Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Snow Gets In Your Eyes

My legs are still achy.

Normally I take my sleepy Sundays to work on cooking up something curiously delicious for you.  This week I traded sleep and snacks for skis, bought a sweet, funny little hat with a pom pom and ear flaps, and spent the day whizzing and whirring circles down a small mountain in Pennsylvania.  

On the mountain I decided three things.

1.  Ear flaps are amazing.  I've been wearing my hat all throughout the much-more-stylish-than-I city of New York with a silly grin on to match.
2.  There is no better place I can think of to drink hot chocolate than in wooden ski lodge.

And, sadly:

3.  A day spent on the mountain = a day of generally terrible food.

Aside from that steamy cup of hot chocolate needed mid day to thaw out my 9-degrees-outside frozen cold toes, the lukewarm waffle fries and dry and, well...kind of crunchy ribs didn't make for much to talk about here.

So my kitchen is dark this week.  But with my legs up on the couch (and a 60% chance of 2-4 inches of snow tonight) I've thought of something you may just like to try.  Part of my little girl-world years ago included the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her little house on the prairie.  In one of my favorites stories she and her sister make snow candy; cooked molasses and brown sugar that they pour and drizzle into squiggles and swirls, which freeze hard in a pan of fresh snow.

Years ago my sister and I settled on stirring together maple syrup in bowls of white snow.  I still think about that lovely idea of homemade candy cracking and coming alive in a wintry backyard.  

So for you this week I did a little snooping around and found that recipe for snow candy.  I have yet to try it myself.  But in these gray and chilly days deep into the heart of winter, (and until I'm back on strong land legs again in the kitchen) you may just find this recipe a new reason to wish for snow days.
Or an excuse to buy yourself a hat, earflaps included.

Snow Candy

1 C molasses
1 C brown sugar
Fresh, clean, beautiful snow

1.  In a medium pot, cook molasses and brown sugar together until a candy thermometer reads between 300 and 310 degrees F.  (if you want you can test for the "hard crack" stage by dropping a spoonful of the hot syrup into a bowl of cold water.  If when you take it out and try to bend it, it breaks, you've reached the right temp!)
2.  Remove the syrup from the heat.
3.  Using a wooden spoon, drizzle spoonfuls of the syrup over packed fresh snow.  Once the syrup sets, remove it from the snow and lay on a paper towel to dry.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In The Inventing Room

What if Willy-Wonka was a bar man? Fizzy lifting drinks on the rocks. Chocolate martinis and gold-ticket-schlager. In a city where you can get a brioche infused liquor with raisins, and rum mixed with pumpkin puree, the whir of starry New York night traffic almost hints that Slugworth has taken up as a cabbie.

There is some magic in mixing drinks. Grapes turn from summer snack to vintage treasure. Grain changes to amber. Green fairies spring from wet sugar cubes on silver spoons and champagne explodes a foamy geyser in a bottle. I look at a bar and see intriguing, shiny bottles...but in truth I'm a bit like Charlie. Cautious because I don't know how it all works. And yet, still wanting to take a sip.

Enter Russ, the Wonka of whiskey. With so many of you loving last season's fall harvest whiskey, the snowy days of January in Brooklyn have just shy of required that we venture into a new project. There is no need to check your chocolate bars folks, no shiny tickets required to see the latest creation from our inventing room: the Brooklyn Winter Rye.

The Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum of rye whiskey. Substitute tomato soup with dried figs. Roast beef and baked potato with clove and ground allspice. Blueberry pie with wide, thin strips of orange zest. A jar is the gum wrapper...toss it in, seal it up and let the flavors infuse.

Ok so its not a meal exactly, but think of all that's going on inside one little jar! And there again, some magic; the rye is changing, improving, and all the time zest and spices and figs simply float, still, unassuming and delicious. Spiced fruit petrified inside that rye grain turned amber.

That amber will turn chocolate. The chocolate will turn licorice. It amazed me how dark and mysterious the whiskey looked by day three. Full of fig and spice that you could smell but not see.

So full of fig, so dark...well, as Violet turned violet from that blueberry pie, I was afraid a sip of the winter rye straight may have shriveled me up into a little dry fig. So I turned to my Wonka with eyes for a cocktail...

Gumball-red cranberries, powder-white fine sugar and a crust of sugar in the raw shortly yielded a rosey, whimsical little cocktail following in the tradition of "smash" drinks (traditionally a muddling of sugar and mint, in this case with berries instead). Roll out the red carpet! Do a somersault! The sweet and spicey and slightly tart drink is just the thing to lift you out of the snow and up off your feet.

From book pages where we read about cows that give chocolate milk and fizzy lemonade swimming pools, to our world with fanciful infusions, berry smashes and sugar crusted Wonka whiskey, cheers to you, bottoms up my friends!

Brooklyn Winter Rye

750 mL Rye whiskey (of your choice)
1 1/2 C dried black mission figs, chopped
1 T whole cloves
1 t ground allspice
1/3 of a large orange, zested (in large strips...easily done with a peeler!)

1. Add figs, cloves, allspice and orange zest to a large jar.
2. Pour rye into jar and seal.
3. On second day, remove orange zest. Reseal jar and gently turn over once to stir up contents.
4. Let rye sit for two more days.
5. On the fourth day, strain contents through a cheesecloth. Pour rye into clean container. Sip straight, add to cider, tea or substitute in your favorite whiskey drink! Or try something new, like say...

Winter Rye Smash
a cocktail

6-8 fresh cranberries
2 t superfine sugar
3 oz winter rye
Sugar in the raw for garnish

1. In the bottom of a shaker, muddle the cranberries and superfine sugar until berries are pulpy and have released their juice.
2. Add the winter rye and fill the shaker with ice. Shake vigorously.
3. Wet the rim of a serving glass with lime or lemon juice (water would work but something sticky is a little better!) and roll the rim in raw sugar to encrust.
4. Pour the contents of the shaker into the glass and say cheers to a warm-you-up winter smash.

1 drink

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Love In the Time of Cauliflower

On a still snowy night in Brooklyn, a strange occurrence came to pass.  

In a world full of chocolate cake and creamy pasta, fried potatoes and flaky croissants, on a particular chilly night this week I found myself wandering the kitchen, hungry for...cauliflower.  Cauliflower and only cauliflower.  I was disoriented.  Admittedly with a mouthful of 98% sweet teeth, while I do like a helping of good veggies from time to time, cauliflower...this was complete untrodden territory.  I didn't know where to start.  But strange things happen on winter's nights, and when the wind brings change I always believe you best blow along with it.  

So cauliflower it was.  Trimming two large snowy heads the little florets emerged as a bowl full of air-popped popcorn ready to be buttered.

As my kitchen is regretfully a short walk and two subway stops away from the closest movie theater, what was a girl to do with this lot of white stalky veggies?  Recently having read an article in Bon Appetit featuring a festival of latke variations, I recall a recipe for pureed cauliflower, patted into spiced cakes and fried like the classic potato dish.  

"Hmm..." I muttered, twiddling my thumbs, eyeing the cauliflower.

As loopy and deliciously devilish as I was feeling in the flurry of this mysterious cauliflower craze, on that night fried didn't exactly strike me as the way to go.  Less because of lots of oil and more because the spattering and spitting of frying intimidates me enough to generally opt for other, less splattery methods of cooking at home.  For example, I'm quite partial to my oven, that being, coincidentally, exactly where I decided this cauliflower was headed.

Which led to the next question: frosting is to cake like _____ is to cauliflower.  Recognizing that the cauliflower was going to need a finishing flourish, something to dress it up, make it pretty, something to seduce hungry stomachs away from juicy steaks and make them say under their breaths, "Hey, cauliflower...how you doin,"  I searched for the answer.  Finally, I penciled in almonds.

I penciled in lemon, capers, and golden raisins*.

From the pan on the stovetop, a shimmering, sweet and nutty dressing to make the lovely baked cauliflower "latkes" indeed, loveable.  

As the cauliflower baked on parchment in the oven, and the smell of the vinegary, golden raisin-sweet topping sizzled its way into the air, there was no mistaking it, I'd fallen hard for that odd, bumpy white flower of a food.  I was crushing completely for cauliflower.

The final dish made me gasp, "Who knew that cauliflower could be so...beautiful!" An affair I'll remember, the latkes were especially nice paired with sausages and a leafy pile of steamed kale.  They'd be delicious too with some good ol' red meat; indeed you could have your cauliflower and steak too.  

If the old warning is true, that when making a face while the wind changes, take care for it might stick that way, well the wintry winds of cauliflower may just have left my face stuck in a oo-oo-oo that's good smile.  

For strange things do happen, and delicious surprises often lie in the least expected vegetables.  

Baked Cauliflower "Latkes"
adapted from Bon Appetit
 *topping inspired by the cooking of Chef Anthony of Gramercy Tavern

For the latkes:
2 medium heads of cauliflower, trimmed to just the florets
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 C bread crumbs, unseasoned
3 eggs

For the topping:
2 T olive oil
3/4 C almonds, toasted, roughly chopped
1 T capers
1/2 C golden raisins, plumped
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Boil 1/2 the cauliflower until tender.  Finely chop the second half and reserve.
2. Drain and puree the boiled cauliflower with garlic, lemon zest salt and pepper until smooth.  Stir in chopped cauliflower, bread crumbs and eggs forming a thick, chunky batter.
3.  Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto a parchment lined baking sheet and gently flatten them to about 1/2 in thickness.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top.
4.  For the topping, heat olive oil in a saute pan and add almonds, capers, raisins, lemon juice, salt and pepper until warmed.
5.  Spoon topping over latkes and learn to love cauliflower!

30 2 inch latkes

Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year, Old Favorite

Hello from the top of 2009!  I don't know about you, but the year ahead is looking pretty good from up here.  

I hope you all had your fill of sugar cookies and sparkling bubbly because its time to get down and dirty.  Vegetables folks.  I did promise you a good, healthy, post-new year's dose and I suspect that starting the year with a recipe for cake would spoil many a fresh resolution.  So we'll ease in.  Say a pile of cheery sweet potatoes for a start?

Now that you have a hint of where we are going, let me take you back a few days.  On the 31st I found myself ringing in 2009 with a hearty, feel-great feast of comfort pub food at a new favorite West Village bar, Wilfie and Nell's.  Teetering on the high wire between 2008 and the new year my mind wandered, thinking about the comforts we bring with us from year to year.  Digging into a steaming Shepherd's pie I smile, seeing I'm actually eating one of those very comforts: the tradition of meat pies dating back to a lost time as long ago as the Middle Ages and there I was scheming how to make it at home for you (okay, for me too.  It was deelicious).

So let's start the new year with an old (old old old) favorite.  I bring you, Sweet Potato and Hennepin Cottage Pie.  All that stands between you and a steaming bowl of good-for-you pie is ground meat, a simple handful of veggies, and a dash of Hennepin, a Belgian beer with a yeasty, slightly gingery flavor.  For our pie we used ground beef, red onion, peas, kabocha squash in place of carrots and of course mashed sweeties for the top crust.

A note on the Kabocha squash: as it turns out, the thick skin of the squash made it a bit rascally to render the way we'd intended so for future pies I'd suggest something with a thinner skin like a butternut or red kuri squash.  Or plain and simple, sweet orange carrots.

A little browning of the meat, sweating of the onions, parboiling of the squash and mashing of the potatoes and you're nearing a pie of perfection.

Comfortable and quick.  One of the best things about this pie (and maybe the key to its longevity) is that it's preparation allows for plenty of time to start your book club, send that letter to your old friend, be nicer to your mom, go to the gym more often...okay, so you should save some resolutions for before dinner. 

Take comfort in the sweet steam rising from your bowl.  And like your new years resolutions, make it your own; with any veggies, beef or lamb, your choice of beer, mashed potatoes sweet or plain (and maybe a little grated cheese...) I think this old favorite rings the right note for a delicious new year.  

A happy new year to you all!

P.S. Don't worry, there will be cookies soon.

Sweet Potato and Hennepin Cottage Pie

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, chopped
2 T butter
1 pound ground beef
1 medium winter squash (ex. butternut or red kuri), peeled, chopped
1/2 c peas (frozen will do just fine)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T sage, very finely chopped
2 T tarragon, very finely chopped
1 t fresh ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 T flour
1 c Hennepin (or any beer that suits your taste...just avoid sweet and fruity)

1.  Boil chopped sweet potatoes till soft enough to mash.  Drain, mash and stir in butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reserve.
2.  Brown the ground beef.  Reserve.
3.  Sautee onions, garlic and spices until onions are slightly sweated.  Reserve.
4.  Par-boil the squash of your choice...let them soften but not to total mush.
5.  In a large bowl, stir together meat, squash, and sauteed onions with spice.  Stir in flour and beer.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
6.  Pat mixture into a 9x9 in pan (or a pie dish).
7.  Cover with mashed sweet potatoes.
8.  Cook for about 15 minutes in a 375 degree F oven.
9.  If you feel so inclined, remove from oven, grate cheese on sweet potatoes and place back in the oven for enough time to melt and brown cheese on top.

about 6-7 large servings