Friday, December 28, 2012

Apple Toddy

Chris made these for Thanksgiving and I forgot to share them.  They were the best hot drink I've ever had!  I drank two! 

Recipe makes 8.

2 cups Apple Brandy (Calvados)
2 oz simple syrup
2 oz honey
2 TB lemon juice
4 cups water
4 baked tart apples

Heat everything but apples on the stovetop or in a crockpot, taste and adjust liquid ingredients to your liking. 

Bake apples, halved but not peeled, in a 350 oven till soft (about 1/2 an hour).  Remove peels and set aside the soft mush the apples have become.

Muddle apple mush with liquid, strain, and drink. 


Monday, December 24, 2012

Assaulted Moose

.....That is, "A Salted Mousse," or what we call it when Sarah makes the mousse slightly too salty.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


Anyway, here is a laughably easy mousse.  I learnt it by having the good sense to take a cooking class from Theya of "What the Hell Do I Cook!?!?"  If you live in Denver, I advise you to do the same .

4 Eggs (these will be eaten raw but my food-scientist father-in-law says that's usually fine these days)
1 4-oz bar of 70% or darker chocolate (best you can get yr paws on)
pinch salt
splash of coffee if you want

Melt the chocolate bar in a double broiler - if need be you can set one up by putting some water in the bottom of a small saucepan and fitting a bowl/corningware/whatever on top of the saucepan, with the chocolate in it.

Separate the eggs.  Beat the whites with a pinch (not too big or you'll have to make TERRIBLE PUNS to save face!) of salt until they form stiff peaks.  Stir up the yolks and remove any weird bits.

When the chocolate is melted, add coffee and/or any spices you want, let it cool just a bit, and drizzle it SLOWLY into the yolks, stirring all the while - not too fast or you'll cook 'em!

Fold the whites, 1/3 at a time, into the chocolate, as gently as you can.

Divide into 4 ramekins or bowls or whatever, chill, top with whipped cream, and eat.

Asparagus Parmesan Tart with Garlic Olive Oil and Balsamic Reduction

So I graduated, am working my first "real" job and am spending my year navigating the pitfalls and advantages that come with being an adult.  And suddenly it's December, and I recently had my first work Christmas potluck.  I wanted to make something that demonstrated (mostly for me) how very grownup and together I am.

see, there's a green vegetable that i am going to promptly coat with that big pile of cheese, some oil and lots of buttery bread.  how very adult of me.

You see, as a postgrad, it's the small things that make you feel either incredibly accomplished or like you should just lock yourself inside and never try to do anything remotely responsible ever again. It's like this comic, which has become a sort of anthem for my friends and I in this stage of life due to its stunning (and terrifying) accuracy. One day you are decorating your entire house for Christmas and making cider for your book club that you actually read the book for, and the next day you are running late and there's a pile of dishes in the sink and you end up eating mac n' cheese straight out of the pan.  And your emotions run a similar roller coaster to your functionality.


And so I knew that if I were able to create something mouthwateringly delicious and semi creative, than I would have a responsible high to cruise on for weeks.  Potlucks are tricky, because the food has to be transportable and you also have to predict what others will bring.  I know we are all stunned that I didn't bring a pie, especially with so many options in my arsenal.  But it's the holiday season, and I knew at least half the spread would be sweets, so savory it was.

I discover this tart from my aforementioned favorite blogger, Joy The Baker.  Here's her version.   The minute I saw it I knew it would perfectly suit my needs for something fancy yet entirely doable and affordable.  Here's my version, which is mostly modified due to cost and availability of ingredients.

parmesan instead of gruyere, crescent roll dough instead of puff pastry

2 cans of crescent roll dough
1 lb of asparagus
1 egg, beaten
about 2 cups of grated Parmesan
A few tablespoons of olive oil
Some garlic
1 bottle of balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Roll each can of crescent roll dough onto one cookie sheet. Smooth over perforations in dough, creating full sheets of dough.  At this point you can optionally cut the dough into smaller rectangles if you want individualized tarts.  Brush dough with beaten egg. Layer parmesan cheese on top, press asparagus on top in a row. Simmer olive oil with garlic to infuse.  Brush on top of asparagus generously (it will soak into the dough and take it to a whole 'nother level).  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until dough is golden.

Simmer balsamic vinegar in a small pan until reduced to a thick syrup.  Drizzle artistically on top of tart.  Admire, serve and receive compliments while eating.

**We are currently baking a version of this for Christmas Eve dinner, with puff pastry as Joy calls for and thinly sliced apricots snuggled between the asparagus.  Get creative, too!**

This is the recipe for the next time you need a large dose of affirmation in your life perfect dish for a party, holiday or otherwise.  It comes together easy and quick, stands out in a lineup and is also incredibly aesthetically pleasing.  Enjoy!

Italian Amaretto Cookies and Bourbon Hot Toddies

This year, I didn't make any big baking plans for Christmas. My favorite kind of baking is the kind I get to do with little sister A. Sadly for me, she is home in Wyoming with the rest of the family and I am doing the very adult thing of staying behind in too-warm Arizona to celebrate with my in-laws.

But, even though I made no plans and am missing my favorite sous chef, I knew it wouldn't feel like the holidays unless I baked something. Yesterday I offered, then, to bring dessert over to a friend's house. Now, normally this would not stress me out but said friend is notoriously uninterested in dessert. After hours searching the web, I decided to go with the light, sophisticated Italian amaretto cookies to serve with an after-dinner hot toddy.

The result was delightful. I very slightly adapted a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, found here and after reading several hot toddy recipes online settled on the path below.

For the Cookies
1 1/4 cup almond meal*
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup white sugar

These have a beautiful flavor and are a nice light ending to any large holiday dinner. They would also be delicious with an afternoon cappuccino or a hot cup of black tea.

Preheat your oven to 325 F. Mix the almond meal and the powdered sugar and set aside. Using an electric mixer, whip your egg whites with the almond extract and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. (At this stage egg whites should be white, glossy, and fairly stiff but still falling over a bit rather than standing straight up.) Add in the 1/2 cup of white sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff peaks form. If egg whites lose their glossiness you have beaten them too much and should start over.

Fold in the almond meal and powdered sugar mixture. Scoop cookies onto an oiled cookie sheet, parchment paper, or a silpat (I prefer the silpat). They should not spread much but make sure to give them a little space. The BHG recipe said to scoop them out with a 1-inch diameter, but I found they held up well up to a 2-inch diameter and we preferred the large ones. Bake for 15-17 minutes, let cool, and enjoy.

*I used Trader Joe's almond meal but you can make your own using a food processor. Try grinding with a bit of gluten-free flour to avoid turning the meal into a paste.

For the Hot Toddies

According to my five minutes of googling, hot toddies can be made with hot tea or with just hot water, with cloves and star anise or with just lemon, with honey or sugar or both, and with whiskey or brandy or bourbon or even gin. We went with black tea, lemon, brown sugar and honey, and bourbon and didn't regret that for a second.

I made these one at a time so the recipe below will serve just one person. Alton Brown has a crockpot recipe to serve a crowd if you need to do that.

Black tea
Brown Sugar

Heat 8oz of hot water until boiling; add black tea and let steep. Coat the bottom of another mug with honey and add 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 1oz of bourbon. Pour the tea over the honey/bourbon/sugar mixture and stir. Squeeze in the juice from 1 wedge of lemon and enjoy.

Considerations for Food Allergies and Ethics
The Italian amaretti cookies are gluten-free and vegetarian but not vegan and not safe for those with nut allergies.

I consider the hot toddies gluten free. My research indicates it is safe for people with celiac disease to drink alcohol distilled from grains with gluten because the gluten protein is removed during distillation. Others disagree. I get very sick from small amounts of gluten and have never had a problem with bourbon, whiskey, or vodka distilled from gluten-containing grains, but you should make your own decision in consultation with your doctor. If you want an alternative, consider the more adventurous hot gin toddy.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie(s)

Sarah's husband Chris is spending his first Christmas in our home, and on the drive here he asked her what sorts of holiday traditions we have together.  Sarah's answer was mostly "Well, we cook, and then we eat, and then we make dessert and then....oh we go on a Christmas Eve ride in our jammies to see the lights!  But mostly we cook."

This is a fairly accurate picture of our holiday celebrations at our Mom's (and our Dad's!), and we love every minute.  For our family, food encompasses what we think is most important about the holidays.  We spend time together cooking, share creative new ideas, give one another new recipes and new tastes, and most of all enjoy talking over a good, well-made meal. Mum makes our favorite meals from when we were kids, Sarah whips up new soup versions, Kate crafts new pies and I fill in the gaps.  There's pie for breakfast Christmas morning and a Christmas buffet feast with our closest family friends. I'm currently eating dark chocolate mousse Sarah whipped up for dessert after Mum made her famous oven-fried chicken.

So while we are about to flood your blog feed with various recipes (including the long-ago promised Thanksgiving pies) we hope you'll be happy to allow us to share the various things simmering (metaphorically and literally) on our stove at the moment.

And now the bittersweet chocolate pecan pies.

yes, I said pies, plural

In the annual pie recipe email frenzy, I sent Kate a version of bittersweet chocolate pecan, thinking it sounded like a new and improved version of an old favorite.

same angle, different pie.  same concept, different recipe.

We made this version for Thanksgiving, and it was phenomenal.  It's essentially a normal pecan pie covered with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, except instead of corn syrup it uses honey and brown sugar, hooray!  This pie is Peter's new favorite Thanksgiving pie, and it was far above better than the usual corn syrupy, overly sweet incarnation.

contestant #1

A few weeks later, I had a holiday party and a specific request for a pecan pie, but I could not crawl back to a classic corn syrup filled one when I knew better was out there (yes, sometimes pie recipe finding is a bit like dating).  Unfortunately, multiple phone calls to Kate went unreturned (cough, cough) and thus I was sent to the interwebs alone.  I found this version instead, more of a dark chocolate pie studded with pecans  I added a generous handful of extra pecans and it received rave reviews at the party.

contestant #2

Both pies come highly recommended.  The ganache version is richer, and closer to a classic pie, while the southern chocolate is smoother and more adventurous.  Either way, you can't lose when you add chocolate to pie, right? Win-win.

Happy Holidays, and may you enjoy your family and food as much as we.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Orange-Chipotle Spiced Pecans

A friend tipped me off to this recipe, and I made them as holiday gifts for coworkers.  Not your run of the mill spiced nut recipe!  I am reposting because I like them so much, and because I made a huge batch for gift purposes and can save you from multiplying things by 4 (helpful, I know!).  I did find they needed more baking time than the recipe suggested.

Kate doesn't like pecans and asked if this would be good with pistachios.  Maybe, but I did 1/4 cashews and thought those were great, so I suggest that as a back-up nut.


8 cups nuts (6 cups pecans and 2 cups cashews)
2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
4 TB freshly squeezed OJ (one juicy orange gave me more than enough)
4 TB freshly grated zest (three oranges were a little short of this for me....)
4 large eggwhites
4 TB dark brown sugar
4 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp ground chipotle chili powder
Cooking spray

What to do:

Preheat oven to 225.

Whisk together eggwhites with juice & zest.  Add pecans & toss to coat.

In a separate bowl, mix sugar, salt, and chili powder.  Mix into nuts.

Spread nuts onto 2 baking sheets, coated w/cooking spray, in an even layer.  Bake for about 1.5 hours until no longer goopy.  Then mix in cranberries.