Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Last Post, Last Dance 2009...Happy New Year!

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Well here we are, another year and a new decade ahead.  Seems like 2000 was just a short time ago. 

When I was young, really young, years seemed to take an eternity.   Now that I'm not so young, they seem to fly by, ouch! I can't say that I'm sad to see this one over. It's been a tough year, financially and emotionally, for a lot of people, including me.  Just hang in there, this too shall pass....

Tomorrow I will celebrate New Year's with my four girls ( one two- legged and three four-legged) just like most people here in the United States.  We will cook a nice dinner, drink lots of champagne, and watch the crystal ball go down in Times Square.  That's the American side of the equation.  The other side of me, the Cuban side,  will fill a pail with water and throw it out the back door to bid farewell to all the bad things in the house.  I will not eat the twelve grapes that Cubans traditionally have at each stroke of midnight.  I have always hated that tradition and at my age, I'm entitled to skip it. 

On New Year's Day, I will make Eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys for brunch (my American side), but I will eat lentils for dinner for good luck, something which is observed not only in Spain, but throughout all of Latin America (very definitely my Cuban side). I will miss my bridge friends, and my beautiful dinner parties but I will be thankful and happy to have a wonderful family and friends who love and support me.  And ,oh yes, I will be thankful for this blog which has been so much fun and such a challenge at a time in my life when I thought I was done reinventing myself.

I leave you with one of the most beautiful tables I've seen decorated for New Years... by Carolyne Roehm, who else!

As I'm finishing this post, snow is beginning to fall in North Georgia...some things never cease to amaze me.  Happy New Year! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Autumn Sonata...Brussel Sprouts With Bacon & Figs

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I have searched high and low for a good recipe for brussel sprouts and about a month ago I found it in the Minimalist column.  Mark Bitman is sheer genius when it comes to simplifying things and I am only sorry it took me so long to start reading him.  You see, I grew up with Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey and somehow Bittman's recipes just  looked too simple,and well, minimalistic.  I wanted more complicated dishes, for in my mind, that is the only way they would taste good...wrong!  Now when I pick one of the old cookbooks, I have to laugh at such titles as Simple and Quick Meals in an Hour!

I tried this recipe this past Christmas and my daughter and I just loved it.  It was a close second to our favorite chestnut soup and  it was a terrific compliment to the duck and wild rice.  Shredding the sprouts does wonders for the taste and texture of the dish and the balsamic vinegar is sheer genius.  I substituted dried cranberries for figs for a more festive look and can' t wait to try it with figs next time. If you like brussel sprouts, you will love this recipe!

Yield: 4 servings


Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil

 4 to 8 ounces bacon, chopped

1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed

1 cup dried figs, stemmed and quartered

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, or more to taste.


Directions

1. Put a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, then bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to crisp, 5 to 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put sprouts through feed tube of a food processor equipped with a slicing attachment and shred. (You can also do this with a mandoline or a knife.)

3. Add sprouts, figs and 1/4 cup water to pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper, turn heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until sprouts and figs are nearly tender, about 5 to 10 minutes. Turn heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until any remaining water evaporates, another 5 to 10 minutes. Add vinegar, taste, adjust seasoning and serve.



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New Year's Eve Dinner Party with Close Friends

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People have such high expectations of New Year's Eve that it is hardly ever possible to meet them.  For that reason, I never go out on that night.  Instead, I have close friends over to my house for a nice dinner with lots of champagne and good wines.  To me, that's a sure winner since I am cooking the meal and I can always count on Veuve Cliquot and a good Bordeaux to see me through.  I learned long ago that a good time can never be planned...it just happens.

When I was much, much younger, my husband and I would either go sailing in the Caribbean or spend the night with close friends in Vermont where we rented a ski house. Those were the best New Year's I've ever had.  Later in life, when I became a party of one, it was much easier to count on a good evening if I hosted the dinner and didn't have to wait around to be asked to a party.  I knew how to cook...I collected great wines! You can't imagine how popular I soon became for, after all, nobody ever wants to host a New Years Party.

For some reason, to me, New Year's Eve is Duck A L'Orange and Chocolate Mousse.  Last year, Chestnut Soup was added to the list of must haves and just recently, I found a recipe for Brussel Sprouts from Marc Bittman that really complements the rest of the meal.  A 1990 Chateau Margaux accompanied the meal the last time we had it, but any Margaux should do the trick.  If friends volunteer to bring something, make it a good Champagne and serve it with cocktails.  Make sure you save some for midnight!

The wonderful thing about this menu is that it is versatile enough for a more formal dinner or a casual affair in the country or on the slopes...but definitely not on a sailboat!


New Year's Eve Menu

Gougeres

Pate de Foie Gras With Toast Points

Veuve Cliquot Champagne

*************


Some of the recipes are already in the blog.  Others will come early in the week


Photo: My New Year's Table 2000

Note:  Silverware should never be placed on top of a napkin!  On this evening the napkin was on top of the plate service but I rearranged like this so I could show the service plates in the photo.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Alain Ducasse's Gougeres

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These French treats are crisp on the outside, airy on the inside, and light but loaded with flavor.  They are essentially  a savory choux pastry with cheese.  Traditionally, gougères are made with Gruyère, but other cheeses are sometimes used. They are a specialty of Burgundy.

Whenever I serve champagne, I make sure I have these around.


Makes about 28 gouyeres


Ingredients

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup milk

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

Large pinch of coarse salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

3 1/2 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (1 cup), plus more for sprinkling

Freshly ground pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, butter and salt and bring to a boil. Add the flour and stir it in with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms; stir over low heat until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 2 minutes.

Scrape the dough into a bowl; let cool for 1 minute. Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. Add the cheese and a pinch each of pepper and nutmeg.

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip and pipe tablespoon-size mounds onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with cheese and bake for 22 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Serve hot, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze. Reheat in a 350° oven until piping hot.



Gouyeres the way they should look before baking

Notes

When making the choux pastry, it is important to be sure that each egg is fully incorporated into the batter before adding the next. Don't worry if the batter separates and looks curdled at first. Keep beating, and it will come together nicely.

Gougères freeze well so always try to bake extras  After baking, allow them to cool completely. Spread the gougères out on a baking sheet, cover the sheet with plastic wrap and freeze them until they are firm. Then store them in sturdy plastic bags for several months.

All fotos fxcuisine.com

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Duck A L'Orange With Wild Rice

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This is my easy version of what can be a complicated dish.  The duck is first boiled to removed the excess fat and roasted at high heat to render a crisp skin.  The broth is saved to make the wild rice and for a future duck risotto.  Save any duck meat you have left over!

Serves 4-6

Ingredients


2 (5 to 5 1/2 pounds each) ducks, innards and wing tips removed

6 quarts chicken broth

Kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Unwrap the ducks and allow them to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes. With a fork, prick the skin without piercing the meat. This will allow the fat to drain off while the ducks cook.

Meanwhile, in a very large stock pot which can hold the 2 ducks, heat the chicken broth with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt until it boils. Add the ducks very carefully and bring the stock back to a boil. If there isn't enough stock to cover the ducks, add the hottest tap water to cover. If the ducks float to the top, place a plate on top to keep them immersed. When the stock comes back to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the ducks in the stock for 45 minutes.

When the ducks are finished simmering, skim off enough duck fat from the top of the stock to pour a film on the bottom of a 14 by 18 by 3-inch roasting pan. This will keep the ducks from sticking when they roast. Carefully take the ducks out of the stock, holding them over the pot to drain. Place them in the roasting pan, pat the skin dry with paper towels, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. If you have time, allow the ducks to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to allow the skin to dry.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. (Be sure your oven is very clean or it will smoke!) Roast the ducks for 30 minutes. You can glaze the duck with the sauce for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Remove from the oven and allow them to rest, covered with aluminum foil, for 20 minutes. If there is some liquid in the cavity, add some to the sauce. Serve warm.

Orange Sauce

14 oz orange marmalade
1 cup duck broth
1 cube chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp. Kitchen Bouquet
1 TB cognac
1 tsp sherry vinegar
Salt and Pepper

After you boil the ducks, take 1 cup of the broth and set aside.  Add the neck and innards and 1 chicken cube and boil down until reduced by half. In another saucepan, add the orange marmalade and cook at medium low until it dissolves a little.  Add about 1/2 cup of the reduced duck broth bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add salt, pepper, the Kitchen Bouquet, the sherry vinegar and the cognac, stirring after each addition.  Set aside until ready to use.  Warm up on medium heat and if needed, add some leftover duck broth to soften consistency.

*You might want to add 1-2 TB of butter to the sauce and mix right before serving

Wild Rice

4 cups of duck broth, degreased
1 chicken bouillon
1/2 Cup chopped onions
1/2 Cup chopped celery
1 TB butter
2 Cups brown and wild rice
Salt and pepper

Saute the onion and celery in the butter.  Add the duck broth with 1 cube of chicken bouillon.  Bring to a boil.  Add the rice and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook in low heat until done, about 45 minutes.

Grilled Duck In An Orange-Port Sauce on Foodista

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

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I can't tell you how much pleasure I have derived this year from writing this blog.  For a lot of us, it has been a time of emotional and financial challenges and there has been no better outlet than submerging yourself, if only for a few minutes, in  food and wine.

I am blessed to have a wonderful family and many friends who have given me their support and encouragement.  It has been an easy task;  for it gives me not only a lot of pleasure but also a sense of  purpose every day of the year. As time goes on, I promise it will only get better! It's amazing all I have learned this year just by sheer audacity and a very inquiring mind.

I only ask one favour of you...please pass the word around and encourage people to subscribe by email.  The number of subscriptions a blog gets helps us with our rankings in the blogosphere. It is the only recognition we bloggers get and a source of great pleasure and pride in our work.  No matter how many daily hits I get, and I get quite a few now, there is no substitute for email subscriptions. You can be assured that your information is safe with me and you will not get any spam.  I also encourage you to write comments on the blog.  I know its a pain in the neck having to sign in to Google to do so but when you are hesitating, think of all the love and wonderful recipes you are getting and go for it!

Special thanks to my fellow bloggers, Worththewhisk, LibbywilkieDesigns, foodalogue  Mrs. Blandings and my first cyberfriend, ACio'sVoice for their help, friendship and support.

Merry Christmas to all and thank you for visiting and supporting Lindaraxa's Garden this year!

Photo:  Table design by Carolyne Roehm

And the Winner Is.....

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aneyefordetail! Please send me your information  and I will pass  it on to cookware.com.  They will mail the gift directly to you.  Merry Christmas and thanks for participating.

The winner was picked by a random number generator at random.org.

Wrapping Carolyne Roehm

Christmas in Germany...Part II

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Saint Nicholas - Sankt Nikolaus


St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th in Germany as well as in other European countries. On the evening before the 6th, children place their newly cleaned shoes in front of the door in the hope that Nicholas might fill them with nuts, fruits, chocolate, and sweets. If the children have behaved well, their wishes will be fulfilled. Children who have caused mischief will receive only a switch, which symbolizes punishment for their bad deeds.



By James Christiansen

The real St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and was the bishop of a region located in present-day Turkey. Through stories and legends associated with him, he became known as the protector of children and the anonymous bestower of gifts upon them. Over the centuries, the life and deeds of St. Nicholas were celebrated on the saint's appointed day, the 6th of December. By the Middle Ages, the observance had already become a celebration of children and a day on which they received gifts. It was the German Martin Luther who sought to sever the connection between the saint and the gift-giving celebration for children, because in his Reformation theology, there was no place for the glorification of saints. Rather than abolishing the custom outright, Luther replaced the persona of Nicholas with that of the Christ child; in his Protestant teachings, not Nicholas but rather now the baby Jesus was attributed with bringing the children gifts, and not on the saint's day but rather at Christmas. Today in many regions of Germany, not Saint Nick, but rather the Christkindl leaves Christmas gifts for children on December 24th.




The adherents of the Catholic Counterreformation did not quietly accept the diminishment of their saint. They responded to the practices of the unorthodox Protestants by making Nicholas a figure who visited families' homes on his appointed day and stood in judgment over children. If the young ones could answer religious questions and said their bedtime prayers faithfully, they received a gift from the sack that Nicholas' companion, Knecht Ruprecht, had slung over his shoulder. Those that slacked in their religious commitments got the switch or were threatened with being hauled off in Ruprecht's sack.

Today children in all the German-speaking regions, regardless of religious denomination, celebrate Nicholastag. Ruprecht, who typically carries a basket filled with edible goodies for the children (and also the switches for the naughty children), has become Nicholas' constant companion. In German-speaking Switzerland, Ruprecht is known as Schmutzli.


Santa Claus - Der Weihnachtsmann



J. C. Leyendecker

Saturday Evening Post
December 26, 1925


The figure of Santa Claus, known in Germany as der Weihnachtsmann (literally, "the Christmas man"), is a direct descendant of Saint Nicholas, as can easily be seen from the derivation of the name "Santa Claus". The English appellation came directly from the Dutch variant "Sinterklaas". Centuries-old Northern European tradition also knew a similar figure - a bearded old man in a long, brown, hooded fur coat who traveled on a reindeer-drawn sled. Carrying a staff and nuts, respectively symbolizing fertility and non-perishable, substantial nourishment, this figure from Lapland represented preparation for the long winter season ahead. This figure likely in turn descends from the god Thor or another deity from Germanic mythology.




Many of the characteristics attributed to the modern-day Santa Claus are easily recognizable in both the St. Nicholas figure and the personality descended from old Germanic folklore. The Weihnachtsmann, much like Santa Claus, is depicted as a jolly old man with a long white beard in a red fur suit, with a sack of presents and a switch. On Christmas Eve he leaves gifts for the well-behaved children and punishes those who have been bad. He doesn't arrive through the chimney, but rather slips in and out just long enough to leave the gifts, usually before children can catch a glimpse of him. Depending on the German-speaking region, today it is either the Weihnachtsmann or the Christkind (Christ child) who leaves gifts for the children to open on December 24th in Germany.



The Christmas tree - Der Tannenbaum



The traditional tannenbaum has lit candles

The German Tannenbaum is usually put up and decorated on Christmas Eve, though some families opt to erect their tree during the Advent season. Traditionally, the Germans used the fir tree, but nowadays the spruce is widely used. Decorations may include tinsel, glass balls or straw ornaments and sweets. A star or an angel tops the Tannenbaum, and beneath the tree, a nativity scene might be set up and the presents next to it. Germans also usually continue to use real lit candles instead of electric lights on the tree.

The first known Christmas tree was set up in 1419 in Freiburg by the town bakers, who decorated the tree with fruits, nuts, and baked goods, which the children were allowed to remove and eat on New Year's Day. The town guilds and associations first brought evergreens inside their guild houses and decorated them with apples and sweets. Candles were eventually added to the decorations. Already since the Middle Ages, ordinary Germans had been bringing yew, juniper, mistletoe, holly, evergreen boughs - any plant that maintained its green color through the lifeless and dreary winter months - into their homes. Even in areas where forests were sparse, the tradition took hold; people in Northern Germany, for instance, used Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden) in lieu of Christmas trees. The pyramid form was created using sticks that were then decorated with fir branches. By 1800, the custom of bringing a tree into the home was firmly established in many German-speaking regions and continued to spread throughout Europe, and eventually, around the world. The custom was brought to North America by German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio in the 18th century.




The Tannenbaum is taken down on New Year's Day or on January 6th, Three King's Day, at which time the children can ransack the tree for the sweets and treats that decorated it.

Adapted from vistawide.com

Christmas in Germany... Vanillekipferl - Vanilla Crescents

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The German Christmas season officially begins with the first Sunday of Advent. Stollen, the oldest known German Christmas treat, and Christmas cookies (Plätzchen) are often baked during this time. Gingerbread houses, nativity scenes, hand-carved wooden Nutcracker figures (Nussknacker), Christmas pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden), and lighted city streets and homes are all signs that Christmas is on its way.

When the Advent season opens, Christmas markets also crop up in nearly every German town, large or small. The town squares, normally dark early in winter months, are lit up and buzzing with activity during this time. Townspeople gather together, listen to brass band music, drink beer or hot mulled wine (Glühwein) or apple cider, and enjoy the hearty traditional fare of the region. Vendors peddle baked goods, including gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies, stollen, cotton candy and other sweets. Christmas tree decorations, seasonal items, and handcrafted articles, such as wooden toys and hand-blown glass ornaments, are also sold.



Christmas markets date back to at least the 14th century and were one of the many markets held throughout the year. It was here that people bought everything they needed for the Christmas celebration: baking moulds, decorations, candles, and toys for the children. In fact, until well into the 20th century, the Weihnachstmärkte were the only place for people to buy such seasonal items.

Markets differ from place to place; each has its own regional imprint. The market at Aachen, for instance, is known for its gingerbread men (Aachner Printen). The regions around the Erzgebirge mountain range are famous for their handmade wooden crafts. Augsburg has a life-sized Advent calendar and opens the holiday season with its famous "Angel Play." At the Frankfurt Christmas Market, visitors will find Quetschenmännchen (little prune men) and Brenten (almond cookies).

The most famous Christmas market is the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, which is known for its gold foil angels and locally produced gingerbread cakes. At least 375 years old, it is one of the oldest, and with over 200 vendors participating each year, it is also one of the largest Weihnachtsmärkte in Germany.



These cookies, though simple and easy to make,  remind me of a Christmas spent in Garmisch-Partenkirchen,  a beautiful small town in Bavaria.  If you ever want to experience the true spirit of Christmas, this is where it's all at!  The recipe is from Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux Johann Lafer of Stromburg, Germany.  You can't get more authentic than that.

By the way, icing sugar is the name given in Europe to powdered or confectioners sugar.


Total time: more than 2 hours

Preheat oven at 200° C (400° F)

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Waiting time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Keep for several weeks in an airtight tin


Chef's Note

Vanillekipferl, or vanilla crescents - even though their origin is certainly Austrian, no German household would be without this tradition.

Prepare the vanilla sugar a day ahead by mixing the icing sugar with the vanilla pods or the vanilla powder. Place in a glass jar and close tightly. The icing sugar will take on the flavour of the vanilla.



Ingredients

For about 30 crescents

Dough

- 60 g (2 oz.) ground almonds

- 100 g (3 1/2 oz.) cold butter

- 40 g (6 1/2 tbsp.) icing sugar

- 1 egg yolk

- The pulp scraped from 2 vanilla beans

- 330 ml (2 1/3 cups) flour

- A pinch of salt

Finishing

- 100-150 g (1 to 1 1/2 cups) icing sugar

- vanilla powder

Method

Brown the ground almonds in a hot skillet and allow to cool.

Quickly knead the butter, icing sugar, egg yolk, vanilla pulp, flour, almonds and salt into a smooth dough. Let the dough rest in a cool place for 2 hours.

Form the dough into about 30 crescents and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 200°C / 400° F oven for about 10 minutes.

Roll the still-warm crescents in the vanilla icing sugar. Store the crescents in a cookie tin, each layered separated by parchment paper.


Garmisch-Partenkirchen



Garmisch

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chestnut Soup With Creme Fraiche

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This is one of my favorite recipes and it's always on my menu for Christmas Eve dinner.  If you can't find  prepared chestnuts in a jar, there's a simple way of roasting them.   I used to be able to find them at Williams-Sonoma or other specialty stores but this year they are nowhere to be found.  Fresh chestnuts can be found in the produce area of most supermarkets at this time of the year.

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 Tbs unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 tsp ground cloves
15 oz whole peeled chestnuts
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
Salt & pepper to taste
1/3 cup creme fraiche
Chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Procedure

In a soup pot over medium heat, melt butter.  Add onions and cloves.  Saute, stir until translucent. 4-5 min.

Add chestnuts and broth, bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for 20 mins.  In a blender or food processor, puree soup until smooth.  return soup to pot.  Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soupinto individual bowls and garnish each with one tsp. creme fraiche and a pinch of chopped parsley.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Table and Menu

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Lindaraxa Photo


In years past, I used to go all out for Christmas Eve and entertain my family and very close friends on a grand scale.  It was a formal affair and everybody would dress up to the hilt! Luckily,  I have a Sheraton dining table  with two leaves which will seat twelve comfortably and a smaller table for six was set up in the library. We would start with cocktails on the terrace, laid out buffet style, and move later into the dining room for dinner.  I have to say that even though it took a lot of planning and work, I enjoyed it tremendously.  I think the rest of the family did too.  It was a night meant to set all our problems aside and enjoy each other's company.  We always had the best intentions of making it to Midnight Mass but somehow nobody had the stamina to do so after all that food!

It has been awhile since I have entertained like this and frankly, looking at the pictures makes me a little sad and nostalgic.  But times change and so do lifestyles and I am blessed to have been able to do it and have the pictures and memories.

This year it will be celebrated on a much smaller scale, in another town and definitely without any outside help. We are getting together on the 25th instead of Christmas Eve as these are the plans that fit everybody this year.  It will be wonderful anyway and I will get to spend it with my brother and his family, something I haven't done in years.  I also have a new granddaughter which surpasses any Christmas I have ever had.

Christmas 1999

Smoked Salmon
Pumpernickel Toasts
Capers, Onions, Sour Cream, Lemon Slices

Pate de Foie Gras

Spiced Roasted Pecans

Champagne Veuve Cliquot, Cocktails

**********

Cream of Chestnut Soup
with Creme Fraiche

Roast Leg of Lamb with Rosemary
Mint Jelly

Gratin Dauphinois

Haricots Verts With Toasted Almonds

Chocolate Mousse

Brazo Gitano


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Paleta de Puerco - Roasted Pork Shoulder, Cuban Style

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This is a much simpler and easier alternative to the Cuban pig on a spit and what my family has been eating for years on Nochebuena.

Ingredients

1 paleta de puerco o pernil, ( pork shoulder or fresh ham) about 9 lbs.*
4 onions chopped
about 15 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt
1 1/2 TB oregano
2 cups naranja agria (sour orange juice) or 1cup orange juice mixed with  1 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup dry white wine
water

Procedure

Mix the onions, mashed garlic salt, oregano and naranja agria and pour over the pork.  cover tighty and marinade overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cook about 3 1/2 hrs. 

In the last half hour pour some dry white wine or vermouth to sweat the pan.  Add some water to the pan if necessary.

Take out of the oven and let rest about 30 minutes before slicing.  The meat should be very tender when you slice it.

* If you are in a Latin community, it is easy to get a pernil or a paleta de puerco.  If not, pork shoulder, fresh ham or picnic will do

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'm Spending My Birthday With Pierre Herme At Laduree!

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Yep, you heard it right...it's my birthday today and I am spending it with one of my favorite people, Pierre Herme at one of my favorite places...Laduree in Paris!  Well,  not exactly, Pierre was unexpectedly called out of town but told me I could come over and pick out a cake..Hmmm.



..or two




... or some chocolates?


... with perhaps a bottle of Chateau d'Yquem??!



a cube of macarons?



 
...or a box of macarons!!!!






... or just a yummy rum millefeuille!!!



... or this goodie box in violette!!!





... or vert et argent?


But instead, how about...




just Lucy and me...


...and breakfast in bed!!!!!


My sous chef and I have decided that in honor of this event, we will take the day off and see you next Monday!


Photos from the Laduree and Pierre Herme catalogues (except the sous chef!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Product Giveaway...Just in Time for Christmas!

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Well, it's that time of the year when all of us are feeling a little more generous than ordinary.  To commemorate that feeling and convey my appreciation to all my readers, I am giving away something I really want and haven't bought, just because I have been too stingy to do it.  Yeah, I know what you are thinking..her, stingy? Yep, I am one of those people who can be quite stingy, especially when it comes to the small things...like parking! 

All kidding aside, last week cookware.com, an online store which specializes in everything you might ever want for your kitchen, approached me to see if I would be interested in participating with them in a giveaway for my readers.  My choice, all within a budget, of course! It took me all of ten seconds to check out their site and get back to them.  One of the things that caught my eye was something I have been wanting to get and should have bought long ago.  If you like veal or chicken paillard, croquettes or anything that requires breading with both flour and breadcrumbs, this Paula Dean Cookware 3 Tray Breading Set will come in very handy.  Now, I know what you are thinking...who needs another gadget to clean and store.  Well let me tell you, I find myself wishing I had one of these at least once a week.


I am a big fan of Le Creuset and when I look through online sites like this the first thing I look for is their brand.  What could I possibly find that my readers and I would like that is within my budget?  It didn't take long  for me to zero in on this beautiful Le Creuset 1.13 Quart Loaf Pan.  Oh my, this is something even I didn't know they had.  Have you taken a look at your loaf pan lately? Mine looks like it's been through two world wars and counting! And this one I can take from the oven to the table and to the refrigerator! One pan!


So there you have it...two choices, a practical gift and a practical and very pretty gift...your choice!

Just write me a comment down below (no emails), anything you want,( hopefully nice) and one of these two gifts can be yours.  I will close the contest next Wednesday, December 23rd at midnight and my sous chef (Lucy) and I will randomly choose a winner* and announce it on the 24th.  I will then contact you for your info and your choice of gift.  That's it!


Hurry up!!!


*disclaimer, only US and Canadian readers please. I know, I know, sorry I don’t make the rules I just give away the gift!

Cuban Black Beans...My Mother's Secret Recipe!

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If you only learn to cook one Cuban dish, make it black beans.  I have yet to meet anyone who hasn't liked them.  They are typically eaten with white rice on the side and if you are lucky, a nice order of fried plantains.  Black beans are also served as soup and are wonderful with a slice of avocado and chopped onions on top. 

I have tried as best I could to get my Mother's recipe into fairly concise form.  As I mentioned in the last post, taste, taste, taste and add if need be.  Make sure you use fresh oregano, that is one of her secrets.  We do not use cumin something which is added in most recipes for black beans.  Do not add more tabasco than specified, except for maybe a couple of drops more.  These are not Mexican beans!  If you like more heat,  you can add it to your hearts content at the table but you will not be eating Cuban black beans.

The beans will keep for up to 3 months in the freezer so make extra, you won't be sorry!

Serves 12-16

Ingredients

2 lbs Goya black beans
1 laurel leaf
4 slices bacon
3 onions
4 cloves garlic
2 large green peppers
3 TB Olive oil
1/2 Cup Catsup
8 dropsTabasco sauce
1 tsp.Worcestershire sauce
2 tsps. sugar
2 TB FRESH oregano
Salt
Pepper

Directions
Soak beans in 8 cups of water and one laurel leaf overnight, after washing them thoroughly. Keep the water for cooking and add more water to cover plus one inch on top.  Add 1 green pepper and 1 onion cut in half (so that they are easy to remove), salt,  and cook until the beans are soft, about 1 1/2  to 2 hours, depending on the beans.

In a separate skillet, add olive oil, bacon, 2  finely chopped onions, 1 finely chopped green pepper, garlic cloves and fresh oregano.  Saute until onion is translucent.  This is called the sofrito.  Remove a little of the grease before you add to the beans.

When the beans are done, remove the original onion and green pepper, add the sofrito to the beans, the catsup, and check for salt.  Add about 8 drops of tabasco, black pepper, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, and 2 tsps. of sugar.  Try again and correct for salt, pepper, sugar or tabasco.  These are not supposed to be hot! The tabasco just brings out the flavor.

Cook the beans covered in medium heat for about another hour.  Check often as they may be done in 45 minutes. Skim the foam off the top periodically. The beans are done when they are completely soft and the sauce is thick.  If the sauce has not thickened, remove the lid and cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes. Adding 3 - 4  tablespoons of olive oil at this stage helps to thicken the sauce. Make sure you stir often so they don't stick to the bottom. Remove the laurel leaf before serving.

The beans are definitely better the next day, so cook one day ahead and refrigerate.  Take them out the next day a couple of hours before warming them.   Heat in  low to medium heat and bring almost to a boil.  Stir often!

Black beans are found in the Latin section of all supermarkets.  The Goya brand is the one we like best.

Serve over white rice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Nochebuena...A Cuban Christmas in Georgia!

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Being a hyphenated American, in my case, Cuban American (I hate the terminology), is a great excuse to celebrate two wonderful Christmas traditions within 24 hours of each other. I would have to be in Siberia to  think of skipping one of them even though it involves quite a lot of work. Luckily,  I can always count on a close relative to celebrate one or the other. Not this year.

This week my mother arrives and she is the queen of the black beans. No one can touch her, it's not even close. Her sisters, being younger and very smart, always defer this part of the meal to her and believe me, she relishes every minute of it.  She's shown me the ropes a few times, but every time she makes them, it's a different routine.  As with all good cooks, there is no recipe for my mother's black beans, just a matter of tasting and adding to an otherwise very simple recipe.

As in the case of the Classic Cuban Picadillo, I see all kinds of recipes calling for esoteric ingredients that have nothing to do with the original.  Most Cuban recipes entail making a classic spanish sofrito which is onions, green peppers, garlic and sometimes parsley sauteed in olive oil.  That's it. You then add this to the pre soaked cooked beans, add a few more things and cook until done.  The trick is the beans.  Sometimes, if they are fresh, they take less time to cook than beans that have sat in a supermarket for a long time because they are not popular in that area.




As to the pork, here again, the secret is in the marinade and the time it sits soaking up all that garlic and onions!  It doesn't have to be a whole pig in a pit like in the old days.  A nice roast which can be simply cooked in the oven is very tasty and very Cuban.  Nowadays,  Cubans in Miami, and everywhere else where they can find it, have revived the caja china which is a contraption made of a box with wheels where they cook the pig.  It's an all day/lots of beer affair with friends and relatives dropping in and giving advice on how best to season and cook the pork! I don't have a caja china at the lake nor do I have any intentions of getting one.  My roasted pork in the oven is yummy enough for this family!








Yuca, is an acquired taste.  If you are not Cuban forget it.  I have been working on my children for 30 years and they still don't like it.  I'm afraid it might disappear with my generation.  It is a fairly insipid root quite stringy and buttery and I can't think of any other time when it is served in my house.  That is why lots of mojo with garlic is added for flavor.  Don't even think of kissing anybody afterwards! Now fried yuca is something else, and I can have that any day of the year!







If you can get through this wonderful but heavy meal at midnight, more power to you.  I can't.  In my house, we celebrate the other part of the hyphen, my American part, on Christmas Eve and my Cuban side Christmas Day.  It makes for a better digestive experience, even though most Cuban families will cringe at the thought!

For dessert we usually have turrones of all kinds, jijona, alicante and yema are my favorites.  You can find them at any Latin supermarket at this time of the year or by mail order.  By the time you get to dessert you are in such an acute food coma, especially if you ate at the traditional hour of midnight, that you don't care what you are served.  All you can think of is going home and tearing off whatever you are wearing.  Not that its easier during the lunchtime hour, but there you have the siesta alternative.

A red Rioja or Ribera del Duero is a nice wine to have with this meal, but to me, a cold beer is the best! Try Presidente or Corona.




Nochebuena Menu

Lechon Asado - Roast Pork
Frijoles Negros -Black Beans
Arroz Blanco - White Rice
Yuca con Mojo
Turrones


The black bean recipe is coming up tomorrow and I'll try to post the roast pork also sometime this week.

Poinsettias, pictured above, are called Flor de Pascua or Flor de Nochebuena in Spanish.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!...A Lifetime of Memories

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In the early seventies, just before my son was born, I saw the most beautiful Christmas tree in the window of Bergdorf Goodman, my favorite New York store.  It was decorated with silk balls covered in pearls,colored stones,  ribbons, silver and gold.  I knew it was the look I wanted for my tree then and forever.  UNFORTUNATELY, the price of each ornament was so outside my budget as to make it a non starter.  No matter, I was going to make them myself.  Little did I know that I would spend the next 12 months making ornaments non stop.


I am one of these people that when they focus on something, it becomes an obsession.  Every night after dinner, I would go down to the basement where I had converted my husband's tool table into my atelier.  I must have stuck thousands of pins into balls and bells in those twelve months!  Thank heavens I was pregnant at the time with my son  and my ever expanding belly became a nice prop to rest my ornaments as I worked.  Mother used to say she wouldn't be surprised if the baby was born with a pin in his mouth! I must have made over a hundred balls, more than 10 bells (they were the hardest) and I don't know how many eggs.  In those days, we did not have Michael's or Hobby Craft but there were nice hobby stores where I purchased the essentials.  The ribbons were from fabric stores, my mother's sewing closet, hats or wherever I could find them. Everyone was alerted to call if they came across a pretty ribbon.


We had a wonderful store in Connecticut called The Christmas Store (dah..) where I bought beautiful gold chains, angels and butterflies to fill the empty spaces around the tree.  Needless to say, it was a long and time consuming process.

The first year I put  up the tree, I couldn't decide which ornaments to put up front.  Every  time I unwrapped a ball it was so beautiful it had to go front and center.  After hours of decorating the tree I finally lit it up and went to the kitchen to make dinner.  All of a sudden I heard this clunk and a scream from my two year old.  The tree was so heavy up front it had fallen on her while she was standing in the den looking at the ornaments.  She was so traumatized that for years she wouldn't go near a Christmas tree.

These ornaments have been packed and unpacked in every house we have lived in.  Several years ago, I gave them to my daughter who carefully repacks them every year.  A lot of the pins and stones have fallen off  but since each is packed in its own baggie, we are able to re pin the following year.  Even though they are over 30 years old there is very little damage.  I think they know how much they are loved!. 

This year we purchased a 10 foot tree for our living room, the tallest we've ever had.  What a great excuse to go out and buy more stuff.  We found beautiful snowflakes and stars at Target for a very reasonable price.


Now that the ornaments are officially my daughter's, I have to contain myself when it comes to the process.  For, you see, there is a process.  Lights, chains, balls, bells, people, angels, eggs, snowflakes, stars... and butterflies last!  I understand that last year my daughter almost killed my son for trying to hang the balls before the chains!

This year it took us two days (and half a bottle of Advil) to decorate the tree.  If you want to look at the photos of the family trip to the Christmas tree farm click here.









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