November 30, 2008

Lighter Side

After a full (really full) weekend of turkey, stuffing, pie, mashed potatoes and more pie, I'm thinking it's time to lighten things up a bit- perhaps some salad days are in order. Like this salad I enjoyed on a recent fall evening during a lovely meal cooked by some even lovelier ladies. We all share passion for good food and wine and I could have sat at that kitchen island all night chatting, drinking white wine, swapping recipes and stories. We began the meal with a salad of manchego cheese and Pears. Simple and seasonal, it was perfect shared with friends in a cozy kitchen on a fall evening. Make it with, or for, your friends.

Green Salad with Manchego and Pears
adapted from Gourmet Magazine, November 2007
1/3 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas; not toasted)**
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
3 tbs Sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp grainy mustard
4 cups packed salad greens
4 cups packed frisée (French curly endive), torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup Shaved Manchego cheese
4 Bartlett pears

Cook seeds in 1 tablespoon oil in a small heavy skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until puffed and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels and reserve oil. Season seeds with salt and pepper.
Whisk together vinegar, honey, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Add remaining 1/3 cup olive oil and reserved oil from skillet in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified.
Divide greens and cheese among salad plates. Cut off 2 opposite sides of each pear (reserve for another use), leaving a 1/2-inch-thick lengthwise center slice with stem and core. Arrange a pear slice on each plate and drizzle dressing over salads. Sprinkle with seeds.

**When recreating this salad at home, I substituted slices almonds for the pepitas.

November 29, 2008

The Madness That Is... Caramel Cake

Seriously, this month's Daring Bakers challenge Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting should really come with a warning label. A decadent, crazy moist, dense cake infused with caramel syrup- one could easily stop there and have a lovely rich dessert. But no, those envelope pushing Daring Bakers had to take it one step further with not just any butter cream, but one made from copious amounts of browned butter, a pound of powdered sugar, and more caramel syrup! Oh the humanity!

This cake was so rich, even my husband could only handle one slice. It was definitely way sweeter than the desserts I normally make, but the cake itself was outstanding in texture and moistness and truly I could not stop eating it.

Many thanks to Dolores, Alex, Jenny and Natalie for hosting this month. Feeling daring yourself? Try Shuna Fish Lydon's signature caramel cake recipe for yourself. You can find it here. But don't say I didn't warn you.

November 27, 2008

Twofer Tartlettes

My love affair with pumpkin pie goes way back. It was the first pie I had ever made, and was often the one contribution I felt confident making to our holiday feast. The recipe on the back of the Libby's can has never let me down so you can imagine I was more than a little skeptical of this weeks' TWD, Thanksgiving Twofer Pie. A double layer pie with silky pumpkin filling on the bottom and a sticky sweet pecan topping, how would this measure up to the original?
After reading this great article on pie crust, I decided to try an all butter version for the crust. I made the dough with a pastry blender rather than a food processor and it came together easily. I refrigerated overnight, then rolled it out thinly and pressed it into four tartlette shells which I partially baked. The consistency of the crust was very light and flaky, almost like puff pastry. I layered the two fillings and baked them off for about 35 minutes and I must say I was pleasantly surprised with how they came out. That being said, I did feel the pecan layer really overpowered the pumpkin. Good thing I thought ahead and picked up a can of the old faithful, Libby's Pumpkin so I could make a back-up pie. Change can be good but sometimes you just gotta go with what you know.

November 26, 2008

Unwanted Guests

I thought I was so prepared for my first Thanksgiving cooking adventure. Days of recipe research, shopping done early, knives sharpened- a recipe for success. Waking up yesterday morning full of unbridled cooking energy and...I was stopped in my tracks. Ants! Tons of them, pouring into my pantry!! How is this even possible? I had never seen a single ant in my kitchen for over three years and now?! They were even in the blender for pete's sake! A frantic killing spree ensued and panic set in. I hightailed it to the store for ammo and laid the bait outside to lure them out of my kitchen.

After all the excitement my cooking mojo was a little off so I decided to start with something safe, like Cranberry Tangerine Conserve.

A tangy/sweet combination of fresh cranberries, tangerine and ginger, it was a cinch to make and filled my house with smells of the season. By the time those cranberries started popping, I had put the kibosh on the ant attack, and regain my composure. Now I'm ready to kick off this Thanksgiving. Someone hand me an apron!

Cranberry Tangerine Conserve
from Gourmet Magazine November 2008
2 tight-skinned tangerines
3/4 lb fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tsp grated peeled ginger
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar

Peel off a 4 by 1 inch strip of zest from 1 tangerine and scrape of any white pith. Squeeze 1/3 cup of juice from the tangerines. Bring juice, zest and all other ingredients to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Then simmer uncovered until berries have burst, approx. 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Discard zest before serving if desired.

Note: The original recipe also calls for 1/2 cup of golden raisins, which I omitted because I am a cranberry purist.

November 23, 2008

Back In Black (And White)

Normally the end of a show for me is the beginning some much needed rest and recovery. However this road to my winter hiatus started out very bumpy with a week of being displaced from our house due to termite fumigation. Packing and unpacking my spices is an ordeal in itself, much less the pantry, fridge, medicine cabinets, not to mention every toiletry product known to man! Needless to say, I am thrilled to be back in my home, and back in the kitchen.
And I have some new assitants too.

Meet Chessie and Cleo. We made these great Chocolate Crackle Cookies today.

Ok, I made them but they gave me moral support.
Actually they slept through the whole thing.

These cookies were super easy to make, and I already had all of the ingredients in my pantry. Check out the recipe on Montcarte.

November 18, 2008

Please hold while your party is reached

My life has been on hold for a while. For six months it's been a daily routine of work, wait and worry. Work as in 70 hours a week on a brilliant television series coming to its end. Worry, over the economy, the election, but mostly over my sweet Clyde kitty who was diagnosed with lymphoma back in May. And waiting- for election results, my last day of work, for Clyde to let us know he was ready to move on. This blog, and the baking groups within, have helped keep me sane these last few months- providing distraction from my troubles and inspiration to look towards my future goals of getting serious about cooking.

With the mile markers of a rough summer/early fall fading in the distance, my heart feels a little lighter, my spirit higher, the future brighter. I will miss my sweet kitten, and the community of the Boston Legal set. But I welcome the changes ahead- new recipes to try, jobs to experience, kittens to love, and a president who can pronounce nuclear.

November 9, 2008


Clyde the Cat.
I will miss you.

November 4, 2008

TWD Takes Me Back

I spent a good portion of my formative years at my grandparents house, playing gin rummy and listening to big band music. Now Gia (that's what I call my grandmother) has always had a sweet tooth and while she eschewed mainstream goodies like sugary cereal and Oreos, you were sure to find certain staples in her house at all times- Hershey's kisses (only in the fridge), Stella Doro cookies, Entenmann's pound cake, and rugelach from the Publix Bakery. I grew to prefer these mysterious "grown-up" pastries and I wondered, could this week's recipe measure up to the tastes of my childhood?This recipe seriously blew my away! One bite and I was instantly transported back to my grandparents kitchen table. These cookies were rich, but light and flaky at the same time, and not overly sweet. I made half the batch with the traditional apricot jam layer, then added bittersweet chocolate, almonds and cranberries.

The second batch I traded the jam for Nutella and then sprinkled them with more bittersweet chocolate and almonds.

Simpler times in our life tend to disappear as we get older- simple pleasures overshadowed by worry over jobs, the economy, and the health of our family members. The next time I start to fret I think I'll take a breath, put on some Benny Goodman, and make a batch of rugelach. And then maybe quick someone's butt in gin rummy!