Category Archives: 50 Recipes

Quarantine Cocktail

June iris

We’ve made it through 27 days of quarantine after the little incident with the raccoon on Mother’s Day. The dog has had his shot (note the use of the singular), Shawn and I have had our shots (note the use of the plural), and we’ve only got 18 days more to go on Oliver’s state mandated quarantine. Time to celebrate with a spring time cocktail!

Rhubarb plant

While I have worked with food most of my life, one job I’ve never had is tending bar. I appreciate a good cocktail, have made many for photo shoots (with fake ice cubes and dots of glycerine to give the visual impression that the ice is actually cold), but have not explored mixology. Given that my rhubarb plant is ginormous (gigantic + enormous) this year and getting ready to take over the garden it seemed like the perfect time to try something pink and fun.

Rhubarb

My habit of procrastination is something my gardens have to suffer through. I buy packages of seeds dreaming about bowls of fresh peas and enough basil to finally fill my freezer with pesto, but don’t always get around to planting them in the ground so they can grow. My weekly visits to the farmer’s markets find me coming home loaded with berries, bread, eggs and vegetables, as well as several plants which inevitably take weeks to get in the ground. One of the hard truths I’ve realized about myself is when it comes to gardens the best foods for me to grow are ones that more or less grow themselves. Rhubarb is close to the top of that list. Once it’s planted and happy it will continue to grow year after year. The bonus is it’s one of the first things up in the spring along with chives.

Chive blossoms

Usually I never do anything too fancy with my rhubarb. I simmer the cut up stalks with some orange juice, sugar, and a chunk of ginger. Occasionally I’ll add a stick of cinnamon, but not always. Once the fruit has softened I serve it over ice cream or yogurt. The stewed fruit would look muddy and odd in a cocktail so I strained the juice, then added some gin, seltzer, and a twist of orange. It was a lovely late spring cocktail and just the thing to help boost our spirits for the final days of quarantine. If it’s not 5 o’clock where you are skip the gin and top off a jigger or two of syrup with seltzer for a refreshing spring tonic.

Ingredients for stewed rhubarb

Ingredients for Quatantine rhubarb cocktail

 

Quarantine Cocktail

Generous 4 cups of chopped rhubarb (1 1/2 pounds before trimming)

1 orange

3-5 slices of fresh ginger, depending on taste

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup water

Place all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 7-12 minutes. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes so the flavors can meld. Strain the liquid from the solids, reserving the solids (from which you remove the orange rinds and ginger slices). Let cool. Save the solid ginger infused rhubarb solids for mixing into a bowl of ice cream or whipping into a milkshake or spreading on toast as a kind of non-jam.

Gin

Rhubarb ginger syrup

Seltzer

Orange twist (optional)

I used the following measurements, but feel free to experiment with whatever suits your tastes. 1 part gin to 2-3 parts syrup topped with seltzer and served over ice. If you feel like being fancy add a twist of orange.

Quarantine Cocktail

Note: For those of you new to rhubarb don’t forget while the stalks are edible – the leaves are poisonous.

Swallowtail butterfly

 

 

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Signed Raspberries with Chocolate Ganache

If I were to sign my name with food instead of letters, what food would I use? It could be almost any recipe from this blog, though lately I think my culinary John Hancock would most  likely be Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache.

Raspberries filled with Chocolate Ganache

It’s a great dessert recipe with only three ingredients, but best of all it makes you look like a rock star* in the kitchen. Most people I’ve met think stuffing a raspberry is kookoo, that is until they eat one. Close your eyes and imagine a tart, juicy raspberry filled with a tiny dollop of smooth creamy chocolate ganache. Are you drooling? I know I am because these are so good you want to pop them into your mouth like candy, but the flavors are such a sublime pairing you want to savor each one. I have yet to take these anywhere without hearing at lease one person moan out loud when they eat their first one. I love foods that evokes such an earthy response!

Ingredients for raspberries with chocolate ganache

I first found the idea for this recipe on pinterest. There was no recipe linked to the image, but it seemed fairly straight forward. I modified a basic ganache recipe from Rose Levy Bernenbaum, which I then stuffed into a pastry bag with a plain tip, and started to fill the raspberries.

At first it didn’t work because the ganache refused to come out. It was malleable within the pastry bag, but no matter how hard I squeezed it would not squirt into the raspberry hole. I nicknamed this problem pastry bag constipation. Apparently the metal pastry tip changed the temperature of the ganache enough to solidify it within that small metal portion. Take away the pastry tip and things started to flow.  So now I use a disposable plastic pastry bag without a tip, and cut the tiniest of holes at the pointy end. If you have any ganache leftover you can freeze it (that is if you don’t squirt it into your mouth or all over a bowl of ice cream. Or use it to sign your name…

Filling raspberries with chocolate ganache

 

Raspberries Filled with Chocolate Ganache

If you are making these for a crowd wait until raspberries are on sale or you can get them in season. This much ganache will fill approximately 2  1/2 pounds (roughly 4 pints) of raspberries.

4–12 ounce boxes of raspberries

6 ounces good dark chocolate

6 ounces heavy cream (about 3/4 cup)

Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until simmering. As it is heating up finely chop the chocolate. When the cream is bubbling along the edges pour over the chocolate and gently stir to mix all together. Let the ganache cool a bit and then pour into a disposable pastry bag which you have set into a tall glass. Secure end with a rubber band and when the ganache cools to room temperature (you don’t want to cook the raspberries) snip the end off the pastry bag and pipe the ganache into the raspberries. If you find that you have started piping while the ganache is still semi liquid then make sure the raspberries are upright in a container so they don’t drool. Keep cool until ready to serve. Since raspberries are so delicate you do need to make these fairly close to the time you plan to serve them.

Liquid ganache filling

When people tell you how great they are  just smile and say, “It was nothing.”

Chopped chocolate

 

*I felt like this dessert achieved full Rock Star status when my son’s 11th grade class requested I bring it to their school’s semi formal. There were any number of things I could have made for them, but his one was the one recipe they all voted on.

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The Frugality of Angel Food Cake

Angel Food Cake with Strawberries and Cream

One of the biggest challenges I faced when switching from being a chef to food styling was the waste. Not the oh, this is moldy let’s throw it out waste, but this strawberry is too darn big or that bun has a little dimple on one side or the pith of this lemon is a quarter of an inch too thick or this slice of swiss cheese doesn’t have enough holes to read as swiss cheese. Some of these defects you can change or manipulate. Not enough holes in the swiss cheese? No problem, get out your trusty plain pastry tips and cut a few more holes. If the bun is dimpled on one side swivel it so the dimple is away from the camera’s lens. But a strawberry that is too shaped funny? There is not a lot you can do about it. You can’t send it to the gym or carve it into the right shape the art director wants. Instead you buy lots and lots and lots of strawberries. The rejects – those that are too big, too small, too light, or who might have a slight bruise – get used as stand-ins or nibbled on as we work with the perfect ones. If we have the time we’ll try to arrange for a food bank pick up at the end of the day, but it’s not always possible. A chef, on the other hand, buys what they need. They minimize waste. It does need to look good, but it also has to taste good, and food costs have to be kept in mind. As a chef I would use all of the strawberries below. As a food stylist I would reject all but the bottom one, and even that one is a bit iffy as a hero strawberry.

Unphotogenic Strawberries

 

As much as I am a food stylist with an eye for the most gorgeous, I am also a former chef who is frugal down to her bones. And the later is why I love to make Angel Food Cake because the former chef in me cannot throw away an egg white. If I make a batch of my Grammy Thompson’s Scandinavian Cookies or whip up my Mom’s hollandaise sauce to dip some steamed artichokes into I always slip the leftover egg whites into the freezer.  Yolks won’t freeze, but the whites freeze beautifully. Every time I open the freezer door I eyeball my stash of frozen whites, judging if I have enough to make an angel food cake. I’ve twiddled with Jasper White’s recipe over the years and have found that two cups is the right amount for this classic dessert.

 

Small Angel Food Cakes

I think this cake would be a wonderful cake to make for Mother’s Day. So if you don’t have a stash of frozen egg whites waiting for you then cook up a load of eggs benedict or something else that uses egg yolks and then get ready to whip up an angel food cake.

Egg Whites Soft Peak and Stiff Peak

 

Angel Food Cake before-after

Angel Food Cake

1  1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups egg whites, thawed to room temperature if they were frozen

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1  1/3 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. You’ll need a 10″ tube pan with a removable bottom. Cut out a parchment paper liner for the bottom of the angel food cake pan since this cake will want to stick otherwise. I usually trace a circle around the insert, then fold the circle in quarters and snip the pointy end so it will look like a giant doughnut and shimmy down the center tube. Do not grease the pan.

Normally I am not too much of a stickler about sifting flour, but for this recipe it is imperative. You sift it before you measure it, then sift along with the salt two more times. You want light, fluffy, aerated flour so your angel food cake can almost take wing.

Then it’s time to beat the egg whites. My stand mixer is on the fritz so I did this with a sturdy hand-held mixer. It took almost 15 minutes so be prepared if hand-held is all you have. It should be slightly quicker if you do have a good stand mixer. I cannot begin to guess what whipping this by hand would take. Start by putting the egg whites,  cream of tartar, and vanilla into a large mixing bowl. I used my stand mixer bowl since I knew it could hold the volume. As the mixture starts to get foamy slowly dribble in the sugar a few Tablespoons at a time while you continue beating. Keep going until you have stiff, glossy peaks. Do not overbeat.

Sift half of the flour/salt over the egg whites and with a large spatula or your hand (remember to take off your watch first) fold it in. Lumpy is ok. Sift the remaining flour/salt mixture and loosely fold that in too. It is a delicate dance of incorporating the dry mixture into the wet while at the same time not loosing too much volume from all the whipping.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove and if your pan has “legs” (3 short prongs riveted onto the top edge) turn the cake upside down on these. If not slip it onto an empty glass bottle.

I have some small angel food cake pans which required me to find some tiny things for them to rest upside down on as you can see in the picture. Why does the cake need to cool upside down? I don’t know, but it does.

To remove it from the pan once it’s cool simply slide a very thin paring or butter knife around the outside edge of the pan, with the knife blade slightly angled toward the pan rather than cake. Do the same around the tube in the middle. With a little jiggling the cake should come out and you can peel off the parchment paper.

Accompaniments are endless. Macerated* fresh berries and a dab of whipped cream. If you’re making this recipe in late June enjoy a slice of cake served with the Holy Trinity of Fruit. My friend Rick Ellis adds a little powdered ginger to his angel food cake then serves it with peaches which have been tossed with sugar and a shot of bourbon. I personally love a ladle full of stewed rhubarb and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whatever you serve it with remember that angel food cake needs to be torn or pulled apart with two forks. If you’re very gentle you can saw slices with a bread knife. A regular knife will just squash it.

Angel Food Cakes cooling

*Macerating simply means adding sugar to let the juices come out. If you have strawberries rinse, slice, and toss with a few spoonfuls of sugar. With self-contained berries such as blueberries or raspberries you may need to smush a few in order for the juices to run.

Macerating Strawberries

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Allison’s Brisket

I’m one of those people who, when surrounded by a strong accent, will start to unconsciously mimic what I hear, which is ironic (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) since I am not a very good mimic. When I lived in Scotland my speech became peppered with “Och aye” and “A dinnae ken” and my pronunciation for words like aluminum and vitamin changed. My American family thought I’d developed a serious Scottish accent, though the Scots were not fooled one bit and referred to me as the wee American lassie. It happened again when my husband and I took our kids down to Louisiana to help with hurricane Katrina recovery. Despite being a lifelong Northerner, I developed a bit of a southern accent while we were there. Yes, it is embarrassing when I find myself doing it, but it really is subconscious. At least it doesn’t happen after watching tv or I might have to give up Downton Abbey on Sunday nights.

Just as my ear is swayed by a dialect I am immersed in, I’ve noticed my cooking goes through changes depending on what I expose myself to. It could be the cookbook I am currently reading, a food styling shoot I was recently on, the people I live with, or the city I find myself in. I’d never tasted spätzle until my husband, who’d lived in Germany for a year, introduced me to it. Now it’s a regular at our dinners. Seven years in Brooklyn gave me a fluency in Bialys, baklava, knishes, and egg creams. While my friend Allison (who is Jewish and Italian) introduced me to Matzah Balls, Borscht, Chopped Liver, and Brisket.

Beef brisket, carrots and potatoes

Allison’s Brisket (she has more than one, but this is my favorite) is something I make infrequently because it is so melt-in-your-mouth delicious you tend to keep eating until eventually you find yourself in a  catatonic lump on the couch. You can adjust the soporific effect of this dish by eating it with heaping spoonfuls of horseradish. With winter ever so slowly giving up its hold on us (yes, I still have a few patches of snow in the yard) I decided to make brisket last week. It might make you sleepy, but it is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and guaranteed to take the chill out of winter.

Brisket ready to braise in the oven

For those of you who are uninitiated in the ways of brisket here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allison suggests using the First cut. Second cut isn’t second-rate, it just has more fat.
  • You don’t need to brown the meat, but you can if you want to.
  • Pay attention to your liquid levels – too much and it’s soup, too little and it’s dry.
  • Brisket is always better the next day, it really is.

Adding vegetables to brisket

If you want to know more about the dos and don’ts of brisket cooking you can read here or get Stephanie Pierson’s  The Brisket Book. A Love Story with Recipes. In my original recipe I was told to use “tons of onions”, hmmm tons. I love onions so I use a lot (though not quite a ton). It depends on the size of your pan and your tastebuds. So without further ado:

Allison’s Brisket

2-3 pounds onions, peeled and sliced

6-8 pounds Brisket, first cut if you want it a bit leaner

16 ounces beef broth

16 ounces water

1 bottle chili sauce  or  1 cup catsup and 1/2 cup horseradish

1/3 cup Worcester sauce

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

14 medium size carrots, peeled and cut into short lengths

8 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes

Preheat the oven to 325°F. I had two pieces of meat and used a long shallow pan. Since I didn’t have any chili sauce I subbed in catsup and horseradish, which tasted fine. Basically you add everything in the ingredient list, in the order they are written above, stopping when you get to the carrots and potatoes. I wasn’t using a lidded pot so I covered it all with a sheet of parchment paper and then crimped a huge piece of aluminum foil on top. If you have a lidded braising enameled cast iron pan you can use that.

I did sear the meat first, but when I talked to Allison she later said she doesn’t bother with that step any more, so it’s your choice. Bake for three hours. Add your carrots and potatoes, recover and bake another hour.

At this point you have two choices. You can dig in, but you won’t get nice, pretty slices, or you can be patient, let it all cool down, slice the meat across the grain when it is cold the next day, and reheat the pretty slices. To be honest I do not have the patience nor self control.

 

 

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Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

J.D. and Sara got married last weekend. I was so excited I made a giant batch of Mexican Wedding Cookies to celebrate. Of course I should preface this by saying I was not invited to the wedding. Since the groom and I haven’t seen each other for thirty-five years and I have never met the bride it’s about what one would expect. I was just so tickled having watched the relationship unfold on facebook that I wanted to wish them well from my kitchen.

Mexican wedding cookies

I knew the groom in high school. He was a year younger than me, very smart and sardonic, in a Dorothy Parker sort of way, and it was clear to most of us, even back then, he was going to be a writer. He had an impish smile, a ready (if snarky) wit, and had a headful of hair. But soon after I left for college we lost touch.

That was until my classmate Jerry Eisner decided our class should have two 30th high school reunions – one in our old stomping grounds of central New York and another online via Facebook. The physical reunion was a whirlwind of fun. Forty-eight hours of eating, drinking, pulling out pictures of kids (and in some cases grandkids), catching up with each other’s lives and life paths. It was difficult to see everyone in such a compressed space of time, and many of our classmates were unable to attend for one reason or another. In comparison the virtual reunion (as I think of facebook) has been quietly going on now for six years. It includes a much broader group – people who were a year ahead or behind of our graduating class, siblings of friends, friends of siblings, folks who moved before graduating. A true reunion. It’s a smörgåsbord of  life stories and pictures (some of which I maybe didn’t want to know, but hey) and better than the annual holiday card. It was through this virtual reunion that J.D. and I reconnected.

Grinding nuts with sugar

Turns out he has written some books, is into yoga, plays the guitar, and has a lot more face than in the old days. Along the way he met Sara and I watched as his status updates moved them from “in a relationship” to “engaged” and finally to “married” this past weekend. So Mozel tov to you both, I wish you a very happy marriage.

Mazel tov Mexican Wedding cookies ready to bake

 

This recipe is from the inimitable Nancy Baggott‘s book The International Cookie Cookbook. Nancy suggests using pecans, but I’ve used walnuts when I didn’t have pecans on hand and the cookies are just as delicious. I’ve also come across variations which used almonds and were called Russian Tea Cakes. I will put out a warning that these cookies are so buttery they almost crumble in your hand, plus the powdered sugar gets all over everything. Unless you’re wearing black you won’t care about the powdered sugar as you reach for another.

Ready to powder with confectioners sugar - Mexican wedding cookies

Mazel Tov Mexican Wedding Cookies

1  2/3 cup pecans or walnuts

1  1/2 cups unsalted butter (use really good butter)

2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups flour

2-3 cups more powdered sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spread the nuts onto a jelly roll pan and bake 7-10 minutes, shaking the pan every so often. Take out and cool before grinding. You may not want to do this step (or you may forget) but trust me you will like the cookies made with toasted nuts sooooo much more. They have a nutty flavor that hits your taste buds in all the right places.

If you’re good at multi-tasking cream the butter while the nuts are toasting. You can do this with a mixer. The batch I made for Sara & J.D. I creamed by hand and those cookies were especially wonderful. So consider skipping your trip to the gym and beating the butter by hand. When the nuts are cool pop them into a small food processor along with the powdered sugar or some of the flour. You want to grind them into a powder without turning them into toasted nut butter. The sugar (or flour) helps keep them nuts. Cream whatever sugar you didn’t use in with the butter, then add the vanilla. If you ground your nuts with the sugar mix that into the butter. Fold in the flour and salt.

Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Adjust your oven rack so it is in the top third of your oven. Bake the cookies 10-12 minutes, swiveling the baking sheet 180º mid way through. The cookies don’t brown too much, but may have some color along the bottom edge.

When you take them out of the oven let them sit for a minute then carefully move them from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Let cool for 5 minutes. In order for the powdered sugar to stick to the cookies you need to put it on while they are still warm. The problem is if you put the cookies in powdered sugar too soon they will melt it. So warm, not hot and not cold.

I sift a layer of powdered sugar into a small lasagna pan and gently place the cookies in. Then I make it “snow” powdered sugar. I take them out and let them finish cooling on a rack. When they are all cooled I put a thin layer of powdered sugar into the box I’m keeping them in and sift a bit more on top.

It's snowing powdered sugar on top of Mexican Wedding Cookies

 

 

Snowball cookies

P.S. to J.D. & Sara – These cookies aren’t the best travelers since they are so buttery and crumbly but if you two want to taste them email me your address and I’ll pop a box of them in the mail

 

Pecan Mexican wedding cookies

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