The Cook's Tour: December 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's Day Hoppin' John

I know what you're thinking:  it's only the day after Christmas and you've already started thinking about New Year's Day?!  Well, yes, I'm afraid so (I'm not one of those day after Christmas sale shoppers so my "day after" scenario revolves around the next food event). But I don't have to think too hard because in the last 10 or so years I have never skipped a New Year's Day without making Hoppin' John.  This is a traditional dish that is eaten widely in the South on New Year's Day as a way of ensuring good luck in the coming year  (who can argue with that?).  And since, most likely, you don't have all of these ingredients sitting in your pantry, I wanted to give you some advance notice so you could gather up the necessary items.  Every year when I make this, I think "this is so good, why do I only make it on New Year's day?"  Habit I guess.  It is a really nice, hearty, a little bit spicy, warming dish.  

There are alot of Hoppin' John recipes out there (and I've tried many), but this one comes from "Hot Links and Country Flavors" by Bruce Aidells (the sausage king) and Denis Kelly.  The other nice thing about serving Hoppin' John (besides the good luck thing) is that you can make it the day before and just re-heat the next day.  This is an important consideration since who knows what kind of shape you'll be in on New Year's Day. Enjoy and all the best to you and yours in 2009!

Black-Eyed Peas with Andouille Sausage and Rice

2 C dried black-eyed peas or 4 C fresh or frozen
1-1/2 LBs andouille sausage or other good quality smoked sausage
1/4 LB chunk of country or smoked ham
6 C chicken stock or water
1 TB bacon grease or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 TB minced garlic
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1-1/2 t dried
2 bay leaves
1 or 2 dried chili peppers or 1 t red pepper flakes
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t pickling spice
salt to taste
4 C cooked rice
chopped green onions, Tabasco sauce, and cider vinegar for serving

1. If using dried peas, rinse and soak overnight in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain, and place in a 6-8 qt pot with a 1/2 LB piece of the andouille, the ham, and the stock. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. (If using fresh or frozen peas, boil the stock first, then add peas, the 1/2 LB piece of andouille, and the ham. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer).

2. Heat the bacon grease or oil in a heavy skillet, add the onion and celery and cook until soft. Add to the peas with the garlic and remaining seasonings. Simmer dried peas for 2 to 2-1/2 hours; fresh or frozen for about 30-45 minutes. In both cases, the peas should be tender and the liquid should begin to thicken.

3. Slice remaining sausage into 1/2 inch rounds. Fry briefly in a nonstick skillet and add to the peas. Remove the whole piece of sausage and the ham and chop roughly; return to the pot. Cook for another 15 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and pepper pods.

4. To serve, ladle pea mixture over rice and sprinkle with green onions, Tabasco, and vinegar to taste.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

You might also want to check out fellow food blogger, Smitten Kitchen, for a terrific gingerbread recipe which would be a very nice dessert for your New Year's Day lunch/dinner.  This recipe is adapted from Claudia Fleming (former Gramercy Park pastry chef) and tastes even better on day two or three (following the all-important make-ahead rule) www.smittenkitchen.com.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps


Those of you following the news know that the East coast had its first major snowstorm of the season yesterday.  Here in my part of New Jersey, we received about 6 inches of snow, followed closely by some nice sleet (which made for a very pleasant shoveling experience this morning).  

Snow days are great because they give you liberty to do things you might normally feel guilty about spending time doing.  So here I sit at the Mac, writing to you, looking out at the snowcapped mountain range in the distance, patchouli candle scenting my office, iTunes cranking (currently the new Bruce Springsteen song "The Wrestler" is playing - BTW, incredible song). And a fresh batch of cookies just out of the oven...

Being somewhat snowbound always makes me think about baking (no surprises here), and the other day I found a recipe from Martha Stewart that sounded good - Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps. I thought this would jive pretty well with the newly arrived snow so I set off to make these this afternoon.  I doubled the recipe because the standard recipe only made 18 which seemed way too small for a holiday baking session. These are really easy to make (which is one of my prime considerations for baking), delicious, and winter-y looking.  And there's no dough rolling here, another bonus. You just scoop up about a teaspoon's worth (a real teaspoon from your flatware, not a measuring teaspoon) of dough, roll it into about a 1 inch ball, fluff it around in confectioner's sugar, drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, and into the oven they go.  Tip for you: wear disposable plastic gloves when rolling up the dough - it gets a little messy.  Shawn Colvin playing now just in case you were wondering.  These little cookies are more fudgy and less espresso-ish than I expected, but I like them.  The recipe is below.  Let me know how you like them.

I want to leave you with a quote I read today from the November 2008 issue of Conde Nast Traveler.  One of the books in their article on the best books about fictional destinations is "The Epic of Gilgamesh." Truth be told, I had not heard of this. Written in 2500 BC (you read that correctly), this is the world's oldest epic poem about a great king who was inconsolable over a friend's death and goes off in search of "immortality and a way to keep loss at bay." The king gets a tip from a barmaid, "good advice for any traveler: "fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice." Good advice I think for this time of year, and all year round.

And now, herewith the recipe (Duffy's "Mercy" blaring now):

Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps (makes 18)

These cookies look like little snow-covered mountains. They will keep for up to a week stored in an airtight container at room temp. Roll each ball in confectioner's sugar twice to make sure it's thoroughly coated and no dark dough is visible.

1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C unsweetened cocoa powder
4 t instant espresso powder
1 t baking powder
1/8 t salt
4 TB unsalted butter
2/3 C packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
4 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (I used Scharffenberger)
1 TB milk
Confectioner's sugar for coating

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, espresso, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg until well combined; mix in cooled chocolate. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat in milk until just combined. Flatten dough into a disk; wrap in plastic. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Pour confectioner's sugar (about 1/2 cup) into a medium bowl; working in batches, roll balls in sugar two times, letting them sit in sugar between coatings.

Place on prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies have spread and coating is cracked, 12-14 minutes; cookies will be soft to the touch. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Signing off with Bruce Hornsby's "Walk in the Sun."


Monday, December 15, 2008

We Can't Let This Bank Fail!

Friends,

Back in October I participated in the Novartis (my day job) Community Partnership Day where we spent a half-day at the Community Food Bank of NJ.  We sorted and packed food as part of their distribution network.  We were given a tour of the facility and met with some of their dedicated workers.  It is an incredible effort.  Believe it or not, there are still thousands of people in NJ who go hungry every day. Bruce Springsteen is heading a campaign to bring awareness and donations to this sad situation.  It's called "We Can't Let This Bank Fail." Today, December 15, over 100 NJ food bloggers are blogging ("Blogging Out Hunger") to bring attention to this plight.

Please watch this short video on the NJ Food Bank and please give generously if you can. Thank you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Biscotti



Hi, there.

The Chocolate Chip Walnut Espresso Biscotti turned out great. Now that I think about it, both items I baked yesterday came from Williams-Sonoma recipes (see early Saturday morning post about scones).  This biscotti recipe comes from an older W-S cookbook called "Cookies & Biscotti," part of the Time-Life series published back in the early nineties.  These biscotti are so good - they have all the essential qualities of a good biscotti - nuts, cinnamon, espresso, a nice texture, a good crunch, oh, and chocolate.  Some of you probably think chocolate would be the first ingredient I mention, but no.  I am not one of those self-proclaimed chocolaholics. I like chocolate just fine but if I have a piece of good quality dark chocolate once every six months, that's alot.  Give me cinnamon, give me nuts of any kind, give me cardamom, give me a nice coffee cake and I am just the happiest woman around.  And why I think I like these biscotti so much is that the chocolate is sort of an add-on flavor, not the major player.

Well, I must run now, but I've left the biscotti recipe here for you to try - let me know what you think.  They really are delightful.  And I think that even if you are chocolate-crazed, you will find these biscotti hit just the right note.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Espresso Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking powder
1 t ground cinnamon
1/8 t salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar (I used dark)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T instant espresso powder
2 eggs
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used mini chips)

Preheat oven to 325.  Butter two baking sheets.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl; set aside.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and espresso powder in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add the walnuts and chocolate chips and mix in. Add the flour mixture and mix just until incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a prepared baking sheet. Using lightly floured hands, form each half into a log 3 inches wide and 3/4 inch high. If you like, you can sprinkle some cinnamon-sugar over the logs just before baking - not necessary, the cookies are great with or without the sprinkle.

Bake until firm to the touch, about 25-30 minutes (logs will spread during baking). Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Leave the oven set at 325.

Using a spatula carefully transfer the logs to a work surface. Using a serrated knife cut on the diagonal into slices 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheets and bake until the bottoms are brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn the slices over. Bake until the bottoms are brown, about 10 minutes longer. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container at room temp for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 3 dozen.


Baking Again!

Greetings, Culinary Blog Readers.

It seems like I am going to be doing alot of baking today.  We are having dinner at a friend's home this evening and even though our hostess very graciously said not to bring a thing, I really can't do that (it's in my genes). But I don't want to usurp whatever dessert she is planning so I am going to make these wonderful biscotti I made a few weeks ago.  Last night, after some half-way decent Chinese food, I went to Home Goods and found a very pretty little glass storage container that will hold the biscotti perfectly. This way, she can either serve the biscotti as a side to her dessert or just keep them for another time. More on the biscotti later.  

This morning I decided to whip a batch of scones for breakfast.  My friend Katie, a similarly food-obsessed person, gave me a jar of Pear-Peach Jam and what better to go with jam than warm-from-the-oven scones.  Hmmmmmm.  It seems Katie has developed quite the jam habit, thanks to "The Jam Man" from the Ridgewood Farmer's Market. Katie was nice enough to share some of her just scored jam with me and I needed something special to sample it with.  I began thinking about this when she bestowed the precious bottle on me earlier in the week.  So this morning when I woke up at 6am (no rest for baking fanatics) I began scouring my files and the Internet for the perfect scone recipe.  I'm sure you know that really good scones contain either buttermilk or cream - I had neither in the house.  Now you can "make" buttermilk by taking regular whole milk and adding a little bit of lemon juice to it but I really don't think it's the same (just MHO).  So this made my scone search a little more time consuming.  All the recipes in my files and the listings on Epicurious.com and FoodTV.com called for one of these two ingredients.  All of a sudden, I remembered that when I worked at Williams-Sonoma many years ago, we would whip up scones frequently when we wanted to demo a new jam or baking pan; and we would almost never have buttermilk or cream in the store refrigerator.  Lo and behold, the W-S web site had one recipe for scones that did not include either item.  That was it!  Let me tell you - there is almost nothing better than coffee and right out of the oven scones on a Saturday morning (faithful readers know this IS my favorite day).

Allora ("so" in Italian), I'm off to do a few errands and when I come back I'll be baking Chocolate Chip Walnut Espresso Biscotti.  See you later.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Chicken Savoy






We had a fabulous meal last night.  The chicken savoy was de-lic-ious! And the crispy potatoes, and the broccoli rabe, and the Calandra's bread...not to mention the beautiful red velvet cupcakes my friend, Noreen, brought; and finally, the previously-posted cranberry vanilla coffeecake (this might just be my new favorite cake).  The cran-van cake was so good I had a piece again this morning with coffee. 

Noreen has been kind of obsessed (but in a good way) with red velvet cupcakes lately. Trying them out for an upcoming dinner party (see photo of cupcakes on really cool cupcake stand).  The group consensus on the 'cakes was that the actual cake texture was really nice - a very light crumb, and the 7-minute frosting was good, too, but as a whole, red velvet was just OK. What is all the fuss about red velvet cake?  Does anybody know?  I see recipes for red velvet cake everywhere (almost as much as I see cupcakes everywhere - the hot, new bakery trend).  If you know, please let the rest of us in on the secret.

Anyway, on to the chicken (photo above of finished product is all that was left from almost two whole chickens for four people!).  Last night after I posted about the pending dinner, I had two e-mail requests for the recipe. So, here it is.  Please keep in mind that this is an adaptation of the original; as such, we don't have exact quantities here.  You sort of need to "wing" it...

Chicken Savoy

1 whole chicken, cut-up
1 bulb garlic
olive oil
salt, pepper, oregano
grated Parmesan cheese
red wine vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees.  In a large enamel or stainless steel pan, place cut-up chicken parts, skin side up.

In a mini-food prep, grind up the garlic to a fine mince.  Place in small bowl.  To this bowl, add olive oil until you have a 50/50 ratio between garlic & olive oil.  Spoon the garlic mixture over chicken (chicken should be very wet with the garlic mixture - see photo).  Add salt, pepper, and ALOT of oregano on top of garlic mixture.  Coat chicken with grated cheese (the chicken should be almost totally white when you are done - see photo).

Bake in oven for about 1 hour until chicken is very dark brown.  Remove pan from oven and carefully drain out about half the oil.  Place pan on stove top, cook two minutes.  Pour some red wine vinegar in, boil, reduce.  Done!  Serve with either crispy potatoes or some nice orzo, maybe some sauteed spinach, and definitely good, crusty Italian bread.

I served a wonderful Pinot Noir that I must tell you about.  It was Block 906 - a 2007 Pinot from Santa Lucia Highlands Vineyard.  This vineyard is in the Monterray Bay area of California.  The wine was terrific - red berry and floral notes with an elegant finish. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saturday Dinner with Friends


Ahhhh, do you hear that?  It's the sound of a quiet Saturday.  I love Saturdays - to quote a NY Times ad, "the word alone makes me happy."  I actually love Friday nights more - that prospective feeling of two whole days away from the usual weekday grind.

The day started out great with this wonderful new coffee from Counter Culture in Annapolis.  It's called Magnolia Blend, because this is the coffee served at the award-winning Magnolia Grill in Durham, NC (I knew there was a restaurant in Durham I wanted to add to "my list" - see recent post).  On weekends, we make coffee in our French Press - what a difference.
 
We are having dinner with some friends tonight and we are making Stretch's Chicken. For those of you not from NJ, Stretch's is a very well known Italian restaurant in northern NJ.  They make a dish called Chicken Savoy, served with fabulous crispy, thin potatoes (not unlike those great potatoes you get at Portuguese restaurants).  Through a friend of a friend, we obtained the original recipe for Chicken Savoy and although it takes a long time to cook and makes a mess of your oven, it's worth it. So, tonight's menu is as follows:
  • Pre-dinner: Comte (a wonderful French cheese actually purchased at Costco) and Spanish Marcona Almonds (also a Costco item) - I was so excited when I saw these at Costco last week because these are the same wonderful almonds we had in Europe this past summer
  • Stretch's Chicken with crispy, thin potatoes
  • Sauteed Broccoli Rabe
  • Crusty Italian Bread
  • Pinot Noir
  • For dessert: Cranberry Vanilla Coffeecake (from the December issue of Gourmet, photo above, recipe below)
I hope you are having an "ahhhh" kind of day. 

Cranberry Vanilla Coffeecake - this was very easy to make and the aroma of the vanilla sugar was deluxe.

  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 oz)
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • GARNISH:

     
    confectioners sugar
  • Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.
  • Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a food processor with tip of a paring knife (reserve pod for another use if desired). Add sugar and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Pulse cranberries with 1/2 cup vanilla sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).
  • Whisk together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup vanilla sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down side and bottom of bowl. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, until just combined.
  • Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Top with remaining batter and smooth top.
  • Blend remaining 1/4 cup vanilla sugar with remaining Tbsp each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.
  • Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.
COOKS’ NOTE: Coffeecake can be made 1 day ahead and kept, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.

Echo