Monday, December 22, 2014

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Food and Drink Lovers

A silicone baking mat, like this one by Silpat, provides a nonstick liner for baking.
Is there someone in your life that likes to cook, eat or make (and/or drink) cocktails? If you haven't found a good gift for them yet, here are some ideas, just in time for 2-day (or overnight) shipping or a quick (hopefully) trip to the mall.

Equipment 

Silpat silicone baking mat. Remember the days when you greased cookie sheets? Most home cooks have discovered parchment to line baking sheets, but, although easier than using Crisco, they require cutting and, if you buy parchment in rolls, you have to deal with them rolling up in your pan (my solution to that is to crinkle them up first). A silicone baking mat can make things even easier. They make cleanup a snap, don't roll up under your cookies and are reusable. The 11-5/8-Inch x 16-1/2-Inch size fits a standard half-sheet baking sheet. ($25, however frequently on sale--half off at Amazon as of this writing.)

Stainless steel citrus juice press. If you use lemons or limes a lot in cooking or cocktails a citrus squeezer is an invaluable tool for quickly and easier juicing those fruits. Their double-bowl design keeps the juice from squirting in your face and they are generally designed to trap larger sides (you still might need to strain out smaller ones). Although I've long used a painted one, I recommend getting a stainless steel model like the Norpro or Innovee, since the acid in citrus fruit can wear the paint off over time (and you don't want that in your food or drink).

Garlic Twist. I work with garlic a lot, often minced as an ingredient in a pasta sauce, pan sauce or spread for fish. For many years, I used a garlic press for this, but I was always unsatisfied with the fact that a significant portion of the garlic clove remained in the press and that you cannot control the size of the mince. Then I discovered the Garlic Twist, which is a vastly superior tool. First, it minces the entire garlic clove, second, you can control how fine the mince is by how many times you twist the device (by adding a little salt, you can get an even finer paste-like mince). 

The Arctic Chill cocktail muddler is a great replacement for a worn-out wooden muddler (and a better choice, in my opinion).
Arctic Chill Cocktail Muddler. Looking to replace a worn-out varnished wooden cocktail muddler? Consider this stainless steel and plastic muddler, which I recently reviewed (positively) on my site. It makes quick work of citrus, fruit and herbs for making drinks. Cocktail muddlers are also useful for other tasks (like mashing garlic and anchovies into a paste for salads).

ISI Cream Whipper. You know how fun it is to eat whipped cream out of the can? Well, with an ISI Cream Whipper you can enjoy homemade whipped cream anytime you want. The device is easy to use and clean, plus it has applications for experimental cocktail infusions.

Books

Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving by Cathy Barrow. In an age where you can always buy things like canned tomatoes and pickles, the art of preserving food is danger of being lost. This book by Barrow, a local D.C. author and Washington Post contributor, provides instructions and recipes for those wanting a better quality canned good or just the satisfaction of doing it yourself.

A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford. I picked this book up because it was written by the son of the man who runs the farmers market I visit most Saturday mornings during the summer and fall; however, I loved the book because it offers great insight into modern-day farm life (my very short review).

The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky. It's not only what we eat that changes but also how we talk about food too. Jurafsky, a linguistics academic, explores this fascinating side to eating (my review).

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day. This gorgeous book is a must-have for craft cocktail lovers. It's full of recipes, beautiful photos and tips on techniques and recipes (my review).

The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Serious cocktail lovers will also love this book, which has a stronger focus on technique with excellent writing (my review).

The Tastemakers by David Sax. You may dismiss food trends as silly nonsense, but there's a reason your refrigerator probably has butter in it and not margarine (and probably the opposite 30 years ago). Like it or not, food trends shape what we eat at home and in restaurants, and Sax offers a fascinating look at them.

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. For anyone who's ever wondered what it's like to open a restaurant (or who really likes pizza), this memoir is a delightful read about the all-consuming experience.

Subscriptions

There are a lot of wonderful food and drink magazines, which make great gifts. Your food lover may already subscribe to Bon Appétit or Food & Wine, but chances are they don't get Lucky Peach, a collaboration with Momofuku chef David Chang that mixes essays and recipes in a fresh, irreverent format. For the cocktail lover, consider a subscription to Imbibe, the quarterly that covers spirits, wine, beer and other (even nonalcoholic) drinks.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Washington Post Food Section Cookie Issue

Congolais French Coconut Macaroon

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of the Washington Post Food section. During my blog's first year, I featured its stories (along with those of the New York Times' then Dining section) in a weekly "battle" called Food (Section) Fight, which the Post's Food section won. Although I discontinued that feature in 2013, I still continue to include Post Food section stories in each edition of The Feed, my weekly roundup of interesting food-related stories.

One of the best things about the Post Food section is its regular special issues. I look forward to all of them--the Top Tomato recipes issue, which I was featured in this year, is a definite favorite, as are the two Thanksgiving issues--but the one that is the most fun is the holiday cookie issue. I feel like a little kid when I unfold the paper on the first Wednesday of December to a beautiful full-page spread of cookies. Beautiful cookies. They featured more than two-dozen recipes this year. It's always an interesting mix, always something new.

Lemon Sablés fresh from the oven.

I made two of this year's cookie recipes and loved both of them: the Lemon Sablés and the Congolais, a type of French coconut macaroon. 

The Lemon Sablés are a recipe by Heather Ross of Wildflour Baking, a bakery in Alexandria, Virginia (if you like beautifully decorated cookies, check out the pictures on Wildflour's website, they are exquisite). Sablés are a classic French cookie not too dissimilar from a shortbread. The recipe in the Post includes an optional lemon-sugar glaze, which I omitted because I was taking the cookies to work. I think they would be delicious either way.

Congolais, headed to the oven.

The Congolais also make their home in Alexandria and are also of French origin. The recipe is from Bastille pastry chef and co-owner Michelle Poteaux. The sablés were very good, but the congolais were exquisite. I loved these! And they are so easy too. The Lemon Sablés require a little more effort because you must first chill the dough and then slice the cookies, but that's really not very hard either. 

Lemon Sablés
Lemon Sablés

Recipes (from the Washington Post website):

Congolais (French coconut macaroons)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Butter Pecan Maple Cookies

Butter Pecan Maple Cookies

It's hard to choose what my favorite nut is, but if I had to pick just one, it would be pecans. These butter pecan maple cookies, a recipe from Inspired by Charm, showcase the nut perfectly, which goes so well with maple.

Butter Pecan Maple Cookies
Adapted from a recipe by Inspired by Charm

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. almond extract
½ cup toasted coarsely chopped pecans (see note)
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.

2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low to combine, scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on high for 5 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and pale in color. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until smooth. Add the pecans and beat on low until blended in.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, ½ tsp. salt, baking powder and ground nutmeg. Add the combined dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and beat on low until just combined. Stir with a spoon to make sure the dry ingredients are incorporated.

4. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2-3 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat (about 12 cookies per standard half-sheet). Bake until lightly browned around the edges, about 22-27 minutes. Remove from the oven and, while still hot, brush each cookie with maple syrup, then sprinkle with a little kosher salt. After 5 minutes, transfer cookie to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: To toast the pecans, heat an oven to 350 F. Spread the coarsely chopped pecans on a baking sheet and roast until fragrant, about 7-8 minutes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Feed: December 17, 2014

James Bond Vesper Martini
Starting next year, James Bond will make his vodka martinis, like The Vesper (pictured) with Belvedere Vodka.
The Feed is my weekly round up of interesting food-related stories from newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites. 

Washington Post: "Washington Post Food Section’s Best Cookbooks of 2014," by Bonnie S. Benwick.
Still looking for that perfect cookbook to get the cook in your life? You're in luck: Benwick rounds up a baker's dozen (that's 13, FYI) plus 13 runners-up of the year's best cookbooks, including the cookbook for James Beard Award-winning The Slanted Door, Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi and local author Cathy Barrow's Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry.

Washington Post: "Holiday Almond Cake from Lisa Yockelson: Intensified Flavor in a Simple Single Layer," by Lisa Yockelson.
The combination of almond paste, almond extract and ground almonds (plus a few slivers for sprinkling) give this single-layer Holiday Almond Cake its intense almond flavor. I bet this would be really good with some fresh raspberries.

Washington Post: "A Tart Made Just for Garlic Lovers," by Joe Yonan.
I'm with Joe: I love garlic. And this Caramelized Garlic and Butternut Squash Tart With Almond Crust sounds like a wonderful holiday dish.

New York Times: "Schmaltz Finds a New, Younger Audience," by Melissa Clark.
To many, "schmaltz" is a pejorative term for sentimental art, but for many Jewish cooks, and an increasing number of other cooks, it's a laudatory term for rendered chicken fat. Some people may turn their nose up at it, but think of how good those little bits of skin are that get left in the pan after you sauté skin-on chicken. There's a reason for that. Clark provides an in-depth look at its history and why cooks are embracing it again.

New York Times: "Challah You Bake Yourself Is Worth It," by Joan Nathan.
My experience with challah is mostly as a base for fabulous French toast, but the Jewish bread is, naturally, welcome at Hanukkah, which began last night. What I didn't realize until now is that it's not that hard to make yourself. I'd definitely like to try doing so.

New York Times: "Bond’s Martini Will Be Shaken With a Different Vodka," by Stuart Elliott
Long a Smirnoff man, Bond will be having his "vodka martini, shaken not stirred" made with Polish Belvedere vodka in Spectre, the upcoming 24th official film in the series.

Cafe Meeting Place: "Guest Speaker: Apple Baking Advice," by Wendy Brannen.
My friend Wendy knows her apples. After all, she works for the U.S. Apple Association. For this guest post on Cafe Meeting Place, she turned to a few friends (including me) for advice on baking with apples, turning up quite a few helpful tips.

Real The Kitchen & Beyond: "Holiday Party Recipes: Chipotle Turkey Cranberry Sandwiches," by Heather McCurdy.
I'm all about the sweet-and-spicy these days, and these little holiday sandwiches sound absolutely addictive. I'm sure I couldn't eat just one.

Nevin Martell: "10 Perfect Gifts for Foodies."
If the cookbooks story above didn't satisfy your need to find a gift for a food-lover, Martell's got another 10 great suggestions, including sriracha for your key chain.

Wall Street Journal: "McDonald’s to Pare Menu, Review Ingredients," by Julie Jargon.
The economy is up and gas prices are down. This should be good news for the world's largest restaurant chain, but sales at McDonald's continue to decline, thanks to changing tastes. The Golden Arches appears ready to tackle the problem, which will include paring down its menu, which has apparently bloated to over 100 items (when I first started eating at McDonald's in the early '80s, I think there were fewer than 10: hamburger, cheeseburger, Quarter Pounder, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Big Mac, Filet-o-fish, Happy Meal and fries--plus drinks).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Butterscotch-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt

Butterscotch-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt

I've been really into smoked sea salt ever since I picked some up at the Spice and Tea Exchange in Rehoboth Beach. I've used int to make bruschetta, crostini, a margarita and today a cookie.

Smoke isn't a flavor you often associated with cookies, but burnt flavors certainly are, like caramel, for example. I thought the smoky flavor of the sea salt would go nicely with the butterscotch chips, making for an interesting variation of an oatmeal cookie. The base recipe comes from A Girl, Market, a Meal.

Butterscotch-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt
Adapted from a recipe for Salted Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies by A Girl, a Market, a Meal

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup milk chocolate chips
Smoked sea salt (may substitute regular flaky sea salt)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low to combine, scrap down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat on high for 5 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly combined and pale in color. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until smooth.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda to combine. Add the combined dry ingredients to the butter mixture and beat on low until smooth. With a large spoon, stir in the oats, butterscotch chips and chocolate chips until evenly combined.

4. Measure out rounded tablespoonfuls of dough and place about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicon baking mats. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of smoked sea salt.

5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Monday, December 15, 2014

S'mores Pie

S'mores Pie

In theory, s'mores are a wonderful thing, the merger of toasted marshmallow, chocolate and graham cracker enjoyed near the crackle of a warm campfire. In practice, they are a disaster. The unmelted chocolate is odd against the melty marshmallow and how exactly would you melt the chocolate with a campfire? And if you're making them on the beach, which is where I usually toast marshmallows, sand is sure to be a fourth ingredient in your sandwich. The finished product is a sticky mess.



This s'mores pie, however, is fabulous. The marshmallows are browned and easier to deal with. The chocolate is melted. You can eat it with a fork! And it tastes great. It's also perfect for enjoying s'mores--typically a summer treat--during the cold season. Just think of how delicious this would be with a piping hot mug of cocoa.



I found this recipe on the Tasty Kitchen site and made a few changes. First, I added salt to the filling. Combining salt with sugar helps bring out the latter's sweetness. You don't need a lot, but a little salt is a welcome player in almost any dessert. I used a little less chocolate bar than in the original recipe because I only needed 8 ounces instead of 12 to cover the bottom of the pie crust with chocolate squares, although I did fill in some cracks with chocolate chips.



The crust is wonderfully easy: just combine graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. You can buy crumbs in a box or make your own by grinding up graham crackers in a food processor. If you do the latter, be sure to get a small, even crumb.



This was my first time working with marshmallow creme, sometimes called marshmallow "fluff." Interesting stuff. The container is so light, much more than I expected. The creme is quite thick however and very, very sticky. I used an offset spatula to spread it along the bottom of my formed graham cracker crust.



If the pie looks a little sunken before you pop it in the oven, don't worry about it. Unlike a fruit pie, this pie expands as it bakes, instead of contracts. Compare my photos of before the pie goes into the oven with after it comes out and you can see that it turned out just fine.

S'mores Pie
Adapted from a recipe by Tasty Kitchen

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for the pie plate
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp. baking powder
7 oz. container of marshmallow creme
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate bars (this is two of the large, flat Ghirardelli chocolate bars for cooking)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup (or more as desired) bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch round pie plate with butter.

2. Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high until creamy (or use a large bowl and a hand mixer). Add egg and vanilla and beat on low until combined, then add the flour, graham cracker crumbs and baking powder, and continue beating on low until mixed. Divide the dough in half.

3. Using your fingers, press half the dough evenly on the bottom and sides of the greased pie plate. Spread the marshmallow creme evenly on the bottom of the pie crust (I recommend using an offset spatula for this). Break the chocolate bars into squares and line them up flush in a single layer on top of the marshmallow creme (break them in smaller pieces or use a few chocolate chips to fill any gaps). Sprinkle the chocolate layer with salt, then spread the mini marshmallows on top. Break up the other reserved half of the dough into little pieces, spread them evenly around the marshmallows and pat them into place so that they mostly (but not completely) cover the layer of mini marshmallows. Lastly, sprinkle the top with chocolate chips.

4. Bake the pie until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven set on a wire rack to cool. Allow to cool completely before cutting (refrigerate if not serving immediately).

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Poor Liver Podcast's Family Therapy cocktail


Some people love spending holidays with their families. For others, there's Family Therapy.

This cocktail is wickedly strong--it contains nothing other than liquor. It's also really good, so be careful with it, since you might be tempted to down it pretty quickly. Or maybe that's the point.

The drink originated on My Poor Liver Podcast's Thanksgiving episode as their Cocktail of the Week. Neil and Eddie remarked that Family Therapy is basically an Old Fashioned that tastes like Thanksgiving given its mix of ginger, orange and cranberry. Sounds divine, doesn't it? I knew I had to try it.

The recipe below is a slight modification of Neil's original. He mixed 2 oz. of bourbon modified with 1/4 oz. each of ginger liqueur, orange liqueur and Cherry Heering, a distinctive Danish cherry liqueur. I thought I had Cherry Heering in my liquor cabinet, but I was wrong, so I needed to make a substitution. I considered Cherry Kijafa, a Danish fruit wine fortified with brandy, but I didn't like the flavor. I also had Kirschwasser, the cherry brandy best known as a fondue ingredient, but as a brandy, it wasn't sweet enough. I settled on maraschino liqueur, which has a wonderful cherry flavor and sweetness. Because it's a pretty strong flavor, I cut the amount in half to 3/4 tsp. (about 1/8 oz.) to avoid overpowering the other ingredients.

For the ginger liqueur, they used a local (to Portland, Ore.) ginger liqueur from New Deal Distillery, although they stated that the nationally distributed Domain de Canton ginger liqueur would work, I also wanted to use something local, so I turned to Bloomery Sweetshine ginger liqueur, which is made in West Virginia. This has a more intense ginger flavor than the Domaine de Canton, although this didn't stop me from doubling the amount of ginger liqueur, a personal preference. While this drink lack's Neil's nice simplicity of the 1/4 + 1/4 + 1/4 ounce measurements, it's still quite tasty.

All this month, the My Poor Liver guys are talking about the holidays, and I love how they really get into the holiday spirit on their show. They've already shared some wonderful seasonal drinks. Last week's show included a discussion on good hot buttered rum, and this week they got pretty merry with some awesome sounding champagne cocktails, a classic I've yet to try making. Check out their podcast here.

Family Therapy
Adapted from a recipe by My Poor Liver Podcast

2 oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon
1/2 oz. Bloomery Sweetshine ginger liqueur (may substitute Domain de Canton or other ginger liqueur)
1/4 oz. Cambier orange liqueur
3/4 tsp. Luxardo maraschino liqueur (the original recipe called for 1/4 oz. Cherry Heering)
3 dashes Fee Brothers cranberry bitters
Orange peel garnish

Combine bourbon, liqueurs and bitters in a rocks glass with ice. Stir until very cold and garnish with the orange peel.