Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I don't usually know when to stop filling my plate - the metaphorical one for starters. So with Christmas literally around the corner, I wanted to share with you all some of my recent forays into baking.

These were made as gifts for my larger circle of loved ones: a couple sweet treats, and on top of that a personal project: my first mustard.

Having read into the matter it sounded pretty simple. And, as a real mustard lover it seemed like next thing to try out. For the moment, I can only hope it turns out as a smashing success. It is essential to wait a few days for the mustard's true character to reveal itself. But, to create something and not be able to taste it before offering it as a gift felt like a risky move for sure. At least the recipients are kind (and honest) people... :)

The first is my mom's standby recipe, her famous - and 8 years in the making, mine too - raspberry diamonds. This version was made with black currant preserves, along with the raspberry:

Raspberry Diamonds
2 cups coarsely chopped almonds
4 cups pastry flour (I used whole wheat)
1 lb unsalted butter, cut into cubes (helpful to bring faster to room temp)
2/3 cup sugar
1 jar raspberry - or your favorite - preserves
4 large eggs
2 cups light brown sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut
6 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder

Toast almond in 375 degree oven about five minutes or until golden; remove and set aside to cool.
Using a food processor with dough blade, mix pastry flour, butter, and sugar together until a smooth ball is formed. I usually remove the ball and kneed the last bits together to make it uniform. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of a 12 x 18 x 2 inch baking pan (also called a half sheet cake pan) and prick all over with a fork. Bake at 350 degress for about 15 minutes or until the dough becomes golden. Remove it from the oven and set aside to cool slightly, lower temperature to 325 degrees. 
In a large bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until very light, about eight minutes. Beat in almond extract. Fold in reserved toasted almonds, coconut, flour, and bakig powder, blending well.
Spread raspberry preserves evenly with a butter knife over the complete surface of baked dough - don't forget the corners. :)
Spread mixture over entire raspberry-coated surface. Bake until top is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool before cutting. Using a very sharp knife and gentle sawing motions, cut into strips about 2 inches wide. Angle-cut each length into diamonds. This recipe makes about 50 cookies.

A new cookie recipe from Saveur:

Flat & Crisp Chocolate Cookies
I didn't find these chewy as in the original recipe, so I've renamed the title. If you figure out how to make them chewy, please let me know!
2 cups flour (again, I used whole wheat)
1 scant tbsp kosher salt (I used sea salt, as I like the presence of salty-sweet dynamic and the texture of those wonderful crystals)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups sugar
16 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
12 oz finely shaved bittersweet chocolate
8 oz finely ground walnuts

Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda in a bowl; set aside. In a bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 1 or 2 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time and then add vanilla. Add reserved flour mixture, chocolate, and nuts; mix until just combined and chill.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Divide dough into 1 tablespoon portions. Roll into balls and transfer to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spaced 3 inches apart. (I chilled them again after making the balls so that the next step would occur without issue) Flatten. (bringing you aside to have a little talk) It just says "flatten" in the recipe, and I was dumbfounded. There is no description of the "how", and it's in these seemingly simple steps that I usually get tied up: I didn't want my dough to stick to whatever I was using to flatten, plus I wanted the dough evenly flat for baking. So I  decided (thank you, light bulb moment) to place another sheet of parchment on top and use an old enameled mug to do the job. Anything completely flat will work, so long as it isn't big enough to get in the way of the baking sheet edge, other dough balls, etc.
Bake until set, about 9 minutes The original recipe calls for 15, but I found that too long for the cookies to have any chances ending up as "chewy". I shortened the time to 9 minutes and they still did not end up chewy. I also made a batch that was less flattened, and no, they didn't turn out particularly chewy either. Though, each of them had a light, and crisp texture that went absolutely perfectly with coffee or tea. Delicate and subtle, with a pleasing saltiness at the very end of each bite. A definite delight....

Last but not least, here is the Apple Brandy Mustard, from Wrightfood:

FYI, dark mustard seed is much hotter than yellow seed. Use with caution... Most recipes call for soaking the seeds in the vinegar-water solution for 24 hours before making. This softens the seeds, making them easier to grind. I quadrupled Matt's recipe, as I was making enough for gifts (and enough for me to test it and see the results!)

1/2 cup mustard seeds - mostly yellow, with about 1 tablespoon of dark thrown in
1/2 cup vinegar of choice - I used apple cider
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1/8 cup apple brandy
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 tsp turmeric, for color
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme

Put the brandy in a small flameproof container. Light liquor with match so that it catches fire. Let it burn for some moments to burn off some of the alcohol.  I let it burn for about a minute.
Put the mustard seed, vinegar, water, honey and turmeric in a blender, and pulse a number of times.  Scoop the mixture down from the sides between bursts. If the mustard is too thick for your taste, add a little more vinegar and water. Blend until smooth but still with some texture.
Pour in a tablespoon of the brandy, pulse, and taste. See how you like it and try to forecast... the tricky part! If you taste the brandy, leave it there or add more if you like.
This mustard improves a lot (read: mellow’s out) once left in the fridge to age for a few days. I will keep you posted on how this version ended up. :D

Whatever it is that you celebrate, I hope that you have a delicious experience, shared with loved ones. And I'll see you all in the New Year, wooo-hoOOo!!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

What Katie Ate Christmas Magazine

Open publication - Free publishing - More what katie ate

After months of gathering information, finding just the right places to shoot and then photographing them and forwarding to Katie (with umpteen correspondences in the loop), here is the holiday masterwork! :) Good Job, Everyone! I am so pleased to share the pages with the other talented contributors. Curl up with your favorite snack, and I hope you all enjoy!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas in New York City

Recently, I was given a project by my friend on the other side of the world, none other than Miss Katie Quinn Davies, to find and capture places in this fair city that I cherish and want to share with the world, for a mega, magazine-style post coming out any day now.

Of course various places rushed to mind, and then came the work of trying to establish the right timing to stop in and make the pictures happen. Along the way I was met with some surprises and some unexpected complications - hello amazing food venues, exhausted from Thanksgiving business and trying to get your Christmas act together, all by the first week of December! It makes me tired even thinking of it. All in all, I felt like fortune graced me and I made deeper relationships with these wonderful businesses, and I was able to showcase their many special attributes in a way that we all can feel good about. Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order)...

Cafe Grumpy - my coffee shop of choice, and rightly so with a knowledgeable and dynamic staff. Oh, and they have amazing coffee! It's my indulgence in the afternoons on days when I have time to meander (and sometimes other times too).

My steady, the clover machine brew

Making latte art look effortless

Next, there is The Castello Plan. In Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, they are a gem in a neighborhood of beautiful homes and people (they have porches and gardens there, need I say anything else??). My sweetheart took me there first on my birthday, and it's been a love affair for all of us ever since!

This gorgeous platter, available at brunch

Chef Natasha putting the finishing touches to one of her amazing creations

Gramercy Flowers in Chelsea Market is an enchanted little boite. You cannot help yourself but be lured inside to see what sexy, lush incarnations in plants and blooms await. J. brings me home a bouquet from them now and again, and I always feel like a lucky girl when that happens.


In the West Village, there is Chocolate Bar. For years I have been going there for rarefied treats - mostly to give as gifts - as I usually feel spending money on myself in that way to be a bit much. I do feel great about it however, when I consider how happy someone else is going to be as they receive a special box of truffles, all custom-wrapped and beautiful.

Their holiday chocolate bark bar - yep, as satisfying as it sounds.

Gorgeous, chocolate-gobbling children - good customers :)

Left Bank Books is another amazing find, just a couple doors down from Chocolate Bar. In my adventures around the city, I realized I could make a story about the magic of food and, only here, they would be in the form of lush words crafted to tempt. This could make for a whole new satisfaction - never mind their rare and beautiful editions - see for yourself.

Owner, Kim Herzinger

And last but not least, Lucy's Whey, back in the Chelsea Market. These people are serious about cheese. Really good cheese. You can try any of the artisanal selection, and it's all pretty fabulous. Make sure you get some of their beer & pretzel caramels at the very least!

All this and more in the great Christmas Story! Check it out and be prepared for your salivary glands to start working in overdrive....

May you all have a memorable, loving, and restful holiday this year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Holidays Are Soon Upon Us

I am in the process of organizing some last-minute things. On the list is making some edible gifts for friends and family - with corresponding photographic documentation, of course; making my home ship-shape to have a small gathering; packing & shipping the last 60 gift boxes off (more on that later); arranging meetings to share new work before vacations into the New Year.... all to happen this week?? Um, yeah, if possible.

And yet at this moment I find myself searching fun and interesting things online, circumferentially involved in "getting things done". (the hubby can appreciate this :) I found some diaphanous table ideas for the holidays - thank you, Martha Stewart - here, and a sensuous, delicious gift idea from the west coast, here.

Keep posted in the coming days, there is going to be an amazing blog story from my friend, Katie, on all things wondrous and Christmas. She's doing a magazine-style mega post, and it will include holiday-themed photo stories from contributors around the world. J. and I are in it, and it's sure to be hands-down terrific.
Here's a sneak peek....

Look for the whole story soon, and wish me luck on my laundry list in the meantime. :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Setting the Table

I am so excited about this. As soon as I started to put the word out that I began the blog, the realness of it began to take shape and thoughts of different kinds of posts started to fly in the film reel of my mind... The possibilities of what this might become made me want to jump around like a little kid!!! While I'm wide eyed and grinning, let's figure out which direction to go next: I have some things up my sleeve (I think I'll surprise you), but I also want to welcome your suggestions. Let's have at it!