Thursday, January 29, 2015

Recipe Roundup: Nibbles and Bits

Whether you're putting out a huge spread for the big game, hosting a cocktail party, or just having a few friends over for drinks, make sure you have a few tasty morsels on hand to round out the rest of your menu!

The Union Square Cafe's Bar Nuts: You can't go wrong with this little nibble—easy to make, and even easier to eat, these will please your guests to no end (or at least until the end of the evening).

Cheddar Buttons: Who says you can't make your own cheesy crackers? Customize these by using your favorite cheese, and add herbs and spices to suit your palate (pepper jack would be a great cheese option here).

Cheese and Dates: Simple, yet effective. Again, the choice of cheese is yours—or make several kinds if you can't decide. Try using dried figs or apricots in addition to dates as well.

Pistachio Bars: Don't forget dessert! Use your favorite roasted, salted nuts in place of the pistachios, or a combination of nuts for even more flavor. Either way, the salty-sweet combination is sure to be a (dare I say it?) touchdown!


Monday, January 26, 2015

How to Milk a Chicken: Chicken Butter

There's a long-standing joke among some friends about "chicken butter"—a substance which makes perfect sense after a good meal and several glasses of wine, but obviously doesn't exist. Yet truth is stranger than fiction, and one of those friends eventually stumbled across this recipe for (what else) Chicken Butter. The legend was now reality. Plus, I knew I wanted to try making it myself! So when I had those two Tablespoons of rendered chicken fat, I put them to use to make this intriguing little spread:

chicken butter spread dip

I've paired my chicken butter with slices of radish as the French would do, but it would certainly be wonderful on a sandwich, smeared over cornbread, or swirled into cup of butternut squash soup. The sweetness would pair well with other raw veggies like carrots and cauliflower, too. So the next time you laugh at something and think, "Now, that was silly", think again. You never know what you might find!

Chicken Butter

2 Tablespoons rendered chicken fat
4 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon (heaping) real maple syrup

Have a all ingredients at room temperature. Mix together in a small bowl until completely smooth and very creamy. Store any leftover butter in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for up to three months.

Notes: I used regular, salted butter for my recipe, so did not use additional salt as indicated in the original recipe. The rendered fat by itself has a lovely, delicate flavor, which is what must make it so wonderful for cooking. In fact, my research revealed that New York delis used to have jugs of liquid schmaltz on their tables for customers to pour over their food, much like syrup in a pancake house :-)


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Beautifully Rendered: Rendering Chicken Fat

As you already know, I like to make use of as much as possible—and I can definitely do more. Getting the most out of everything you grow and buy not only saves you money, but gives you more delicious options to enjoy as well! One easy thing I tried recently was rendering the fat from some chicken skins. You can ask your butcher or farmer for chicken skins and fat on their own, but on this occasion I was already buying chicken thighs and used their skins for this little project.

Technically, this is not schmaltz, but it's the same idea. I followed this process using the skins from four decent-sized thighs (about 2 lbs. total). After removing the skins from the thighs, I snipped them into smaller pieces with a pair of scissors. I added them to a heavy-bottomed saucepan with one bay leaf, a splash of water, precisely four peppercorns, and got to simmering:

rendering chicken fat
Showing some skin.

Even though it was only a small amount of skin, it did take about an hour and twenty minutes to finish rendering. The pieces of skin did stick to the bottom of the pan during the process, but I VERY carefully nudged them around with the tip of a spoon from time to time. I knew the end was near when the bubbling started to die down significantly. The skins eventually turned into crackling (cook's treat!), and I was left with about two Tablespoons of that lovely golden liquid to use for another time:

chicken skin cracklings
Crackling good.

Now, I know what you're thinking: two Tablespoons isn't exactly an embarrassment of riches. But I have a plan! That two Tablespoons is exactly enough for me to make... well, in the words of the Prime Minister, wait and see :-)


Sunday, January 18, 2015

And Everything Nice: Glazed Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Scones

It's the weekend—time to sleep in, relax, and enjoy your favorite comfort foods. Personally, I love a good cinnamon roll for a sweet treat, but making them requires a certain level of commitment that doesn't quite go hand-in-hand with being lazy :-) Thankfully, these brown sugar and cinnamon scones are easy, fast, and have all the flavors of those yummy rolls, just in afternoon-tea form. That certainly doesn't mean you have to wait that long—start devouring them as soon as you please!

Glazed Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Scones

Glazed Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Scones

For the scones:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg (see notes below)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons whole milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and set aside.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, measure out heavy cream and mix in egg and vanilla extract until combined. In a large bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, being sure to break up any clumps of sugar. Pour heavy cream mixture into dry ingredients all at once, stir together until the dough is just combined, then knead directly in the bowl a few times by hand to pick up any loose bits (flour your hand first to prevent sticking if the dough is too tacky). Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface, dust the top with flour, and gently pat out into a rectangle, about 6 x 10 inches and 1/2 inch thick. Using a dinner knife dipped in flour, cut the rectangle into 8 squares, then cut each square diagonally for a total of 16 triangles (the dough will be sticky and soft, just keep coating the knife in flour as you go). Use the knife to carefully lift and transfer the scones onto your baking sheet, and bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned on the top and completely golden on the bottom. The scones will rise and spread a bit during baking—if any stick together, they can be pulled back apart after baking. Remove and let cool completely before glazing.

Glazed Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Scones

In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients and stir together with a small butter knife. Glaze scones using about one heaping teaspoon of glaze for each, spreading it out towards the edges.

Notes: You can omit the egg by increasing the heavy cream to 1 1/4 cups. If sixteen is too many, freeze extra scones unglazed and thaw as needed. The glaze makes just enough to top all sixteen scones, but you can certainly double (or halve) the recipe depending on how much you require :-)


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Pantry Raid: Ham and Cheese Strata

Waste not, want not, as the saying goes—and (for the most part) it's very true. I try to save as much as possible, from decent-sized scraps from my latest craft project, to odds and ends in the kitchen. They may not seem like much in themselves, but eventually they can be used to help me make something greater than the sum of its parts.

Soups and stews are surefire ways to utilize leftover food, but a casserole often does the trick quite nicely. Since I always have milk and eggs in the fridge, my go-to dish is usually a strata. You may call it a breakfast casserole or an egg bake—for that matter, you might even call it Lady Jane Grey, because I guarantee it won't last long once you make it! By their very nature, my stratas differ from one to the next. When asked how I make them, I usually try to change the subject, because I don't really know the answer—they just kind of make themselves. However, I was sure to pay attention this time and take note of exactly what and how much I used.

ham cheese strata breakfast casserole

The beauty of this "recipe" is the ease with which you can mix and match the ingredients. I used 8 eggs, but anything from 6 to 9 will work perfectly well. Whole milk was on hand, but half and half or heavy cream are excellent substitutes if you have some that needs using. Cheese is optional, but highly encouraged—up to two cups of your choice for this size pan. I had some bread in the freezer for the base, but leftover roasted potatoes or home fries are delicious. Have some leftover grilled or sauteed veggies? Chop them up and throw them in as well. In place of the ham I used here, crumbled bacon or chopped, cooked breakfast sausage are perfect—or leave the meat out altogether. Dried tarragon I had from my garden, but thyme or rosemary would also be lovely. The best part is that stratas are very easy to make, and don't take much time to cook. Savings all 'round!

Ham and Cheese Strata

Ham and Cheese Strata

1/2 loaf sourdough bread (about 1/2 lb.), torn or cubed into 1-inch pieces
6 oz. black forest ham, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
8 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried tarragon, crumbled (or dried thyme/rosemary)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan (I used some bacon fat I had saved) and spread the bread evenly over the bottom. Scatter the ham over it and then sprinkle on the cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard and tarragon. Add a few pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper (if using something very salty like bacon, you may want to omit adding any salt at this stage). Pour egg mixture over everything in the pan and let sit for 5-15 minutes so the bread can absorb some of the liquid, then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden and bubbly and the eggy custard is set. Let cool for 10-15 minutes or to room temperature before serving—with some homemade tomato jam, of course :-)


Monday, January 12, 2015

Get Your Goat: Goat's Milk

If you've even glanced at my recipes, you've already guessed I have no fear of butter. Things like whole milk and heavy cream are at the top of my list, too. These, of course, all come from cow's milk—and I appreciate every drop! But sometimes I'm in the mood for a change, for something decidedly NOT cow. The easiest way to achieve this is simple: go for goat!

goat milk yogurt with honey pistachios
Breakfast of champions.

Goat's milk yogurt has been a favorite of mine for almost as long as I can remember. Like a good chevre, yogurt made from goat's milk has a light tanginess that's incredibly pleasing to the palate. Strained in cheesecloth for 24 hours, the yogurt thickens to the consistency of whipped cream, and is heavenly with a scattering of chopped pistachios and a drizzle of honey.

Whey out.

Now, unless you have a goat in your backyard (or know someone who does), goat products will likely be more expensive than their bovine counterparts. So consider it a treat, find the best you can afford, and choose something local to ensure it's as fresh as possible. Never tried it? Give it a shot—the variety of cheeses alone makes it worthwhile, and you can also find other things like goat's milk butter, ice cream, skin care products, and salted caramel sauce! Even better, it's easy to make something goaty at home—VERY satisfying, indeed!

Know what else? Goats are awfully cute, too :-)

Gettin' nosy.


Friday, January 09, 2015

A Walk in the Park

Although I've been to New York City a number of times throughout my life, I've inexplicably missed seeing a number of its major landmarks and attractions. Thankfully, I've had the opportunity more recently to spend some quality time in this wonderful city, and apply myself to rectifying the situation—in true tourist style, of course :-)

Last Fall, I had my first visit to Central Park, and it was such a treat!

Central Park New York City
A little music on the bridge.

Iconic, beautiful, and charmingly intimate for such a large space, the Park has so much to see and do, there will definitely be numerous return visits. In my first ramble, I was able to take in the south-east corner, including some spots I'm sure you will recognize:

Dairy Visitor Center—nearby signs proclaimed it the Dairy House, and it does look exactly like a Swiss-chalet outbuilding nestled in the woods. I almost expected to see cows with giant bells around their necks, grazing placidly nearby:

Got milk?

Chess & Checkers House—featured in so many movies, I felt like I'd been there before. The little building at the center provides you with gaming supplies, and is surrounded by the pergola-covered walk with all those famous benches and boards:

Would you like to play a game?

Bethesda Fountain—located on Bethesda Terrace, and crowned by the Angel of the Waters, my photograph does not begin to do it justice. It was a popular location, and EVERYONE was there to take pictures, too:

Water, cool and clear.

These and so much more, all in the small section I was able to tour that day. Even the plant life and architecture were enchanting, and I really can't wait to return :-)


So, are there places you've been meaning to see, and things you've been wanting to do that are only a hop, skip, and jump away? Not grand overseas tours, but just what any tourist would expect to see if they were in your neck of the woods? Then by all means, GO. Grab a partner-in-crime, plan a day, and explore—you'll be glad you did!


Monday, January 05, 2015

In a Jam: Easy Tomato Jam

Once again, fruit is in the eye of the beholder, and as I beheld the various tomato products in my pantry, I thought about making some tomato jam. As I searched through recipes online, I found they all called for fresh tomatoes—and lots of them! But it's the middle of winter, so what's a mouse to do? Why, use those shelf-stable tomatoes, of course :-)

Tomato Jam on Toast

Easy Tomato Jam

3 cups canned plum tomatoes, "strained", "crushed", "chopped", or "diced" (if you have tomatoes you've processed yourself at home, even better!)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 Tablespoons gin
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Stir all ingredients together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, for about 90 minutes, or until the volume has reduced by about half (you may need to increase the heat for the final 15 minutes and stir constantly to drive off the last of the excess moisture). Let cool, uncovered, to room temperature and store in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Notes: Dollop jam on burgers, spread on sandwiches, or serve with chicken, fish, or eggs. For a fun party nibble, spread 4 Tablespoons jam on a sheet of puff pastry, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, roll into a log and slice into 1/2-inch rounds; bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit on a lined baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until golden and crisp.


tomato and cheese pinwheels with a glass of red wine

Thursday, January 01, 2015

And A Bacon New Year!!! How to Make a Bacon Sandwich

Pork is traditional fare on New Year's Day, having to do with the symbolic way in which our porcine friends nose their way forward through life. And, let's be honest, there's no better way to enjoy pork than by eating bacon :-) Since you may also have need of some extra carbs and fat after the excesses of last night, this is just the sandwich for you:

bacon sandwich

Bacon Sandwich

For each sandwich:
3-4 slices pork bacon (preferably nitrate/nitrite free), cooked until crisp and lightly drained
2 slices good white bread
Softened butter

Generously butter both pieces of bread, then sandwich bacon between bread, close and cut in half. Enjoy!

Notes: The salty bacon is wonderful with the sweet, creamy butter, and the bread helps you hold it all together and soak up those flavors. Even so, this is a rich sandwich, so have it the traditional way with a big mug of steaming hot tea! And be sure to save that bacon fat—use it to sauté greens, grease a pan for baking cornbread, or sweating your veggies when making soups and stews :-)

Liquid gold.