Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Day...Champagne Risotto

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Chances are that if you are spending New Year's Eve at home, alone or with company, there will be some leftover Champagne come tomorrow morning. Hopefully, it will be in the refrigerator, uncorked, the best way to keep champagne that has been opened the night before. Even if it's not cold, it should still be alright for cooking a day or two after uncorking. 

 I am not one for starting the day with Mimosas, particularly after drinking Champagne the night before.  I would much rather save the leftover bubbly for a chicken in champagne sauce or a risotto. Anything but throw a drop away.

The recipe below can be adapted in many ways and is perfect for lunch or dinner.  You can substitute  green peas or shiitake mushrooms for the asparagus while keeping the prosciutto;  or you can eliminate the latter altogether and just add champagne and peas, asparagus or mushrooms.  It's up to you, what you have in the food closet and how bad the hangover.





For 2 Servings


Ingredients


  • 4 thin slices prosciutto
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 3/4 cup Champagne
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:


In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Blanch the asparagus in the chicken stock for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a slotted spoon. Set the asparagus aside and keep the chicken stock at a low simmer.

Slice the prosciutto in strips

In another medium saucepan, melt 1 TB olive oil and saute the prosciutto until crisp.  Remove to the side, wipe the pan with a paper towel.

Add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.
 Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter. Continue toasting the rice, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes more.

Add the Champagne and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Remove from the heat.

Gently stir in the asparagus, remaining butter, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Spoon the risotto into serving dishes and garnish with the crisp prosciutto over the top of the risotto. Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Best Laid Plans of Mice And Men...Or The View From My Bed

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One of the most famous phrases in literature, as well as the title of this post,  comes from Robert Burns' poem To a Mouse, 1786. It tells of how he, while ploughing a field, upturned a mouse's nest.

The resulting poem is an apology to the mouse:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.
...
The poem is of course the source for the title of John Steinbeck's 1937 novel - Of Mice and Men.

You may wonder why at this festive time of the year I may be thinking about this famous line.  The answer is simple...I am sick as a dog, right in the middle of the holidays, and all my carefully laid plans have gone the way of the ashtray.   Luckily I was able to make it through my birthday  but soon thereafter the clear symptoms of a bad flu came on like gangbusters.  This meant my party with the neighbors and Christmas Eve with the grandchildren had to be cancelled.  At the rate I am going New Years Eve is up in the air.  Which got me thinking....

What is a hostess to do if she comes down with the flu before a party? 

In my case, the decision was rather easy.  I have often attended and hosted parties at the tail end of a cold, particularly if I had outside help.  The problem of hosting a dinner party on your own is that your little fingers are touching everything you are preparing to serve and you certainly do not want to be responsible for contaminating your guests.   If you are sneezing and coughing  guess what, all your germs are airborne!

I was lucky that this year's pre Christmas Eve party was a small one with intimate friends.  On the morning of the party a phone call was made, the situation explained,  and both parties decided postponing for a day or two was the right thing to do.  Yesterday when I saw that my condition would not improve any time soon, the uncooked ducks were sent out to my guests, together with some of the hors d'oeuvres, wine and Christmas cookies.  I couldn't think of anything else to make up for the disappointment of having to cancel at the last minute.  I felt so bad, in a moment of delusion, I even thought of sending along some of the family silver.

Incidentally, had I contracted outside help,  I would have also honored my commitment, tip included.

This is the first time I have ever had to cancel a dinner party but, under the circumstances, I think I did the right thing.  Has this ever happened to you? If so, what did you do? I wonder what Elsa Maxwell would have done.  She would have probably gone on with the whole thing and received her guests in her boudoir wearing a fancy peignoir, a hilarious thought given her looks.  Which leads me to another observation....

When I am sick and have to spend inordinate amounts of time in bed, I usually have two books going, a crossword puzzle and a movie to watch in between.  I don't know about you,  but nothing keeps my attention for long when I'm ill and cranky.  This time around I read a great book and a fun book,  both of which I highly recommend.  The great book is Former People,the Final Days Of the Russian Aristocracy a real tour de force, well written and well  researched;  and the fun book is Inventing Elsa Maxwell, How an Irrepressible Nobody Conquered High Society, Hollywood and The Press.

Trust me,only a couple of page turners like these will keep your mind from thinking how bad you are feeling.  The movie was Hemingway and Gellhorn with Nicole Kidman and a yummy Clive Owen, an HBO movie about the writer's relationship and marriage to correspondent Martha Gellhorn, the only woman to ever ask him for a divorce.  Highly entertaining and the perfect kind of movie  for when you are sick in bed.  A no brainer.  Now if only I could find another one like it......

Needless to say, the chances of getting a recipe from me before next year are slim, unless you are thinking of chicken soup and I just might do that.

So that's the view from my bed on Thursday, December 27, 2012, Day 7 of the flu.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Bittersweet Christmas Eve...The 2012 Menu

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This year Christmas will be a low key affair at Lindaraxa's. Madame Mere, the glue that binds this family together, won't be coming up for the holidays as travelling during Christmas has become too much for her. Getting on a plane these days is a major production and older people simply get overwhelmed.  Sh*t, I get overwhelmed and I used to travel quite a lot in my day.

I will be spending Christmas Eve at my son's house and staying overnight so I can share in my grandchildren's joy when they come down in the morning and see all the presents under the tree. I don't want to miss a thing, especially this year.  After all, kids are so precocious these days I wonder how long before they find out who the real Santa is. I will feel extremely lucky if we get a couple of years under our belt.

Yes, I will miss having the big dinner for the family, that I can't deny; but I look forward to the new era when I, as a grandmother, get to go over to my children's home to be entertained. We'll see how long that lasts,...perhaps as long as Santa.  Besides, after the recent events I would travel til the ends of the earth to spend this special evening with them.  It's all about the children this year and that's the way it should be. 

On the other hand, I would not miss a Christmas Eve dinner for the world and I will be having it tomorrow for close friends, my daughter and the dogs.  The invitation has gone out for Christmas Sunday Dinner and it will be very low key, although a little champagne never hurts.

Since it's a small group I am going to indulge in duck, something I usually save for New Year's Eve.  What is non negotiable, ever, is the chestnut soup, a tradition now for many years and a favorite of my brother's.  (If you are reading this, I am saving some chestnuts for when I see you next week!).

Have a Merry Christmas, don't sweat the small stuff, and give the little ones two extra hugs.  My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.



Christmas Eve Dinner 2012

 
Cocktail Cheese Biscuits
Christmas Bar Nuts
 Champagne
 
 Cream of Chestnut Soup
 
 Roast Duck A l'Orange
Wild Rice with Cranberries and Toasted Pecans
Petit Pois and Roasted Small Onions
 
Ginger Cake With Orange Sabayon
 
Spanish Turrones


 
 
 
Photo via Habitually Chic

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Le Grand Vin For a Grand Birthday!

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Decisions, decisions, decisions. I hate making decisions but last night I made a decision  I wish I could make everyday of my life. .. drinking a 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild or a 1982 Chateau Latour!









When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?*


 This all came about with the arrival of my 65th birthday which I have been celebrating now for at least a week.  It has been the best birthday ever.  Social security, a small pension and Medicare.  Who could ask for anything more, right? Wrong. A gift from a dear friend who knows my love for Bordeaux. That is the stuff of dreams. I know to most of you this is all silliness, but to those of us who have been drinking and collecting wines receiving a couple of bottles of each of these wines, particularly from a year classified by some as the vintage of the century, is the thrill of a lifetime.  Yes, dear readers, to those in the know this is a trip to Paris, or a new mink coat! A night at the Ritz or a diamond necklace! Winning the lottery or getting "work" done on your face! You name it, whatever makes you tick multiplied by one hundred.

So, the process started. Which one was to be the lucky one?!  Which one would Winston choose?


The dedication is from Churchill to my uncle on his visit to Havana in 1946, a year before I was born.


For a week I looked into every review and tasting note I could find, from Robert Parker aka The Wine Advocate, to Dr. Vino who tweeted Either one! when asked to help in the choice.  From my own experience I have always found Lafite "needed more time" in the bottle.  Big wines like this are made to last 50 years plus, particularly from great vintages like '82, '90, and '95.    That is part of what makes them great wines.  To open a great Bordeaux before its time is a crime and a disappointment of sorts. Latour and Margaux are much more accessible and I have never been "early" opening either one.  So from past experience, a decision was made. Find out after the break...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Vodka Christmas Cake

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Once again this year, I’ve had requests for my Vodka Christmas Cake recipe so here goes. Please keep in your files as I am beginning to get tired of typing this up every year.  (Made mine this morning.)

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar
lemon juice
4 large eggs
nuts
1 bottle Vodka,
2 cups dried fruit

Procedure:

Sample a cup of Vodka to check quality. Take a large bowl, check the Vodka again to be sure it is of the highest quality then Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer. Beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Beat again. At this point, it is best to make sure the Vodka is still OK. Try another cup just in case. Turn off the mixerer thingy. Break 2 eegs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Pick the fruit up off the floor, wash it and put it in the bowl,  a piece at a time trying to count it. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit getas stuck in the beaterers, just pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the Vodka to test for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt, or something. Check the Vodka. Now shit shift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Add a spoon of sugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find. Greash the oven. Turn the cake tin 360 degrees and try not to fall over. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Finally, throw the bowl through the window. Finish the Vodka and wipe the counter with the cat.

My neighbor and dear friend, Karin, sent me this recipe knowing that I needed a good laugh this weekend.  I am sharing it with you because I know WE ALL need a good laugh this weekend.

Image: Getty

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cocktail Spiced Pecans

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This is an adaptation of the most famous spiced nuts in all of New York.  Served at the Union Square Cafe these babies fly off as fast as they are laid on the bar.

Because I wanted to ship some of my treasured pecans to a dearest friend, I have adapted the recipe to some extent.  I coated the nuts first in the butter and then added the spices before roasting at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.  Otherwise the pecans would have arrived covered in coagulated butter.  Those I will be serving for cocktails at home will get the original procedure.  You will love them!




Union Square Cafe's Bar Nuts


Ingredients


  • 2 1/4 cups (18-ounces) assorted unsalted nuts, including peeled peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans and whole unpeeled almonds
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Maldon or other sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
 
Toss the nuts in a large bowl to combine and spread them out on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and melted butter.

Thoroughly toss the toasted nuts in the spiced butter and serve warm. And once you eat these, you will never want to stop.



 Another recipe...what a dilemma!

Photo #1, 3 Lindaraxa
Photo #2 Food Network

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Baking - Cocktail Cheese Biscuits

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Lindaraxa's Christmas kitchen was hopping today and it was the perfect day for it...rainy and yucky to do anything but stay inside and vegetate.  I chose instead to start getting some of my presents ready, particularly the ones that are going out of town.




I baked half of the cocktail cheese biscuits and one batch of the Peppermint Bark Brownies as I am still experimenting with the latter.  I have so many to make I have decided to take a short cut this year and make the recipe I will be posting in the country blog.  The roasted pecans and the gingerbread men are on the docket for tomorrow.  I just might make my special mustard this weekend too but that one stays at home with maybe a tad for a very special friend.  It can be a particularly expensive proposition if you make it with the right ingredients!








I got different size Christmas tin boxes,  already half price, at Hobby Lobby.


Cocktail Cheese Biscuits

1 stick of butter, cut into pieces
2 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup of flour ( I use King Arthur's)
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp. cayenne (red) pepper or paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In the mixer with paddle attachment combine butter and cheese.  Add the mustard powder, salt and red pepper to the cup of flour.  Add the flour mix to the butter/cheese. Mix until it comes to a ball. Remove and shape into a log about an inch and a half in diameter.  If you are going to bake right away, put the dough in the freezer for about 10 minutes to harden so it will be easier to slice.  Slice in 1/4 inch thick slices, lay them in a baking pan slightly apart and bake for about 17 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  Enjoy!

They will darken and crisp up when they cool.

Note.  Use really good cheese and grate it yourself.  Do not use the ready grated variety! Red pepper is the way to go.

This recipe has been adapted from 300 Years of Carolina Cooking


You might also want to try Cocktail Pecan Cheese Wafers in the lake blog

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chocolate Mint Squares

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Right around this time during the holidays  I start thinking about gifts for those friends and acquaintances who have been particularly nice to me or my family during the year. Just like social invitations, kindnesses and favors should be acknowledged or reciprocated in one way or another and what better time to do it than Christmastime. Whether you send a gift or a personal handwritten card, the idea is to say thank you to a very special person in a very special way.

This year, unlike others, I have my share of people who have been most generous and kind with their friendship or with their time. There is no way I can repay what each has done for me, monetarily or otherwise, but there is something I know all of them will enjoy and that is a batch of homemade cookies! Let's face it, home made anything is the new luxury for people who do not cook and that is about 90% of the population these days.  If you want to put it in the context of food, home made goodies may just be the new caviar!

This weekend is the big bake off and both my daughter and I will be busy baking and packing. A couple of our friends are out of town so boxes will have to be carefully packed to ensure the cookies arrive in one piece. We have learned from experience that some cookies travel better than others so selecting the right recipe is important. Gingerbread men are always the most popular but, unfortunately, they have been known to arrive with their heads or legs cut off and will have to stay local. On the other hand, bars and clusters make it alright and will definitely be included in the final selection. So does my lemon pound cake and cocktail cheese biscuits.

This recipe from King Arthur has made the finals and is perfect for packing and mailing.    It combines mint and chocolate in a dense, rich bar, made festive by a layer of white icing offset by a final drizzle of dark, bitter chocolate. What more could you ask for?

So,  if you are looking for something special to give to a  friend or to the person who has everything in your Christmas list homemade cookies may be your best bet! 

Chocolate Mint Squares

Ingredients:
   
Dough
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter or margarine
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped walnuts or chopped pecans, optional
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract or peppermint oil*

Frosting
2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) melted butter
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract or peppermint oil*
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

Glaze
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Garnish
1/4 cup crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
*Peppermint oils or extracts may vary in strength; add them judiciously, tasting as you go.

Directions:


Dough: In a double boiler, or in a microwave, melt together the chocolate and butter or margarine. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, salt and eggs. Add the chocolate mixture, stirring to combine, then the flour, nuts and peppermint, mixing till well-blended.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9 x 9-inch pan. Bake the squares in a preheated 350°F oven for 25 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and cool to room temperature.

Frosting: In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, melted butter or margarine, peppermint and milk. Spread the frosting over the cooled squares in a thin layer.

Glaze: In a double boiler, or in a microwave, melt together the chocolate and butter or margarine. Drizzle this over the frosted squares, and sprinkle with the crushed peppermint candy. Refrigerate the squares till they're well-chilled. To serve, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Yield: About 36 small squares.

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour 

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