December 31, 2010

the king's cup

This coffee mug is one of many eclectic drinking vessels that live in my parents' kitchen in New Jersey. No one seems to use it, so I've adopted it as my own when I'm visiting. A glimpse of Elvis with every sip banishes even the most severe morning crankies, even before the caffeine has fully kicked in.

Happy New Year!

December 30, 2010

Christmas is for braising

For Christmas dinner I made Melissa Clark's (by way of the New York Times) 7-hour leg of lamb, in 5. Actually, in about 2.5: the butcher didn't carry large shank-end legs, so I ended substituting four smaller (and quicker-cooking) shanks. These were 2-and-a-half hours well spent. After its long white wine bath with herbs, carrots, parsnips, onions, and olives, the lamb was intensely flavorful, moist, and falling-off-the-bone tender. Insanely and ridiculously good. I am not exaggerating.

I usually braise lamb in red wine, but I might be a convert to white wine braising now - the resulting pan juices were fruitier, lighter, and more delicate, and allowed for the gentle gaminess of the lamb to really shine through.  The onions caramelized and dissolved into the sauce, and the carrots and parsnips emerged sweet and meltingly tender - all perfect for spooning on top of the velvety meat. Two genius touches really brought the dish into crazy-good territory: green olives, tossed in toward the end of cooking, provide a touch of brininess and complexity; and pasted raw garlic, stirred into the pan juices before serving, adds a nice kick of heat and incredible aroma.

Alongside the lamb we had a mash of yukon golds and celery root, into which were folded copious amounts of butter, hot milk, and freshly grated nutmeg. Just right.

I gave the lamb recipe a few tweaks: (1) I browned the seasoned shanks in a little bit of olive oil before braising (I just don't get it when braising recipes leave out the browning of the meat - it doesn't take long and it adds so much flavor); (2) I browned the veggies in the same pot in which I had browned the lamb, then set them aside and (3) deglazed the pot with the wine and stock (rather than boiling them in a separate pot, as the recipe suggested), added the rosemary, sage, and bay leaf, and simmered them together for a few minutes before pouring on top of the lamb and veggies in a big roasting pan. (4) I covered the pan with aluminum foil, roasted at 450 for 30 minutes, then reduced the heat to 325 and cooked for an additional 2 hours, turning the shanks occasionally, until the meat could be pulled apart easily with a fork.

These shanks are pretty incredible. If you're looking for a braised lamb recipe, this one is worth a try.

Charley went bonkers for the shanks, too. Here he is begging for leftovers in his embarrassing Santa hat.

December 22, 2010

time for cooookies

The December cookie-baking bug bites me every year. Never fails.

This year it happened one evening as I strolled past the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

No matter how many times I see that tree, I always have to pause for a moment and take it all in. It never fails to dazzle the little kid in me.

With all the busy-ness of December, it took me a couple of weeks to get from cookie-baking daydreams to actual cookie-baking, giving me plenty of time for recipe research. This year I wanted to do a few variations on a butter/sugar cookie, with different flavor elements to make each unique - a warming chai spice blend (cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove), a delicate and floral green tea version, and a nutty buckwheat-almond combination.  I also wanted to incorporate whole grain flours (the aforementioned buckwheat and spelt are favorites) and an unrefined sweetener (palm sugar, which has a flavor similar to light brown sugar and a lower glycemic index than refined white sugar).

After some bouncing around on the web I found a few simple recipes that I thought could be tweaked to include more whole grain flour and palm sugar without adversely affecting their chemistry. So, armed with a pound of sweet butter and a few other key ingredients, I whipped up 3 batches of super-simple and delicious cookies that have a bit more substance than the usual white flour/white sugar concoctions: chai-spiced spelt cookiesgreen tea shortbread, and buckwheat-almond sugar cookies.

Chai-Spiced Spelt Cookies, Adapted from Whole Foods
Buttery, rich with warming spices, and quite delectable alongside a cup of French roast.
Makes about 30 cookies.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fine-grained salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar, for rolling the cookies (optional, but it does make them look pretty!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream butter with palm sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy using a hand mixer (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add flour, spices, and salt, and beat or stir until combined.
  3. Scoop and roll dough into small balls (about 1 tsp each) and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through.
  4. Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then roll warm cookies in powdered sugar and cool completely on a wire rack.
Green Tea Shortbread, Adapted from Martha Stewart Living
Finely ground green tea adds a subtle floral note to these tender shortbreads. I thought using all spelt flour here might hide the delicate flavor of the green tea, so I used a 50/50 combination of all-purpose flour and whole spelt flour instead.
Makes about 36 cookies.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole grain spelt flour
2 Tbsp finely ground Japanese green tea (ground in a spice grinder), or matcha green tea powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup palm sugar
  1. Whisk together flours, green tea, and salt in a small bowl.
  2. In a larger bowl, cream butter until fluffy (3 to 5 minutes) with a hand mixer, then add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes more.
  3. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat on low until just incorporated.
  4. Form dough into a log on a sheet of waxed paper, roll up, and chill until firm (about an hour).
  5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Unwrap dough, slice into 1/4-inch-thick cookies, and place about 1 inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden around the edges, rotating pan halfway through.  Cool on a wire rack.
Buckwheat-Almond Sugar Cookies, Adapted from LA Times
Brown-buttery and nutty, with crunchy bits of toasted almonds, these cookies are addictive (they might be my favorite this year!). These would also make a fine sandwich cookie with a layer of melted dark chocolate (or Nutella!) in the middle.
Makes about 24 cookies.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup palm sugar
1/4 tsp fine-grained salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup whole grain buckwheat flour
1/2 cup whole grain spelt flour
  1. In a medium bowl, cream butter with the palm sugar, salt, and cinnamon using a hand mixer, until fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and almonds and mix on low until combined.
  2. Stir together the flours in a separate bowl, add to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined.
  3. Form the dough into a log on a piece of waxed paper, roll up, and chill until firm (at least 1 hour).
  4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Slice the chilled dough into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden around the edges, rotating sheet halfway through. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.
The cookies will keep for about 2 weeks at room temp in a tightly sealed container. The dough can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to a month - just defrost and slice off some dough to satisfy a cookie craving!

December 21, 2010

new scandinavian cooking

Map of Scandinavia and Northern Europe

Over the weekend I discovered a show on PBS (WLIW in my area) called New Scandinavian Cooking. As you know, I have been obsessed with all things Scandinavian (especially those of the edible variety) since I visited Stockholm a few months ago and feasted for a week on gravlax, herring, Swedish meatballs, delectable boiled potatoes, lingonberries, and ungodly amounts of cream sauce.

The episode's theme was Swedish Christmas. The host, a Swedish chef named Tina Nordstrom, gave a tour of a full holiday smorgasbord (complete with lutefisk, which scares me a bit!), showed how to make a  freshly boiled and baked ham crusted with mustard and crumbled gingersnaps, and the traditional Swedish Christmas dish brown cabbage (basically green cabbage sauteed in butter with a drizzle of golden syrup until tender and caramelized). It was exciting. (I was oohing and aahing throughout, exclaiming things like "look at the crust on that ham!" - the yogi was laughing from the next room while I was watching).

Check out the show's website - they have loads of traditional recipes (I'm looking forward to making this one in particular), and great videos, too (although the scenery can distracting at times!).

Update 1/20/2011:
Gee, I just realized clips of New Scandinavian Cooking clips are also available on youtube. Check out Norwegian Chef Andreas Viestad making a luscious dark chocolate cake with cloudberries! More a ganache than an actual cake, it's a mixture of melted chocolate, butter, cognac, and a little coffee, chilled until solid and garnished with semi-frozen blueberries and gold-hued cloudberries. (The recipe is posted with the video here, just click on the MFA Norway comment below the video.)