Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the Seventh Day of Christmas...

While it may be after the calendar day, the Christmas Spirit is still a strong presence in the Confoy household - as are the Christmas spirits, if you get my drift.  We still have one side of the family to celebrate with this weekend, and our tree is still up, decorated, and encircled with Santa's bounty.  Speaking of which, I got a camera!  Finally, the days of impatiently waiting for my brother to come home from school with his camera are over!  And its a beaut.  Actually, its the exact same one my brother has, but its shiny and new and pretty and way better than his silly ol' one.  So, from now on, my food-photography should be better...or at least improving.

In my black rice pudding post, I mentioned that my Dad's Christmas cakes are one of favorite foods of the holidays...actually, his cake might be my favorite part of the holiday.  Made with mincemeat (the meatless kind), molasses, and a ton of spices, it's literally Christmas in a bite (well, not literally, but "figuratively Christmas in a bite" doesn't quite sound as nice).  Especially when its swimming in honey whiskey...did you see what I did there?

Craig's Christmas Cake
½ cup sugar
½ cup Crisco
1 egg
1 cup molasses
3 cups of flour
1 jar mincemeat (meatless version)
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 cup boiling water
honey whiskey (or brandy or rum)

+ Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.  Lightly grease two loaf pans.
+ In a large bowl, mix sugar, Crisco, and egg.  Add the molasses and stir well.  

+ Next add the flour and salt.  Stir until just combined.  
+ Add the boiling water.  Then add the spices and mincemeat, stirring well after each addition.
+ Pour the batter into the loaf pans, then bake an hour or until a toothpick comes out cleanly.
+ Let the cakes cool, then begin soaking the cakes.  Slowly pour the liquor over the cakes, focusing on the edges where the cake has pulled away from the pan.  Allow the sit until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Repeat the process until the cake is thoroughly soaked through - you can do this over the course of a few days, if you want it really moist and boozy, which I highly suggest.

Friday, December 21, 2012

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

Last night marked the return of my little brother and his lady-friend from their first semester of college.  The prodigal son's homecoming was celebrated with some bubbly, baked brie with jam, red wine, eggnog and whiskey, and our tree falling over.  Twice.  Thankfully it hasn't been lit or decorated yet, and by that time we were all pleasantly warmed by the evening's libations and it was more hilarious than upsetting.  After up-righting the tree, we stumbled off to bed and passed out immediately.  I had the morning off (an oddity and a blessing), so I took my time getting out of bed, made a big pot of Winter Blend coffee, and decided to whip of a welcome-home-Christmassy-breakfast-in-bed-special for the kids: eggnog soaked cranberry bread french toast with a fresh cranberry syrup.

French toast seemed to be one of those foods that embodies childhood and warmth and home.  I used a sliced cranberry bread, eggnog in place of milk for the batter, and cranberry syrup to imbue the dish with the holiday spirit.  Not to mention that I think the eggnog fulfills the "geese a'laying" quota nicely.
I woke the kids up with a spread of the french toast, coffee, and OJ set up on my brother's desk, then went out to run some errands.  My brother sent me a text that read, "So.  Effing.  Good."  One of the very few times that my cooking has gotten his stamp of approval.  So I think this dish was a ridiculously delicious, hands-down success.

Homemade Cranberry Syrup
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 tbs honey
½ cup water

+ Cook cranberries and honey in a covered pot over medium-high heat.  Once the berries begin popping, uncover and stir.  Recover and allow to cook until all the berries have burst.  Turn heat to low, stir, and cook until the berries have thickened to a jam-consistency.
+ Add the water, bring the heat back up, and cook uncovered until desired syrupy texture is reached.
Eggnog French Toast
1 cup non-dairy eggnog
3 eggs
pinch of salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
8 slices bread
¼ cup powdered sugar

+ Preheat skillet to medium-high heat.
+ In a medium sized, flat-bottomed or shallow bowl, whisk together eggnog, eggs, salt and spices.
+ Immerse the slices of bread, one at a time, into the egg mixture.  Using a fork to flip, make sure the bread is thoroughly soaked, but not mushy.  
+ Pull the bread out of the mixture, letting any excess egg drip off, and then place on the skillet.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
+ To serve, lightly butter each slice, dust with powdered sugar, and then drizzle cranberry syrup ontop.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

I'm pretty sure you've all guessed what today's recipe is.  I mean, "five golden rings"?  I couldn't help myself, could I?

Now, some of you might think, "Wow, way to phone on in, Claudia."  And to that I say, you try coming up with 12 original and innovative recipes in 25 days.  Speaking of which, since Christmas is technically 5 days away and I still have, oh, 7 more recipes, I think I'm going to extend my deadline until New Years.  But its not a cop out!  Part of the reason is that half of my holiday parties are the week after Christmas, and I want to be able to feature some recipes I use for them on the blog.  The other part of the reason is that I don't like rushing through the holidays, I prefer to drag them out for as long as physically possible - last year we had our tree up until February.  And hey, you get to enjoy Christmas and yummy food even longer now! Isn't that exciting?  I know, you can't handle your own happiness.  It might even scare you a little.  It's okay, accept your feelings, and express them appropriately.  Go ahead, do a happy dance.  I won't judge.

...finished your happy dance?  Good.  I used Not Without Salt's oven-fried onion ring recipe.  While a little on the messy side to assemble, they are otherwise super simple, healthier since they bake in a few tablespoons of oil, and are coated in crushed potato chips - yeah I said it, potato chip covered onion rings.  It's just crazy enough to be insanely delicious.  I used black pepper and salt potato chips and served them with a homemade curried honey mustard (curry strikes again!), which along with the cayenne pepper in the batter gave these little guys a surprising kick.

Curried Honey Mustard
2 tbs spicy mustard
1 tbs honey
2 tsp Vindaloo curry powder
1 tsp red curry powder

+ Combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Adjust amount of each ingredient based on taste.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, four colly birds.  That's right - colly birds.  Apparently the version we know featuring "calling birds" is just a horrible bastardization of the original, which isn't really that hard to believe seeing as we live in America and just about all aspects of our culture are distorted, corrupted, twisted hollow shells of what they once were...but I digress.

This revelation was my muse for this recipe.  A colly bird is an English nickname for a blackbird; "colly" being an Old English word meaning "soot" or "coal".  My mind immediately started reeling off all of black foods I could think of...which ended up only being one: blackberries.  I then got the internet to reel off all the black foods it could think of, which ended up being quite a few more, many of which I had never heard of.  One of these was black rice.  My first thought was to do a blackened tofu over black rice with a black bean sauce.  I liked it, I really did, but it didn't feel like a holiday dish to me.  Nothing about it felt special or new or, well, like Christmas.  So, I scrapped the tofu-rice dish.  I started to think of all the foods that embody Christmas for me: the top three dishes being mincemeat cake, waffles and potato soup (both of which may or may not be making an appearance next week), and rice pudding.  Now, I wouldn't consider myself a big rice pudding fan, outside the occasional whipped cream-topped sundae-glass full eaten in a grimy diner booth with a cup of coffee in the middle of the night, of course.  However, every Christmas Day, I partake in the Confoy-Osenlund family tradition of eating rice pudding together with hopes that your bowl will contain the sole almond in the whole batch.  If you get the almond, you are the King/Queen of Christmas and you are forced to wear one of those paper Christmas-cracker crowns.  Its all terribly exciting, and usually results in some fairly embarrassing photos.

So, in honor of the original lyrics and Confoy-Osenlunds, I bring you a black rice pudding topped with blackberries macerated in port and black pepper.

I followed theKitchn's recipe for black rice pudding, minus the coconut.  Also, I highly suggest letting it sit in the fridge over night - it gets thick and creamy and absolutely wonderful.

Port and Black Pepper Macerated Blackberries
½ pint fresh blackberries
1 cup port
1 tbs honey
2 tsp fresh crushed black pepper

+ Place blackberries in a glass measuring cup.  In a small pot, cook port, honey, and 1 tsp of black pepper over medium-high heat.  Once it begins to boil, cook for a moment or two, then pour the hot port over the berries.  Allow to sit and stew for at least 30 minutes - the longer they sit, the more the berries will break down, and the port will infuse in the berries.  
+ After the berries have been sitting, pour the liquid back into the pot.  Add the last tsp of the black pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.  Cook until the port has reduced into a thick syrup.
+ To serve, top the black rice pudding with a few blackberries, then drizzle a little of the port-black pepper syrup over the top.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the Third Day of Christmas...

So, if you read last post, you know of my growing anxiety concerning this latest project, especially the bird heavy days ahead.  However, the fear has subsided as many of my friends and fellow-foodies have come to my rescue and suggested some absolutely wonderfully creative ways to interpret the song into food.  In fact, it was my high-school friend, Christina's idea to use Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms for the third day's recipe.  A spark of culinary genius that would have never crossed my mind.  Brilliant, really, Christina.  

So, for the third day, I give to you a trio of Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms: a maitake pate, honey-glazed and roasted whole maitake mushroom, and a simple maitake and mixed mushroom soup. While only one can truly be considered French, these three hens are delightfully delicious and a perfect holiday party starter.

I was introduced to the Hen-of-the-Woods, or maitake mushroom at the Stockton Market this past April (and even wrote a post about it), but I wasn't quite sure how to use them.  The only way I'd ever cooked mushrooms was sauteing them in butter with onions as a pizza topping.  It wasn't until I started working at Gravity Hill that I was invited into the magical world of mushrooms.  One of the vendors at the market every Sunday was Shibumi Farm, a local couple who cultivate nearly 30 different types of mushrooms using no pesticides and only plant-based materials to grow the fungi.  Not only did they broaden my horizons to so many different types of mushrooms, but they changed the way I cook mushrooms - the miracle that is the dry saute.  

How To Dry Saute: 
+ Place a large pan over high heat.  Once the pan is hot, add the mushrooms.  Cook while stirring occasionally.  The mushrooms will begin to squeak (or scream, as the seven year old daughter of the mushroom couple put it).  Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid, shrunk a bit, and begin to brown.  
+ Once the mushrooms are cooked, de-glaze the pan (I usually use a splash of wine), making sure to scrape all the good mushroom bits from the bottom of the pan.  
+ Then, add butter, olive oil, salt, or other seasonings and saute as normal.  

I found the recipe for the pate on the Serious Eats site.  Just a heads up, it's not vegan (but don't worry, the soup is!)  I felt that the use of cheese as the fat was necessary in order to get get the right consistency and to keep it true to a real pate.  However, there are tons of nut-based pate recipes on the web, like this one from C'est La Vegan.  The only change that I made to the Serious Eats recipe was that instead of broiling the mushrooms, I dry sauteed, de-glazed with red wine, and then finished them off with olive oil, a little butter, salt, pepper, and thyme.

The whole roasted maitake mushroom is stupidly simple and quick, but looks beautiful and impressive.  Place a fist-sized cluster of the mushrooms into a small ramekin or other oven-safe dish.  Melt 1 tbs of butter and 2 tbs of honey in the microwave.  Drizzle the honey-butter over the mushroom, making sure to coat all of the little tops.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until the mushroom shrinks and begins to brown.  Sprinkle with sea salt and serve warm.  And make sure you soak up the extra mushroomy honey-butter in the bottom of the ramekin, you don't want that to go to waste.

Maitake Mushroom Soup
2 cups, maitake mushrooms
4 oz package of mixed mushrooms
½ cup dry red wine
1 tbs olive oil
1 tbs butter
1 tbs rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 tbs thyme leaves
1 tbs sage leaves, finely chopped
1 can full-fat coconut milk
salt and pepper

+ In a medium pot, dry saute the mushrooms.  Once they're cooked, de-glaze with red wine.  Add butter, oil, herbs, and a bit of salt.  Cook until the mushrooms are soft and the liquid had thickened.  
+ Add the coconut milk, stir well.  Using a stick blender, blend until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
+ Cook until soup is heated through and desired thickness is reached.  Serve hot, garnished with thyme leaves or sprig of rosemary.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

On the Second Day of Christmas...

As of last post, the temperature has dropped a good 25 degrees, my father has put the lights up on the house, I've eaten fruitcake ice cream at Bent Spoon, and I've bought my first official Christmas present, so its starting to feel a tad more like the holidays than before.  However, I'm still not fully in that holiday mode yet.  I'm no hum-bug, I'm just taking my time, is all.

Oh, I forgot to mention (but hoped you noticed) that I'm going to attempt to have my 12 Days of Christmas Recipes correspond with the song, i.e. last week I made a pear-centric dish in honor of the partridge in his tree.  This may seem like a simple feat, but for a non-meat-eater, the six bird related verses serve as a bit of an obstacle (...not to mention the Lords-a-Leaping, but I'll worry about those guys later).  I mulled over the Turtle Doves for a while.  Mock turtle soup was a front runner until I actually looked up what mock turtle soup was and found out its made with calf head, feet, and brains.  I know, doesn't just scream holiday cheer, does it?  With the soup off the table, I turned to the only other food-related turtle I could think of - the pecan, caramel, chocolate candy.  However, I didn't want to just do a straightforward chocolate.  I mean, the whole point of this project was to create unique and original recipes.  So, I decided to take those three ingredients and put my own dread&butter-y twist on them.  And thus the Turtle Dove Tart was born - pecan crust, chocolate filling, salted caramel drizzle, with the addition of a layer of tart cranberries.  I thought the cranberries added a nice pop of color and balanced the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel.  It turned out differently than I had in my head, but I have to say, it might become a new Christmas dessert tradition.

And now, off to watch White Christmas and brainstorm for next week...

Turtle Dove Tart
Pecan Crust
1 large egg, separated
¼ tsp vanilla
½ cup pecans
½ powdered sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 tbs cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
pinch of salt

+ Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
+ Place pecans on a baking sheet, toast for about 5 minutes, or until fragrant and just beginning to brown.  Once toasted, grind pecans in a food processor until fine, but not powdery.
+ In two small bowls, beat the egg yolk and white separately.  Measure out 1 tbs of egg white and add to yolk.  Add the vanilla and mix well.

+ In a medium bowl, combine flour, pecans, sugar, and salt.  Cut butter into the flour mixture until it as a crumbly texture.
+ Add the egg mixture to the flour, combine with hands until evenly moistened.  Add a small bit water if needed.
+ Press the crust into a pie pan.  Put in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.  
+ Place a piece of aluminum foil over the crust.  Poke a few holes in the foil, then place pie weights on top.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool completely.

Tart Cranberry Jam
1 bag of fresh cranberries
2 tbs honey

+ Put cranberries and honey in a small sauce pan.  Cook over medium-high heat until the berries begin to pop.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries have all popped and a thick consistency is reached.  

Chocolate Filling1 bag dark chocolate chips
⅓ cup coffee liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 package silken tofu, drained
1 tbs honey

+ Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over medium heat.  Place the chocolate chips, liqueur, and vanilla in a medium metal bowl set over the simmering water.  Stir often to prevent the chocolate from burning.
+ Once the chocolate is completely melted, place the chocolate, tofu and honey in the food processor.  Blend until smooth. 

Salted Caramel Drizzle 
(from smittenkitchen)
¼ cup sugar
2 tbs butter
¼ tsp sea salt
2 tbs heavy cream

+ In a small saucepan, melt sugar over medium-high heat.  Cook for about 3 minutes, or until its a golden brown color. 
+ Take the pan off the heat, then add the butter and salt, stirring until the butter is completely melted.  Turn the heat down and put the sugar mixture back on the stove.  Add the heavy cream, stirring constantly, cook until it thickens and becomes a dark caramel color.

To Assemble the Tart
+ Spread an even layer of the tart cranberry jam over the bottom of the pecan crust.  Top with chocolate filling (you'll probably have a little extra).  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until the chocolate has firmed up.  Then drizzle a healthy layer of salted caramel over the top of the tart.  It can be served while the caramel is warm, but I suggest putting it back in the fridge for another hour (or better yet, overnight).

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the First Day of Christmas...

I can't believe it's December already - the sixty degree, sunny weather really isn't helping convince me either. However, the overabundance of holiday movies on Lifetime and cars in the mall parking lot are telling me that Christmas is right around the corner.  So, to help get me in the holiday frame of mind, I'm attempting to create a dozen unique holiday recipes by the 25th, a la The Twelve Days of Christmas.  

On the First Day of Christmas (or the Third Day of December), my true love gave to me...a caramelized pear crostini with goat cheese and a honey-whiskey reduction.  Alright, it might not flow as well as the original version, but you can appreciate my efforts, can't you?

Caramelized Pear Crostini 
1 sprigs worth of rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup + 2 tbs olive oil
a dozen thin slices of bread (I used baguette) 
2 tbs butter
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 red pear, cubed
¼ cup honey-whiskey (I used Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey)
4 oz log goat cheese
sea salt

+ Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
+ Mix rosemary with ¼ cup of olive oil in a ramekin.  Set aside.
+ Melt 2 tbs of olive oil and 1 tbs of butter over medium-high heat in a small sauce pan.  Once the oil is sizzling, add the onions.  Stir  until all of the onions are well coated in oil.  Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Cook onions until they are just beginning to brown - stir occasionally, and lower heat if the onions brown too quickly. 
+ Add the pear and 1 tbs of butter.  Stir until the pears are coated in oil.  Allow to cook, stirring occasionally  until the pears and onions are brown and caramelized.  Transfer into a small bowl.
+ With the heat on, add the whiskey to same pan you caramelized the pear and onion in.  Cook down until the whiskey has reduced by half, becoming thick and syrupy.  Take off heat and set aside.
+ While the whiskey is reducing, place the bread on a broiling pan.  Using a small spoon, drizzle enough rosemary-olive oil to coat the top of each slice.  Bake for about five minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown.
+ To assemble the crostini, spread a thin layer of goat cheese onto each slice of toasted bread.  Top with a generous spoonful of the caramelized pear-onion mix.  To finish, drizzle with honey-whiskey reduction.  Serve warm (but don't worry, based on how quickly my family ate them, they won't be around long enough to get cold).