Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cranberry sauce muffins

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What can you do with leftover cranberry sauce? Lots of things, actually, including these delicious morning-after cranberry sauce muffins. They took just about half an hour to make, and my family gobbled them up. My younger son, who admittedly has a bit of a sweet tooth, ate three for breakfast and would have had a fourth if I hadn't intervened. I had to stop him: There's only so much sugar high I can take on a holiday weekend.

The batter for these muffins is as basic as it comes: flour, sugar, eggs, milk, oil. I added wheat germ for a little boost of texture and nutrition, but they'd be fine without, too, if you like your muffins more delicate than hearty.

I used leftover cranberry fig relish, possibly the most delicious cranberry sauce I've ever encountered. But any chunky cranberry sauce will work. Just don't try the canned jellied kind - you definitely want the whole fruit.

Cranberry sauce muffins

    1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    2 tsp baking powder
    3/4 cup milk
    1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil
    1 egg
    1/2 cup wheat germ
    1 cup chunky cranberry sauce

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a measuring cup, mix together the milk, oil and egg. Combine the wet and dry ingredients in the bowl, folding gently just until everything is incorporated. Stir in the wheat germ and cranberry sauce.

Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray and divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake about 25 minutes, until the tops are light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Turn the muffins out of the tin and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spinach balls

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I'm always looking for ways to prepare vegetables that will appeal to kids. My older son likes most vegetables in most forms; I don't worry about him. My younger son, also known as Hot Dog Boy, is harder to please. He likes artichoke soup and zucchini fritters, and he chowed down on the spinach pancakes I made a few months back. You know my theory of feeding vegetables to kids: Mix veggies with cheese and fry them in olive oil, and you raise your odds of success significantly.

I thought these spinach balls might make it onto the "yes please" list. They're not fried, but the mixture has both cheese and melted butter, and they're finger food - who says no to finger food vegetables? Alas, Hot Dog Boy declined. Maybe it was all the other delicious stuff on the counter that day. Or, wait, maybe it was the fact that the grownups didn't leave any for the kids. Oops.

There are lots of recipes online similar to this one. I first saw spinach balls in New York Cookbook: From Pelham Bay to Park Avenue, Firehouses to Four-Star Restaurants by Molly O'Neill. My dear friend Judith gave me that book when I moved from New York to southern California - so I could always have a little taste of home, she said. Of course, when I wanted to make the spinach balls for Thanksgiving, I couldn't put my hands on the book. This recipe is close, though.

Spinach balls make a great holiday side dish (we had them at Thanksgiving) or cocktail nibble. You can shape them ahead, freeze them, and bake them straight from the freezer, adding 10 minutes or so onto the total baking time.

Spinach balls
  • 2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 2 cups small croutons (store-bought or homemade)
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (if I'd been thinking, I would have done this in the food processor)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 tsp Italian herb mix or fines herbes mix
  • freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together. Chill 15 minutes, or until the mixture is firm enough to shape. Roll into 2-inch balls, using 1 heaping tablespoon per ball. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake about 20 minutes, or until the balls are lightly browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Cranberry fig relish recipe

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    Every good cook seems to have a knockout Thanksgiving recipe for fresh cranberry sauce or fresh cranberry relish. This is my new knockout recipe, a cranberry relish with dried figs and pecans. It's not actually my recipe - it comes from the California Fig Advisory Board website. I found the recipe when the California fig folks kindly sent me several large bags of dried figs with which to experiment. I know you'll love it.

    And yes, I know Thanksgiving has come and gone. But there's always Christmas. And next Thanksgiving. Some of us like to be prepared.

    Cranberry fig relish (from the California Fig Advisory Board)
    • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
    • 3/4 cup chopped dried California figs (preferably Mission)
    • 1/2 cup dry red wine
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
    • 1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
    Combine orange juice, figs and wine in medium, non-reactive saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.

    Add granulated sugar, brown sugar and cranberries. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes or until mixture is slightly thickened and berries pop, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly. Stir in pecans. Cover and chill.

    Makes 1 1/2 cups sauce. Of course, I quadrupled the recipe, just to make sure we'd have enough.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Baked goat cheese dip with caramelized onions and California figs

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    Figs, caramelized onions and warm goat cheese = YUM (photos: Trent Lanz)
    Here's why I decided to make this baked goat cheese dip with figs and caramelized onions when fellow food blogger Melissa Lanz (www.wellprepped.com) and her charming family came over for dinner last weekend:
    1. It was chilly and I wanted something warm and cozy.
    2. I'd baked fresh bread and wanted something luscious and creamy to spread on it.
    3. Nothing is more welcoming for guests than the smell of frying onions.
    4. The day before I'd received a package from the California Fig Advisory Board containing 16 POUNDS (yes, you read that right) of delicious dried figs.
    Now I know I've told you about my love affair with fresh figs (and the resulting fig cake with almonds, fig goat cheese pie, and fresh fig salad with feta cheese). Dried figs, however, are another matter. Where fresh figs taste light and barely sweet, dried figs are sticky and chewy, a little gritty from the tiny seeds inside. I hadn't spent a lot of time with dried figs.

    I decided to start with this recipe from the California Figs website. It couldn't be easier: You crumble goat cheese in the bottom of a baking dish, then saute some onions. Add chopped figs plumped in a little sherry and spread the whole mixture over the goat cheese. You pop it into the oven and everything comes together. It's a little messy when you scoop it on slices of bread, but the right kind of messy. The kind that makes you want to lick every little crevice of your hand.

    Keep your antennae up and check back in a day or so, because the California Fig Advisory Board is going to send one lucky reader a heap o' dried California figs too. Giveaway starts soon....

    Yep, those are my chubby fingers holding the bread
    Baked goat cheese with caramelized onions and Mission figs
    (from the California Figs website)
    • 2 pounds goat cheese
    • 14 dried California Mission figs, sliced (1 cup)
    • 1/4 cup dry sherry
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 2 large Spanish onions, thinly sliced
    • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 3 sprigs rosemary
    • 2 tsp salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 baguettes sliced, for dipping
    Preheat oven to 350° F. Crumble goat cheese into an oven-safe dish and set aside.

    In a small pot, combine figs and sherry with enough water to barely cover figs. Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat and let figs plump while onions are cooking.

    Pour olive oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Using a slotted spoon, remove plumped figs from the pot, leaving behind any of the liquid. Add figs to cooked onions, stir to combine and then spoon over goat cheese.

    Place dish into top half of oven for 20 minutes, until edges begin to bubble. Remove and serve immediately with sliced baguettes.

    Note: Thanks to the California Fig Advisory Board for providing the figs used in this recipe.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Persian beef stew with quince (khoreshe behh)

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    Persian beef stew with quince and prunes
    My love affair with quince continues. Sometimes, as a native New Yorker living in southern California, I feel like I've landed in a sort of agricultural Wonka factory, where every time I turn around I'm discovering a new fruit or vegetable that makes me as giddy as a Fizzy Lifting Drink. My first taste of poached quince was a Fizzy Lifting Drink moment. I expected the taste and texture of canned pears, somehow; instead I got pure thick velvet, scented with rose and apricot. It swept me off my feet.

    I polled the crowd on the In Erika's Kitchen Facebook page about quince. Shirin, another home cook in Los Angeles, waxed wistful about her mother's Persian beef stew with quince. I had to have the recipe. Shirin got it from her mom, Haydeh, and with their permission I share it with you.

    I can't find the words to describe just how delicious and unusual this beef stew is. Beef, quince, prunes and turmeric combine to make a rich, aromatic broth. It smells and tastes like a fireplace in winter: warm, thick, a little smoky.

    I made this beef stew in the slow cooker, although it could easily cook on the stove. If you have trouble finding quince, ask the produce manager at a local gourmet grocery - he or she should be able to find you some until the end of the year.

    See the green spot on the spoon? That's me, taking the photo

    Persian beef stew with quince (Khoreshe behh)
    adapted from a recipe by Haydeh Bina Motavasel

    • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
    • 2 onions, finely chopped
    • 2 pounds stew beef cut into smallish cubes (lamb or veal work also)
    • 1/2 tsp turmeric
    • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 quinces, cored and cubed, not peeled
    • handful of prunes
    • 3 Tbsp honey
    Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in batches until it is seared well on all sides, then remove the meat to a plate. Add the onions and cook 6-8 minutes, until the onions are starting to brown nicely. Add the meat and any juices that have accumulated on the plate back to the pot. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, tomato paste, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and enough water to come halfway up the meat mixture. Stir to combine and bring the pot to a simmer.

    While the meat is coming to a simmer, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and saute the quince for a few minutes. You don't want to cook it thoroughly, just to start caramelizing the edges. Add the quince to the stew pot along with the prunes and honey. By this time the stew should be simmering; stir everything to combine, cover the pot, and let it cook a good three hours over very low heat. Check it occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot, and if it looks dry, add some water. Shirin notes that the longer it cooks, the better it will be.

    Serve with white Basmati rice.

    Slow cooker method: After you brown the meat and onions, add them to the slow cooker along with the turmeric, cinnamon, tomato paste, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a cup or two of water. Saute the quince and add those to the slow cooker along with the prunes. Drizzle the honey over all. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours.

    I find quince extraordinarily beautiful

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Jarlsberg bacon puffs

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    Do you ever read a recipe and think "Now. Right now. I must make that RIGHT NOW"? That's what happened when I saw the gruyere cheese mini appetizers on Inside the Kaganoff Kitchen, my dear friend Rachel's ultra-fabulous blog. Perfect little puffs of cheese - that's exactly what I wanted at that exact moment.

    Except I had no gruyere. And no chives. I had Jarlsberg and green onions. And I was also in the mood for bacon. So, as cooks often do, I made Rachel's cheese puffs my way. I know hers were delicious (everything she makes is delicious, and I say that as someone who has eaten at her table many times). Mine were too.

    These are so light and cheesy that they almost taste like gougeres. They're far less trouble. I love the nuttiness of the Jarlsberg, but any similar cheese would work fine.

    Jarlsberg bacon puffs (adapted from Inside the Kaganoff Kitchen)

    • 3/4 cup flour
    • 3/4 tsp baking powder
    • 3/4 cup buttermilk
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
    • 2 green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
    • 1/4 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
    • ground black pepper
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini-muffin tin with cooking spray.

    Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl. In a mixing cup, blend the buttermilk and the egg, then add them to the flour mixture and stir just until blended. Add the grated Jarlsberg, green onions, bacon, and pepper to taste.  Rachel suggests letting the mixture rest 15 minutes, but I was way too impatient for that. Your call.

    Divide the batter among the mini-muffin cups. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

    Note: I received a free sample of Jarlsberg cheese via my participation in the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Hot Dog Boy's favorite artichoke potato soup recipe

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    I have two sons. One is a true gourmet: reads cookbooks for fun, makes specific lunchbox requests, plans menus weeks in advance. The other would eat hot dogs for every meal if allowed.

    So which son counts this artichoke potato soup among his favorite dishes ever? Surprisingly, it's Hot Dog Boy. The first time I made artichoke soup I fully expected him to take his "no thank you bite" and push his bowl away. Instead he powered through his serving and asked for seconds. And thirds.

    Was it the croutons? The lemon? Some biological imperative compelling him to take in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese, all of which artichokes supply? Who knows. Whatever the reason, artichoke soup is a reliable way to get vegetables into Hot Dog Boy. And the rest of the family likes it too.

    When I make artichoke soup, Hot Dog Boy is my "taster tester." After I puree it, we both taste, and he decides how much lemon, salt and pepper to add. He is exacting: "It needs a touch more acid," he is known to say. Hot Dog Boy has quite a refined palate for someone who prefers to exist on processed meat products.

    Don't bother peeling the potato; this isn't one of those refined smooth-as-silk soups. This is a weeknight soup, thick and hearty and healthy. Substitute vegetable stock or even water for the chicken stock and presto!, you've got a vegan soup. And if you don't own a hand-held immersion blender, you can certainly puree the soup in a regular countertop blender, but wow, what a pain in the neck. Spend the $30 and get the stick blender. You won't be sorry.

    Artichoke potato soup
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
    • 3 boxes frozen artichoke hearts (no need to defrost)
    • 1 large or two small Idaho potatoes, unpeeled, roughly chopped
    • 4 cups chicken stock
    • juice of 1 small lemon
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • croutons or fried onions, for garnish
    Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion. Sweat the onion about 5 minutes, until it's translucent; try not to let it brown, but if it does, it's not the end of the world. Add the artichoke hearts, potato and chicken stock, and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup about 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.

    Using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until smooth. Add half the lemon juice, some salt, and a few grinds of pepper, and taste. Adjust the seasonings until you're satisfied. Serve hot, topped with croutons or fried onions.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Persimmon spice muffin recipe

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    Last week we had dinner with Michael's cousin-in-law Julia, who has a big Fuyu persimmon tree in her yard in Orange County. She gave us a bag of hard orange fruit to take home. I discovered the next day that no one in my house likes persimmons. Uh oh.

    I left a bag of persimmons hanging from my front doorknob for Dorothy from Shockingly Delicious; she left a tiny loaf of banana bread in exchange. (I love the barter system.) But I kept back a few to experiment with. And I'm glad I did, because these persimmon spice muffins are really good.

    Fuyu persimmons are most often eaten raw, peeled and sliced like apples. So I pulled out my trusty apple cake recipe and went to work. In addition to cinnamon, I put in nutmeg, ginger and cloves, and I threw in a little wheat germ for good measure. The result: a moist, spicy muffin that smells and tastes like fall.

    Persimmon spice muffins (makes 2 dozen)
    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/4 tsp cloves
    • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil (preferably canola or grapeseed)
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 6 firm Fuyu persimmons
    • 1/2 cup wheat germ
    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 24-cup muffin tin (or two 12-cup tins) with cooking spray, or line them with paper muffin liners.

    Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda and salt into a bowl.

    Put the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla into the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Turn it on and beat the contents until the mixture is lemon-yellow and light, about 4-5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing only until the flour mixture is incorporated.

    Peel the persimmons. For this recipe you want the persimmons in very small pieces; the easiest thing is to cut them into chunks and whizz them in the food processor for a few seconds. If you don't want to get out the food processor, you can grate them by hand, but I think you'll find that frustrating and perhaps dangerous for your knuckles, as the pieces are relatively small to start with. As a last resort, chop finely with a large knife. Add the chopped persimmons and wheat germ to the batter, and stir to incorporate.

    Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins. Bake about 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan, then take the muffins out and finish cooling them on a rack. Serve at room temperature.

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Poached quince

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    Have you ever tasted quince? You might have been served membrillo, a Spanish quince paste, on a fancy-dancy cheese plate in a restaurant. That's quince in its cooked-down meta state, the essence of the fruit, drawn out by nothing more than time and heat. It's a deep rust color and tastes a little like dried apricots, sweet and tangy.

    Fresh quince look like bumpy apples or rounded pears, with yellow skin and creamy white flesh. I thought the season was over but found some at the farmers market this weekend. "Isn't the season for quince done?" I asked the farmer. He smiled: "I made sure they shook the tree to get the very last of them," he said with a wink. They're a delicacy, and the season is short even here in southern California, where, improbably, you can find local rhubarb in November and strawberries in January.

    You can't eat quince raw - well, you can try, but you won't like it. The best way to prepare quince is to peel it and poach the sections in simple syrup. The color of cooked quince is a sneaky surprise. When you peel quince, the flesh is white. But put the sections in a pot with some sugar and water, turn on a low flame, and come back an hour later, and they've turned the color of cantaloupe. Let the poached sections sit in the syrup for a day or two, and they're positively orange.

    I had quince poached with saffron and rosewater a few months ago at Sauce on Hampton, a little gem of a restaurant near the beach in Venice, and it was exotic squared - the creamy texture of the fruit, the musky overtone of the saffron. At home I'm more of a simpleton. I add vanilla and lemon juice, and that's it. You can put the poached quince over yogurt, I suppose, but I like it all by itself.

    Poached quince
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 cup sugar
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • 1/2 vanilla bean
    • 2 pounds fresh quince
    Put the water, sugar and lemon juice in a pot. Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, then add the seeds to the pot. (Save the pods for another use.)

    Carefully cut the quince into quarters, peel the sections, and remove the seeds. I say "carefully" because they are extremely hard, and without a very sharp knife (even with one) you need to exercise caution should you want to keep your hands intact. Cut the peeled fruit into wedges, dropping them into the pot of sugar water as you finish with them. Continue until you have peeled and cut all the quince.

    Bring the pot to a simmer, then turn the heat down as far as it will go and cover the pot. Let the quince simmer about an hour, or until the sections are tender and easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pot from the heat and let cool in the syrup. Refrigerate the fruit and syrup together. You can eat the quince right away, but if you leave it overnight, the color will deepen. Serve alone or over yogurt.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Biscuits with Jarlsberg cheese and bacon

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    I like making biscuits on weekend mornings. We're a savory household for the most part, so I often add cheese and other non-sweet ingredients. Today for breakfast two fourth-graders, one seventh-grader and one dad enjoyed these biscuits with Jarlsberg cheese, bacon and green onions. The Jarlsberg and bacon worked perfectly together, nutty, salty and rich.

    I got my basic biscuit recipe nearly 20 years ago from my friend Ellen, whose mother gave it to her as a wedding present. The recipe has a long, Depression-era history in her family, which explains why it calls for buttermilk and oil rather than butter. I have successfully substituted plain yogurt mixed with milk for the buttermilk, which I never remember to buy. Either way, the biscuits are light and flaky, perfect on their own or as a wrapper for little ham sandwiches.

    I know many cooks will insist that a biscuit recipe without butter is like a chocolate-chip cookie without chocolate. All I can say is: Try it. It really works, and it's a heck of a lot easier. You can always put butter on at the table. In fact, I recommend it.

    Biscuits with Jarlsberg cheese, bacon and green onions
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp baking soda
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 cup shredded Jarlsberg cheese
    • 1/4 cup cooked bacon, crumbled
    • 2 green onions, finely chopped
    • 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
    • 2/3 cup buttermilk OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt (fat-free, lowfat or full-fat) plus 1/4 cup milk, mixed together
    Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

    In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined. Add cheese, bacon and green onions, and toss to coat with the flour mixture.

    Mix the oil and  buttermilk (or yogurt-milk combination) gently in a measuring cup - you don't want them to combine fully, so don't beat them hard. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and bring the dough together with a fork. When the dough comes together, knead it 6-8 times inside the bowl with one hand, turning it over on itself, until the dough is smooth - don't overwork it.

    Pat the dough out into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick on a parchment-lined baking pan. Cut it into into squares and separate them, leaving some space between the biscuits. Bake about 20 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown and smell heavenly. Serve immediately.

    These biscuits are best right out of the oven, but if you have leftovers, reheat them in the oven or toaster oven - never in the microwave, or you'll be in soggy city.

    Note: I received a free sample of Jarlsberg cheese via my participation in the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. I've got a few more Jarlsberg recipes coming up - stay tuned!

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Braised red cabbage recipe, a healthy Thanksgiving side dish

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    There are six reasons I always make braised red cabbage as one of our Thanksgiving side dishes:
    1. It travels well. We often end up driving to northern California to spend Thanksgiving with my husband's side of the family. I don't even bother decanting the cabbage into a container. Instead, I put plastic wrap on top of the pot, put on the lid, and then wrap the entire pot (lid and all) with plastic wrap to make sure the cabbage and its juices stay put. When we get to Thanksgiving dinner, the pot gets unwrapped and put on the stove over a low flame. It's a hassle-free potluck dish.
    2. It's better the second (or third or fourth) day. The cabbage continues to wilt courtesy of the salt and the vinegar, and the sweet-sour flavors really come together when it hangs out in the refrigerator for a day or two.
    3. It's dead simple. Slice, pot, pour, sprinkle, cook, done.
    4. It's purple. The cabbage looks just gorgeous against the beige of the turkey and mashed potatoes, the orange of the sweet potatoes, and the green of the salad.
    5. It's almost diet food. If you make it with Splenda brown sugar blend instead of sugar, it's perfect for diabetics. And the butter at the end is optional. Really. One Thanksgiving I was on Weight Watchers and was terrified of undoing all my hard work with one food-filled weekend. I snacked on this cabbage and my mother-in-law's bean-heavy taco soup, and I lost three pounds. 'Nuff said.  
    6. Cousin George likes it. In general, Hungarians like cabbage. In particular, my husband's mother's cousin George really likes this cabbage dish. Unfortunately, George isn't coming for Thanksgiving this year. But don't worry, George, it will be on the menu when we see each other in December.
    Braised red cabbage
    • 1 head of red cabbage, core removed, sliced thinly
    • 1 large or 2 small red onions, peeled, sliced thinly
    • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar (can substitute Splenda brown sugar blend)
    • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
    • 2 Tbsp butter (optional)
    Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium-low heat and cover. Cook about 1 hour, or until cabbage and onions are wilted and soft. Stir in butter and toss until melted and incorporated. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 5 days and reheat.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    My ultimate chocolate brownie recipe, because chocolate makes everything better

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    It's been a tough week at work. I'm not going into details; let's just say we got some bad news that made everyone in our division pretty glum.

    So I did the only thing I could to spread a little sunshine. I baked brownies. Lots and lots of brownies. I quadrupled my basic recipe and baked them in a half-sheet pan. I took the pan to work and put it in the kitchen. Next to the pan I taped a note: "Chocolate is good for morale."

    Did the brownies help? Probably not much. But it's chocolate. It sure can't hurt.

    P.S. I first wrote about these brownies almost two years ago - click here for the back story on the brownie recipe.

    P.P.S. Sorry there's no photo of the actual brownies. I got back to the kitchen a little too late.

    Best chocolate brownies
    • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I prefer Valrhona)
    • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/8 tsp salt
    • 1/2 cup flour
    • 1/8 cup cocoa powder, the darker the better
    • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 1 tsp almond extract (optional)
    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

    Melt together the chocolate and butter over low heat. Let cool a few minutes. Stir in the sugar, then the eggs, beating well. Add the salt, flour, cocoa powder and extract(s). Pour into a greased 8x8 baking pan and bake 35 minutes, or until the brownies are set and the middle has cracked a little (that's how you know they're done, and not liquid, in the center). Let cool, cut, and dig in.

    Note: If you're multiplying the recipe and baking the brownies in a sheet pan instead, cut the baking time way down - thinner brownies bake faster. Check them after 20 minutes, and definitely don't keep them in longer than 25.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Garlic knots, the ultimate comfort food

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    I had an absolutely crappy day at work today. No need to go into details. We've all had these days. Your shoulders ache from the hunching. Your stomach just plain hurts. And, if you're me, one word keeps running through your head:


    On days like this I know I am my mother's daughter. Whenever I get stressed, I crave white, starchy and salty, just like my mom. Pasta with olive oil and heaps of grated cheese. (Or, better yet, spaghetti with Meyer lemon and goat cheese.) Bread with butter. French fries, preferably smothered in gravy. All the stuff I've been trying to avoid over the past few months in the name of better health and losing weight.

    For years I've been trying to talk myself out of the idea that food equals comfort, reward or celebration. When I need a pick-me-up, I get my nails done. When I deserve a pat on the back, I buy shoes. This is my version of behavior modification, my attempt to break the cycle of overindulgence. When you struggle to maintain a healthy weight, you're always looking for alternative ways to satisfy your cravings.

    Today it had to be pasta. There was no alternative. We went to C&O Cucina, our favorite pasta spot. The pasta was fine - and yes, it did make me feel better - but, much to my surprise, the garlic knots made the biggest dent in my foul mood. Crispy, salty and slick, bathed in olive oil, garlic and oregano. Soft and white and warm on the inside. They're small enough that you don't start feeling the guilt until your third or fourth. We always bring home leftovers from C&O; between the garlic knots and the fine Caesar salad, we're full by the time our bowls of pasta arrive.

    Inspired by the garlic knots at C&O, I created my own recipe several years ago. You tie strips of pizza dough into knots, bake them, then drown them in a nectar of butter, olive oil, chopped garlic and grated cheese. Finish with a shower of chopped fresh parsley, set the bowl on the table, and watch them disappear. Wait for a night when everyone's crabby. Garlic knots, I assure you, will make you all feel better.

    Garlic knots
    • 1 lb pizza dough (buy ready-made if you can find it, or make your own - I like this pizza dough recipe from Alton Brown)
    • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 stick butter
    • 1/2 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
    • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

    Roll out the pizza dough into a rough rectangle, then cut the dough into strips, about 1x4 inches. Tie each strip in a knot and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about half an hour, until they look a little puffed up.

    Bake the knots until they start to brown, about 15 minutes. Don't overbake them - you're not going for crunchy. You want them soft.

    While the knots are in the oven, heat the garlic, oil and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer about 5 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown.

    When the knots come out of the oven, tip them into a bowl.  Pour the garlic mixture, grated cheese and parsley over the knots and toss. Serve immediately.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Wordless Wednesday: Fish tacos

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    Wild Alaskan salmon and halibut tacos by Chef Mary Sue Milliken, Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, November 2010

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Photos: Dinner at Catch, Santa Monica

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    Last week, on our 14th wedding anniversary, Michael and I were treated to a lovely dinner at Catch, the restaurant in the Casa del Mar hotel in Santa Monica. Chef Jason Bowlin took over the kitchen in mid-October and has already made his mark on the menu. We left the choices up to the chef and had a wonderful meal.

    I don't feel qualified to write restaurant reviews, so I will let the menu and the photos speak for themselves.

    Curried cauliflower soup with mussels and parsnip shreds

    Griddled Mission figs, burrata and arugula salad with rosemary honey, walnut oil and pink peppercorns

    Fried Castelvetrano olives with lemon aioli

    Scallop with duck prosciutto, chanterelles and leek fondue

    Braised short rib in red wine sauce with roasted root vegetables

    Striped bass with olives, fennel, sunchokes, fingerling potatoes and roasted tomatoes
    Chef Jason has promised me the recipe for the leek fondue, which he served under the scallops, so look for that in the next few weeks. I'm adding it to my menu for Thanksgiving.

    In case I didn't make it clear up front: This meal was provided at no charge by Catch. Yes, they knew I was likely to write about it. Yes, they knew it was our anniversary. And yes, we enjoyed it tremendously. Thank you, Chef Jason.

    ** ED8RNZT7C9N8 **

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Pumpkin rice pudding recipe

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    Here's a little quiz, pumpkin lovers: What tastes like pumpkin pie, smells like pumpkin pie, contains Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin, but has no crust and is gluten-free?

    I might have given it away with that first photo. Oh, and the title of the post. Oh well. The cat's out of the can.

    When I was invited to participate in this Nestlé Kitchens Deconstructed Pumpkin Pie event by KitchenPlay, it took me about 10 seconds to decide what I was making. I love pumpkin pie just as much as the next girl, but rice pudding is my passion. Pumpkin pie rice pudding, creamy, smooth and spicy - doesn't that sound like a great alternative to the classic pumpkin pie? And the basic recipe is gluten-free to boot!

    Libby Pumpkin Case of 12 CansI always use medium-grain white rice for rice pudding. You can make rice pudding in the oven, but I prefer cooking it on the stovetop. It cooks over a very low flame for about an hour and requires only occasional stirring, and the end result is melt-in-your-mouth creamy. This pumpkin rice pudding is cooked with Carnation evaporated milk (another Nestlé product) and Libby's canned 100% pure pumpkin puree, so the pumpkin flavor gets absorbed into the rice as it's simmering. Adding traditional pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice really makes it taste like pumpkin pie - and as a side benefit, your house will smell terrific.

    A dash of liqueur stirred in at the end gives the rice pudding a little kick. I topped my pumpkin pie rice pudding with crumbled cinnamon graham crackers, but for a fully gluten-free version, serve it plain, topped with whipped cream, or sprinkled with chopped roasted pecans.

    Pumpkin pie rice pudding 
    • 1 cup uncooked medium-grain white rice
    • 1 12-ounce can Carnation evaporated milk (whole, lowfat or fat-free)
    • 4 cups milk
    • 1 cup dark brown sugar
    • 1 15-ounce can (1 3/4 cups) Libby 100% pure pumpkin
    • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
    • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp allspice
    • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1/4 cup triple sec, armagnac or brandy
    • Garnish (optional): crumbled cinnamon graham crackers, whipped cream, or chopped roasted pecans (or any combination thereof)
    Combine the rice, milks, sugar, pumpkin, spices, vanilla, and salt in a heavy bottom saucepan. Bring the rice mixture just to a simmer; watch it carefully, because it will boil over given half a chance (and trust me, you do not want to clean that pot). Turn the heat down to low and stir the rice mixture well. Cover the pan most of the way and simmer the rice pudding gently for about an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

    When the rice is tender, remove the pot from the stove and stir in the liqueur. Cover the pan and let the rice pudding cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Garnish as desired. It's best served slightly warm or at room temperature.

    Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Nestlé Kitchens. I was paid for my work developing and photographing this recipe as part of the KitchenPlay SideCar event.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Yucatecan pork tacos (slow cooker recipe)

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    In 1988, less than a month after graduating from college, I moved to New York to seek my fame and fortune. I worked for a large magazine publisher as an editorial assistant, which translates loosely as "slave." Remember the movie The Devil Wears Prada? All my friends thought it was funny. I cried through the whole thing.

    To be fair, the editors and writers I supported were nice to me, all things considered. But I definitely paid my dues. I worked at a travel magazine, and well-known freelance writers would routinely dump on my desk shopping bags full of crumpled receipts in multiple languages and currencies. It was my job to decipher them, fill out expense reports, and make sure they were paid as soon as possible. Note that this was before the Internet was available to help with things like historical exchange rates and translations to and from obscure languages. To this day I get hives every time I look at a receipt, and my own expense reports pile up for months.

    I lived by myself in Manhattan, but Ellen, one of my college roommates, lived in then-barely-gentrified Park Slope with two other friends from school. I often had to stay late at work and eat takeout, but they took turns cooking dinner for each other, a routine I envied. One of the recipes Ellen made for her roommates was Yucatecan chicken, marinated in a mixture of citrus juices, cumin and chiles. The recipe card I pulled out of my box this morning says to grill the chicken, but she must have broiled it, because I don't remember anyone having any outside space to grill. Ellen, if you're reading this, please correct me if I'm wrong.

    I thought of Ellen's Yucatecan chicken this morning as I looked at the hunk of frozen pork shoulder I wanted to make for dinner. I put it in the slow cooker, frozen solid, with all the flavors I remembered from my youth: lime and orange juice, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano. Eight hours on low while I was at work, and I came home to fork-tender pork, which I shredded, mixed with the juice in the cooker, and served with fresh corn tortillas and a creamy avocado dressing. Not quite the same as Ellen's chicken, but it hit all the right notes.

    If you can find Tortillaland's fresh uncooked corn tortillas, do give them a try. We live on the flour version - it's my kids' favorite for quesadillas - but I think the corn tortillas are even better. Thirty seconds on each side in a hot, dry nonstick skillet and you'd swear you had your own mamacita in the kitchen. They're available in many Costco stores, although not my local one, so thanks to Tortillaland for the free samples they sent me to make this dish. You can search for local Tortillaland retailers here.

    Yucatecan pork tacos
    • 3 lbs pork shoulder or butt
    • 2 medium onions, diced
    • juice of 4 big limes
    • 1/2 cup orange juice
    • 1 Tbsp chili powder
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 Tbsp garlic salt
    • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
    • 2 ripe avocados
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • 1 bunch cilantro
    • salt to taste
    • warm corn tortillas, for serving (allow 2-3 per person)
    In a large slow cooker, put the pork, onions, lime and orange juice, chili powder, cumin, garlic salt and oregano. Cook on low for eight hours. Shred the meat with a fork, discarding any large pieces of fat. Keep the pork warm in the slow cooker until you're ready to serve.

    Put the avocado flesh, lemon juice, cilantro (the whole bunch, including most of the stems), and 1/2 tsp salt in a blender or food processor. Process until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

    To serve, use a slotted spoon to put about 1/4 cup of shredded pork on each tortilla. Drizzle with the avocado dressing. The pork juices will run down your arm no matter what you do, so protect your clothing.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Truffled deviled eggs for National Deviled Egg Day

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    November 2 is National Deviled Egg Day, and while normally I feel free to ignore all these silly food holidays, I do have a soft spot in my heart for eggs. And so, for National Deviled Egg Day, which by the way is also my wedding anniversary, I share with you my favorite deviled egg recipe. With truffles, of course. Happy National Deviled Egg Day to all my readers, and happy anniversary to my lovely, egg-loving husband Michael.

    Truffled deviled eggs
    • 8 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
    • 1 Tbsp white or black truffle oil
    • 1/4 tsp plus a little pinch of truffle salt
    • 1/4 tsp pepper
    • 2 Tbsp creme fraiche or mayonnaise, or more to achieve smooth texture
    Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and put them into a mini-chopper or food processor with the remaining ingredients. Process until smooth, adjusting the seasoning and the amount of mayonnaise. You should end up with a smooth, light yolk mixture.

    Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture into the whites. Sprinkle with a tiny, tiny amount more truffle salt. Serve chilled.