Friday, December 25, 2009

Homemade gifts, part II

A breakfast favorite of mine is granola and yogurt. These days it is so difficult to find granola that is affordable (6 oz in the store could set you back $5), not packed with sugar, and something that will fill you up without having a cup full. I have found that you can make granola fairly easily at home. You can mix up a big batch and as long as you keep it in a store bought container you can enjoy for a nice long time.

This year I decided to make a batch of granola to include in my Christmas packages. With all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas outings and shopping, who would not enjoy a delicious, healthy pre-made breakfast pick me up.
(adapted from Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
3 Cups rolled oats
2 Cups Rye flakes
2 Cups shredded coconut
2 Cups sliced almonds
1 Cup additional seeds (pumpkin, sunflower or sesame)
3/4 C veggie oil
1/2 C maple syrup
1 C cashews
2 C dried fruit of your choice (cranberries are a favorite)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Combine oats, rye flakes, coconut, seeds, and liquid ingredients in bowl. Mix until all ingredients are coated with liquid.
3. Spread on a large cookie sheet in an even layer.
4. Bake for 45 minutes but stir mixture every 15 minutes to bake evenly.
5. Cool to room temperature. Toss in cashews and dried fruit.
6. Store in an air tight container.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays: Homemade gifts part I

I still very much love Christmas. I love everything about it - getting together with family, warm hearty meals, gift wrapping, gift giving, and definitely gift getting. There is no better feeling than finding the perfect gift for someone special. I struggle every year waiting till Christmas day to give away my gifts. I start shopping early; I am sometimes complete done by Thanksgiving, so being patient all through the month of December before I can give away all of my present is quite the trying time. Anyway, along with all of the store bought presents I always like to put together some homemade yummies each year.

A favorite Christmas treat for my family is Christmas bark, or peppermint bark. This used to be sold at only gourmet food shops a few years ago. It has since gained popularity and can be found in most grocery stores this time of year. Ghiradelli even makes a special holiday chocolate bar that is similar. However, these store bough versions can be quite price for a small amount of chocolate and the look is just too generic for me. The following recipe is super simple. The result is a festive treat perfect for an added extra in any one's Christmas present.

Christmas bark

1 12 ox bag white chocolate chips ( the better the white chocolate the easier it is to work with)
1 tbsp peppermint extract
1 box candy canes or peppermint candy (red and white is the most festive)
1 cookie sheet

1. Unwrap all of the candy canes or peppermint candies. Put into a durable baggie, Ziploc Freezer bags work fine. Use a meat tenderizer or roller pin to break up all of the candy into small pieces.

2. Melt the white chocolate either by putting it in a double boiler and stirring constantly or my preferred method is simply dumping the bag in a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 second intervals stirring after each time. This method will take about 2 minutes of heating. You can stop heating when there are still a few lumps of solid chocolate left. Keep stirring and the heat will continue to be dispersed and melt the remaining chocolate. This will you will not over heat and burn the chocolate. Once you over heat white chocolate there is no saving it.

3. Stir in the peppermint extract and candy cane pieces. Spread on a clean cookie sheet and even out the thickness across the pan. Don't worry if it does not reach all of the sides. Cool until harden in the refrigerator.

4. Once hard gently twist the cookie sheet so it is not flat bottomed, this should produce cracks through the harden bark. Then use your hand to break up into desired sized pieces.

You can wrap it up nicely and it makes the perfect homemade treat!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tis the season

One of my family traditions is to build a Gingerbread house. Every year my brother and I would create an edible masterpieces of gingerbread and candy. Now, my mother was not the ambitious one with this project and simply bought a box set of pre-made gingerbread slabs and extra candy decorations. I, by no means hold this against her. I think of all of the years of gingerbread making that was done in my childhood home we only attempted to eat it once. I don't recall be very pleased with the rock solid gingerbread, dried out candy, and pasted like icing.

For us it was the building process which was the most fun so why bother with the laborious task of measuring out perfectly shaped gingerbread in order to make a solid foundation for the house.

This year once again Jordan and I carried on the tradition with this gingerbread house. Jordan however, struggled - his hands are literally the size of the house add in the sticky royal icing and candy and it was quite a challenge.

The only issue we had this year was the chimney. It began when I attached it facing the back of the house. The chimney and the house's condition only got worst as it would not stand up straight and kept ruining our other designs.
Jordan swears that he plans to eat at least the candy this year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Scrumptious meal for one: Eggs Italian-style

There are times when I am by myself for dinner and although I love to cook it really is not enjoyable for me to prepare a meal unless I can share it with someone. Many a times when I am alone I end up with cereal, cheese, or sadly a frozen meal. It's pathetic really but also quick and easy. Recently however I found a recipe in Food and Wine magazine on a dish I had heard of before but never really knew how to put together. Well, it is the simplest thing ever and my new preferred method of eating eggs.
The article used this dish as breakfast but I think it is the perfect winter time meal for one. To read said article click HERE.

Eggs Italian-style

About 1/2 C tomato sauce
2 eggs
a bit of cheese
Italian spices

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a ramekin put tomato sauce. (you can used homemade, canned pizza sauce, or jarred pasta sauce - the better the sauce the better the dish) Crack two raw eggs on top. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the egg whites turn white and start to look dry.

4. Remove from heat and top with cheese and Italian seasonings to taste. (again I have used all sorts of random leftover cheese -mozzarella, Parmesan, and cheddar work best).

5. Put back in oven till cheese is melts.

6. Let rest till able to eat. The sauce gets really hot and it is easy to burn your mouth so be careful.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Foie Gras Morris-style

I will never scoff again at the disgustingness of the innards that come "neatly" wrapped in plastic inside of a store bought turkey or chicken. It always took all my might to dig deep from within the cavities to remove the neck and gizzards. Well, little did I know that my little experiment in farm bought game meat (ie the duck) would result in the below gifts.

Yes, this looks unsanitary to me too. But after hours online researching how to roast the perfect duck Jordan was also able to find out that duck liver and duck fat are indispensable. The obvious use of liver would be to make Foie gras. Duck fat itself is used to make some of the most delicious tasting French fries around. I was aware of this and even know of a few restaurants that actually make their fries in this manner even though I have never tasted them. I never thought however that I would be the one making them for my first tasting adventure.

Needless to say after the whole fat draining duck roasting experience I was not ready for another adventure into fry making. However, Jordan could not bare to see the beloved liver be tossed in the trash. Simply sauteing the liver in garlic and butter made a very tasty appetizer.

So no it did not turn out to be foie gras....maybe next time. Jordan did like his little appetizer of duck liver and white bread though. Especially since dinner ran about an hour late.


Scrumptious looking right? Well I will never look at duck in the same way after I now know what goes into roasting a duck. This all came about because Jordan has been begging to make game meat dishes he finds on his "manly" websites. I have no problem with game meat but its not a staple in the local grocery store. Thus, unless he goes out and brings me said game meat, I cannot make his "manly" meals.

Well in comes a trip to Union Square farmer's market in New York City and low and behold there sit Quattro's game farm stand. They had tubs of duck, venison and all sorts of other exotic meat. At the moment I disappointingly realized I obviously could not purchase the meat on the spot and truck it back with me on the train. Such a splendid opportunity gone to waste until I realized Quattro's was in Pleasant Valley, not very far from where I actually live. I am convinced it was fate.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and off I was up to Pleasant Valley to seek out the prized game meat. They had a great variety of all sorts of game meat and cuts. They also make their own various sausages. I ended up with a 6 lbs duck. Apparently 6 lbs is about the right size for two servings. Sounds crazy right? That is what I thought too but sadly most of the 6 lbs is fat. I always knew duck was a fatty meat but really? My sad thoughts turn into grossness as the roast process begin.

Our cute little duck pre-roast.

This was definitely Jordan's project. He learned after an exhausting Internet search that you must score the duck fat. Basically this means before you put the duck in the oven you have to poke holes into the duck fat so has the duck heats up and the fat melts it has an easy path to drip out. Did I mention I thought this whole thing was gross?
Duck is so flavorful. We decided to go with a simple salt, pepper, and herb de Provence mixture.

At this point, right before it enters the oven it still looks cute. Notice how you have to cook it on a rack so it does sit in the odd some 1-2 cups of fat that will eventually comes out of the duck.

Although there was multiple ideas floating around the Internet about how exactly you should roast a whole duck, we ended up going with Mark Bittman's method from "How to cook everything". The thought process is to cook the duck slowly at a low temperature to get more fat off without over cooking the meat. We set the temperature at 300 degrees and got ready to wait for 3 hours. You set the timer for 60 minutes and at every hour you flip the whole duck over to drain the fat from each side. With each turn you add additional pokes into the fat to again help the fat drain off. I really believe this is what liposuction would look like in real life. At this point I was done with the process besides making sure Jordan didn't completely burn his hands off with the flipping method.

Remember the moment in Julie and Julia when after many attempts at recreating one of Julia's dishes Julie finally sits down to enjoy it at midnight or what ridiculously late time it was to eat dinner. Well that was me on Sunday night; it wasn't midnight but I was exhausted nonetheless.

In the end it came out beautifully, and delicious no less. No wonder duck is expensive though. The 6 lb bird was just enough for 2 servings and it was a pain in the butt to cook.

Jordan is convinced this was a fun project and cannot wait to do it again. We will have to wait and see.

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