Archive for December, 2009

 It was a cold, drizzly day in L.A. yesterday, and we were expecting a few friends over to spend an evening of fun and frivolity.  But, what to make?  I needed a crowd pleaser that wasn’t too fussy, but hearty and relatively healthy after all the excesses of the holidays.  I thought of Chicken Cacciatore–full of vegetables, and I could lighten it a little by using skinless chicken thighs with the fat trimmed off.  Now, the Polenta–that’s what was decadent, loaded with Fontina cheese–was a great complement to the Cacciatore.   I also served this with red chard braised in chicken stock with onions and garlic, which is not pictured.

And props to my patient friends, who didn’t mind me setting up my studio immediately after I had finished my plate so I could take a picture. 

These recipes are made to serve 8, but can be easily halved.

Chicken Cacciatore

8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, with the fat trimmed off (can use chicken breasts, but shorten cooking time because breasts will dry out quickly in braising)

1 1/2 cups flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 1/4 pounds crimini mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, diced

1 bay leaf

5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

3/4 cup dry white wine

1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

Salt & pepper

Chopped parsley (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. Heat 5-quart dutch oven on medium heat;  dredge chicken pieces in seasoned flour and brown 2-3 pieces at a time, about 3-4 minutes each side.  Place browned pieces on a plate and set aside. 
  3. Add onion, red pepper, mushrooms, garlic, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, and rosemary;  sweat on medium heat until the juices from the vegetables are released (mushrooms will release a lot of water) and simmer for about 10 minutes until the liquids begin to reduce. 
  4. Add white wine and simmer for another 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and oregano, and return chicken to the pot, burying the pieces in the sauce. 
  5. Bring to a full simmer again, top with lid, and put into oven for 30-35 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and is fork-tender.
  6. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Creamy Polenta

4 cups water

4 cups lowfat milk

2 cups coarse ground polenta

6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded

Salt & pepper to taste

  1. While the Cacciatore braises in the oven, pour water and milk into 4 quart pot and bring to a hard simmer.
  2. Sprinkle the polenta into the simmering liquid (it should “rain” polenta–don’t just dump it in.  Dumping = Clumping.  Got it?), while whisking constantly. 
  3. As the polenta starts to thicken, switch to a wooden spoon to stir.  Stir frequently while polenta simmers–as it thickens, take care as it will start to bubble and splatter (think hot lava). 
  4. When the polenta is of a thickness like porridge, approximately 15 minutes, add fontina, season with salt and pepper and serve with Cacciatore.

Note:  This makes a rather large batch of polenta–if you have plenty leftover, pour the excess into a buttered loaf pan or cake pan.  Polenta firms up as it goes cold, and can be sliced into pieces and pan-fried–absolutely delicious served with eggs the next morning.


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I wanted to bring a salad to the party last night, but I just didn’t want to bring some greens tossed in viniagrette–I mean, that’s good, too, but I was looking for something a little more substantial, perhaps served warm and using seasonal vegetables.  A search through Epicurious.com (one of my favorite recipe sites), I came across what sounded like a perfect recipe:  Yukon Gold potatoes roasted in olive oil, parmesan and garlic, then thinly sliced kale gets tossed in with the hot potatoes and dressed in a lemon-tahini sauce. 

This was delicious;  the kale wilted nicely (although I was making a double batch, and after tossing it around with the potatoes, I needed to pop it in the oven for 2 minutes to help break the kale down a little more), and it’s really the dressing that makes this dish work.  It’s tart and nutty and it lightens up what could be very heavy on the palate.  This will definitely go into into a regular rotation here at home, and it would complement fish or chicken, but it’s also hearty enough to be a vegetarian main dish. 

Wilted Kale and Roasted-Potato Winter Salad

by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez for Gourmet, December 2008

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves (3 thinly sliced and 1 minced)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise
  • Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss potatoes with oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large 4-sided sheet pan, then spread evenly. Roast, stirring once, 10 minutes. Stir in sliced garlic and roast 10 minutes more. Sprinkle with cheese and roast until cheese is melted and golden in spots, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée tahini, water, lemon juice, minced garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (Add a bit of water if sauce is too thick.)

Toss kale with hot potatoes and any garlic and oil remaining in pan, then toss with tahini sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

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Ok, I lied.  Last post, I said it was the last of the baking.  Turns out tonight is my father-in-law’s birthday party, and he requested I bring up his favorite cookie to share.  I’ve made these many times before for the in-laws, as they’re fast and easy to make, and they love coconut (and to tell the truth, so do I).  

Back when I was a teenager (oh, it hurts to say that was in the 80’s) my mother had a recipe for a simple macaroon–a bag of coconut, a can of condensed milk, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, chopped macadamias–scooped into little balls and baked until golden.  They weren’t the lighter, fluffier macaroons that used egg whites; these were dense, chewy and caramelly–a cookie right up my alley.  The recipe was sadly lost until the day in 2001 when I was working at Border Grill as a pastry cook and I had to make a batch of their pajas (“straw” in Spanish, as they do resemble a pile of straw, or a haystack).  I laughed when I realized that it was essentially the same cookie, but their version was with chopped dried apricots, dark chocolate, and pecans.  I made hundreds of those pajas during my time at the restaurant, and the recipe is as natural as breathing. 

It’s an incredibly easy recipe–just five ingredients–and a cinch to adapt to your personal tastes.  Don’t like pecans?  Use almonds!  Can’t stand cranberries?  Swap them with dried cherries!  The possibilities are endless! 


adapted from Border Grill

1-7 ounce bag shredded, sweetened coconut

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup dried fruit–cranberries, cherries and apricots (chopped) are best

1 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, macadamias, or almonds

1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all 5 ingredients and stir until well coated with the condensed milk.
  3. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (I mean it, too–these will stick to an unlined pan!)
  4. Scoop dough into golf-ball sized pieces and place 1″ apart on lined sheet pan.
  5. Bake for 20-24 minutes, until coconut is a dark golden brown.
  6. Cool completely on pan, peel off from parchment paper. 

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Hey, Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends and good cheer!

After the crazed consumerist orgy of the past 24 hours, I have some time to play with my new gift:  a little tabletop photo studio while Choo has a Three Stooges Marathon and Kiddo builds Xanadu out of Lego.  I can finally catch up here and write about the last of the Christmas baking.  Man, I don’t know about you guys, but I have put out a massive amount of baked goods and candies over the past two weeks and I think I’ve hit my sugar limit.  I know it’s bad when I’m craving a spinach salad and an unsweetened ice tea.  Still, I’ve had fun, stretched my skills a bit, and everyone who has been a lucky recipient has enjoyed their treats (so they say!). 

First up:  Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snowflakes

I love gingerbread, and this is a great recipe, full of spice–I’d highly recommend using this if you like to decorate with gingerbread.  I had them sit out overnight after icing them, as royal icing needs a few hours to set, and I awoke to the best-smelling living room, ever.   If you’re using them for decorations, make sure to roll them thin and bake 4-5 minutes longer to dry out the cookie, and if you’re planning on hanging them, use a drinking straw to poke a hole to run a ribbon through. 

Just a note:  yes, this recipe has black pepper in it.  Don’t get all weirded out by it;  black pepper is a component in quatre épices (four spices), a traditional French spice blend used in everything from things such as pain d’epices to savory stews.  Don’t skip it.  You’ll miss the great bite that the pepper gives this cookie. 

Next up:  Frosted Chocolate Cookies

After a long conversation with Kiddo, we decided to make cookies for Santa.  I originally had ideas of sugar cookies and royal icing;  Kiddo said no way–Santa likes chocolate.  Who am I to argue this?  Of course Santa likes chocolate, and remembered an easy chocolate cookie recipe I had made last year that would be perfect. 

These Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies came from the December 2005 issue of Bon Appétit, and they were part of my cookie platter last year.  It’s a very non-fussy recipe and with the exception of resting the dough in the fridge for an hour, it all whips up in a snap.

(These were taken with my new “studio”–this is going to fun to figure out to take even better pictures!  Next year, I’ll have to ask Santa for a new camera.)

I did do a few small tweaks to the recipe–I didn’t make them into sandwiches, since I thought they would be more fun just topped with the filling and then decorated.  Yes, you’re seeing Kiddo’s work here–he thought sprinkles would be cooler than the crushed candy canes, so that’s what we went with.  Easy, fun, and tasty–these are very sweet, so one is pretty much it for me, but they’re fantastic with a cup of coffee.  Santa seemed to like them, too, as a few were missing from the plate we left out for him last night.

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These little guys came from the December 2007 issue Gourmet, and they were a part of my cookie platter that year.  The original recipe calls for a citrus icing, but I was feeling a bit experimental and drizzled them with dark chocolate.  It was a perfect combination, as the dark chocolate makes a nice highlight to the orange-cardamom punch these cookies hold. 

Oh, by the way, I don’t have a square cookie cutter.  I just used a ruler and pizza cutter after rolling out the dough.  It’s a fast way to make a bunch of these at one time, and they all come out nice and even.  This makes drizzing the chocolate easy, too, because I can just line them all up on the rack, and do it all in one go:

Orange-Cardamom Cookies

Gourmet  | December 2007 ◊ Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez and Lillian Chou

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg yolk

2 tablespoons heavy cream

Make dough:
Whisk together flour, zest, cardamom, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in yolk and cream. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Quarter dough and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped separately in plastic wrap, until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Cut and bake cookies:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of parchment paper into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick). Slide dough in parchment onto a tray and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Cut out as many cookies as possible with cookie cutter (chill dough again if necessary), reserving and chilling scraps. Transfer cookies to a parchment-lined large baking sheet, arranging them 1 inch apart.

Bake until edges are golden-brown, 9 to 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, then slide cookies, still on parchment, onto a rack to cool completely.

Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once) on cooled freshly lined baking sheets.

For the dark chocolate drizzle:  melt 3 ounces of a quality dark chocolate and pour into piping bag (or ziploc bag–just snip off the tip when you’re ready to go).  Drizzle chocolate onto cooled cookies and let set until firm.

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I remember tearing out this recipe from the December 2005 Gourmet, because I liked the idea of these–browned butter shortbread?  What’s not to love about that?  I never got around to making them because Kiddo was still a babe in arms and our house was being renovated–there was no way I could get my holiday baking jones on that year.  It was put off until the next year, when I was back working and had an excuse to make a platter of cookies to bring into the office. 

I wish the original blurb written by Celia Barbour that came with the recipe (my torn page is long gone) was on the Epicurious website, because I recall her feelings about these cookies–how frustrating it would be to make these deceptively simple cookies, but how wonderful these cookies were, especially after they sat for a few days.    I’m not going to lie:  the dough comes together in a cinch, but it’s the shaping of the cookies that will cause you mutter under your breath the entire time.  You’ll be tempted to add some cream or an egg to the dough, to force it to hold together, but the texture that makes these cookies so entirely scrumptious will be compromised.  The dough is rather sandy, and it takes a bit of time and letting it soften a bit in the warmth of your hand while pressing it into the spoon.  It’s a time consuming process, that’s for sure.

Not only that–GET THIS:  you have to wait after baking and assembling them, if you want the best cookie experience.  Go ahead, eat a few the day they’re baked, but put the rest into an air-tight container and let them sit for at least 3 days.  Don’t even peek.  Then, have one, and see the difference–it’s rich and melty and nutty, and then it’s like childbirth, where you kind of forget about all that hard labor because what you’ve created is rather miraculous and doing it all over again doesn’t sound that bad.

And that’s why, since 2006, I’ve made these cookies every year.  But never more than a double batch–I’m not that crazy. 

Spoon Cookies

Gourmet  | December 2005  ◊  Adapted from Celia Barbour

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded

1/3 cup fruit preserves (your choice)

Special equipment: a deep-bowled teaspoon (not a measuring spoon)

Make dough:
Fill kitchen sink with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours (to allow flavors to develop).

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Press a piece of dough into bowl of teaspoon, flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed.) Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake cookies until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Assemble cookies:
While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely.

Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days before eating.

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I never knew what love was until I had a homemade marshmallow. 

Okay, that might be a little much, but making your own marshmallows is not as hard as you think, as long as you have two key pieces of equipment:  a stand mixer and a candy thermometer.  I use Alton Brown’s recipe–I’ve used Martha Stewart’s recipe before, but the difference is that Martha uses egg white, which I find leaves the marshmallows very moist.  That’s fine if you’re using (eating) them right away, but if you’re wrapping them up to ship to friends, I find that they turn into a gooey mess after sitting in a ziploc for 2 days.  Alton’s recipe is just right, and they pack up well. 

(Peppermint Marshmallows on the left; Vanilla Bean on the right)

Of course, I did add my own tweaks to the recipe to make them a little more special.  For the vanilla bean marshmallows, I added the seeds from one whole vanilla bean, putting them in the mixing bowl with the gelatin just before pouring in the hot sugar syrup.  As for the peppermint marshmallows, I just substituted the vanilla extract with peppermint extract and added a few drops of red food coloring just before pouring the marshmallows into the pan–the last bit of stirring and spreading will create a nice pink swirl. 

I do believe that I will also try a chocolate version (with the addition of cocoa, in both the water/gelatin mix, and also sifted into the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture) and a spiced version, with adding some cinnamon, cardamom and clove into the coating.  The possibilities are (almost) endless!

Alton Brown’s Marshmallows

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

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