Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!!

It has been quite a holiday season. Instead of allowing myself to slow down these last days, things seem to have only picked up! My parents have come to town and I LOVE being with them (they are like my best friends), but I gotta say we've been doing far to much lifting and running around. A turn of the century highboy is now in our living room, as is a Knoll mid-century settee, and a Spanish tiled end table. They are beautiful. I feel so lucky to live with these new beauties, but I am pooped having lugged them to our top-floor apartment.

I made a wicked hummus, a roast chicken, garlicky mushrooms, lentils and preserved lemons, and a cranberry apple tart for a special potluck upon my parents' arrival. For Christmas - and for my step-grandfather who doesn't get much home cooking - my whole family teamed up to prepare garlic and rosemary roasted leg of lamb, minted mashed peas, roasted veg - including tons of shallots and the sweetest tiny carrots! - caramelized turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and an exquisite pan jus. And yesterday we endeavored a fab butternut squash risotto with toasted walnuts and shaved parm, and a  raw celeriac-haricot salad with grain mustard vinaigrette. Just the right amount of creamy butteriness and bright, crunchiness.

What's on the menu for New Year's, you ask? I haven't got a clue. But, I'm sure I'll figure something tasty out. In the meantime, these sweets and bites may make an appearance while I catch up to myself...

Crunchy Bacon-Wrapped Potatoes with Thyme Mayonnaise
Serves 6-8

For the mayonnaise, I used a good, prepared mayonnaise to make my life easier. In a mixing bowl, squeeze juice from half a lemon onto 3/4 cup mayonnaise, and add leaves from a good bunch of fresh thyme. I like the peppery taste thyme imparts, so feel free to use as much as you like. Season with s + p to taste and stir the mixture to combine. Spoon into a dish and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Take 20 small potatoes (I used Yukon Gold) and give them a good scrub under cold water. Slice 10 pieces of good bacon in half and wrap around each potato, securing with a toothpick. Place all in a roasting pan and put into oven to bake. After 10-15 minutes the kitchen will smell of heavenly bacon and the crackling, sizzling sounds will drive you crazy. Turn each skewer for even browning, and repeat the process after another 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven when bacon has cooked through or to your liking, a half-hour or so. Set on absorbent paper to cool, and then place on a serving platter with sauce to devour with friends.

Pear & Dried Cherry Tartlets
Makes 6 tartlets
6 peeled and cored bosc or similar firm pears, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 1/2 cup dried cherries
1 cup Calvados or other spirit
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp heavy cream

For the pastry
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup ice water, or a little more if necessary

For the pastry, pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor until combined. Add butter and pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Drizzle ice water in and pulse again, until dough just starts to come together. If dough is too dry, add a tiny bit more water and pulse again. Empty out onto two sections of saran wrap, separating into two mounds. Gather each into a ball and then flatten into disks, wrapping loosely in the plastic. Give each a once-over with a rolling pin in each direction, and refrigerate until firm, about an hour.

Dress the pears in juice squeezed from a couple wedges of lemon and set aside. Put the cherries in a small bowl and pour liquor over. Let sit for 1/2 hour or longer so that the cherries may absorb the liquid (they should plump up nicely). Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Roll out first disk of dough to 1/8-inch thick and cut out 6 rounds using your tartlet tins as a guide. Drape the dough across each tin and press into the bases with the back of your index finger. Refrigerate until firm. Roll out second disk and do the same - these will serve as the top crusts. Using a small cookie cutter, perforate 3 of the dough rounds in an off-center pattern. You can paint a little water on the cut-outs to re-affix onto the dough surface if you like, echoing the original cut-out pattern. Refrigerate again.

Toss the cherries and liquor in with the pears and add the spices and sugar. Mix well to combine. Spoon the mixture into the pastry shells, mounding it in the center. You can add a few dots of butter if you like, but I didn't this time around and they turned out just great. Lightly beat the egg and cream together, and paint the wash along the edge of the tart shell. Place the top crust over and press gently around the edge to seal the two together. Be careful of thin lines in your perforated design: remove from the fridge and allow to warm slightly so that when you drape it over the tart filling, it does not tear. Paint surfaces with egg wash and chill again. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 35 minutes or until crust is golden. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes and then using a pot holder or plate, invert to release from tart tins.

Everyone needs a good bubbly to celebrate with, and we are blessed enough to rely on the expertise of our friend Leigh. Her lovely little wine shop, Picada Y Vino in Brooklyn, showcases great and unusual finds like this biodynamic and crisp (with notes of strawberry!) sparkling rosé. We bought a few bottles to give as gifts, and we are excited to stock a few more for ourselves. :-)

Salmon Roe and Quail Egg Blini 
Serves 6

12 blini 
3 oz salmon roe
12 quail eggs
2 tbsp crème fraiche
2 tsp dijon mustard
6 tarragon stems
7 chives, minced

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees (F). Warm the blini for 5-8 minutes on a baking sheet. I bought mine from this wonderful deli called Russ and Daughters - a Manhattan establishment open since 1914 - but you can certainly make yours from scratch if you like! Mix the crème fraiche, chives, and mustard in a small bowl and set aside. In a cast iron skillet or stove-top griddle on medium-high heat, fry the quail eggs sunny side up. Transfer to a plate when cooked through, keeping the yolks soft. 

Place the blini on a platter and spoon a little crème fraiche onto each. Top blini with a quail egg and then spoon a little salmon roe onto each yolk. Garnish with tarragon, and celebrate!

Lastly, amidst this sweet revelry, I would like to wish you all a prosperous, loving, peaceful, and just 2012. Let's embrace our loved ones and empower others in creating a more just world for us all to live in, for our children and our children's children. 

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Adding to the List

Just a couple quick things today. There are wonderful things all a-buzz around me, and if I don't sit down and write you all right now, it ain't gonna happen. Seriously, when are they going to invent the 35-hour day??

For those who like to celebrate in style, I have a new photo feature in tomorrow's (printed edition) New York Times that will go nicely with some chilled bubbly. As it is online today, you may also read it here.

Also, as a thank you for writing about the products they shipped me, Gilt Taste has offered me and my readers a delicious discount until end-of-day on the 22nd. You still have time to indulge in any of their gourmet products for yourself or for friends! For 15% off, use promo code lickingtheplate. Merry Christmas. :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting to the Root

Eat from the earth. Literally. We have arrived upon the season where bounty has grown ripe deep in the dirt, and is ready to bring to the table. These roots in their many shapes and colors, dense and  heavy, are some of the greatest eating around. This is a story of  L-O-V-E. There's more, too. Like the great things I did with the stuff Gilt Taste sent me a couple weeks ago: Becker Lane's gorgeous pastured pork shoulder, and BliS bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, which is every bit as dynamic as it sounds. Savory, sweet, hearty, and all of it comfort food.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pairings at The New York Times

Suffice it to say, I love shooting projects for The New York Times. I love the challenge to create something interesting and graphic that will show well in either color or black & white, depending on how that week's paper layout determines. Here's an article - with a great recipe, by the way - in which I produced the photography. Appeared in yesterday's print edition and is currently viewable online.

Another I liked, an outtake...

Tis the season.... merry, merry. :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Beauty of Fall

As I write this, the year is slipping away faster than ever. I can't believe it - there are still so many dishes to make and share, and experimentation to get lost in. At least I have the day-to-day provenance of coziness in making - and eating - so many of the results!

This food you're about to see was all SO good. That's what I mean - I want to make it all again and yet, I have adventures waiting in the queue, new stories tugging at me to make them. I guess there are tougher problems to have, right?

* 29 November - Updated with recipes - scroll down to view!

The  goodies from our anniversary adventure

I was informed by the kind folks at The New Amsterdam Market to stop by one particular Sunday, so that I could swoon at crazy, gorgeous mushrooms. I know that doesn't seem to qualify for "kid in a candy store" material, but it was exactly that. While there, I met Les Hook and Nova Kim and learned about their wild foods - harvested on Saturday in Vermont, driven to NYC for Sunday's market. I made the acquaintance of mushrooms I never knew existed.

Had we shown up at the very beginning we would have found an even greater selection, but I left happy, with many paper bags filled with earthly delights: Lobster mushrooms (those bright red-orange beauties, and they do taste quite like their namesake); White Matsutakes, lower left; Chicken of the Woods, at lower right (they taste exactly like chicken); and the most unusual, Blue Alb mushrooms, at top right (they are a gorgeous sparkly blue-black hue, and bitter - an acquired taste, ultimately).

With these, I made a fantastic mushroom ragout adapted from those great ladies at Canal House. Served with creamy polenta, it made for the perfect comfort food.

The pretty squash we brought home got some loving from the organic elixirs shipped to me from Crown Maple Syrup... I painted their grade A medium amber syrup (mixed with some olive oil) all over their surfaces, sprinkled with some sea salt and cracked pepper, and let them roast away in the oven. The result was caramely-savory, soft, delicious squash. Perfect autumn. I used some as a side dish and then pureed the rest in a soup. 

Then, there were the apples. Oh, those apples. So many sweet, tart, crisp and juicy apples. We ate plenty straight out of the sack, but I wanted to have fun with them and so hollowed a bunch out and stuffed them with spiced goodness. Worth doing many times over.

Lastly was the pie. It was my first attempt at a shingled crust. I tossed the apples in nutmeg, brandy, and lemon juice. It's so nice to try something out for the first time and for it to become a smashing success!!! Know that you have to be patient as a saint for all the cutting-out of those shapes for the crust, but it too was absolutely worth it.

I hope I have tempted you all well enough to return, so you can make these treats for you and yours. Happy, cozy days..... :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Winter Cooking, Chocolate Mousse & Sweet Paul Holiday Edition

Sweet Paul Magazine came out yesterday, and we all agree that it looks fabulous. I had so much fun working on the issue! There is photography by me throughout, including this and that. But the real show-stoppers are my Winter Cooking story, and the Fave Photographers' feature. So cool!!!

Here is another look at the tasty morsels...

I can attest that each and every item is sensationally tasty. Please click here for the recipes and tell us what you think!

When Paul asked me about my signature holiday dish for his favorite photographers story, my mind went racing. I could do the leg of lamb I love so much or different cookies that sing the holiday-tune, but as I thought further, I knew my Kahlúa chocolate mousse had to be it. In an ad torn from the pages of a really old issue of Gourmet, this recipe is what I make to surprise neighbors and colleagues with (and when I don't make it, you can believe I hear about it).

Here's a pairing I fancy that didn't appear in the magazine. The plum garnish is a playful adaptation from the famous "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem, where it says "...while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads"... The glistening sugar coating offers a nice crunch, and the flesh makes for a bright and juicy accent in all that chocolatey depth!

A sublime treat to enjoy whenever, and especially nice to share with loved ones. This has been another great adventure. More on the way soon!