Wednesday, October 31, 2007

must have

My great love - donuts - made fresh at home?

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fresh halloween

Pumpkin muffins! These are the easiest muffins ever; I threw them together the other night while I was waiting for water to boil for our pasta. We had pumpkin ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce. They were really good, but really rich, and the last thing we wanted for dessert after that was more pumpkin, but luckily these work well as a breakfast food. I threw in some chopped pecans, since everything is better with nuts, and spiced them with all the classic aromas of the season -- cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, ginger. I never make muffins very sweet, so if you prefer a sweet muffin, definitely add a bit more sugar than my recipe calls for. These would also be awesome with a cream cheese frosting as for a carrot cake.

Recipe after the jump:


1 to 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp clove
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (use 3/4 cup for a sweeter muffin)
1/4 cup melted butter, cooled
1/2 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together 1 cup of the white flour and all remaining dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, stirring just until the flour is incorporated. Do not overstir, the batter will be lumpy. If the batter is too runny, add the remaining 1/2 cup white flour. Fold in the chopped pecans.

Fill paper-lined or greased muffin tins about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes until top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes about 12 muffins.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

sunday supper: battle wine, pt. 2

It is a strange day when I opt against making the apple dumplings that I had planned for last night. For some reason, I was craving something a little lighter and the idea of poached pears kept popping up in my head. As luck would have it, I had the leftover wine, plus 3 bosc pears sitting in the fruit drawer. I've never poached pears before, but having eaten my fair share I figured it couldn't be that complicated. I mean, just take some pears,

and drop them in some wine! In the spirit of the cooler weather, I spiced the wine with aromatics, including a cinnamon stick, a couple of allspice berries, and a couple cloves. It made the whole house smell very festive and got both J-Cat and Opaw-Cat sniffing and searching for the source. I combined about equal amounts of water and wine, and added about 1/3 cup of sugar.

After poaching for about 15 minutes, I removed the pears with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool slightly, then cranked up the heat on the wine to reduce it down to a thin syrup.

By the time we were done eating our main course, the syrup had thickened nicely. I spike it with a pat of butter, then poured the glistening wine reduction over the pears for a sweet and intensely flavored kick. This was awesome, and afterwards I was bummed that we only had three pears to share between us.

Recipe after the jump:


3 bosc pears or other relatively firm pears
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
3 allspice berries
3 cloves
1 pat unsalted butter

In a saucepan, combine the wine, water, sugar, vanilla bean, and spices and bring to a light boil. Peel, core, and halve the pears lengthwise. You can also keep the pears whole if you have an apple corer. In this case, slight the bottom of the pear so that it will stand upright for nice presentation. Drop the pears into the simmering wine and poach for 15 minutes, or until a knife is easily inserted. Remove the pears from the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Turn the heat on the wine to high and reduce down until to a thin syrup. Add a pat of butter to the syrup, stir well, then drizzle over the pears.

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sunday supper: battle wine

J-Cat and I are total lightweights. Neither of us have any tolerance for alcohol, and it's totally pathetic. So last night when I got a bottle of red wine for dinner, I realized that if anything we'd each have maybe two small glasses and be left with half a bottle of wine. Of course, I could have stashed away the leftovers for the next night, but if you saw how packed my fridge currently is, you'd realize that this is not an option. So the logical conclusion is of course to cook with the rest of the wine, hence "Battle Wine".

Part one was a simple beef stew, to celebrate the fact that the weather has finally cooled down. My stew is so simple that it hardly calls for a recipe. Start with some olive oil in a big heavy stew pot, generously salt and pepper the beef, then sear beef on all sides. Toss in the roughly chopped mirepoix. (That's one of Josef's favorite words, and consists of carrots, celery, and onions.) Saute until the veggies have started to soften, then sprinkle the whole thing with a couple tablespoons of flour. You could also do it correctly and make a slurry with cold water and either flour or cornstarch, but I just sprinkled it in. Pour in a couple glasses of wine, then a big can of whole plum tomatoes. If you need more liquid, add either water or beef stock. Throw in whatever fresh herbs you have on hand -- I had a bunch of sage and parsley. Bring to a boil, then lower to a strong simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on how small you cut the meat and how soft you like it. I also add chopped potatoes, but hold them back for the last 45 minutes or so of cooking because I prefer them not so mushy. Serve with a piece of crusty bread, or over rice.

Coming up next, part two of Battle Wine, in which we experiment with some pears.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

sunday supper: pumpkin & squash

I insistently keep trying to enjoy autumn, even if the weather won't let me. In the high 70's now in late October, we're well on our way to breaking the record for hottest October ever. But I guess upstate it's cooled down enough to grow the pumpkins and squash that make this season so yummy. Our first course last night was hearty and delicious enough to be a whole meal - a Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette. I found this recipe on the fantastic food blog Smitten Kitchen while I was searching around the internet for any comments or attempts at the Pumpkin Bread Pudding recipe in this month's Gourmet magazine.

The only thing I did differently from her recipe was to substitute a bit of the flour for whole wheat flour, adding a bit of nutty flavor and some fiber to our lives. I ended up needing quite a bit more flour than the recipe called for, perhaps because I had to use reduced fat sour cream (it's what I had on hand) and it made things a bit wetter than regular sour cream would have. In any case, I simply kept adding flour until the dough was dry enough to handle easily. I suspect the end result was a slightly less crumbly and flaky dough, but it was still delicious.

What really made this recipe was the carmelized onions. The sweetness was a perfect pairing with the squash and the fontina cheese, and the touch of cayenne set it off wonderfully. This would be a fantastic Thanksgiving starter.

So for dessert, I focused on squash's cousin -- pumpkin. The recipe in Gourmet is a must try. Ten times easier than making a pumpkin pie, but every bit as satisfying. I used Challah bread and added chopped pecans. I think next time I might reduce the sugar a bit, and add a drizzle of maple syrup over top. Also an excellent Thanksgiving dessert.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

off to see the wizard

I haven't cooked in a couple of days. I am ashamed to admit that my last two dinners were actually frozen meals. Well, Tuesday night dinners are almost always frozen, as orchestra rehearsal gets me home after 10 PM and J-Cat isn't much of a cook. But last night I didn't have much excuse, I just bought a frozen chicken pot pie from The Cleaver Company here in the Chelsea Market. At least they use organic and local ingredients, but a frozen chicken pot pie is still a frozen chicken pot pie. And a frozen chicken pot pie eaten while watching a couple of episodes of "Oz" means almost certain heartburn.

But see, I found it fitting that I was watching some harsh shit going down in prison while eating a Cleaver Co. pot pie, because that harsh prison shit went down in the very same building that the pot pie was baked. Indeed, "Oz" was shot here in the Chelsea Market. At least the first 3 or 4 seasons were, until NY1 came along and signed a long lease and "Oz" had to go find a new home in Jersey somewhere. The NY1 offices actually still look a lot like Emerald City, which I find awesome and freaky at the same time. I think if I worked down there I'd feel pretty disturbed. Then again, if I did work in those offices I might find it wise to not obsess over the show and watch it everyday. The freakiest thing about last night was that first I watched an episode of "The Closer" where J.K. Simmons was all adorable and smart and nice and funny. Then I watched "Oz" where J.K. Simmons was all raping and beating and murdering and also funny. What can that man not do?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

apples everywhere

The colors of fall did not disappoint as we made our way up to Lake Placid last week. The air was not just crisp with autumn - it was frickin freezing. The day of the wedding brought highs in the 40's, and an on and off drizzle that I blame for bringing my cold back on full force. And I was wearing a coat! But it was a beautiful trip and a fun time, and we even got to see some snow on Sunday morning.

Of course, on the way back, we had to get some apples - Honeycrisps for eating raw, Cortlands for baking in pies. The main focus was really the apple cider donuts, which were truly fantastic and eaten pretty continuously for the rest of the ride home.

So last night was the first of what I hope to be many apple pies this season. This one was an Autumn Harvest Pie, from a recipe I found on the Martha Stewart website. The combination of apples, pears, and cranberries was surprisingly mellow, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. I know that I have previously pledged my devotion to the Sour Cream Apple Pie, but I will have to say that this comes in a close second as a favorite.

I have yet to eat this pie cold, though, so we'll see how it fares in that department tonight.

Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

4 baking apples, such as, Rome, Granny Smith, or Cortland, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
4 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch ground clove
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Juice and zest of 1 small lemon
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cranberries
Pie dough for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper; set aside. Combine apples and pears in a large mixing bowl. Add, flour, sugar, nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, and mix well. Add cranberries and toss gently. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out half the dough to a rough 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch think. Line a 9-inch pie dish with the dough. Transfer apple and pear mixture into pastry-lined pan. Dot the top with butter. Place the top crust, and cut vent slits. Brush pastry with cream. Sprinkle sugar lightly and evenly over the top of pie. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degress. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to bake until juices are bubbling, about 1 1/4 hours more.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

colors of autumn

Tomorrow morning J-Cat and I head up to the Adirondacks for Matt and Wynde's wedding. I'm not much for weddings, but I can't wait. Admittedly, my excitement has more to do with seeing some beautiful fall foliage, going apple picking, staying at a country lodge, and crisp cold weather. I am really jonesing for a fall fix. We just haven't really had any of that yet. Luckily, we'll be staying in Lake Placid, which is right about where the high color and peak color parts of that map are. I wish we could stay longer, but the nice thing about a quick trip is that we decided to splurge a little on our accomodations since it's only for a couple of nights. We'll be staying at a lodge that is actually known for it's food (not a surprising choice for me), and we chose one of the more decked out rooms with the feather beds and European steam showers. We just cheaped out on the rooms with fireplaces, but I have a little name-dropping plan that I have small hopes might get us an upgrade if they're available. It just so happens that one of my shows did a segment on this lodge less than a year ago and from all accounts it was a really positive reception. We'll see, I'm rarely successful at scoring perks like that.

When I return - with several bushels of apples, of course - I'll be doing some serious pie baking, so stay tuned!

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

sunday supper: oktoberfest

What could be better than sausage? Sausage and sauerkraut! In honor of both Oktoberfest and of the premiere of "The Next Iron Chef", for Sunday supper I made some brats and sauerkraut from a recipe by Michael Symon, one of the contestants on the aforementioned awesome new series. This is a recipe from way back in the day, from a show called "Melting Pot". Each day of the week focused on a different ethnic food with different chef hosts. I believe it was Tuesdays that focused on Eastern European food, and was hosted by Symon and one of my personal favorites, Wayne Harley Brachman.

Symon survived past round one by the skin of his teeth. Unlike the freakin Yankees...

Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound fresh bratwurst links
1 onion, sliced finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chicken stock
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cups sauerkraut, drained
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 baguette or other bread

In a large pan, heat oil over high heat. Brown bratwurst in oil and reduce heat to medium. Add onions and garlic and cook until lightly caramelized. Add stock, paprika, caraway seeds, and sauerkraut and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in fresh dill. Serve on baguette. I served this with the homemade pretzels in the previous post.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

twisted, with a twist

The first time I ever made homemade soft pretzels, maybe 3 or 4 years ago, it was like magic. I was so amazed when they came out of the oven that they really did turn out just like real pretzels. A crisp, golden crust, a chewy soft interior, exactly what you think a pretzel should be like. Well, this time was no different. Even though I knew that it would work since I'd done it before, I was still strangely surprised when it did. J-Cat was amazed, he couldn't believe how authentic they were and proceeded to eat about a half dozen in one evening. I don't know why he doubts me.

A pretzel starts out just like any bread, which means that I get to lug out my favoritest of favorite appliances - the stand mixer.

Hello Lover!

So pretty, that pistachio color, and it makes any kind of bread dough infinitely easier. For this batch, I decided to replace some of the flour with whole wheat flour, for some semblance of healthiness. It did not negatively affect flavor or texture, and actually looked pretty cool.

Shaping the pretzels is pretty simple, and here you see the three steps for creating a very classic shape.

The key to getting the perfect pretzel crust is a quick poach in a baking soda bath, followed by an egg wash and the sprinkling of coarse salt. I didn't have any pretzel salts, so I used coarse kosher salt. Of course, now there's salt all over the living room rug...

These are incredible when they're still warm, and went perfectly with my Oktoberfest meal of brats & sauerkraut.

Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from

2 cups warm water (100 - 110 degrees)
1 tbsp sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 to 2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp salt
2 tsps canola oil
2 tbsps baking soda
1 egg
Coarse or pretzel salt
Vegetable oil cooking spray

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine warm water and sugar, stirring to dissolve. Sprinkle with year and let sit 10-15 minutes; yeast should be foamy.

2. Add 1 cup of the white flour to the yeast mixture, and mix on low until combined. Add salt, the remaining white flour, and 1 cup of the whole wheat flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, another 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup more whole wheat flour, and mix on low 1 minute. If the dough is still wet and sticky, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour. Transfer to a lightly floured board and knead about 10 times or until smooth.

3. Coat the sides of a large mixing bowl with the oil. Transfer dough to the bowl, turning dough to coat all sides. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour or until dough has doubled in size.

4. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Punch down the dough, then transfer to a lightly floured board Knead once or twice, then divide into 16 even pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each). Cover with plastic while you work on each pretzel.

5. Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long strip. Twist into pretzel shape as shown by the photo, then transfer to the baking sheet. Keep shaped pretzels covered with a kitchen towel as you work on the remaining dough. When they are all shaped, let rest for 15 minutes, to rise slightly.

6. Fill a large, shallow pot with about 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the baking soda to the boiling water and reduce to a simmer. Drop 3 or 4 pretzels at a time into bath and poach for 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove the poached pretzels back to the baking sheet.

7. Beat the egg with 1 tbsp water. Brush each pretzel with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Best eaten warm, or keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

one for the frizzle

I believe that cooking for those that you love is perhaps the most rewarding activity there is. There is just nothing like the satisfaction you get when your loved one loves your food. This goes for all kinds of loved ones, human or...not. So, for one very beloved hamster - Dr. Frizzle - I point Leah toward a website devoted to diminutive delicacies, all created to appeal to the little furry palate. I think that mini-cheeseburger is just what the Dr. ordered.

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So much for the flavors of fall. As the mercury hits 85 degrees today, I have to slide back to summer dresses and sandals and not too much cooking. Our dinners these last two days have not been creations worthy of photography - on Tuesday a quick veggie and tofu stir-fry, and last night a departure from my half-assed attempts at healthiness with some barbecue burgers. In my defense those burgers were on whole wheat buns and I resisted the temptation to pair them with french fries, opting instead for a lemony white bean mash. That was actually quite delicious, but also quite ugly.

Tonight I don't have to cook, we'll be going out to dinner with my brother Gene and cousin Fred. Gene needs to satisfy his seasonal craving for some Choucroute Garnie so we'll be heading over to Les Halles. Unfortunately the weather isn't exactly cooperating, as I can't quite imagine eating something so heavy when it's still this hot out. But I assure you, Gene will find a way. I will most likely lean toward the Moules Marinieres, since I already have some sauerkraut in my near future. I'm planning on my own little Oktoberfest experiment this weekend, with bratwurst, sauerkraut, and homemade soft pretzels.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

autumn harvest

My favorite time of year. Even if it's still pretty warm out, I'm getting really excited for the fall - the crisp air, the turning leaves, apple cider and pumpkins. It's the time of year when the food gets hearty and warming, and somehow more nourishing and satisfying. Last night I had a little salute to the flavors of autumn with a Curried Red Lentil Stew and Roasted Delicata Squash Rings. The flavors of fall.

Winter squashes are a staple for me at this time of year. Incredibly easy to prepare and delicious with hardly any adornment. I love delicata squash for it's subtle sweetness. It is the perfect size and shape for this preparation, and cooks up incredibly quickly, skins and all, in approximately the same amount of time as the stew.

Lentils in general are a favorite of mine for their hearty flavor, and red lentils are especially handy because they cook up incredibly quickly. I make a variety of lentil stews that are probably never the same twice, but always satisfying. I take the opportunity to throw in a lot of super healthy veggies to amp up the vitamin content, always a good idea in the colder months. Last night's stew featured an ugly but tasty ingredient - celery root.

Celery root reminds me of something out of that movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. If you've ever seen that, I think you'll know what I mean. But despite it's ugliness, it's a surprisingly tasty vegetable. When simply sauteed, celery root - or celeriac - reminds me of Thanksgiving, that intense concentration of celery scent calling to mind a classic turkey stuffing. Despite it's starchy feel and ease of standing in for potatoes, celery root is actually relatively low in carbs, for those of you out there who are concerned with such things, which I am not. Celery root - sometimes referred to as the 'Rastafarian turnip' for obvious reasons - is far more appealing once you cut away the outer knobs and stringy skin. Cut into a small dice, it cooks as quickly as the lentils and adds not only vitamin C and calcium, but really bulks up the stew without adding too many calories and hardly any fat.

Recipes after the jump:

Roasted Delicata Squash Rings

2 medium delicata squash
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425ยบ. Wash the whole squash, taking care to scrub off any dirt from the skin. Slice the squash crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. In a large bowl, toss the squash rings with the olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes, turn, then bake another 9 minutes or until golden brown.

Curried Red Lentil Stew
Note: I did not measure amounts of spices for this recipe, I simply added and tasted as I went along. All of these amounts are approximate and can be adjusted for taste, and many different herbs and spices are interchangeable. This recipe also makes a large amount and can be easily halved.

1 pound dry red lentils
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups or more water
2 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium celery root, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 inch piece Kombu seaweed (they say it helps cut down on gassiness, who knows...)
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp Madras curry powder, or more, to taste
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp dried sage
3 tbsp hot sauce (sriracha or tabasco would work fine)
juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch lacinato kale, roughly chopped

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat oil, then add onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Add the cubed celery root and sautee for a minute or two. Add the dry lentils and saute to coat with oil. Add the vegetable stock and water to cover the lentils by at least 1 inch. You can adjust the water depending on how soupy you would like the stew. Add all herbs and spices, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cover. Simmer 10-15 minutes until lentils are al dente. Add the chopped kale and allow to simmer 5 more minutes until completely wilted. Serve over brown basmati rice or with a slice of crusty whole grain bread.

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