Thursday, December 29, 2011

walnut stuffed figs

we really didn't eat a lot of desserts
when i was a kid
after dinner
a pot of coffee was brewed
bowls of
fresh fruit
were heaved to the table
one particular treat
at holiday time
freshly cracked walnuts
stuffed into
dried figs

this year
i gave the treat a little update
by dipping the figs
bittersweet chocolate
a sweet
walnut stuffed figs
12 dried figs
12 large walnut halves-toasted

warmed honey and flavorful cheese
bittersweet chocolate-melted and tempered

using a sharp knife, make a split in the fig without cutting all the way through
like this
push a walnut into the fruit
like so
and close it up
leave as it, 
drizzle with honey and serve with cheese as a savory snack
dip in chocolate for a great sweet

Monday, December 26, 2011


we had a gorgeous feast 
christmas dinner
a feast
of seven fishes
i was excited to present
home cured
during cocktails

many years ago
before i had cable
leaving me with 5 channels
(and surprisingly a lot more interesting tv)
i watched a lot of julia child on pbs
each episode
numerous times
an episode i distinctly remember
is one where she made gravlax with a seattle chef
i was amazed
but never actually made it

i'm not much a fan of salmon
but this
this gravlax
is something really special

pure in flavor

my family
never shy to poke fun
was primed to make bait jokes
 found it difficult
to utter much of anything
through their stuffed gullets
this takes several days to cure, plan accordingly

1 1/2 lbs fresh salmon filet (you must use salmon in season)
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup vanilla sugar*
1 Tbs grapefruit zest
1 heaping Tbs pink peppercorns
1-2 sprigs thyme

rinse and dry the salmon filet.  line a casserole dish with plastic wrap, overlapping considerably.  place salmon filet in dish.  in a bowl mix together the salt, vanilla sugar, brown sugar, grapefruit zest, peppercorns and thyme.  coat the salmon heavily with the generous and make sure the entire surface is covered. close the salmon in the plastic wrap, making sure it is well covered. 
 place a board or casserole dish on top of the fish, then use cans or bottles to weigh it down.  place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  
after 24 hours, remove the weight, open the plastic wrap, you will see that the sugar and salt are now liquid, use it to baste the fish. wrap again in plastic and place the weight back on.  place in the refrigerator for another 24 hours.  on day three, repeat the process.  on day four, your fish will be cured (if you are using a larger piece of fish, it may well take a bit more time).  your fish should be firm and have become a bit deeper in color.  remove from the cure and gently rinse with very cold water.  dry.  slice off a thin piece and taste.  if it is overwhelmingly salty, place cold water in a casserole dish and put the fish in meat side down. cover and place in refrigerator and let sit for 1 hour.  remove from water and taste again. if the fish is still unbearably salty, soak it again for a maximum of 1 hour.  

serve with blini, creme fraiche and dill or chives

*to make vanilla sugar, whirl 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 dried vanilla bean pod in a food processor. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

feast of seven fishes

christmas eve dinner
has always been a bit of a hodgepodge for us
growing up
my mom and i would do most of the cooking
relatives would contribute to the bounty
with a specialty or two of their own
the only constant
linguine with clam sauce
the rest
a crap shoot
as the crowd grew from 20 or so people
to upwards of 70
my folks began having the affair catered
among the large chaffing dishes of gorgeous catered food
there was always a platter of
linguine with clam sauce
for the first time
in the 40 plus years my folks have lived in california
we are doing an immediate family only christmas eve
which means
instead of 70 people
we will be 
for the very first time 
we are doing a traditional italian christmas eve supper
a feast of seven fishes
(for more on this tradition click here)
because i am italian
which means
my fear of not having enough food for people to eat
supersedes my need for stress reduction
we are having
2 by land and 8 by sea
what is christmas without just a little bit of pork?

i am not crazy enough to make the food twice
(once for the blog and once for real)
i will be sharing the recipes
post christmas
i wanted to share our menu
just in case 
you are looking for last minute ideas

A Feast of Seven Fishes
Christmas Eve
roasted shrimp cocktail
gravlax with blini
calamari fritti
bluefin tuna tartar
cheese platter

linguine with clam sauce
orchiette with sausage & spinach
king crab
swordfish siciliano
baccala pugliese
kalua pork

arugula salad
braised leeks
roasted asparagus

cream puffs

Merry Christmas 
to those of you who celebrate
...a weekend filled with joy
for all

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

chocolate dipped

i'm a chocolate girl
when i was young
young, like grammar school, young
my sister and i had a chocolate business
we spent our evenings

melting chocolate
making caramels and creamy marshmallows

eggs in spring
christmas trees in winter
chocolate lollies for every holiday in between

as an adult
my choice in chocolate
has become a bit more sophisticated
i prefer dipped confections
to molded ones

for the holidays
i made a few of my favorites
"100grand bars"
chocolate dipped grahams
gingerbread "mallomars"
for the 100Grand bars
 i like this caramel recipe from joyofbaking
just add a nice pinch of sea salt
cut into squares
mix crispy rice in the tempered chocolate and dip the caramel into it

for the gingerbread mallomars
the gingerbread marshmallow recipe can be found
place on top of a graham cracker and enrobe in tempered chocolate

for the chocolate covered grahams
i simply cut the graham crackers into 4 pieces and dip them in tempered chocolate
the design on the top is made with a chocolate dipping tool

i buy my chocolate 20 lbs at a time and to be frank, only use callebaut 63% and 70%
i find it is terrific both in sweets and baking

here is a great video showing you an easy way to temper chocolate using your microwave

like anything, the better the ingredients, the better the result
happy dipping!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

cake decorating birthday

yesterday was my niece's 7th birthday
a cake decorating party

she was very specific
about the cake
one layer
vanilla frosting
chef hats
 (i took a bit of artistic license and made clouds out of the fondant chef hats)

for the cakes to decorate
hot pink fondant
lots of candy

some of the candy made it onto the cakes
but mostly it was being "taste-tested"

it was unanimous
fun party
not "christmasy"
which was all part of the plan
happy birthday
sweet isabella

Saturday, December 10, 2011

tomato chutney

i am obsessed with this stuff
its a recipe
i swiped
from my visit to
in the hills of umbria
it was served one afternoon
 after catching me
licking the jar clean
jenny shared the recipe with me

great on a turkey sandwich
or a perfect condiment to

make it
tomato chutney
makes approx 6 pints
3 lbs cherry tomatoes-cut in half
1 head garlic-peeled and finely chopped
1 heaping tsp crushed red pepper
about 2" root ginger--peeled and finely chopped
10 oz cider vinegar
1 1/2-2 lbs dark brown sugar
generous pinch of kosher salt
place all ingredients in a large pot, stir and allow to sit for 30-60 minutes.  place over medium heat, stirring occasionally and allow it to get to a dark, jammy like consistency.  this should take the better part of an hour. when you think the chutney may be ready, taste for flavor. you can adjust the sweet/sour/spicy at this point by adding more sugar, vinegar or red pepper.  test for doneness by placing a small bit of the chutney on a cold plate. if the chutney allows you to run a finger through it leaving a clean break, it is ready. you do not want it to get hard like a candy. place in glass jars and store in the refrigerator or if you are familiar with proper canning procedures, process for 15 minutes (at sea level) in sterilized jars.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

gingerbread side-cars

i have made
gingerbread villages
for as long as i can remember

last year
i spotted
little gingerbread houses perched on a mug
(as far as i can tell--this is her original idea)

giddy and obsessed
as i have been known to get
i went to hubster
 he agreed to
make cookie cutters
(so i wouldn't have to knife cut each piece)
blowtorch in one hand
pliers in the other
he made these
in turn
made these
use your favorite gingerbread cookie recipe
bake as directed
assemble and decorate
i plane the sides with a microplane to ensure straight edges
 these attach quite easily with
(make it nice and stiff)

the wreaths are also made from royal icing colored green
piped with a no.63 tip onto parchment paper
sprinkles for berries

allow to dry overnight--remove carefully--attach with royal icing

i am using them this year
as place cards
piping names on the broad side of the house
packaging them
like so
as gifts for friends
(you can get a template for the house from the not martha link above)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

carciofi alla giudia {jewish artichokes}

much like finding
crawdads in louisianna
brisket in texas
barbeque in  memphis
you can find 
specialties in each italian region
rome is no exception
it also has something really special
jewish ghetto
it is very small

virtually abandoned come dusk on fridays
it has
a cuisine of its own
the most famous item
the fried artichoke
carciofi alla giudia
(printable recipe)
serves 4-6
4-6 chokeless or baby artichokes
olive oil for frying
salt and pepper
italian parsley (for garnish)

fill a large bowl with cool water. squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the water and stir. trim each artichoke, removing all tough outer leaves and trimming the stem (do not remove entirely).  toss the trimmed artichoke into the lemon water to prevent discoloration.
*if you cannot find chokeless or baby artichokes, you can use any artichoke, however, you must trim it to the tender leaves, cut off the prickly tops and remove the choke prior to placing in the water.
heat at least 3-inches of oil on the stovetop to 325 degrees.
meanwhile, remove the artichokes from the water and place on paper towel to dry.  place each artichoke stem side up on the counter and gently push to flatten, being careful not to break the leaves.  place in small batches in the hot oil and cook until soft, but not browned.  remove from oil and place on paper towel or kitchen paper to drain and cool.  allow to sit at least 30 minutes, and up to 3 hours.  just before serving, heat the oil to 375 degrees and fry the artichokes, careful not to crowd the pan, until they are browned and very crispy. depending on the size of the artichokes this can take as little as 5 minutes and as long as 10 minutes.
remove from pan, drain slightly. sprinkle with salt and pepper. serve with a garnish of chopped parsley and a lemon wedge.


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