Sunday, February 14, 2010


I didn't get very much done in time for valentines day this year, and I was pretty well snowed in anyway so I guess it's ok. I usually give valentines to all my friends but I figured I wouldn't see most of them until it was too late... and I was worn out from shoveling. I was slightly bummed out though because I had been planning to surprise my (almost all girl) book arts class with a valentine making day instead of the lecture on the schedule. Oh well. I did make chocolate clove cookies dipped in chocolate which I originally intended to pipe pink decorations on... and pink strawberry cupcakes. I pretty much always make myself a bday cake. The cupcakes are kind of an ongoing obsession of mine to make a pink/ strawberry cupcake without artificial flavor and these were ok, but they tasted more like muffins than cupcakes to me. They were based largely on the sprinkles recipe and I just wasn't feeling it. I will keep messing with it. There are strawberries and beet juice which do at least give it a nice color. I made chocolate strawberry swiss buttercream icing which was awesome. I always use Nick Malgeri's base recipe-- it can't be topped in my opinion. The cookies are very slightly adapted from one of Martha's recipes (mostly with the addition of clove and salt which I find key...) and are kind of my go-to roll and cut cookie. They are easy to work with and don't have to be chilled every five seconds like some sugar cookie doughs and brilliantly hold their shape when they cook. And they are chocolate which is even better. Sorry these pictures are atrocious.

Chocolate Clove Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teas. coarse sea salt (I prefer gray salt)
  • 1/2 teas. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teas. ground clove
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teas. pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, salt, and cinnamon. Set mixture aside.
Use an electric mixer to cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla.
Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Divide dough in half; wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes. Transfer to silpat lined baking sheets; refrigerate until firm, 15 minutes. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until crisp but not darkened. Cool on wire racks; decorate with chocolate or icing. (You could alternatively sprinkle sugar on them before they went in the oven)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

pumpkin soup & more snow

I am starting to go a little snow crazy. I just keep cooking and cooking. I have enough food for 300 people. We have been upgraded to official blizzard status, as opposed to everyone just saying it's a blizzard. There is an alert on the weather channel about not going outside because you might get lost in a snowdrift. (There are cars in the above picture-- look for their mirrors.) So I have made beef stroganoff, rolls, wheat/rye bread loaves, muffins, meatballs, artichoke and mushroom lasagna with homemade whole wheat pasta and pumpkin soup. So pumpkin soup- I love pumpkin and I make pumpkin soup fairly often, but I must say this is the best version yet. The tortillas allow me to thicken without cream- which is good because I am lactose intolerant. The rest is just yummy. I can't stop eating it. Which is good as there isn't anything else to do.

Pumpkin Soup

  • 3 (8 inch) tortillas chopped
  • 4 tbs. butter
  • 3-4 slices bacon cut into lardons
  • 3 medium to small onions rough chopped
  • 3 celery ribs chopped
  • 3 carrots chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced
  • dried sage
  • 2 teas. cinnamon
  • 1 teas. cumin
  • 1 teas. coriander
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 18-20 oz. pumpkin puree (either canned or fresh pumpkin roasted and pureed)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup (b grade)
  • 6 cups homemade chicken stock
  • salt + pepper
  • fontina cheese shredded

Cook the butter in a stockpot until lightly browned. Add bacon and fry until crispy, then remove. (alternatively cook full slices of bacon in the oven and just pour in some fat) Add tortillas, onions, celery, carrots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until until soft. (The tortillas will all but disappear) Add sage and spices. Deglaze with wine to scrape up any bits stuck to bottom of pot. Add pumpkin and cook for another minute. Add maple syrup and stock-- you can add more or less depending on the texture you prefer-- I made mine fairly think. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for an hour then check for seasoning. Puree with a stick blender (or in batches in a standard blender) to desired smoothness. I left mine fairly chunky and rustic, but do blend it at least a little because it helps the soup thicken a bit. Garnish with reserved bacon and shredded fontina cheese. (Or whatever you happen to have) The bacon adds a lovely crunch and the cheese an amazing savory note.

maple oatmeal chocolate chip muffins

I never used to think I liked maple syrup. Then I went to Vermont and made some. I had been using sugar in my artwork at the time so maple syrup seemed like a logical direction to go while in VT. I only ever had the fake stuff as a kid so I thought that fake maple flavor was what maple was supposed to taste like. Then when I tried real maple syrup as an adult it just tasted wrong. I realize in retrospect that it's like thinking that fake apple flavor tastes the same as actual apples- they don't really have much in common. So anyway I thought I didn't like any of it. Then I started researching maple syrup. It's really just sugar. There is no fake maple flavor. The longer you cook it the more caramelized and smokey it gets and the darker in color it gets. So it's really more like more complex and interesting sugar. It was the only sugar available in the early US. When I first started tapping the trees I thought I had messed up because what comes out looks like water and is just barely sweet. This sap needs to reduce for hours- the official ratio is 40:1 sap to syrup. The last picture above is maple resin (for art...) that I made by reducing it even further. Anyway these muffins are made with maple syrup- it needs to be real maple syrup B grade. That is the darkest most complex one. I think maple and chocolate are an underrated combination-- and these muffins are perfection. I could not stop eating them. They are also reasonably healthy which is always a plus.

Maple Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Muffins
  • 1 cup ap flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 teas. baking powder
  • 1/2 teas. baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teas. cinnamon
  • 1/2 teas. coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 maple syrup (grade b)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 teas. vanilla
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Whisk together the wet ingredients. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Stir until just blended and then fold in the chocolate chips.

This will make between 12 and 18 muffins depending on the size of your muffin tins- mine are old so they usually make more than the newfangled ones. (Because muffin tins have apparently gotten bigger over the years) Line the pans with paper muffin cups and fill nearly to the top. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean 25-30 minutes.

winter cocktails

My brother made the mistake of asking me for seasonal cocktail recipes that we could make in Berkeley Springs last December. I took this challenge very seriously and responded with an 8 page document of recipes and research. Needless to say, he now thinks I'm crazy, but we made some awesome cocktails. I set out to use these flavors: lemon, orange, orange-clove, apple, pomegranate, cranberry, spice, fig, ginger, smoked honey, maple, bay, eggnoggish and horehound. I mostly did. I should revisit the pomegranate and the maple. These 6 drinks were the highlights.

Rock & Rye Toddy- I have become obsessed with Rock & Rye. This is one of the best ways to drink it- it's so warming and cozy. It does feel almost medicinal, but packs quite a wallop as well. Put 2 oz. of Rock & Rye in a mug with a whole cinnamon stick, two quarter slices of grapefruit (or other citrus, but I like the grapefruit because it keeps it from getting too sweet) and fill with boiling water. Garnish with a rock candy stirrer. (This will melt into the drink don't be tempted to add any more sugar!!) If my throat is sore I skip the rock candy and use honey.

Figgy Almond Cocktail- I have been infusing fig vodka for years but always am sort of at a loss about what to do with it. It is very figgy. I was inspired to make this drink by those fig almond loaves they sell in the cheese department of fancy stores. It's fig infused vodka, amaretto and smoked honey. (Smoked on the grill with wood chips in a shallow pan) I garnished with a dried fig on a rosemary skewer because I can't help but put rosemary in everything.

Gin Alexander- this is actually a very classic drink and was at one time more popular than the currently more common brandy alexander. It is soooo much better than a brandy alexander. The freshness of the gin cuts what would be a painfully sweet drink otherwise. It's gin, creme de cacao (preferably white) milk and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Don't be tempted to skip the nutmeg-- it's key. It tastes almost like a lighter (and easier) eggnog.

43 Cobbler- a cobbler is an old form of mixed drink that consists of a base spirit (originally some form of wine), sugar and fresh fruit. It dates from at least the 1830s. For my 43 Cobbler I wanted to use some Licor 43 that my grandma had given me. Upon sampling it I decided that it was really too sweet for my taste so I mixed it with cranberry juice, gin and a blood orange gastrique that I made. The gastrique especially was to help cut back on the sweetness. So it ends up fruity and vanilla-y without being too sugary. I garnished with a clove studded clementine slice.

Lemon Laurel Wreath- this recipe is nearly the same as the one in 2008 Food and Wine Cocktail book but I swapped out homemade infused lemon vodka, used less Galliano and added some seltzer water because I found it to be too sweet. The roasted lemon bay syrup is brilliant.

Salt Caramel Apple Cider- I guess this is fairly fall-ish, but I still have some apples kicking around and cider is still available in this area over the winter. And who doesn't like salt caramel? Fools that's who. So this is a dollop of salt caramel (I make it in big batches so I always have extra in the fridge- don't use a recipe that sets up into a hard candy) real unpasteurized apple cider and a shot of Drambuie. (Bourbon is good too, but I was trying to branch out) It's good hot or cold. Whenever I see little lady apples in the store I buy them and freeze them so that I can use them as ice cubes in drinks. I briefly considered dipping these is caramel to go completely over the top, but I decided that it would just melt off into the drink too fast to be worth the effort.

ice princess lounge

Second giant blizzard in less than a week- the mid-atlantic is just not prepared for this quantity of snow. Neither am I... shoveling is no fun. Therefore whilst shoveling what appeared to at least 5 feet of snow off my deck for fear that it would collapse, I decided that I needed to make it more entertaining for myself. I noticed that I was already making what looked like seats-- and I was still thinking about that awesome ice bar from the snow picnic post-- so I decided to start deliberately carving out seats and made a little lounge. Then I of course needed a coffee table, which I decorated with some of the giant icicles hanging from the window. And it worked! I was way less cranky about all the shoveling and now I can have an ice princess cocktail party. I think some sugar on snow is in order.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

super bowl snacks

I don't especially like football, but I love making football snacks. My friend and I usually plan some sort of conceptual menu based on which teams make it to the superbowl weeks in advance, but with all the snow this year we had to make due with what we had. The grocery store was getting pretty sparse. For some reason rice cripsy treats seem football-y to me. Maybe because I am a girl. No one complained that they were girly while they were stuffing them in their faces though. They are the perfect salty sweet combo... now that I think about ideal for pms days too...

salt caramel & peanut rice crispy treats

This is pretty much the basic recipe with two key additions- salt caramel sauce and salted peanuts. I always have salt caramel in the fridge dulce de leche comes ready to go in cans and would be a good substitute. They are both soft at room temperature so the treats won't set up too hard. Add as many peanuts as you want really..

  • 3 tablespoons butter, lightly browned
  • 1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
  • 6 cups rice crispies
  • salt caramel (or dulce de leche)
  • 1-2 cups salted peanuts

In large saucepan melt butter over low heat, let it start to brown. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Stir in salt caramel. Remove from heat. Add rice crispies. Stir until well coated. Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares.


You'd think that Baltimore would have learned to deal with snow by now, we get it every year, but that is part of our charm I think. We panic each and every time. I love it. To be fair this particular snowpocalypse really was a whole lot of snow-- more than we usually get. I love how quiet the neighborhood gets when it snows and that everyone starts walking in the street and saying things like "cold enough for ya?" to total strangers. I made beef stock, bread and then french onion soup- I stick pretty closely to Julia's recipe although I tend to throw in more onions. The cognac is key. Then we made snow angels in the middle of the street.

snow picnic V

Last but not least, cocktails and drinks. I knew I wanted a hot drink and I didn't want to do the obvious hot chocolate. White chocolate would have been an obvious direction I guess, but I am of the opinion that white chocolate makes an awesome moisturizer and not much else. So I made affogatos, an italian coffee drink/dessert that is composed of ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it. (and often booze as well) They are sometimes mostly ice cream and sometimes mostly coffee-- I opted for the later to keep it in the drink category. I also skipped the liquor since I already had made a cocktail. Warm, tasty and elegant. Next was the cocktail- sugar on snow. Sugar on snow is a maple harvesting tradition and is incredibly addictive. It is sort like maple flavored caramel. So I packed my champagne coupes with snow (it must be packed in or the hot syrup will just melt right through it) poured my sugar and then added a little goldschlager, which not only adds a nice cinnamon flavor but little gold flakes-- and then topped the whole thing with prosecco. You have to drink it before all the snow melts... but that wasn't really a problem. I found the little mother of pearl spoons on ebay and they really completed the drink. I ate a shocking amount of maple snow the day I was testing these out.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

snow picnic IV

As soon as I started this project I knew I wanted to make île flottante-- they are actually a pretty homey french dessert, but I had always thought of them as elegant. The îles are meringue "islands" floating in a crème anglaise and garnished with some sort of caramel. You can make them by poaching the meringues in milk or by baking them in the oven. I tried both ways as poaching just sounded more authentic to me and baking sounded like it would look prettier. The poached ones looked gross and the baked ones actually tasted indistinguishable. They don't get crunchy at all in this preparation. The crème anglaise I used is actually melted dairy free coconut milk ice cream, which originally I did because I can't handle all the cream in a real crème anglaise, (lactose intolerant) but it was actually so good that I think I may try and work out a coconut milk crème anglaise recipe. I drizzled my île with salt caramel that I had in the fridge, but I think I crunchy praline may have been better for a little texture in retrospect.

My next snow dessert is pistachio torrone. Torrone is one of those things that you love or hate- I love it. And it worked with my color palette brilliantly. It is actually surprisingly easy to make from scratch-- it does require some basic candy making techniques but as long as you follow a good recipe you'll be fine. The image after the little stack of torrone is a still from Christmas in Connecticut.

When the now defunct Gourmet :( published their vintage cookie recipes two(?) years ago I obsessively downloaded all of them. There is very little that I enjoy more than researching and testing vintage recipes and cookbooks. The Navettes Sucrées immediately grabbed my attention and I have since made them a couple of times. They are easy and tasty- don't be put off by the old fashioned style of recipe writing. It's a buttery cookie with a kind of crispy sugar carapace (I love that word...) They have since taken the recipe off the website, but since it was initially available without subscription I think it's ok to post it below.

Navettes Sucrées (Sugar Shuttles)
December 1951
Sugar Shuttles

“Sugar shuttles?” we asked ourselves. It seemed too early to be a reference to space travel. But we dug a little and found that these cigar-shaped cookies resemble the device that holds the thread on a loom or sewing machine. In any case, they’re a real taste of the past—crisp and shaggy on the outside with a cakelike crumb. This is one old-fashioned cookie that’s ready for a comeback.

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup soft butter
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup soft butter, 2 egg yolks, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and knead until the dough is well blended. Chill it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Divide the dough into portions the size of a small walnut. Roll each piece of dough with the palm of the hand on a lightly floured board to give it the shape of a small sewing-machine shuttle. Dip each in egg white and roll in granulated sugar. Bake on a lightly buttered baking sheet in a moderate oven (350° F.) for about 8 minutes, or until the little cookies are lightly browned.

snow picnic III

So for the entrèes, I knew that I needed to make fondue it was an integral part of my original idea. It is fairly traditional with emmentaler, raclette, and gruyère, but is finished with cognac rather than kirsch. It was awesome. I had trouble restraining myself long enough to take photos. It is accompanied by homemade date pecan pumpernickel bread, an adaptation from this book, endive- such a beautiful soft color, boiled fingerling potatoes dipped in nutmeg (stole that from martha,) fresh figs and a nice salami. I think the endive was actually my favorite followed closely by the bread and potatoes. The chaffing dish was inherited from my grandma and the fondue forks are vintage seafood forks that I spent an inordinate amount of time acquiring on ebay. They are just the right shape for fondue and so much prettier than the goofy 70's wooded spears that always come with fondue sets. I have mixed and matched a few different patterns and they were pretty inexpensive. Next is a sandwich made from boston brown bread, maple smoked vermont cheddar, turkey, cream cheese and sprouts. The bread is another childhood throwback and very New England. I like the dainty shape of it too. The soup is roasted cauliflower-- just oven roasted cauliflower, homemade chicken stock, rosemary and bacon drippings. The soup spoons are actually white plastic, but I bought them because they reminded me of these.

snow picnic II

I had quite a bit of food, so I only made one hors d'oeuvre, little crab cakes with a spicy coconut chutney. I considered white asparagus too, but honestly I think they look prettier than they taste. The chutney was amazing- sweet, spicy and creamy. And it looked just like snow. They were lovely with the sugar on snow cocktails.

Spicy Coconut Chutney

3 chilies, chopped coarse
3 tbs onion
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 tsp dried mint leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup greek yogurt

Chop up the chilies, onion, coconut, zest and mint in a food processor until finely ground. (My mini size processor was the perfect size.) Add yogurt, salt and pepper. Blend until creamy and reasonable smooth.