Monday, November 28, 2011

The Continuing Feast


The day after Thanksgiving, I sat thumbing through my cookbooks and making a shopping list.  With no time to waste, I was preparing for yet another fête with friends at home on Saturday night.

You see, feasting is in my blood.  Maybe I'm a distant descendant of Louis XIV, but in my more immediate ancestry, my parents hosted an awful lot of lavish dinner parties in my youth and that had a profound effect.  My mother was a "foodie" before the term was coined, my father is a baker, and I inherited their love of entertaining.

In my last post, I mentioned that my mother had written a cookbook.  In 1989, during a losing fight with cancer, her friends rallied her to the task.  She spent many months surrounded by piles of her favorite cookbooks, equipped with a purple pen for editing.  She put together the recipes and stories that shaped her own childhood and her 20-some years as an avid home cook.  She called the cookbook Elizabests, The Continuing Feast and in it she had lovingly documented the foods of my early years. When the book was printed,  it was an unspoken challenge to her husband and two teenage girls to carry on with our lives, always with good appetite.


I've posted many of her recipes on this blog, like orange cumin beef stew, ginger molasses cookies, Italian bread wreath to name a few.


So on Saturday night, we dined on roasted salmon and potato latkes with roasted apple sauce, cranberry orange relish, and mixed greens from the Green Market with a warm anchovy garlic dressing.  For dessert, we indulged in David Lebovitz's creamy, dreamy Lemon-Ginger Crème Brûlée, talking and laughing the evening away.


It's the season of indulgence and togetherness, so I urge you to enjoy some wonderful foods in good company. There is no better time than now. Don't worry, there should be plenty of room for moderation in January.

Lemon-Ginger Crème Brûlée
From Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz

Makes 6 servings

3 ounces (85 g) fresh ginger, thinly sliced
3 cups (750 ml) heavy cream
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar plus 12 teaspoons (60 g) for caramelizing
Grated zest of 2 organic lemons
6 large egg yolks
pinch of salt

Put the ginger slices in a medium saucepan and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer for two minutes.  Pour off the water.
Add the cream, 1/2 cup sugar,  lemon zest and ginger to the saucepan.  Heat the mixture until warm, then remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).  Set six 4 to 6 ounce ramekins in a deep baking dish.
Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the ginger slices and lemon zest from the mixture, add the salt, then reheat the cream until it's quite warm.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then gradually whisk in the warm cream, whisking constantly as you pour to prevent the eggs from cooking.  Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or pitcher.
Divide the custard mixture evenly among the ramekins.  Fill the baking dish with warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the perimeters of the custard are just set and the centers are slightly jiggly, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the custards to a wire rack and let cool completely.  Refrigerate until chilled.
Just before serving, evenly sprinkle each chilled custard with 2 teaspoons of sugar and caramelize with a kitchen torch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The taste of friendship


My truest friends are spread out all over the world.  Sometimes it makes for a bit of a lonesome day-to-day existence, because I may not see many of them for years on end.  But the bond is so strong that it sustains me just knowing they are out there somewhere, living their lives on the same planet as me.


If there is anything on my list of life goals, it's to gather all my friends from around the globe and cook them a feast one day.  There will be food in multiple courses, wine and laughter.  There will be music and stories that compete with the clinking of silverware and glasses.  There will be an abundance of chocolate desserts. 


The taste of friendship is like a rice pudding or a cup of earl grey tea with milk and honey.  It's being able to appreciate someones talents and successes without the bitterness of envy.  It's being able to have a coffee or a meal together and catch up on 10 or 20 years gone by and somehow feel like you were right there through it all. 

It bothers me to know that my friends go through tough times and joyful ones, and because of my physical distance I don't experience it with them. So I baked a batch of cookies for all of them.  It's what I would do if I lived close enough to bring a plate by, unannounced. With love.

Chocolate chubbies
These come from my mother's cookbook, The Continuing Feast. They are the richest, most addictive cookie I know of. We make them with both pecans and walnuts but I think it would be fun to add salted peanuts and pistachios.  Try it, and let me know!

Makes 3 dozen large cookies

6 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
8 ounces (or more) semisweet chocolate chips
8 ounces (or more) broken pecans
8 ounces (or more) broken walnuts
3 eggs
scant cup sugar

Break up the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate (not the chips) and cut the butter into small pieces.  Melt them together in a bain-marie over hot water. Remove from the heat and cool the mixture to tepid.  Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  

In a separate bowl, combine the chocolate chips and the nuts.  

When the chocolate has cooled, combine the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until thick.  Slowly add the chocolate-butter mixture, beating constantly.  (If the mixture is too hot, the eggs will cook!)  Add the flour mixture, stirring only to combine.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts.  

Grease two baking sheets well or line with parchment paper.  Using a tablespoon, drop the batter onto the sheets, leaving play of room between cookies.  Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pickled Beets


It's important to be able to find enjoyment in everyday tasks, since they fill the bulk of our lives. I am most mindful of this when I am preparing food.  Slice into a crisp apple or a thick-skinned squash, stop and contemplate.  The cross section of a vegetable is so clean and artistic.  The simplicity of nature's gifts can make everything else melt into the background.

During these dark East Coast days of bare trees and dusk that falls at 4:30 pm, I look for splashes of color to add to my plate and my wardrobe.  Dark crimson beets, cranberries, the luscious fuchsia scarf my sister knit me. The tang of these beets will perk up a simple meal and awaken the palate.


My grandmother Ruth, whose recipes I've been trying lately, used to make these pickled beets.  Apart from her recipes, the details are sparse.  I know she hated soup until she married a man who loved it. She used to correspond via mail with my older sister about synonyms and antonyms. (Tangy vs. bland comes to mind.)  My uncle tells me she was very chatty.  She and I would have apparently shared a deep appreciation for brined vegetables and chocolate cake.  Not a bad collection of idiosyncracies, if you ask me.


Pickled Beets
The addition of beef broth to the vinegar makes these extremely palatable. You can add these beets to a sandwich or burger, serve on top of a salad, or alongside roasted chicken, pork or fish. Serve them as an appetizer with martinis. Tie a bow around a jar and take it to a friend.  I did not to go through the whole canning process, so they must be kept in the refrigerator unless they are preserved by the boiling process. 

One bunch of beets (3 large)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup beef broth
1 tablespoon fine sugar
1 teaspoon whole Allspice
1 medium onion, sliced

Cook the whole beets in boiling, salted water til tender (about 30-40 minutes). 
Skin and slice the beets.  
Arrange the beets and onion slices in two mason jars or a large bowl.  
Combine the vinegar, broth and sugar and allspice, and pour over the beets and onions. (The liquid should cover the beets.)
Place in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Thursday, November 10, 2011



I've been a linguist since the time I learned to talk.  Over the years I added foreign languages: one, two, even three at a time until there were 5, or almost 6; the words all dancing around in my head.  There are so many in there, with deep intonations, bright tones, and guttural vibrations.  Often a word will get stuck in a synapse, playing itself over and over like a skipping record.

Sometimes the word that gets stuck is there for its sound, other times for it's meaning. These days, the word is ephemeral. "Lasting for a very short time." 

Like pain, pleasure, life itself.

If relationships, things, tasks, achievements, everything is ephemeral, that's a reason to care.

If taste is ephemeral, then that's a reason to savor.

Then there's another word nestled in that gap between cells, begging to be spoken:  ethereal. "Extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world." 

Chocolate mousse, tiramisu, my meringue cookies.

I had 4 almost-forgotten egg whites in my refrigerator -- leftover from a double batch of this chocolate pudding (to which I added a shot of espresso, which took it to a new level of decadent).

We had a difficult morning that involved a series of life's petty annoyances, adding up to a bad mood and a lump in my throat.  While Roman napped, I sought out the familiar refuge of the whir of my electric mixer. I knew that my knotted-up feelings were ephemeral. They would pass, as all things do.

So I gently whipped my egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly poured 1/2 cup of caster sugar (superfine cane) in a stream along with two capfuls of vanilla extract.  I sifted 2 tablespoons of flour and 2 of dark cacao.  I carefully chopped some walnuts and folded them into the gooey batter with the last of the very dark chocolate chips from the refrigerator.  I baked them at 300 for about 20 minutes. The result was 24 soft, chewy meringues: not at all chalky; pleasant on the teeth.

As soon as I pulled the tray from the oven, I ate four.

Yes, four.

My meringue cookies were both ethereal (but the walnuts grounded them) and ephemeral (they were all gone in 24 hours).

The cookie recipe is here (although I made a few changes, as I described above).
They are called brutti ma buoni, "ugly, but good," light, delicate, short lasting, and a good remedy to life's petty annoyances, which are indeed ephemeral...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spicy Cranberry Apple Chutney and tradition


I believe in giving people gifts early. It's a bit of a tradition of mine.  I'll intentionally send a birthday package weeks or even months early to my best friend or my dad.  Then I'll call and try to persuade them to open it early.  If I know they are going to like the gift, I want them to enjoy it for as long as possible.  So here's a little gift in the form of a recipe.  I hope you'll make it for yourself, sooner than later.


Cranberries are now in season, but they made a timid appearance in the grocery store a few weeks ago.  As soon as I saw a small stack of them in the produce section, hiding behind the out-of-season strawberries, I grabbed a few bags. I made a batch of cranberry orange muffins, twiddled my thumbs a little and then saw no reason to wait any longer to make my favorite cranberry sauce.  Instead, I'm indulging in this spicy, crunchy, complex chutney for the next few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.


I am not exactly a traditionalist and I'm not one to get very wrapped up in the holidays.  I always vary my Thanksgiving menu, and this year I plan on roasting pork instead of turkey. It's hard to imagine a Thanksgiving dinner in my home without this spicy cranberry chutney -- the one I ate every year growing up. I serve it in the one piece of heavy crystal that I own, from my grandmother. On certain traditions, I don't compromise.


Spicy Cranberry Apple Chutney
Serve with roasted chicken, turkey or pork. I instantly livens up a turkey sandwich, a bowl of plain yogurt or some cottage cheese. It will keep in the refrigerator for over a week.

4 cups (1 pound) fresh cranberries
1 cup seedless raisins
1-2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup water
1 medium size onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 medium size apple, peeled, quartered, cored and chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

Combine cranberries, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and water in a large saucepan.
Cook 15 minutes until the berries pop and mixture thickens.
Stir in onion, apple and celery.
Simmer 15 minutes longer, or until mixture is thick.
Cool and refrigerate.
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