California, Here We Are


We have finally arrived! Yesterday, after lunch in Tuscon, we decided to push, skipping Yuma and driving all the way to Camp Pendleton. Famished, as usual, we stopped in Carlsbad and dined at Pizza Port, a great local restaurant that serves “tasty grub and grog.” Under surfboards dangling from the ceiling, we sat at wooden picnic tables surrounded by diners sporting flipflops and hoodies. While I am well equipped in the hoodie department, I definitely need a new pair of shoes.

Pizza Port brews its own beer, which a friend of mine — a San Diegoan-turned-Philadelphian — reported spotting on the Tria menu recently. Ben and I ordered a white pizza with clams and mozzarella. It took a little explaining — I’m not sure they get many requests for white pizza. Our ticket was scribbled with the instructions: “NO SAUCE!!” The beer we ordered, Carlsbad Chronic, reminded us of the Ambar Ale, which of course makes us (me) very happy. And the pizza, though not at all similar to our favorite New Haven-style thin-crust pizza was delectable!

This literally is the view from the cottage we are staying in for the next couple days. This place is unbelievably beautiful, exceeding every expectation, answering every question I had about my crazy college roommates who insisted there was no place on earth like San Diego (and San Francisco).

Some snapshots from the road:

09. January 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Travel | 7 comments

Road Blogging: Santa Fe

Café Pasqual's

Cafe Pasqual’s, Santa Fe, NM
As Ben and I left Boulder early this morning, I suddenly felt extremely disappointed that we didn’t make it to The Kitchen, a restaurant my mother has been telling me about for years, quite possibly her all-time favorite dining destination. And we really should have eaten there last night because the Mexican restaurant highly recommended from a local the night before, proved to be more than disappointing. (Sorry Mama, I really should always listen to what you say.) The highlight of my dinner came early: the Pink Cadillac, a margarita served in a 16 oz. canning jar — it was awesome. The food, however, failed to differ much from Chili’s.

Anyway, we made much headway today, changing our route due to weather from I-70W to I-25S, traveling over 400 miles before lunch, which we enjoyed in Santa Fe, New Mexico at Cafe Pasqual’s, another recommendation in the Stern’s Roadfood book. As we pulled into downtown Santa Fe, snow — lucky for us — dumped from the sky, discouraging many locals to stay home and enabling us to find a table at Cafe Pasqual’s without waiting, a rare feat apparently any day of the week.

We soon learned why. These pictures don’t do the food justice — every bite was incredible. Ben ordered the carne asada, the meal arriving to each of the three business men sitting at the table next to us, a plate of grilled marinated Niman Ranch beef (hanger steak we think) with guacamole, salsa fresca, black beans and grilled sweet red peppers. And I ordered the plato primo, a plate including one chile relleno, a vegetarian tamale, cilantro rice, salsa fresca and refried beans. Stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and onion, and lightly battered and fried, the chile relleno, we both agreed, was the highlight of our lunch spread.

Everything — the salsas, tortillas, beans, rice, masa — however, tasted fresh and delectable. So enamored by this corner cafe, we even tinkered with the idea of staying over night: check out the breakfast menu. We loved the decor and the staff too, though our waitress, as Ben says, totally “dominated” us, somehow tempting me to begin my meal with a Mimosa — organic, freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with sparkling California white wine — and finagling the two of us to share a piece of blackberry pie for dessert, neither decision we regretted ultimately. Oh, and I also walked out of there with a cookbook — Café Pasqual’s Cookbook — a purchase which actually needed zero encouragement from the staff. Filled with artwork, stories and recipes from the cafe, this book promises to provide hours of entertainment on the last leg of our trip west.

This is the plato primo: a chile relleno and a vegetarian tamale served with cilantro rice, salsa fresca and refried beans. It’s much tastier than it looks.

07. January 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Travel | Leave a comment

Road Blogging: Kansas City and Colorado Springs


Snead’s Bar-B-Q, Kansas City, MO
As I write, Ben and I are sitting by the window in an adorable café, The BookEnd, in Boulder, Colorado, drinking coffee and watching the beginning of the snowstorm dump onto Pearl Street. Everything is going as planned: We arrived at my brother’s apartment yesterday before the precipitation made the roads too dangerous to travel, and for the next couple days, we will wait out the storm — expected to deliver 10 feet of snow — before getting back onto I-70 to continue our journey west.

Guided again by Jane and Michael Stern, we stopped at two places on our way to Boulder: Snead’s Bar-B-Q in Kansas City, Missouri, and Conway’s Red Top in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At Snead’s, Ben ordered a mixed platter of brisket and pork, barbecued beans and applesauce, and I ordered a pork sandwich with applesauce. The food arrived with three sauces: two bbq sauces — one spicy and smoky, the other more traditional — and ketchup, for the delectable hand-cut fries. As described, the brisket was lean and smoky, and Ben ate every last bite of it, preferring its flavor and texture to the pork, which tasted a little fatty and mushy to him. I suppose we can’t agree on everything — I loved the pork, particularly its moist texture and fatty flavor.

We loved everything about Snead’s: the smells that pervade the parking lot; the decor: deer heads line the walls and a wood-fire, stoked by our server, warms the dining area; and the food: smoky, flavorful meats and traditional bbq side dishes make for a wonderful lunch (or dinner) and an authentic experience.

Conway’s Red Top, Colorado Springs, CO
Unfortunately, we cannot give Conway’s Red Top the same praise as Snead’s. Ben likened his burger — his enormous burger (the picture doesn’t do justice to its size) — to a Burger King patty, and the soups, while although offering some healthy beans and vegetables to our thus far meat-heavy diet, had that odd, cornstarch-thickened texture. Alas, the Sterns cannot be spot on about everything.

Last night, however, guided by my brother, we enjoyed a delicious Italian dinner at Il Pastaio. Before our entreés arrtived, we sipped Chianti served in little water glasses and dipped our rolls into eggplant caponata. The Italian family that runs this trattoria makes their own pasta: noodles, ravioli and gnocchi. In a spicy, Arrabiata sauce topped with fresh basil, the gnocchi (my order) and the pappardelle (Ben’s order) made wonderful meals. Several other couples leaving the restaurant ordered pounds of the fresh pasta to take home with them — what a luxury! We split a yummy, though not-as-good-as-Isgro’s cannoli for dessert before making our way home.

I’ll have to snap a picture of Il Pastaio tonight on our way to dinner at Efrain’s, a Mexican restaurant suggested to us by a man working at the wine shop next door to Il Pastaio. Incidentally, this café, BookEnds, serves a mean bran muffin and great coffee to boot.

06. January 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Travel | 2 comments

Road Blogging: Indianapolis, Madison and Minneapolis


Shapiro’s, Indianapolis, IN
I had envisioned our journey across country much like a trip several friends of mine took to Asia this summer, a culinary adventure highlighted by a yakstravaganza — a feast featuring foods made solely from local yak. To prepare us for our road trip, a friend had given me Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood, a great guide to finding hundreds of the best under-the-radar eateries in cities across the country.

But after packing and repacking the car for an hour-and-a-half Sunday morning, we departed for Columbus, Ohio, feeling famished, and before we even made it around City Hall, we had stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts. Our next three stops — Quiznos, Panera, Starbucks — didn’t bode well for our anticipated culinary adventure. We left Columbus Monday morning, however, headed toward Indianapolis with a mission: Eat corned beef sandwiches from Shapiro’s, a recommendation in Roadfood. Just as described, Shapiro’s looks like a cafeteria, equipped with plastic chairs and Formica tables, and as promised, serves a corned beef sandwich “that will take you straight to deli heaven.” The rye bread and crunchy dill pickles were particularly memorable.

Madison, WI

From Shapiro’s, we headed to Madison, Wisconsin, bypassing Chicago, fearing the madness of New Year’s Eve. Guided by my friend Tara, we reserved a room at the Best Western right by the capital building and headed down State Street for dinner. We had two places in mind, Amy’s Café and State Street Brats, but ended up at Tutto Pasta, a lively Italian trattoria. With warm rosemary focaccia, two complementary glasses of champagne, salad Helenica, chicken Marsala and a thin-crust Margarita pizza, Ben and I kicked off the New Year. After dinner, we stepped out into the -1ºF weather and proceeded to sprint to the hotel. Tara, thanks for the help — we tried to go to Mickies Dairy Bar but it was closed for the New Year … we will, however, definitely be returning to Madison!

Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis, MN

Mahnomin Porridge:

On Tuesday morning in a light snow fall, we left Madison and headed toward the Twin Cities. This morning, we met three of Ben’s closest high school friends at one of my all-time favorite breakfast spots, Hell’s Kitchen, in downtown Minneapolis. The virtues of Hell’s Kitchen are countless: homemade peanut butter and multi-grain bread, sausage bread (made with bison sausage, currants, pecans and coffee … yum!), huevos rancheros, and the Mahnomin porridge, which three out of the five of us ordered. On a frigid (-5ºF) winter day, nothing could be more satisfying than this porridge, a mixture of wild rice, dried blueberries, craisins, hazelnuts and heavy cream, reason enough to venture downtown for breakfast any morning. Incidentally, though the Stern couple didn’t include Hell’s Kitchen in their book, they are quoted on the Hell’s Kitchen menu, praising the homemade peanut butter as the best in the country (or something like that … I’ve forgotten the quote by this point.)

Tomorrow, to Iowa we depart, for caucus and grandparent fun! Stay tuned.

One of Ben’s friends passed along this recipe published on Kare I’m dying to try it!
Mahnomin Porridge
Recipe From Kare 11, Minneapolis, Adapted from Hell’s Kitchen

4 cups cooked wild rice
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup dried blueberries
¼ cup craisins
½ cup roasted, cracked hazelnuts
1 cup heavy cream

In a heavy non-stick sautee pan, add the cooked wild rice, heavy cream, and maple syrup, and warm through. Add the blueberries, craisins, and hazelnuts, and stir to mix well. Serve in a bowl with sides of warm heavy cream and maple syrup.

02. January 2008 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Breakfast, Travel | 5 comments

World Peace Cookies


Before heading out on our eight-day road trip to San Diego, I thought I’d share a recipe I’ve made three times this past week, a Dorie Greenspan recipe for a cookie created by pastry chef Pierre Hermé. For the past year, a neighbor of mine has been on the quest for a good double-chocolate cookie recipe, and when I read the description for these “world peace” cookies on Smitten Kitchen, I had to try them myself.

And the first batch I made looked and tasted just as described: midnight-dark in color, buttery-rich in taste, sandy-textured, chocolaty, salty … delicious! When I made them a second and third time, however, the cookies came out completely differently — thin and crisp without that sandy, grown-up character of the first batch. Still delectable, just different. Very strange. I can’t explain the difference.

I have made some notes: For the first batch, I used a stand mixer; for the following two, I used a hand-held mixer. For the first batch I used parchment paper; for the following two I used a Silpat. For the first batch I used mini chocolate chips; for the second two, I used chopped bittersweet chocolate. Using Dutch process cocoa versus unsweetened cocoa powder doesn’t seem to make a difference — I used Dutch process for the second batch and unsweetened for the third, and the two cookies came out nearly identical. Having the oven temperature at 325ºF, as described, seems to be important: The third batch of cookies spread less than the second batch of cookies, which baked at a higher temperature.

So, I’m a little perplexed, but nonetheless believe the recipe to be a good one. Incidentally, in her book Baking From My Home To Yours (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), Dorie Greenspan explains why she calls these chocolaty delights “world peace” cookies: A neighbor of hers, Richard Gold, believes a daily dose of these cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for Korova Cookies
Also known as “World Peace” cookies
Yield = 18

1¼ C. all-purpose flour

1/3 C. unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp. baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 C. (packed) light brown sugar

¼ C. sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt or ½ tsp. fleur de sel or ¼ tsp. fine sea salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous ¾ C. store-bought mini chocolate chips

Whisk the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour, and mix just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1½ inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen in 1-ounce portions for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are ½-inch thick or that weigh exactly 1 ounce. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange six rounds on a baking sheets, leaving about one inch between each round.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

Serve with milk after dinner or with morning coffee.

27. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Cookies, Desserts, Olallie Cafe recipes | 4 comments

Boozy Chocolate Truffles


I am currently sitting on the floor of my barren living room, on a carpet strewn with random bobby pins, pen caps and Styrofoam packing peanuts. Though no furniture remains, I’m hanging out in this dust-bunny-filled corner, drawn by my Comcast modem, still connected despite all the chaos. The movers, who have been working nonstop since 8 this morning, have about an hour — or so I’m told — more of packing to complete. I still cannot believe the truck parked outside 754 S. 10th St. will be on its way to California by the end of the day.

Surprisingly, the day has gone smoothly. My sole concern now centers around the very large Tupperware sitting in my refrigerator filled to the brim with chocolate truffles. I went a little overboard this year, making over 300, in an effort to use up all the remaining chocolate in my refrigerator and pantry before the move. I emptied nearly every bottle of booze in my possession as well — Grand Marnier, Brandy, Marsala, even a splash of Sake. Sounds gross, I know, but a trustworthy friend enthusiastically described these as my “most impressive feat yet.” Now, I’m concerned because with nothing but a half-full jar of Sriracha, a few bottles of beer, and a tub of peanut butter remaining in my fridge, I could make a considerable dent in this chocolate stash tonight.

I have been experimenting with this Alton Brown recipe for almost a year now. These chocolaty confections have morphed from Derby Day Bourbon balls coated with chopped pecans and confectioners’ sugar to trendy dark chocolate truffles topped with gray salt and now back to their original incarnation, filled with booze, doused in cocoa.

Boozy Chocolate Truffles
Yield 35

10 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Grand Marnier, Brandy, Port, Marsala, whatever (seriously)
12 oz candy-making chocolate disks (dark), Merckens brand works well or Nuts to You’s dark chocolate disks
½ cup Dutch process cocoa powder

Place the bittersweet chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30-60 seconds, stirring after the first 30 seconds. Alternatively, melt chocolate and butter together in a bowl set over (not touching) gently simmering water.

In a small sauté pan or saucepan, heat cream, corn syrup and salt until simmering. Pour over melted chocolate mixture and let stand 1-2 minutes. With a spatula gently stir mixture until evenly blended. Pour the alcohol into the chocolate mixture and stir. Pour mixture into an 8×8 inch baking dish, preferably glass or Pyrex. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a truffle scoop (also called a #100 scoop) or a melon baller, gently drag the balled end across the surface of the chocolate. Release the ball of chocolate onto the cookie sheet and repeat until all of the chocolate has been scooped. These balls should look slightly mishapen. Let chill in the refrigerator for at least another hour.

Place the coating chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl. Fill a pot large enough to accomodate the bowl with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer and place the bowl with chocolate over the pot being sure that the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. After a few minutes, stir the chocolate with a heat-proof spatula.

Place the cocoa powder in a shallow vessel—a large Tupperware works well. Have a clean Tupperware ready for the finished truffles.

When the chocolate is smooth and melted, remove the bowl from the heat. Remove the chocolate balls from the refrigerator. Place a large stainless-steel spoon in the bowl and using the spatula push chocolate into the spoon to fill. Working one at a time, place one ball into the chocolate-filled spoon. Quickly coat the ball using a small spoon or fork, then transfer to the cocoa powder. Repeat with five or six and let sit for a minute. Gently shake the vessel back and forth until the truffles are coated, then transfer to the clean vessel.

Note: Toward the end of this coating process, you may need to place the bowl back over the water to gently warm the chocolate again so it more easily coats the chocolates. Just follow the same procedure as above—the key is to melt the chocolate slowly and to keep moisture out of the inside of the bowl. Keep the un-dipped chocolates cool in the refrigerator while you reheat the chocolate.

Once all of the truffles are coated, store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you prefer to eat them at room temperature, remove them from the refrigerator one hour prior to serving.

Note: After the chocolates have chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and are firm, taste one. If the cocoa-powder coating is too strong, try this: Place five or six in a strainer and shake until enough of the coating comes off.

Note: You may have left over cocoa powder and coating chocolate. You can store the remaining coating chocolate in the refrigerator and use for another project or use in a recipe for chocolate sauce or hot cocoa. The remaining cocoa powder can also be saved for hot cocoa.

20. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Cookies, Desserts, Olallie Cafe recipes | 1 comment

Homemade Marshmallows


Every so often the Food Network offers some really good ideas. Last Sunday, I watched Tyler Florence make marshmallows, a food I never thought I would venture to make from scratch. But after seeing the two egg whites whip in the stand mixer until they tripled in size — until they nearly spilled out of the mixer — I had to try for myself. Plus, he packaged them in a cellophane bag tied with a festive ribbon and nestled the pouch into a basket with a jar of hot cocoa mix, his idea for a wonderful homemade Christmas gift. After tasting one of these sugary confections, I couldn’t agree more.

Homemade Marshmallows:
Adapted from Tyler Florence

This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer.
3 tablespoons powdered gelatin
2 cups cold water
2 cups sugar
2 egg whites
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting pan and marshmallows

In a medium sized saucepan soak the gelatin in the cold water. After the gelatin has softened, about 10 minutes, add the regular sugar, and gently dissolve over low heat, another 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in the sifted confectioners’ sugar. While the mixer is on low, slowly pour in the cooled gelatin mixture. Increase the speed and beat until white and thick. The volume should double (or triple) in size and should form between soft and firm peaks. (When the mixture fills nearly the entire bowl, it is ready.)

Coat bottom and all sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with confectioners’ sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture in and top with more sifted confectioners’ sugar. Leave out overnight or for at least 3 hours to set. The marshmallow should be light and spongy when set.

Loosen marshmallow from edges of tray and invert onto a large cutting board. Use a large knife to cut the marshmallows into cubes. Sprinkle each piece with more confectioners’ sugar.

16. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Breakfast, Desserts | 6 comments

French Onion Soup


So, I’ve found something else I’m going to miss about Philadelphia. On Monday, my sister and I met for lunch at Rouge where we enjoyed the crusty rolls served with sea salt-speckled butter and the French onion soup topped with Gruyère and provolone. These cheeses blister over garlic croutons insulating the delectable onion broth below. And the crusty bits clinging to all sides of the goblet-like bowls are irresistible.

While I can’t say I’m a French onion soup connoisseur, I have ordered my fair share of this bistro classic, including five bowls this week alone, a spree that began last Saturday up in NYC. A.O.C., the adorable Greenwich Village restaurant where I sat with two friends for a few hours, set the standard, one so high I feared no place in Philly could equal. And for the most part, the soups I sampled confirmed my worries. At both Brasserie Perrier and Caribou Café, the soup had not been thoroughly heated before being topped with the crouton and cheese and thrown under the broiler. Both should have been sent back to the kitchen.

My weeklong onion-soup bender also inspired me to make my own batch, which to my surprise and delight was very simple. I opened Daniel Boulud’s Café Boulud Cookbook, a book I have not used once, but has now piqued my interest. The success of French onion soup, says Mr. Boulud in his notes preceding the recipe, depends on cooking plenty of onions “very, very slowly until they are soft, sweet and caramel colored,” and deglazing with white wine, which adds the necessary “touch of acidity.”

My onions cooked for about an hour and I used a mix of Sherry and Madeira because I didn’t have any white wine. I also used homemade chicken stock, which Mr. Boulud describes as “rarely the star player,” but whose “supporting role can elevate just about anything.” I would agree that a homemade chicken (or beef) stock makes all the difference in this soup.

While any ovenproof bowls will work, it’s fun to eat this soup out of the traditional crocks. I found mine at Kitchen Kapers for $7.99 each. Fante’s and the Philadelphia Bar & Restaurant supply shop at 5th and Bainbridge also sell these vessels.

French Onion Soup
Serves 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds yellow or Spanish onions, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry white wine or Madeira or Sherry
Herb sachet: (2 sprigs Italian parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 8 peppercorns and 1 bay leaf, tied together in a cheesecloth)
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
1 mini French baguette
2 cups Gruyère or Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
4 to 6 sprigs parsley, leaves finely chopped

In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook stirring regularly, until the onions are a deep caramel color, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Dust the onions with the flour and cook, stirring for about five minutes to toast the flour and rid it of its raw taste. Add the white wine and cook, stirring until the wine almost evaporates completely. This happens almost instantly.

Add the herb sachet, the stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer 40 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350ºF. Slice the baguette into one-inch thick rounds. Place rounds on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and let cool.

Preheat the broiler. Taste the soup. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the sachet and discard. Ladle the soup into individual ovenproof serving bowls. Cover each with two baguette rounds. Top each generously with the grated cheese. Top each with a pinch of chopped parsley. Place bowls on a baking sheet and place under the broiler. Broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Homemade Chicken Stock
Yield = 1 gallon

4 lbs. of chicken legs
2 carrots, peeled, cut into large chunks
2 ribs celery, trimmed, cut into large chunks
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 leek, trimmed, split lengthwise, and washed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 bunch Italian parsley

Place the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover with 2½ quarts of cold water and bring to a boil. Skim off scum that rises to the top. Simmer 10 minutes, skimming regularly.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and simmer gently for three hours, skimming as necessary. Drain the stock into a colander set over a bowl. Allow the solids to drain before discarding them. Strain stock again through a fine-mesh strainer. Transfer to storage containers and chill in the refrigerator over night.

The next day, scrape off any fat solidified at the top of the stock. Freeze stock indefinitely or keep in the refrigerator for four days.

14. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Entrees, Side dishes, Soup | 1 comment

Roasted Brussels Sprouts


Recall my friends Kristin and Liz. You remember, the ones that went to town on the baklava and flatbread that night back at my apartment after an evening carousing in Old City this past August. Well, I had the pleasure of seeing them along with some other good friends this weekend up in NYC. Upon arriving, I presented Kristin, my host, with a block of fudge, the first batch I had ever made. The three of us chatted for awhile, but before long, Liz had convinced Kristin to unwrap the parchment paper and tuck in. This time, however, just a small taste sufficed — this fudge is rich, richer even than baklava.

They both inquired about how to make it, but as soon as I began explaining the “soft-ball stage,” I had lost them. They very politely requested that I post some easier recipes every so often, ones with fewer steps and fewer ingredients. I’ve taken their suggestion to heart and am going to make an effort to post simple recipes more frequently, these roasted Brussels sprouts being the first of the series.

I suppose I should have asked my two friends if they like Brussels sprouts — people seem to either love or hate these little cabbages — but this recipe couldn’t be simpler. So, Kristin and Liz, if you like Brussels sprouts, you’ll love these, and I am confident you will have no trouble making them. And once you’ve mastered these simply roasted Brussels sprouts, you can dress them up with Fuji apples, cème fraîche and pistachios, as they were prepared last December at Alta, a tapas restaurant in the West Village.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 3 to 4

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the rough end off each Brussels sprout and discard. Cut each sprout in half. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle two to three tablespoons of olive oil over the top. Sprinkle to taste with salt and pepper. Toss mixture together until evenly coated with the flavorings. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until sprouts are knife tender and slightly charred.

09. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Eating Locally, Side dishes, Vegetarian | Leave a comment

Duncan Hines Yellow Cake Mix Baking Spree


Three-hundred sixty-four days a year, my mother suffers from make-it-from-scratch syndrome. On her one day a year liberated from this affliction, she spends a few hours preparing a Greek New Year’s cake (vasilopita), pulling from the pantry a box of Duncan Hines yellow cake mix and a box of instant vanilla pudding. She combines these two powders in a bowl, adds a considerable amount of rum – the secret, she says, to the cake’s moist texture – and before long has produced a beautiful rum bundt cake, the dessert of choice for our annual coin-hiding, cake-cutting, Greek ritual.

Introducing this old WASP recipe into my mother’s repertoire – one dominated by traditional Greek dishes like spanakopita and moussaka – was no easy task. My stepfather, the man responsible for accomplishing this feat many years ago, still gloats to this day.

Only after several attempts at making the cake from scratch (substituting for the powdered mixes a pound cake one time and a chiffon cake another) received unfavorable reviews, did my mother concede, vowing never to tinker with the recipe again, a pledge widely supported by the rest of the family. Moist and boozy with a sugary-buttery glaze, this cake – in its original incarnation – has been a favorite since its debut.

Although my adoration for the rum bundt cake has made me less skeptical than my mother of recipes calling for instant cake mixes, I still find myself calling home to consult the authority before opening the box. “Be sure to add vanilla extract or a splash of Bourbon,” she always tells me, adding, “you need something to hide that artificial flavor.” Rarely do I end up making the recipe.

A recent visit to Williams- Sonoma, however, unexpectedly inspired a prepared-mix baking spree, my arrival to the shop fortuitously coinciding with the presentation of a batch of freshly made pumpkin dessert bars. Spiced with cinnamon, double-textured like a lemon bar, these pumpkin treats instantly won the affection of all who sampled them. Much to my surprise, the recipe called for a box of yellow cake mix.

After successfully making the pumpkin bars at home, along with a pan of quick apple kuchen, neither recipe calling for extract or alcohol, I resolved never to look suspiciously at recipes beginning with a premade mix. Though I’ll never tell my mother, my recent discoveries have confirmed an inkling I’ve had for years regarding the legendary rum bundt cake: The secret’s in the box, not the bottle.

The rum bundt cake can be made in mini pans as well. This was a batch I made last year for the Greek New Year’s Cake. Last year, I made the cake from scratch — truthfully, it’s much better using the box!
Rum Bundt Cake

1 box yellow cake mik
1 pkg. instant vanilla pudding
½ cup rum
4 eggs
½ cup canola oil
½ cup water

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Mix all with an electric mixer for five minutes. Grease bundt pan and lightly flour. Bake for one hour.

1 stick butter
¼ cup rum
½ cup sugar

Meanwhile, combine rum, butter and sugar together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. When cake comes out of the oven, pour one-third of this mixture into the bottom of the cake. Let sit for 30 minutes. Turn cake out onto a cooling rack. Paint a layer of the glaze all over the cake. Let harden. Paint another layer. Repeat until all the glaze is gone.

Note: Tastes even better the second day.

Pumpkin Butter Dessert Squares

1 package yellow cake mix
½ cup butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 jar Muirhead pumpkin butter (This is the Williams Sonoma brand, but any will do. The jar was 13.5 oz.)
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Measure one cup of cake mix. Set aside. Stir remaining cake mix with the butter and one egg. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan. Mix the jar of pumpkin butter with the remaining two eggs and milk. Pour mixture over layer in the pan. Stir the reserved cake mix with the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon. Mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over the top of the pumpkin layer. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into two-inch squares. Serves 24.

Note: Of the three recipes posted here, I would say the kuchen tastes the most artificial, a sour cream glaze giving it an Entenmman’s-like character. Best served warm with a cup of coffee, however, this kuchen is still delectable.

Quick Apple Kuchen
Serves 20-24

1 box yellow cake mix
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sweetened coconut
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1 egg
1 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Combine first three ingredients together in a bowl. Mix with your hands or beat slowly with an electric mixer. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pat mixture into pan. Bake 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix cinnamon and sugar together and toss with the apples. Remove pan from the oven and top with the apple mixture. Whisk egg and sour cream together and drizzle over the apples. Return to the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately.

07. December 2007 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 3 comments

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