Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Should All Acquaintance Be Forgot? Not If They Make Something this Good.

If you haven’t taken care already in deciding how and where to dine on New Year’s Eve, I’ve got a menu plan featuring the 2 D’s: DECADENT & DELECTABLE. Lately, I’ve had my fill of low cal fare, and as we roll into the New Year the last thing I’m interested in is depriving you of butter and heavy cream…and so you’ll notice there’s no shortage of that in this cozy-best-by-the-fireside dinner. The good news is, it’s all very simple, and when you shop the night before for your ingredients your cart won’t runneth over…however, the one you cook for’s heart just might!

This simple New Year’s Eve menu is a love story on a plate. I pulled nearly all of it from the Intimate Valentine’s Day supper chapter in At Home Entertaining. If it’s just the two of you, you could splurge with two Nut-Crusted Rack of Lamb, and lick your fingers afterward. The Creamed Spinach comes from a Tree Trimming Party Plan I like to use. Now that Christmas is over you could use this side-dish’s considerable heartiness to retire the tree. Soft Center Chocolate Cakes are a good thing in a small package; serve them in ramekins great for sipping after-dinner coffee later on. The cake is a beautiful post commentary on Christmas with its sprig of fresh mint, sprinkling of cocoa powder and snow white ice cream on top.

Your Butcher has the Lay of the Lamb

When you buy your lamb, consider this the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation with the butcher. He can offer to do the “frenching” for you on your rack of lamb; this is the first thing you do in the lamb recipe and it simply means to cut away the fat and meat in between the bones. If the meat department does this, go ahead and ask if they have any “panties” for the clean bones the frenching exposes —these are the frilly white “hats” that go on just before serving and not only prevent discoloring, but give the whole affair je ne sais quoi synonymous with high-end meats . Side note on the “panties”: I looked around for them online, hoping I could suggest a place to buy them, but turned up nothing. The only thing I found was this article on how to make them yourself.

Toast to 2012 with a Fab.U.Lous White Wine

After your pistachio encrusted lamb and sweet buttery spinach, enjoy a little Prosecco wine. It’s an Italian white that some might know from the world famous Bellini cocktail, where Prosecco is mixed with peach puree. No peach puree is necessary tonight, just the Prosecco, which is native not just to Northern Italy, but Brazil and Australia too. Prosecco is less expensive than champagne and tastes just as refreshing chilled.

And so I close with a virtual toast to my readers. Stay safe and well-nourished, my friends and take a moment to revel in the tastes, music and all-around pleasures of the holiday season. Play Auld Lang Syne, wait for The Ball to drop and try to squeeze in one last romantic dinner during 2011. I want to hear all about it when you do!

Soft Center Chocolate Cakes

Individual cakes may be prepared as much as a day in advance and baked just before serving. Remember to add a couple of minutes to the cooking time when baking chilled batter. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is the perfect accompaniment.

2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
½ cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
1. Prepare two individual soufflé (8-ounce) ramekins by coating the inside with butter.
2. Stir together the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over medium high heat. Remove from heat and cool.
3. Whisk the egg and egg yolk together in a bowl.
4. Whisk in the sugar, the melted chocolate mixture and flour.
5. Pour the batter into the ramekins about ¾ full.
6. Bake the cakes until the sides are set and the center wiggles when shaken about 8 to 10 minutes.
7. Serve the cakes by running a sharp knife around the center and inverting the ramekins onto a dessert plate. Garnish with a scoop of ice cream, a sprinkling of cocoa powder and a fresh mint sprig.

Serves 2
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus baking

Creamed Spinach

Fresh spinach is quickly wilted and then finished in a rich and decadent cream sauce.

4 (10-ounce) bags fresh spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 medium white onion, diced (about 2/3 cup)
4 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese
3 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
2. Place half of the fresh spinach into the skillet and cook until just beginning to wilt. Remove to a large baking dish. Continue until all of the spinach has been wilted using additional oil as needed.
3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat.
4. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden and bubbling, about 5 minutes.
5. Stir in the onion. Cook for 5 minutes.
6. Whisk in the milk. Reduce the heat to medium.
7. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, bay leaves and cloves. Continue stirring until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. Pour half of the sauce over the spinach. Allow the spinach to wilt in the sauce. Add the remaining spinach and sauce.
9. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the casserole.
10. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling.

Servings: 12
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus baking

Nut Crusted Rack of Lamb

Choose a rack of lamb that is generous enough to serve two or think decadently and roast two racks. Since it is just the two of you – it’s okay to lick your fingers!

1 rack of lamb, frenched

¼ cup Dijon mustard
4 ounces pistachio nuts, shelled (about 1 cup)
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
1. Brush the lamb with the mustard coating all sides of the meat, but not the bones.
2. Place the nuts in the bowl of a processor and pulse until the nuts are coarsely ground.
3. In a bowl, mix together the ground nuts, breadcrumbs, parsley and olive oil.
4. Dredge the lamb into the nut mixture until well coated.
5. Place the lamb on a rack in a baking pan with the bone side up. Cover the bones with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
6. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest par reaches 125 to 130 degrees for medium rare.

Serves 2
Preparation Time: 10 minutes plus roasting

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Give the Gift of Cookies

Cookies are everywhere for Christmas. The smell of cinnamon and clove in the kitchen is as much a part of the holidays as jingling bells. Reminiscing about my favorite cookies made me realize what the best thing about them is: in a cookie we crave tradition; we look forward to the predictability of an old family recipe that comes out of the oven with a buttery, sweet predictability year after year. It’s never boring—just delightful.

This is the way I feel about my grandmother’s Great Big Ginger Cookies, which I commence to make just as soon as my tree is trimmed and the holiday lights go up. From Black Friday to New Year’s Eve, I remember my grandmother turning out batch after batch of these guys. The best thing about them? They only soften with age! You can store the leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge, but make sure you enjoy at least a few Big Fat Ginger cookies 1 day after baking.

Since they are so optimal at a day old, I bake them in the morning on Christmas Eve, so they’re perfect for Santa at midnight.

Good as they are, Big Fat Ginger cookies aren’t the only game in town. Perusing the Times, I saw more than a few foodie columns recalling their old family favorites—from Russian tea cakes to coconut macaroons. Recently, I wrote about giving away baked goods as gifts on the Nana blog, having realized that a cookie isn’t just a cookie anymore. In this now decade-old millennium, life is more of a rat race than ever, and baking cookies is a gentle and simple gesture that gets everyone to slow down for a second. If I had to choose between giving a card stuffed with money, or baking a fresh batch of cookies for a loved one, I think the later is a choice that shows I care more. Is that crazy?

The Gift of the Magi was Time…

For many, the giving away of money is either tough or impossible; so they give their time instead, and create something—whether it’s a cookie or a sweater—for somebody they love. You can’t put a price on that. Some might shy away from giving the gift of cookies because they’d have to pack them up and ship them out. Here’s a solution: pre measure the dry items from the cookie recipe into a mason jar and decorate it with a ribbon and adhesive name tag that bears the recipe. You can always add a cookie scoop (I’ve linked to a really nice one) that lets your recipient drop cookies in the same predictable portions onto the cookie sheet. Because predictability and deliciousness go hand-in-hand after all—especially when it’s a batch made with love.

Great Big Ginger Cookies

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup margarine (1 ½ sticks) room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses

¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a bowl.
2. Use an electric mixer to combine the margarine and 1 cup sugar until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and stir.
4. Add the molasses and stir.
5. Add in the flour mixture in 3 additions.
6. Use a tablespoon to portion out the dough. Roll into 2 inch balls.
7. Roll the balls in granulated sugar.
8. Place onto a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat liner.
9. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and beginning to turn light brown on the edges.
10. Place the cookie sheet on a cooking rack. Place 1 to 2 raisins in the center of each cookie.
11. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Yield 2 dozen cookies
Preparation Time: 20 minutes plus baking
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