Turnip & Apple Purée, Venison Backstrap, A Jean-Georges Chocolate Tart & A Valentine’s Day Recap

Venison Backstrap with Apple & Turnip Purée and wilted Watercress

Am I becoming too predictable? Are you sick of seeing vegetables puréed with apples? Do you think I should perhaps explore a cookbook other than this one and this one?

I hope not, because I’m really loving this latest variation on the vegetable-and-apple-cooked-in-milk-with-a-small-amount-of-starch technique. Similar to the cauliflower purée, the inclusion of an apple in this purée enhances the sweetness of the main vegetable — here turnips — and a small amount of starch — this time white rice — ensures a silky smooth purée, tasting as if it has lots of cream and butter, when it in fact has neither. Sally Schneider credits the technique to chef Michel Guerard and notes that celery root, carrots, rutabaga or beets — any watery or fibrous root vegetable really — could replace the turnips. I love the idea of a beet purée.

While it’s delicious on its own — I ate nearly all of it at lunch — this purée becomes exceptionally tasty aside any sort of meat, where it can sop up all of the juices pooling around its base. A drizzling of port wine reduction doesn’t hurt either, and together, the meat drippings, mash and sauce just beg to be mopped up by a slice of warm, crusty bread.

So, a Valentine’s Day dinner did in fact materialize at our house on Tuesday evening. Dessert happened, too, after a craving for something chocolaty and Valentinesy, something like the beautiful cocoa-powdered topped tart I watched Jean-Georges Vongerichten bake on tv that morning, sent me straight into the kitchen. In this tart, whipped egg whites lighten a fudgy base of dark chocolate, melted butter and egg yolks. Almond flour provides nearly all of the structure as well as a wonderful flavor, and confectioners’ sugar sweetens it ever so slightly. It’s simple to whip up, bakes for 17 minutes, and tastes just as lovely as it looks. Light and rich at the same time, it demands a dollop of homemade whipped cream. It’s not Valentine’s Day without some sort of chocolate indulgence, and this tart couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion… something to keep in mind for next year I suppose.

Beautiful turnips from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:

On Black Friday, Ben and I bought a free-standing freezer. Shortly thereafter, Ben started hunting. And before too long, our freezer was filled to the gills with duck and deer. He cleaned one deer himself, but for the rest of the season, let a butcher in Fredericksburg handle the cleaning and portioning. I never imagined eating deer burger on a regular basis, but oh my it is delicious.
Ben, carving up a deer

free standing freezer

This is a deer backstrap (an enormous one) marinating in olive oil, garlic, thyme and sliced onions. Backstrap is a very tender cut — perhaps the most tender after the tenderloin — and extremely flavorful. It tastes best (to us at least) on the rare side. We’ve been cutting the backstrap into medallions and searing them for just one to two minutes a side. When we haven’t made our favorite sauce, we simply deglaze the pan with a little tawny port and let it reduce till it’s slightly thickened.
venison backstrap, marinating

On Tuesday morning’s Martha Stewart Show, Jean-Georges Vongerichten whipped up a beautiful, nearly flourless, chocolate cake, a recipe from his latest book Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. Watch the video here.

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Turnip and Apple Purée
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
Serves 4

1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cups low-fat (1 or 2%) milk* (2 cups will be left over for another use)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons white rice
1 apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional — I tasted it at the end and thought adding butter seemed unnecessary, so I didn’t.)

* I used only 2 cups of milk because I was feeling guilty about using 3. It worked just fine.

1. Place the turnips in a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and a grinding or two of pepper, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir in the rice, lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apples and simmer for 10 minutes longer, or until the turnips are very tender. (The milk will curdle, but the curds will be incorporated when the turnips are pureed.) Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl; save the cooking liquid.

2. In a food processor, puree the turnip mixture for 1 to 2 minutes, until perfectly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid if necessary. (Save the remaining flavorful liquid for soup; it can be frozen.) Process for several minutes more, scraping down the sides several times, until you have a fine puree. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Taste and add the butter if you wish — I didn’t think it needed any.

3. You can make the puree several hours ahead and reheat it (or keep it warm), stirring frequently, in a covered double boiler.

Chocolate Tart
Source: Jean-Georges Vongerichten via Martha Stewart
Serves 6

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, preferably cultured, plus more for pan
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
Dutch-process cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

homemade whipped cream for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan, tapping out excess.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg whites and sugar until medium-stiff peaks form.

3. Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.

4. Add 1 yolk to chocolate mixture and beat to combine. Add remaining yolks and mix to combine. Add confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour; mix until combined. Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture and mix to loosen chocolate mixture. Gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared cake pan and evenly spread. Transfer cake pan to oven and bake until puffed and knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Carefully re-invert and let cool completely. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

WARNING: Ridiculously cheesy Valentine’s Day snapshots lie ahead.
card front

I used this template for the birds. I know, I know. Totally ridiculous.
card inside

Some snapshots from the evening:
Valentine's Day

Rosemary Semolina Bread with Sea Salt from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Last Saturday I spotted a sample table in the wine section of Wegmans and made a beeline for it. When I arrived, a nice man asked me if I’d like to try a couple of wines with a slice of chocolate bread. I couldn’t think of a more fantastic idea at 10 in the morning. Yes please, I said. One of the wines, a grenache, was quite nice, and while the bread, a cake-like quick bread, was a little bland, I liked the idea of pairing wine with chocolate bread.

The folks at Wegmans were on to something. If the bread had been less sweet and textured more like a yeast-risen bread, could it possibly be topped with a cheese — maybe a soft, honey-infused chévre — and served with wine as a festive Valentine’s Day hors d’oeuvre?

Immediately reminded of Metropolitan Bakery’s chocolate and cherry bread, I set to work scouring the internet to see if anybody had taken a stab at recreating that loaf at home, an exercise I undertake every six months or so. That recipe, I’m afraid, is still under tight lock and key. It’s conspicuously absent from the cookbook, as well. For good reason, I imagine.

Without delving into too much detail, I combined a few recipes, slapped together a nice-looking dough, threw it in a hot oven, and waited anxiously while promising smells wafted from the oven. Unfortunately, the resulting loaf, although edible, was nothing worth sharing. It was good. I found myself eating slice after slice in fact, perhaps hoping each next slice might taste better, but each did not. Chocolate bread, I’m afraid, would not make it to this year’s Valentine’s Day table.

Alas, maybe forcing chocolate into a savory bread was weird anyway. It was time to get back to basics. Time to try a more natural combination of flavors. Time to break out the rosemary and sea salt and olive oil and share with you all a most delectable bread recipe, one I can say with the utmost confidence will not disappoint. I eat slice after slice of this bread not because I doubt its deliciousness but because I can’t hold myself back. Olive oil makes this bread super moist, but it’s the presence of semolina flour, an ingredient I am only just discovering, that gives this bread such a unique texture and flavor. The owner of Macrina Bakery, Leslie Mackie, to whom we can thank for this creation, says it best: “Semolina flour gives the bread a hearty texture but also a kind of creamy, almost corn-like flavor.” A salty, crusty exterior moreover makes the bread irresistible.

It’s perhaps not as dreamy as chocolate bread, but it’s far more delicious, and in the event that a romantic dinner for two materializes in my kitchen next Tuesday, it will make an appearance. Happy Almost Valentine’s Day Everyone.

Semolina flour is sometimes labeled as “pasta flour.”
Semolina Flour

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Failed chocolate bread, rising:
chocolate bread, rising

Failed chocolate bread, baked:
chocolate bread, baked

Rosemary semolina bread mixed (left) and risen (right):
dough, just mixed (left) and risen (right)

shaping the loaf

loaf, ready for the oven

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Rosemary Semolina Bread
Source: Bon Appetit via Seattle’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe
Yield = 1 very large round

1 3/4 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F), divided
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (measured from 2 envelopes)
2 1/4 cups (about) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups semolina flour (pasta flour)*
2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt
Additional semolina flour
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, divided

1 teaspoon coarse-grained sea salt

1. Place 1 1/4 cups warm water in medium bowl; sprinkle yeast over and stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Whisk to dissolve yeast. Add 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour; whisk until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (about 75°F) until bubbles form and yeast mixture has more than doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

2. Whisk remaining 1/2 cup warm water, olive oil, and rosemary in large bowl to blend. Using rubber spatula, mix in semolina flour and 2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt (dough will be very dry). Stir in yeast mixture. Work in 3/4 cup all purpose flour. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding more all purpose flour by tablespoonfuls if sticky. Let rest 5 minutes. Knead until dough springs back when pressed with thumb, about 8 minutes.

3. Lightly oil large bowl. Transfer dough to bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Flatten dough into 18×12-inch rectangle. Starting from 1 long side, roll tightly to form 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 20-inch-long log. With seam side down, shape log into ring, inserting 1 end into second end; smooth seam. (Note: As you can see from the photos, I did not make this shape. If I had, my ring would have been massive. I opted to just coil into one mass. Next time, however, I might even divide the dough in half and bake two simple boule-shaped loaves.)

4. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle sheet with additional semolina flour. Transfer dough ring to prepared sheet, reshaping as necessary to form smooth circle. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds, pressing lightly to adhere. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let bread rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove plastic wrap from bread. Using sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch-deep slit all the way around top of loaf. Spray bread lightly with water. (I did not do this — I don’t own a spray bottle.) Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon coarse-grained salt. Transfer to oven. Bake bread 15 minutes, spraying lightly with water every 5 minutes. (I did not do this either, again because I do not own a spray bottle.) Continue to bake without spraying until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

*Semolina flour is available at specialty foods stores, Italian markets, and some supermarkets.

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

rosemary semolina loaf

Coffeecake Muffins, Coffeehouse Style

coffeecake muffin

I like these muffin liners. I like that they can stand on their own, that I can fill one or twelve with batter, bake off as many or as few muffins as I like. I like their shape — that they create straight-sided panettone-style loaves. I like peeling away the paper from the baked muffin, unveiling the straight sides, and I like scraping with my teeth every last morsel left clinging to the bottom round. And I like — I love — that they remind me of my first few years of being in Philadelphia, when I lived just steps from Metropolitan Bakery, where I first discovered these liners wrapping so many delicious breakfast treats, namely millet muffins, my favorite.

As much as I like these pretty paper wrappings, I can assure you they are optional, merely for creating that coffeehouse baked-goods effect. I can assure you that I like what these pretty paper wrappings hold even more, especially when it’s in the form of these coffeecake muffins, a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that never fails to please.

A dear friend’s husband, a private chef, in fact, tipped me off about this recipe several years ago, and I have made it countless times since. With or without a pretty paper wrapping, these muffins, made with a cinnamon-pecan-brown sugar streusel mixed into a sour cream batter, capture the spirit of breakfast treat. It’s the weekend everybody! Woo-hoo! Brew some coffee. Make some muffins. Pretend you’re at your favorite café. You won’t be sorry you did.

coffeecake muffin

Don’t be tempted to fill these liners too high. The batter will overflow and burn on your oven floor. One scoop (standard-sized ice cream scoop) works just fine, and the batter will still climb above the tops of the liners.

Coffeecake Muffins
Source: Cooks Illustrated
Yield = 12

Notes from the Magazine: Be careful not to overprocess the batter in step 4. If you don’t have a food processor, first chop the nuts with a knife. Proceed with the recipe, mixing the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula, but use a wire whisk to work the butter into the dry ingredients in step 3.

My Notes: I made the batter the night before and baked off the muffins in the morning using these pretty coffeehouse-style muffin liners.

1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces) (I used light brown sugar)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt (I used table salt as opposed to kosher)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick) + 1 tablespoon (optional, see step 3), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

2. Process nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in food processor until nuts are size of sesame seeds, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.

3. Return bowl and metal blade to food processor, add flour, granulated sugar, and salt and process until combined, about five 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the 1 stick of butter evenly over flour mixture and process until butter is oat-sized, about eight 1-second pulses. Remove 1 cup of flour-butter mixture and stir with fork into reserved brown sugar mixture until combined to make streusel. Set aside 3/4 cup of streusel for muffin batter and remaining portion for topping muffins. (Note: At this point I added an additional tablespoon of butter to the streusel topping because in the past I have found the streusel topping to be too sandy — not buttery and crumby enough if you know what I mean? See picture below with two ramekins.)

4. Add baking powder and baking soda to remaining flour mixture in food processor bowl and process until combined, about five 1-second pulses. Whisk together sour cream, egg, and vanilla; add to flour mixture. Process until batter is just moistened, about five 1-second pulses. Add 3/4 cup reserved streusel to flour mixture and process until streusel is just distributed throughout batter, about five 1-second pulses.

5. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups and sprinkle with streusel, pressing lightly so that streusel sinks slightly into batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out with several crumbs clinging to it, about 18 minutes (mine took more like 25 minutes, but start checking after 18 min), rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffin tin on wire rack for 2 minutes. Using tip of paring knife, loosen muffins and gently transfer from tin to wire rack; cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Top ramekin: Crumb topping as made with original recipe. Bottom ramekin: Crumb topping made with an additional tablespoon of butter — the additional tablespoon of butter helped create a better-textured crumb in my opinion, but this step is optional. The muffins are delicious no matter what.

Glogg + Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers = New Year’s Eve in the Making

rosemary and parmigiano crackers, stacked

My stepfather has a few tricks up his sleeve, two of which he breaks out every Christmas: cornbread stuffing and glogg. His stuffing deserves a separate post — it steals the show every year — but I imagine many of you are a little stuffinged out at the moment. Am I right?

Good, let’s focus on the glogg then. The word “glogg,” Scandinavian in origin, derives from a verb meaning “to glow” or “to warm,” which is just what this hot beverage is meant to do — warm you up, get you glowing. Coming from a land where the sun shines seldom in a long winter season, glogg is meant to work immediately, which is exactly what it does. In a sort of two-pronged attack, glogg enters the system: as vapors swirl off the hot liquid up into the nose making their way to the brain, the liquid itself — a mixture of red wine, port and brandy — pours through the blood stream. This is potent stuff. This is bone-warming, rosy-cheek inducing, party-starting stuff. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my family, it’s not Christmas without glogg. And this year, it won’t be New Year’s without glogg either. I need one more round before I start drafting my resolutions. Moreover, I need something to accompany these rosemary-parmesan crackers, my latest pre-dinner fix. I discovered these a few weeks ago when I needed to make something for a potluck hors d’oeuvres party. Never knowing what to bring to these sorts of events, I opened an old classic and soon found myself in a particularly enticing chapter: crackers.

Crackers. Why make homemade, you ask? Well, this isn’t the sort of cracker meant to be topped with cheese or pâté or any sort of party spread. This is both a cheese and a cracker in one entity meant to be enjoyed on its own. Topped with a teensy sprig of rosemary, these crackers, I worried, would be too pretty to eat. But that they were not. With both beer and wine drinkers alike, they were a hit. These salty discs beg to be washed down with a heartwarming libation, and in that sense become their own little party starters themselves. Hmmm, homemade crackers + glogg? This could be dangerous. Happy New Year everyone!

glogg and parmesan rosemary crackers

cracker dough and rosemary

rosemary and parmigiano crackers

glogg ingredients

House and Garden's Drink Guide

“Aunt Betsy’s Favorite” (Glogg)
Source: House and Garden’s Drink Guide
Serves: 6 to 8

Note: My stepfather has adjusted the original recipe over the years so feel free to adjust to your liking as well.

1 bottle dry red wine (use a bottle you like, one you would drink on its own)
2 cups Tawny or Ruby Port (Chip uses Ruby)
1 cup brandy
8 to 16 tsp. sugar*
peel of 2 oranges
13 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks

*Chip adds 16 teaspoons (which is 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) but start with 8 (which is 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) and add more to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and heat slowly without allowing the mixture to reach simmering point. Pour into punch glasses.

Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers
Source: Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, also available online here
Yield = 20 crackers

**Notes: Plan Ahead! The cracker dough should chill in the fridge ideally for 24 hours — my dough basically just chilled overnight, but the recipe suggests 24 hours. If you forget to make this ahead of time, try popping the dough in the freezer for two to three hours.
Also: Bake these the day you serve them. They don’t keep well.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of white pepper (didn’t have, so didn’t use)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs for garnish
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup finely grated (2 1/2 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
5 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg white, lightly beaten (optional — this is if you want to do the pretty rosemary garnish)

1. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; pulse until combined. Add 1 tablespoon of the sour cream at a time, pulsing each time to combine. (Note: I added the sour cream in 2 batches…not patient enough to do 1 T. at a time.) Process until dough comes together and is well combined.

2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape dough into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (Note: I chilled mine for about 18 hours. If you are pinched for time, try chilling the dough in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours.)

3. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Slice chilled log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dip a sprig of rosemary into egg white, and place in center of a cracker slice; repeat with remaining rosemary and crackers. (Note: The rosemary garnish is optional – it’s purely for decorative purposes.) Bake immediately, rotating sheet once, until crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, 25 to 35 minutes. (My crackers took 25 minutes.) Transfer to a rack to cool.

punch glasses

Cheddar Biscuits + Food52’s Holiday Survival Guide iPad App Giveway

leftover ham & arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

My family is arriving in 6 days, and I cannot wait. It has been too long since we have all been together — too long since I’ve heard my mother declare her beautiful dinner both over and undercooked and in any case ruined; too long since I’ve watched my sister excuse herself from dinner early, singing The Messiah as she curls up on the couch, signaling she is too, too tired to clean up; and too long since I have found myself in the kitchen, dish towel in hand, surrounded by the usual dutiful crew. Family, I love you so much and cannot wait to have you here.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is not our big Christmas Day feast, but the days following, when the fridge will be stocked with the most scrumptious leftovers, and when out of the freezer and into the oven will go these buttermilk biscuits, the perfect vessel for housing slices of ham or turkey or roast beef, handfuls of arugula, and a slathering of mustard sauce (so delicious, a must-know sauce if you’re serving ham, see recipe below).

The biscuit recipe comes from Food52’s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide iPad app, which is awesome and which, if you are interested, can be yours, too — just share your own holiday entertaining tips in the comment section below for a chance to win (Food52 is awarding five promo codes to the best entertaining tips, culled from everyone’s blog post comments).

Are you curious about the app? I was, too. Before I downloaded it, I wondered how it would differ from visiting the Food52 website — if many of the recipes in the app are available on the website, why would downloading the app be necessary? I’m probably stating the obvious for many of you, but for any of you app newbies, the difference is all about the experience. After just 15 minutes with the app, navigating from section to section became as natural as turning to my go-to recipe in a favorite cookbook, an experience you often don’t get with a website. Moreover, because the app is designed for the iPad, it’s lightning fast, so navigating from one chapter to another is instant. Truthfully — and I hate to admit it because I love my cookbooks — finding a recipe in the app is easier than finding one in a cookbook. And finally, because the app is a holiday survival guide, all of the content — recipes, videos, event checklists — is holiday specific. In other words, (and again, I’m stating the obvious) you’ve got it all in one place — how to carve a turkey, how to stock your bar, how to plan ahead — so you’re not wasting time jumping from one website to another, bookmarking various pages, printing recipes from this site and that.

I don’t need to tell you all how much I love Food52 — I’ve done it many times in the past (like here and here). I find their video clips to be very helpful. The first one I watched on peeling tomatoes led me to discover Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce (also known as the world’s greatest tomato sauce). The one included below — How to Make Three Minute Gravy — is another goodie.

So, do you have any great entertaining tips? I’ve got one: use the freezer. These biscuits bake beautifully straight from the freezer. No thawing is necessary, just a few minutes more in the oven and you’ve got the makings of the best breakfast sandwich, an irresistible lunch, or a perfect dipper for any wintry soup or stew. Yum.

biscuits, cut, with eggwash

cheddar biscuits, just out of the oven

dough, just out of the mixer

dough and biscuit cutters

Bake these biscuits straight from the freezer — no thawing is necessary, just increase the cooking time by 2 to 3 minutes:

cheddar biscuit, baked straight from the freezer

Are you making a ham this holiday? If so, make this mustard sauce, too. It is so delicious and so simple to prepare — it’s a matter of bringing a few ingredients to a boil and then passing the mixture through a strainer. It’s fantastic for leftover ham sandwiches.

straining mustard sauce

totally delicious mustard sauce

sandwich ingredients

Cheddar Biscuits

Source: Food52

Below is the recipe from the Food52 website, but I encourage you all to read through the comments and questions about this recipe on the Food52 website — I found the comment section very helpful.

Makes 10 to 12 large biscuits

3 1/2 cups minus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt*
9 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cold unsalted butter (use a good brand, like Plugra, with a high butterfat content)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg

*Some people who commented on the food52 website found the biscuits to be too salty. We definitely did not, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps reduce the salt to 2 tsp or less.

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, cut the butter into chunks and leave out at room temperature (you want it malleable, but not soft).

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the chilled dry ingredients, the cheese and the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few minutes, until the chunks of butter are no bigger than a large pea – or a small bean. (In the oven, the water in the chunks of butter creates steam, which in turn will creates lovely pockets of air within the biscuits.)

3. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix on low just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, dust your fingers with flour and gently knead it a few times. Quickly and carefully pat the dough into a large rectangle about 1/2 an inch thick.

4. Dip a 3-inch round cutter with sharp edges in flour and then cut the biscuits using an even downward motion, without twisting the cutter. Transfer the rounds of dough to the baking sheets, leaving an inch or two of space between them. When you’ve cut the first batch of biscuits, gently pat the dough into another rectangle and cut a few more — discard the dough or add the funky leftover shapes to the baking sheets after the second batch is cut (if you shape the dough a third time, the biscuits will be tough).

5. Beat the egg with a splash of water (if you’re feeling fancy, you can then pass it through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any clumps of egg white that might burn). Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with egg wash* and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the biscuits are a deep golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets but serve them while still warm!

*At this point you can stick your prepared pan in the freezer. Once the biscuits are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag to store. When you are ready to bake, there is no need to thaw the biscuits. Just bake them straight from the freezer. I had to cook mine about 3 minutes longer when baking them from the freezer. And I did apply the egg wash before freezing them — worked beautifully.

Mustard Sauce

In my family, this mustard sauce is as essential as the ham on the holiday table. It’s another one of those sauces your guests will want to bathe in.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons dry mustard
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream

1. Place a strainer over a medium-sized bowl (able to hold about 2 cups of liquid). Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil while monitoring closely and stirring often. As soon as the mixture comes to boil, pour it through the strainer into the bowl. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

leftover ham and arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake

buttermilk cranberry breakfast cake

I’m starting to panic. Family will be arriving any moment (9 more days), and I am so not prepared. The biscotti jar is empty; the granola bin, bare. No gifts have been assembled. The house is a sty, getting messier by the day.

Somehow, however, I’ve crossed one to-do off my growing list. In an effort to figure out what to bake on Christmas morning, I turned to an old standby and swapped cranberries for the blueberries, orange zest for the lemon, and increased the sugar a teensy bit. It worked beautifully! Not too sweet, festively studded with cranberries, this cake will be wonderful on Christmas morning. Best of all, I made the batter the night before and baked the cake in the morning. If you’re not a cranberry fan, you could stick to frozen blueberries, a substitution many of you have had success with — thanks for all of your tips and suggestions.

One last thing, I’ve made a new page, “The Essentials” (see above), where I’ve collected all of my favorite recipes, techniques, how-to’s, etc. The “recipe archive” page was getting a bit unwieldy, and my hope with this page is to provide an easier way to find just what you might be looking for.

And one very last thing, be sure to check back Monday if you are interested in winning a free download of the Food52 Holiday Recipe & Survival Guide iPad app. I’m partaking in this contest.

cranberry buttermilk breakfast cake

cranberries and orange zest

Cranberry Buttermilk Breakfast Cake
Serves 6-8

Notes: This recipe is essentially the Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake recipe but with cranberries swapped for the blueberries. I increased the sugar to 1 cup (from 7/8 cup) b/c cranberries are a bit tart and substituted orange zest for the lemon zest. If you don’t like cranberries, many people have had luck with frozen blueberries — glance through the comments over here for tips.

Also, this batter can be prepared the night before. Don’t store it in the pan you plan on baking it in — store it in tupperware of some sort, then transfer to a greased pan in the morning.

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
the zest from 1 orange zest
1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 cups fresh cranberries
½ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream butter with orange zest and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the cranberries with 2 tablespoons of flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold in the cranberries.

4. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan (or something similar) with butter or coat with non-stick spray. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle batter with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 35 minutes, then check for doneness by touching the top gently or by inserting a toothpick. If necessary, return pan to oven, check every five minutes or so — it took my cake a little bit over 45 minutes to cook. (Note: Baking for as long as 50 minutes might be necessary, especially if you made the batter in advance.) Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

One of the most frequently asked questions about the buttermilk blueberry breakfast cake was if the batter could be prepared the night before. Several of you attempted and had success, so I tried it with this one. It worked perfectly — thanks!

Store batter in a tupperware overnight, then transfer to prepared pan in the morning:

batter for buttermilk cranberry breakfast cake

Baker’s Twine, Wreaths & Preparing for the Holidays

baker's twine from Paper & Linen

One year, in preparation for the holiday baking season, I ordered a case of stationery boxes. A case consists of one hundred stationery boxes. One hundred stationery boxes takes up a lot of space, especially when you’re living in a one-bedroom Philadelphia apartment. One hundred stationery boxes, too, is a lot of boxes. What was I thinking? That case traveled across Philadelphia (moving into an equally tiny apartment) and then moved 3,000 miles across the country with us to CA. Seeing the movers unload that box in sunny CA was a bit troubling for my husband.

But the boxes were fantastic. They’re a perfect size for packaging homemade truffles, toffee, biscotti, chocolate-dipped peanut butter balls, you name it. If storage weren’t an issue, I would always have stationery boxes on hand.

But there’s something else I find even more valuable to have on hand this time of year: baker’s twine. I love this stuff. A little baker’s twine is all a Ball jar or a cellophane bag or a metal-ringed gift tag needs to become holiday-ready. I ordered mine last week on Etsy from Paper and Linen. It arrived on Saturday and made my day. What’s more, it will likely last as long as the stationery boxes and can be stored in my desk drawer — that made my husband’s day.

One last thing. I’ve made a pin board for homemade food gifts. I think I’ll be making the usual this year: rosemary shortbread, granola, and boozy chocolate truffles. Fun fun.

Oh, one very last thing. I just saw that Gilt Taste is offering 5-cent shipping throughout December on a bunch of items. This could be dangerous.

Over the weekend I made a wreath. It’s a little wonky at the moment — definitely needs some tending to — but it was a fun little project and didn’t take too much time. I basically just wired bunches of fresh greens (I forget what they’re called — they were in the wreath section of Home Depot) to a straw wreath I had purchased at Michael’s. And then in various places I wove in some fake holly berries (also purchased at Michael’s).

my wreath

Here’s a wreath I made a few years ago while working at Cafe Mimosa in San Clemente, where I had access to an endless supply of corks. This was also a fun project, just a bit more time consuming. Here’s how to do it.

cork wreath

Kristina’s Molasses Crinkles

molasses crinkles

I couldn’t believe the cookies were made with shortening. I’m an all-butter kind of girl. Until a week ago in fact, the thought of shortening, a product I reserved solely for seasoning cast iron skillets, sort of repulsed me. Until a week ago, I also would have told you I could detect the difference between a cookie made with butter and one with shortening. I mean, it’s a rookie skill, right?

So I thought. My cousin Kristina makes the very best molasses cookies I have ever tasted. And they’re not just the best molasses cookies ever; they’re one of the best cookies ever. Last December when I received Kristina’s recipe in the mail and discovered that her legendary molasses crinkles were made with shortening, my earth sort of shattered. I would have bet money they had been made with butter.

But perhaps this was an opportunity, I thought. I would substitute butter for the shortening and then blog about the nearly perfect cookie I had perfected with butter. But once again, my earth shattered. The cookies I prepared with the butter-for-shortening substitution were terrible. The texture lacked the softness and chewiness of Kristina’s, and the flavor, perhaps tarnished by over baking, was just not as I had remembered. Did Kristina in fact use shortening in her cookies? I was still in disbelief.

It was time for me to try shortening. And since I was venturing into the realm of repulsive ingredients, I thought why not try something truly repulsive? This past spring, a friend in CA introduced me to a little product called buttered-flavored shortening, an ingredient she had used in a batch of phenomenal chocolate chip cookies she was so graciously sharing with me.

Butter-flavored shortening. I mean, it doesn’t get much more repulsive than this. Have any of you ever opened a can of this stuff? Have you seen its color? Have you smelled it? Have you ever tried washing it off your hands? Have you reviewed the ingredient list? It’s filled with all of the worst sorts of things — fully and partially hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, to name a few. It’s a list that might appear in Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare. Butter-flavored shortening. Truly, it doesn’t get more repulsive than this.

I couldn’t help but wish my butter-flavored-shortening molasses crinkles to fail. As they baked, I kept thinking, there’s no way my adorable cousin Kristina could use such a vile product. No way. But when I pulled from the oven a pan with nine perfectly golden domed mounds crinkling up at me, I began to believe. And then, after they cooled and I took a bite, and the soft and chewy texture was just as I had remembered, and the flavor, too, was buttery and not at all artificial tasting and spiced with those wintry flavors of cinnamon and cloves, I was convinced. These were Kristina’s molasses crinkles. I had never been so happy to have such a vile product in my pantry.

I had to call Kristina to discuss. “So Kristina,” I said when she answered the phone, “your molasses cookies and I have been on a long journey together, and I’ve finally accepted that you do in fact use shortening, right?”

“Shortening?” she replied. “No, I always use butter. I don’t know what shortening is.”

I had to laugh. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What had gone wrong the first time I had attempted Kristina’s recipe? Was it just a terribly off day for me in the kitchen? And had I now gone crazy to welcome to my pantry such a product as butter-flavored shortening? What was going on? All of a sudden I heard myself trying to convince Kristina of the virtues of butter-flavored shortening. Kristina, rightly so, would hear nothing of it.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m afraid, the conclusion to this long-winded post is that my quest to create Kristina’s molasses crinkles continues. The above- and below-pictured cookies were in fact made with butter-flavored shortening and truly were delicious. That said, I know my cousin’s cookies are better, and as soon as I can, I am going to make another batch of each — Kristina gave me some tips, which I enclosed below — and do a side by side comparison.

In the meantime, I guess I’m just going to have to embrace the repulsive yet remarkable ingredient that has entered my pantry. Butter-flavored shortening is here to stay.

molasses crinkles

dough balls

sugar coated dough balls

Molasses Crinkles
Source: Cousin Kristina via Betty Crocker’s Best Cookies
Yield = about 27 cookies

3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening (See notes below for Kristina’s variation made with butter)
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (table salt as opposed to kosher)
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
granulated sugar

1. Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses thoroughly. (I used a stand mixer, but you probably could mix this batter by hand.) Sift (I whisked) all of the dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Chill. (A time wasn’t specified, but I would imagine one to three hours would suffice. I chill the dough and bake off six to nine cookies at a time — the batter will stay good for days.)

2. Heat oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (I portion my dough into 7/8-oz (28g) balls using my Salter digital scale.) Dip balls in sugar and place sugared side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with two or three drops of water. (This is sort of awkward — I dipped a fork in a cup of water and sort of pulled water from the glass to sprinkle it on top… if that makes any sense. Kristina in fact skips the water-sprinkling step.) Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheet pan before eating.

Notes: Kristina uses butter in place of the shortening. She also uses a little bit less flour but didn’t give an exact amount — so maybe do a scant 2.25 cups or a heaping 2 cups. She also bakes the cookies at 350ºF for about 8 minutes.

molasses crinkles

Cooking With My Mama — Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Is it sick that shortly after dinner, often when I’m still full, I start looking forward to breakfast? It is a little, isn’t it? Well, what can I say, it’s the truth. But it isn’t any old breakfast I go to bed dreaming about. It’s a little something called Teddie’s Apple Cake, a treat my mother introduced me to, and I think it’s something you’ll all enjoy.

The recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake first appeared in The New York Times in 1973, and Amanda Hesser republished the recipe in 2007. Who Teddie is remains a mystery, but that’s beside the point. Teddie made a damn good cake, and for that we should be thankful.

Made with oil not butter, this cake is super moist and seems to get better by the day (not unlike another favorite cake of mine). But what I love most about this cake is the crispy top crust, similar to that of a really good brownie. I prefer this apple cake for breakfast — it’s such a treat with my coffee — but the recipe suggests serving it with vanilla ice cream, so it certainly could be served for dessert. Just know that whenever you serve it, it will be a hit, and don’t hesitate to make it a few days in advance if you’re planning on serving it for company — it stays moist and delectable days after it is baked.

I should note that the title of this post is a little misleading. I took no part in the preparation of this cake, only the eating. My mom came to town to meet Graham, her newest grandson, and to keep me well fed in the process. I could get used to this sort of thing. No cooking, no cleaning, just eating. Hmmmmmm.

Finally, if you’re looking for a yummy apple dessert, this is my favorite.

my mama

Teddie's Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Mom in town to meet Graham, my newest bun out of the oven.
mom and graham

Note: This cake gets better by the day. If you’re preparing it for a weekend brunch, don’t be afraid to make it a day or two in advance. It will be delectable and moist days after baking.

Teddie’s Apple Cake

Source: Amanda Hesser and The New York Times
Yield = 1 bundt pan, serves 8 to 10

Butter for greasing pan
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith*
1 cup chopped walnuts (I omitted — I prefer baked goods without nuts)
1 cup raisins (Also omitted — I prefer baked goods without raisins)
Vanilla ice cream (optional, definitely optional — I prefer this cake for breakfast)

*I used a mix of Fuji, York and Cameo — use whatever you have on hand or whatever variety you prefer to bake with

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts (if using) and raisins (if using) and stir until combined.

3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Teddie's apple cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Apple Hand Pies with Cheddar Crust— So Delicious!

apple-cheddar hand pie

This is the sort of discovery that inspires me to host a dinner party. After just one bite, I began envisioning the scene: my guests’ hands reaching to the center of the table; the plate piled high with steaming, half-mooned pastries slowly disappearing; the silence as first bites are taken. Just anticipating the reactions — “apple and cheddar?!” — makes me giddy. And giddy were we (my mom, my aunt and I) as we stood around the cutting board in my kitchen, tucking into one after another hand pie, analyzing the flaky cheddar crust, adoring the adorable shape, oohing and ahing over the whole package. These hand pies are a home run.

I’ve been wanting to make an apple pie with a cheddar crust for several years now. Hand pies of course are a little fussy — much more work than making a traditional-shaped pie – but oh so good, and oh so much fun for a party. The pies can be assembled ahead of time and baked just before serving — 20 minutes in the oven and these babies are done.

While apple with cheddar is an age-old pairing, their union in a pie, for me at least, still came as a surprise. A most delicious surprise! I have a feeling you’ll all think so, too.

apple-cheddar hand pie

Mom and Auntie, in town for the weekend, reading to Ella
mom, auntie, ella

Cameo and Fuji apples from Catoctin Mountain Orchard The Cameo apples were some of the best apples I have ever tasted.
Local Fuji and Cameo apples

apple filling

I adore this cheddar.
Cabot Extra Sharp

cheddar cheese pie dough

hand pie assembly

apple-cheddar hand pie

Apple Hand Pie with Cheddar Crust
Dough and Filling recipes from Martha Stewart
Yield = 1 10-inch pie or 10 hand pies + 1 mini pie

Note: If you don’t feel like making hand pies, follow this Martha Stewart recipe for a traditional apple-cheddar pie.

Cheddar Crust

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup ice water

1. Process flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Add butter; pulse until pea-size lumps appear. Pulse in cheese. With processor running, add ice water; process just until dough comes together.

2. Turn dough out; gather into a block. Wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Filling
Note: This amount of filling is for a traditional sized pie. If you are making hand pies, you will have way too much filling. Halving the amount of filling will yield enough for the hand pies. Or, if you are creative, you could find a way to use up that extra filling…perhaps a crumble or a crisp of some sort?

1 1/2 pounds (about 3) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
2 pounds (about 5) Cortland apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes*
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (optional, I didn’t use b/c I didn’t have)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (I forgot to dot filling with butter — so I would mark this as optional, too.)

1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
turbinado or demerara sugar or regular granulated sugar for dusting

vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

*These are the apples and amounts recommended in the Martha Stewart recipe. I used a variety of apples — Fuji, Gala, York — it came out beautifully. I think you could basically use any combination of crisp-textured apples.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Divide dough into two pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out one half of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a 4 1/2-inch-round cutter (something about the size of a martini glass, which worked quite well in fact) cut five to seven circles out of the rolled dough. (I was able to get five circles initially and had to gather the scraps, re-roll and cut again to get seven out of one half of the dough.) Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet, and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes. Repeat the rolling, cutting, and chilling process with the remaining half of dough.

2. Make the filling: Stir together apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves.

3. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Spoon about 1 to 2 tablespoons of filling onto one half of each circle of dough. Using your finger, brush a little cold water around the circumference of the dough. Fold the circle in half so the unfilled side comes over the filling, creating a semicircle. (You might need to let the circles stand at room temperature for a couple of minutes so they become pliable.) Seal the hand pie, and make a decorative edge by pressing the edges of the dough together with the back of a fork. Repeat process with remaining dough. Place the hand pies back on the parchment-lined baking sheet, and return to the refrigerator to chill for another 30 minutes.

4. Remove the chilled hand pies from the refrigerator, cut a small slit in each and lightly brush with the egg yolk wash. Sprinkle a pinch of the sugar lightly over the pies, and place pies in the oven to bake. Bake pie 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF. Bake until the hand pies are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the pies from the oven, and let stand to cool slightly before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.

apple-cheddar hand pie

A mini apple-cheddar pie…yummmm.
apple-cheddar hand pie