Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Turkey -- Back Story

2002, my thesis project was a cook book. Written (friend and family recipes), illustrated (yeah chicken diagram, see above) and designed for my senior year at design school. To get a cover shot (above) I invited all my school pals to pretend-cook a thanksgiving dinner in front of the lens. After the lights and cameras were turned off, we ate the props. It was an excellent dinner. A week before Thanksgiving, we all had a hard time stomaching a second (real) turkey dinner. I swore I would keep getting people together, but promised no more turkey.

I have kept up the tradition of this meal every year along with after-dinner homespun absurdist pictionary. Here is a review of each year, and the basic menu. If you've ever been to this shindig you'll remember every facet is homemade, down to the condiments.

2002 -- The original, turkey and fixins
2003 -- Lasagna (received the title lasagna stealth)
2004 -- Pork tenderloin, risotto, other goods
2005 -- Just the sides (this is the year things got serious more food, variety and guests)
2006 -- Brunch (People arriving at 2 pm stayed until 11, and were fed 3 meals, this may have been the most fun year)
2007 -- Mezas and tapas (biggest variety, biggest crowd = 50 plus people)
2008 Make your own pizza, with billions of people
2009 Taco party, Ole.
2010....Delayed due to lack of space

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cantaloupe Alone is Born

Pre-Thanks was doing double duty as my dinner party blog and recipe blog until Cantaloupe Alone came along.

Please visit Cantaloupe instead of here. All of these photos, recipes, and on have been migrated over. Goodbye until fall, when its dinner party time. A tout a l'heure.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Uncle of all Sandwiches

Inner strata after cutting in half. See how the pesto seeps into the bread.

I don't quite know what the mother or father of all sandwiches would be. Maybe a pb&j, or pastrami on rye? What would the grandfather of all sandwiches be? I guess the Earl of Sandwich would know, but he was not at my 4th of July picnic. The uncle of all sandwiches is a big pan-bagnat style Italian sandwich topped with sopressata, smoked mozzarella, basil, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and pesto on hunky wheat bready. He smells like an Italian deli, is rich (with textures), and is sort of falling apart. Recipe to make it:

1 8-9 inch round loaf of bread
(You want the best! I used Balthazar's Wheat)
1/2 cup pesto
1/4 cup packed with fresh basil leaves
(don't substitute with dried basil, if you must replace use arugula)
1/4 lb thinly sliced sopressata, sliced thinly
1/4 lb smoked mozzarella, sliced medium to thin
1 6-8 0z jar of roasted red peppers
1 6-8 0z jar of oil marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
black pepper (red pepper if you like it hot!)

This sandwich which will be pressed under weighted plates in your fridge, so first make sure you have 10-12" square by 6-8" high space open.

Cut your loaf of bread in half with a long serrated knife. Insides out, which means pull about half (or less) of the bread out from inside of the cut halves. You are making space to layer the ingredients. Spread half of the pesto on the bottom half of bread and the other half on the top. Drizzle a little bit of the artichoke marinade on the each bread half for extra flavor. Arrange the sandwich fillings in this order:

1/2 of the basil leaves
1/2 of the smoked mozzerella
roasted red pepers
artichoke hearts
1/2 of the smoked mozzerella
1/2 of the basil leaves
sprinkle with pepper

Cover with top half of bread. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place on a plate, larger then the sandwich. Cover the top of the wrapped sandwich with another large plate. You are making a plate-sandwich sandwich! Set in fridge. You will need to weigh down the plate sandwich with something heavy. I used 4 cans of beans which I placed in a skillet on top of the plates. The skillet prevents the cans from sliding off the plate. If anyone sees this pile of dishes in your fridge they will certainly think you have the whole idea of cooking backwards. Chill the sandwich for 3 hours to 24 hours, so the juices and flavors mingle.

After slicing in half, cut width-wise to make managable pieces.

Remove from the fridge. Unstack and unwrap the sandwich. Slice in half. Slice each half into 8 pieces, width-wise. Return slices to plate or serving platter. Allow to come to room temperature for about 1 hour.

Craig savors his slice. The uncle of all sandwiches was
pretty popular at the 4th of July Picnic I attended.

I can't lie, this sandwich is tricky to cut! Its innards flop out. Do not sweat it, you can shove those rebel fillings back in the bread with clean fingers. I suggest cutting the sandwich when its as cold as possible. It serves 10-8 with no leftovers, because everyone loves it.

Picnic Perfect

This talented-typography-loving lady decorated her strawberry mascarpone
cream pie with home-made tempered chocolate letters.

I love to be the guest. Forget dealing with directions, gathering gear, and worrying about enough food and paper plates. Its glorious to show up, and bring a thing-or-two to please. 3 categories of food always go over well on the picnic blanket.

1) Alcohol. Especially a slightly fancier mixed drink. Spiked lemonade, shaken margaritas, sangria. If in doubt a bottle of effervescent champagne or prosecco plus juice always are welcome.

Snacking on gooseberries & strawberries

2) Snacks and nibbles. Nuts, olives, fruit, crudité, mini sandwiches, chips, dip. You can be clever with this category, and a mix of health and slightly decadent please em all.

A little goes a long way in making a group feel full.

3) Dessert. Anything sweet makes everyone feel special. Group gatherings are the best place to test out your newest recipes and ideas. All the better if you recipe is a little fancy. Doesn't it feel good to spoil your friends and family?

Oh you could have an ice cream cone. My genius friends
successfully brought ice cream in a cooler bag to a hot day at the park.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rosé Sangria for a Park Day

The apple juice gives it a mellow pink-orange color.
It rained about 2 minutes after I took this pic, can you tell?

Most sangria recipes involve red wine and brandy plus fruit. I thought I would bring an intoxicating rosé and vodka for a lighter sweeter day on the picnic blanket. This recipe is designed to make 2 large bottles of sangria. Perfectly portable to sweeten any group up with.

5 medium peaches, plums, or nectarines - pitted and sliced
1 small granny smith apple- cored, quartered and sliced
1/2 pt black berries
juice of 1 lime
1-3 tblsp sugar

1 large bottle of rosé or blush wine
(I bought a Beringer zinfandel which conveniently does not label its volume, but rest assured it the larger looking bottle)
1 gallon of apple juice
1 cup vodka

Macerate the fruit in a medium bowl with the lime juice and sugar. Macerating gives the fruits time to get to know one another and absorb each others flavors. The less ripe your fruit the more sugar you need, so add sugar as needed. Forget about it for 1-2 hours, this is a casual weekend recipe that doesn't so much attention.

This sangria is not in prison, just sitting in a Brooklyn window.

All of the apple juice into an empty pitcher. Pour half of the wine into the now empty apple juice bottle. Divide the fruit and its sweet nectar-like juices between the half empty apple juice bottle and half empty wine bottle, or are they half full, you tell me. Add 1/2 cup of vodka to apple juice bottle, and the other 1/2 cup of vodka to the wine. Fill each bottle close to the top with apple juice from the pitcher. Taste each bottle. I found I need to add a little more vodka at the end to give the drink just a little zing. You will have extra apple juice for another purpose.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and up to 1 day before serving. Oh dang, its refreshing and punchy. You will have 2 bottles to intoxicate a crowd with.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pt 3 Macarons - Fillings

Berry filling tart and sweet.

Just imagine all of the fillings the delicate macaron cookie could compliment. Really, you do all of the imagining. I already made a list in Pt 1 of the Macaron Series. I went for Lime Curd, based loosely on the Barefoot Contessa's recipe, Berry Jam based on the fact that fresh fruit is cheap in the summer, and Almond Honey Paste based on the fact that I had extra almonds.

Lime Curd

2 limes, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 tblsp butter, or half of one stick, room temperature
5 egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt
2 tsp corn starch mixed with 2 tsp cool water

Zest and juice the limes, keeping 1/4 cup juice separate. Add the zest and granulated sugar to a food processor, blend for 1 minute. Add butter and pulse until butter and sugar are creamed. Add yolks, one at a time, pulsing until evenly combined. Add lime juice, salt, honey, and corn starch mix to the food processor and pulse again until combined to complete the lime curd base.

Bring lime curd base to a 2 quart sauce pan. Heat over medium low heat. Stir constantly until beginning to bubble and curd thickens. Remove from heat, place in fridge to cool for 4-5 hours.

Berry Jam

1/2 pint blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon blackberry brandy (or other dessert liquor)
1 teaspoon lime juice
6 oz mixed berry jam

Place the first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat until boiling and bubbling readily stirring. Lower the heat to medium, continue to stir until mixture thickens and coats a spoon, about 15 minutes. Add the jam and boil 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, place in fridge to cool for 4-5 hours.

Almond Honey Paste

1/2 cup leftover homemade almond flour
(see Pt 2)
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tsp canola oil
1 tblsp confectioner's sugar
1 tblsp honey

Place almond flour, salt, and 1 tsp oil in a small food processor or coffee grinder. I used my coffee grinder. Grind for 1 minute until paste starts to form. Stop and stir, if the paste looks too dry add more oil. Grind 1-2 more minutes until smooth. Using a spoon or spatula scrape the paste into a bowl. Add the sugar and honey. Mix with a spoon until smooth. Its all about being smooth. You may need to adjust the sugar, honey, oil ratios at the end to get a desired consistency. I made mine thick and on the saltier/savory side.

All of these fillings may be made a 1-3 days in advance and kept cool in the fridge. Spoon a small amount of filling into the center of a macaron cookie, so that just a small amount squishes out when sandwiched. Keep the lime curd macarons chilled. I packed mine in foil and have stored them in the freezer until their moment of truth.

Pt 2 Macarons - Brooklyn Style

Macarons left to right - mixed berry, almond honey paste, and lime curd.
I made it all from scratch.

I had almost nothing I need on the macaron equipment and ingredient list, and no experience. No fear, I'm a brave Brooklyn home baker spending her weekend tackling the french treat. I spent my weekend preparing and attempting to follow my recipe. I can barely follow a recipe, so I made my own way.

First - Acquiring & Creating ingredients
I spent Friday looking for almond flour after work. Dean and Deluca's has it, $9 for about 2 cups. Whole Foods on Bowery does not have it, though they have hazelnut flour. I looked online, and it lthe flour can be bought for prices around $10-15. No way. I went to the grocery store and bought 1 1/2 lbs of raw almonds. I toasted them in my oven, cooled, and pulsed them in my food processor. Pulse being key. Clumping means you have begun to go too far, so stop. This homemade flour solution is barely acceptable. Commercial almond flour is finer and drier. Mine has texture and color, but that sounds more like my life, yah.

Confectioner's sugar is a snap to find at the store. Extra fine sugar can be made in a food processor (dump regular granulated sugar in and buzz it for 1 minute.) Parchment paper for the cookie sheets is easy, and I got mine at Sur La Table. I also picked up some jam, honey, blueberries, and limes at the store for filling.

I separated my egg whites on Saturday morning as suggested. I saved the yolks to make filling. Both stayed in the fridge.

Second - Filling
This is a whole separate post, but I suggest doing this before you bake your cookies. I feel like it frees up your mind to ponder the nuances of the macaron.

Next - Almost Ready
Sunday morning I got the egg whites out of the fridge about 2 hours before I wanted to begin. I cleaned all of my cooking utensils to prevent contamination of any lingering savory flavors. I assembled my pastry bag, which incidentally I am missing parts for. I was left using a star tip instead of a round tip, and it worked fine. I lined 2 cookie sheets with parchment, because I don't own a silpat. The parchment must be cut to fit slightly smaller than the cookie sheet so curling edges don't deform your macarons.

Not perfect in shape, but light and chewy

Fourth - Dough
The big annoying job is sifting the almond flour (grainy and homemade by me) with the confectioners sugar. I only have a strainer with semi-small holes. My cookies as a result have semi-large crumbs of almond giving them a speckled appearance. Next, I whipped my egg whites, perfectly. Yes, the only step I correctly followed. Folding, my advice, just go slow, and use a spatula. I didn't dye my dough. I couldn't bring myself to make a mistake and create some awful puke colored cookies.

Loading and piping the dough out of the pastry bag is tricky. The slack dough likes to ooze out of the bag before you are ready*. Its tempting to pump out the cookies quickly. Many of my cookies were oval or odd and not even sized. I was happy to walk away from them for 20 minutes to let the skin form.

*Note: My directions indicate beating whites to a medium peak, but I'm finding lots of recipes indication whipping to stiff peaks. I will try this next time. I think my oozing dough might have been under whipped.

Fifth - Baking
The macarons I baked on a thin sheet cookie did better than the insulated sheet, and I don't know why. My first batch started to crack, so I put a wooden spoon in the oven door, and no more cracking! The smell was perfect, and I was pretty happy to see a nice bubbley foot, which is the rough bottom edge of the macaron. Damn this is a complicated cookie.

Nice foot! Some of my macarons cracked. This one is a little over-done.
Pale edges and bottom, not golden, have a chewier taste.

The recipe yielded about 90 cookies, to make 45 macarons, minus a handful of broken cookies. I filled with almond honey paste, lime curd, and berry jam. They are going to be served to lucky people at a 4th of July event this week. I'm keeping them in my freezer for now. My cookies are not french or perfect. They are rustic looking, but very very very good. The lime curd is my favorite. I feel like I have barely gotten to know this complicated cookie, shall I may try again.