Monday, December 27, 2010

Spiced Cranberry Poached Pears

These are my Holiday secret weapons. The ultimate in versatility. This recipe yields so many options and culinary variations that making them a few days before any holiday is just smart. It yields a cocktail mixer, garnish, a holiday salad component, dressing ingredient and a wonderful desert.

Spiced Cranberry Poached Pears & Syrup

1 gallon of sweetened cranberry juice
5 bosc pears
1 slice of lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of mulling spices (juniper berries, star anise, cloves)

Peel pears with a fruit peeler.
Slice them in half, leaving the stem on if you like (I like).
Core with a melon-baller and a paring knife.
Find a nice cranberry juice or juice blend (one without high fructose corn syrup)
Put the cleaned pears in a large sauce pan and cover with the juice.
Add cinnamon stick, lemon peel, star anise, cloves and juniper berries.
Cook until the pears are tender. Remove the pears and spices and let the sauce reduce by over a half.
Once it is thick, sweet and syrupy (coating the back of the spoon) and your house smells like wonderful, consider the following options...

#1 Warm poached pears with vanilla ice cream and spiced cranberry syrup
(Or let the syrup and pears cool in the fridge for up to four days and make...)
#2 Salad w/baby greens, chilled poached pears, blue cheese & candied walnuts
#3 Cranberry salad dressing (olive oil, cranberry syrup, Dijon mustard, lemon, salt & pepper)
#4 Cranberry/Champagne cocktail (Champagne, cranberry syrup & a lemon peel)
#5 Chilled pears for breakfast. Perfect for a New Years hangover.

I hope you try them and I hope you love them. If you come up with any other awesome uses for these beauties, leave a comment below because I can't get enough of them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thoughts On A Christmas/Birthday

A Note To A Fetus
It's a bad choice to be born on Christmas.
First of all kid, it's pretty rude to interrupt your family's holiday. My mother went in to labor with me around noon on Christmas day. So the story goes, she was cutting the turkey for my father, brother and sister when her water broke. We went straight to the hospital and I was born five hours later. When my mother and I returned from the hospital on the 27th she asked my family for a little bit of left over Christmas dinner, but they had eaten it all. Poor Mom, I've been cooking for her ever since to try to make up for it. She did say however, that I was the best Christmas gift she'd ever gotten.

#2 Being born on Christmas means that very few people come to your birthday party that aren't related to you. My family is pretty cool, but every once and a while you'll get the drunk 3rd cousin who forgets you're related and tries to hit on you. Side note: Your Jewish friends are awesome for whisking you away from said insanity and taking you to a bar.
#3 Being born on Christmas means that you have to celebrate half birthdays or 'one month later' birthdays, which is forced and weird the older we get. Unless people throw them for you which is always nice.

#4 Being born on Christmas means that your birthday presents are under the tree too, and indistinguishable because they are wrapped in Christmas paper and at the end of the day, you really don't know the difference.

#5 Being Born on Christmas means that you always have to celebrate your birthday with Jesus. Which is like having a much more popular, higher achieving brother who gets all the attention. It's especially hard when you know that historians have speculated that his actual date of birth was April 17th, but nobody believes you.
#6 Being born on Christmas means that you will very often get a candle in a pie and birthday/Christmas presents. You don't get double unless you're four.

#7 Being born on Christmas means that you rarely get birthday cards for some reason, although one year I mailed out birthday cards instead of Holiday cards to everyone on my list. That was fun. There are a few exceptions to this however. My Godmothers always come through with these Hallmark Birthday-Christmas cards. Yes they make them specifically for us freaks. My favorite one reads "So, you were born on Christmas, and you know what that means... your parents sure knew how to celebrate St. Patrick's day!"
#8 Being born on Christmas also means that everyone has your birthday off of work (unless they are strippers, cocktail waitresses or fire fighters). So you get a lot of phone calls... probably more than other people. They are long phone calls too because nobody has to get going to make it to a meeting.

Okay fetus, lets review, being born on Christmas means that you get to spend time with your family, that almost everyone has the day off, that your Mom says you were the best Christmas present she ever had, that you learn to share, that people throw you extra parties on days that aren't your birthday, that you get a lot of phone calls, that you'll eat a great meal, that pie is actually fine for candles, that you learn how to be less materialistic (because nobody needs all that stuff anyway), that people who love you and who can show up, do, that your Jewish friends save you from incestuous 3rd cousins and that a little creativity and a little less self pity goes a long way...

...So fetus, I actually may be wrong here. Maybe being born on Christmas is just complicated. Maybe it's about perspective. Maybe it's a lesson of gratitude for what you have. I can remember when I was really little, I genuinely thought that the day after Thanksgiving, everyone was putting up lights and decorations for me. It was very exciting (and understandable when you know that I was first handed to my mother in a red stocking with a baby sized Santa hat). Even after I learned that Christmas was a separate holiday and now as an adult, I still get excited when I see my first blinking light. My birthday has a little magic in it, even if it's not for me. So go ahead I guess, be born on Christmas. And when your aunt gives you an ornament for your birthday, call me. I'll be there for you with a pie and a candle and a lot of Jewish friends.

Coq Au Vin - The Best Thing I Make

Look people, I'm not a trained chef. I don't make French food very often. I don't even claim to say that this is actually an authentic version of the dish because it's not, I don't use bacon and I slice my veggies entirely too big, plus this last time, I used bagged baby carrots. Regardles, this is by far, the best thing I make. This is part of my perfect Christmas meal. Well, this and a poached pear salad with blue cheese, some leafed brussel sprouts with pancetta, roasted new potatoes, a pot of lavender creme brule and a bottle of champagne (but those are other blog posts). This however is the king of my Christmas dinner.

Coq Au Vin
(boy chicken with wine)

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
3 cups of carrots
4 stalks of celery sliced thickly
1 whole chicken cut up (yes a girl chicken is fine)
6 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups Bordeaux wine
3 fresh bay leaves
Lots of fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 lb button mushrooms whole
Salt and pepper to taste

In an enameled cast iron skillet on medium heat, sweat carrots, celery onions and garlic in olive oil with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches add chicken to hot pan skin side down. Brown the chicken well, on all sides, about 10 minutes. It will not be cooked all the way through.

Don't be afraid of the color at the bottom of the pan (within reason) as that is where the flavor of the dish comes from.

Spoon off any excess fat or not. I don't. Add wine and de-glaze the pan by getting that spoon down in there scrapping the brown bits off the bottom. Add the chicken stock and herbs.

Let it come to a strong boil.

Then add back the veggies and chicken. Lower heat to a simmer.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until chicken is tender and cooked through.

Remove chicken and onions to a separate platter. Remove the bay leaves, herb sprigs, garlic, and discard.

Add mushrooms to the remaining liquid and turn the heat to high.

Boil quickly and reduce the liquid by three fourths until it becomes thick and saucy. Mushrooms should be dark by the time it's done. Taste and season with salt and pepper if you still need a little bit.

Lower the heat. Return the chicken and onions to the pan to reheat and coat with the new thickened sauce.

Serve with roasted or gratin potatoes or even egg noodles, the sauce is king in this dish, so any starch that soaks it up ends up tasting like heaven.

Drink the rest of the wine with this dinner. Bacchus with be dining with you since it's his favorite meal too and it's only polite.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greek Turkey Meatballs

Oh the sweet goodness of mint and meat. Is there nothing more Greek? Since, I have just started eating red meat again for the first time in 21 years, I make my meatballs with turkey meat. I know, not lamb, not very Greek of me. But they are still moist and heavily seasoned and if you dip them in garlic-y tzadsiki... Super Greek. These are perfect for Christmas even if you are not Greek at all.

Greek Turkey Meatballs (Keftedes)
1 C diced yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 C chopped fresh mint
1/4 C chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 t dried oregano
1 egg
1/2 C bread crumbs
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 1/4 lbs. ground turkey (get the kind with some fat in it)
Olive oil (lots)

Dice onions

Chop garlic

Chop mint and parsley

Fresh bread crumbs are easy. I just took a stale baguette and put it in my Cuisinart.

One egg for binding.

Combine everything...

...with the turkey.

I know it looks like a lot of onions but the moisture is important when you are using turkey meat.

Roll them with the palms of your hands into golf ball sized bits of wonder.

Heat up a light olive oil (not extra virgin) in a large skillet. You may need to switch out the oil if the pan gets too mucked up. If you mind this, feel free to use vegetable oil as it has a higher burning temp. Turn the meatballs so they cook evenly. Cook them in small batches. Be careful not to over cook these babies.

When the balls are fully cooked though, place them on a paper towel, for a quick second.

They are great as appetizers or entrees.

Kala Kristouyena
(Merry Christmas)

Good Olive Oil

I found this great olive oil at the regular market (Ralphs or Albertsons or something like that). I was pretty surprised at how good it was. I'm a big fat olive oil snob. I can't help it, it's in my blood. This stuff is reasonably priced and has a really fresh, verdant flavor.

Thought I'd share...

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Mom Reviews - "The Woman Behind The New Deal" by Kirstin Downey

Here is another review from my mother, the voracious reader. This one looks amazing.

The Woman Behind The New Deal By Kristin Downey
Reviewed by Penny Davies

When our book group selected, Kirstin Downey's "The Woman Behind the New Deal...The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins," I was less than delighted. The quality paperback was 398 pages long, with pages and pages of bibliography and notes in the back. It appeared to be a gargantuan tome to a woman unknown to most of us. I had a vague idea of the reputation of Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, during FDR 's administration, but I really didn't know that she was also responsible for Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, Minimum Wage, the 40 hour week, etc. etc. This book tells the history of those times, through the life of Ms.Perkins. She was smart, intuitive, and knew how to get her way with FDR. She accomplished things that would be
impossible to legislate today.

It was an historic time between 1929 and 1949. With the depression underway, millions were out of work, and Frances Perkins, the first woman cabinet member, used her smarts to establish the New Deal. She started off as a social worker, married a man who was bipolar and lived in institutions for practically her entire married life. Her only daughter had serious psychological problems too. She had a close relationship with FDR, who she pushed and pulled to get her way. She always dressed in dowdy black in order to make the men in power picture her as "motherly". Because she was a woman, she was badgered, mistrusted, and generally resented by the men in Washington. But that didn't seem to bother her...she attained most of the legislation on her "list", (except for Universal Health Care). She cared about the downtrodden, the poor, the underpaid worker, immigrants, the unemployed, seniors, children... She cared at a time in our history when something tangible could actually be done to improve their lives.

This is an extremely fascinating picture of a determined, intelligent woman whose story is practically unknown. Her private life was a shambles, but she did so much for this country. We owe her for paving the way for subsequent women in government. She was loyal to President Roosevelt and worked with him and Harry Truman for twelve tumultuous years. This is definitely a good read, an excellent biography about an amazing woman. Frances Perkins, a remarkable life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Bride, The Groom... & Fernando The Taco Man

A few weeks ago, The Husband and I threw an engagement party for our good friends Rick and Robin (whose wedding we are officiating in June). This party was so much fun to put together. We gave it a vacation theme because Rick and Robin's initials are R&R and also because, well, they like to party. We live in the front house of a triplex and our neighbors in the back have a huge beautiful yard. With their generosity, in two days, we turned that yard into a vacation-party paradise.

Meet the bride and groom...

This is Fernando the Taco Man. I'm in love with his Tacos. Like crazy in love. We had to feed 35-40 people at our party, so instead of working myself to the bone, I made drinks and cake and Fernando took care of everything else. It was awesome.

He brings his cart and all the ingredients and stays for 4 hours. His tacos are fresh, well seasoned, and delicious. We had, pastor, carne asada, carnitas, chicken, grilled onions, grilled mild peppers, rice, beans, guacamole, chips, two salsas, cilantro chopped onions, radishes and limes wedges. If you are planning a party where you have too feed 30+ people, I absolutely recommend Fernando (his number is (626) 278-6327). He was such a nice man, with such an amazing service. Look at all this yum....

The Husband ate seven tacos that afternoon. Seven. And the best part was that there were plenty of leftovers for dinner that night (and then some).

I made homemade margaritas with fresh squeezed orange juice.

We bought Mexican Cokes made with cane sugar. Yum.

And the Bride's favorite beer.

I made a double batch of The Pioneer Woman's Tres Leches Cake and managed to tier it.

And this Lemon bundt cake is my favorite recipe from the book 'Under The Tuscan Sun' buy Francis Mayes (I'll blog this one soon, it's too good).

Rick has an affinity for beer coozies, so we stole all of his collection and added some of our own for everyone to use. This one was epic.


The whole day was so fun because I didn't have to kill myself in the kitchen and we could still eat like a kings. But best of all, Rick and Robin had a blast and all their friends left happy and full.
We cannot wait for next Summer! These people, know how to party. Love you R&R.