel-pecan bûche de noël

pecan bourbon buche de noel

For the last two weeks I have been playing Christmas music without a pause. I know that Hannukah is right around the corner, but it’s really Christmas that gets me all excited for winter. I think Jews and Christmas are destined to forever share their forbidden love. I, for one, have come clean about it. I’m no longer ashamed.

pecansuse good bourbon

And since I’ve committed to celebrating Christmas with food, what better way to do so than with a traditional Christmas cake – bûche de noël! I searched a variety of cook books for the recipe, and yet, no recipe was to be found. And surprisingly, the internet offered precious little in the ways of a good recipe. But I did find one that caught my eye – not only was it a a bûche de noël, but it was one that evoked flavors of the South – with pecans and bourbon. And how can I say no to bourbon?

whipping the yolks...whipping the whites
GENTLY fold everything togethercake batter evenly spread

Furthermore, the cake came with a bourbon-spiked caramel sauce and I was on a caramel making kick. And since I failed at my first caramel making exercise, I was determined not to let it bog me down. Seriously, how hard is it to boil sugar and water, watch it get to a deep amber color and then stir some cream and butter into it? I learned my lesson in that making caramel requires a pot without a non-stick coating, otherwise the proper caramelization doesn’t occur and you wind up creating thicker syrup that doesn’t much change in color. The result – a failed confection.

frosting/caramel sauce misecaramel working beautifully
butter in cream and sugar.... diet - what?stirring in the chocolate

Growing up, for many of our wintry family gatherings in Russia, my great-aunt, who was a cook and baker par-excellence, made this incredible rolled cake with butter cream, nuts and chocolate shavings. In retrospect, it was a bûche de noël, but somewhere along the line, my secularized family adopted this tradition as a festive holiday treat. The word for this in Russian is poleno, which literally translates as a “log”. Somehow, bûche de noel sounds sexier than log, don’t you think?

pecan bourbon buche de noel

I was really intimidated by this recipe – what with the rolling of the cake to make a log-shaped form. Please note that the cake in this recipe is not a genoise (what?) but a sponge cake with eggs and whites whipped separately and then folded togeter, not mixed (important note on that later) together. A genoise (as I have just learned, being new to cake baking myself) is a sponge cake that doesn’t use any of the leavening agents for the cake to rise, but rather the air bubbles created by whipping the whole eggs (and sometimes adding the extra yolks) together. Having completed this lengthy, though not terribly difficult exercise, I am now curious to experiment with different cake structures and icings.

spreading frostingthinly spread the frosting

A few notes:
1. This is not difficult, but it is very time consuming. Prepare to spend ½ day on this but you can do other stuff in between, but it does take time.

2. The directions tells you to keep the made cake at room temperature. I cannot tell you how much better it tastes cold and how much better it will keep and set.

3. Should you forget to do a step, don’t despair, try to think of a way around it. I failed to butter the parchment paper on which the cake was baking and was too lazy to remake the cake portion of it. I instead took a long frosting spatula and gently went around the edge-to-middle part of the cake, thus loosening it from the paper. And since you are covering that side with frosting all over, no-one will see the “ugly” side so to speak.

4. When you are rolling the cake, you will see the cake crack a little bit. Do not worry, it happened to me and I covered it with frosting just fine. Also, the ridges from the cracks make the cake look more log-like – which is kind of the effect you’re looking for.

5. Use good bourbon.

6. I ran out of pecans and subbed about 1/3 of the nuts with walnuts. The result – delicious. If you don’t have enough of a certain nut, just plug along a different nut – and you should be fine.

7. When you are folding your ingredients together (as the instructions below tell you), make your you fold and not mix. Use a rubber spatula and gently lifting the outer part of the batter, pull it into the center. If you are too aggressive and mix instead, you risk of collapsing your cake and not getting the right sponginess to it.

pecan bourbon buche de noel

If you’re looking for a delicious and stunning way to impress your guests, this is the way to go – it really isn’t difficult and even though it takes time, it is very much manageable and doable. It sure does look impressive. Your reward – sitting back and enjoying a slice of this divine, rich cake with a cup of coffee while your guests oooh and aaah and are generally impressed with your culinary prowess, which, of course, you have no doubt – just don’t tell them it wasn’t that hard. They won’t believe you anyway.

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