Saturday, December 19, 2009

Waiting for the snow and baking cookies

Hi Everyone,

It will start snowing soon... I had a dinner party tonight and one tomorrow but because of the weather they were canceled. So what to do, what to do. Bake cookies for Christmas of course. One of my favorites are Cardamom Walnut Cookies - An epicurious recipe. The perfect cookie with tea.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kitchen tools for Christmas

Here are some of my favorite kitchen tools. If you have a special someone who loves to cook here are some great tools you can get for them. Some make the perfect stocking stuffer, others take center stage.

Silicon Spatulas

Spider - great for straining pasta and ravioli


Ricer - Makes the best mashed potatoes

Cutting Board - This can go in the dishwasher!

Fish Spatula

Silicon Rolling Mat

Le Creuset - Great for Braising and Stews

Grill Pan

My Favorite Saute Pan - I use this almost every day!

Happy Holidays!

Gifts for Christmas


I've been busy cooking, cooking, cooking. No holiday cards, haven't wrapped a single present and yes I still have more shopping to do. Okay, so why am I here writing my blog and not shopping or writing my Christmas cards? This is more fun. I also have a sink full of dishes and pile of laundry that could sink a ship. Ah, the joys of procrastination!

So gifts for Christmas... Some of my favorites include: Flavored salts, truffles, fresh pasta, spiced nuts, and homemade liqueurs. This year I spent a day with 2 friends making fresh ravioli. We had a blast. It was a double gift. A gift to myself creating special memories while making the pasta and a gift for those who get the pasta. This is a tradition that I have wanted to start for a couple of years now and I finally made it happen.

There is something very childlike about making fresh pasta. My fresh pasta classes are always some of the best classes. I don't know if it is the tactile nature of the process or the fact that you really have to work with someone else but it really is a tranformative process. I love doing team building events with fresh pasta because there is nothing like watching a very serious executive become playful and silly.

Here are a couple of recipes that you can try:

Fresh Pasta
Serving Size : 8
Source: Mario Batal

2 cups all-purpose flour -- (2 to 2 3/4)
3 large eggs

Sift together and then mound 2 cups of the flour and a pinch of salt in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin
to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.

Add more flour, if needed. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the
mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. Knead for about 15 minutes, adding any of the remaining flour if necessary to create a cohesive mass. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly re-flour the board and continue kneading for six more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Roll or shape as desired.

Mushroom Raviloi
Based on a Martha Steward Recipe

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving
2 shallots, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 lb. assorted fresh mushrooms, such as button, cremini, and shiitake,
brushed clean, trimmed, and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more for serving
1/2 cup flour, for dusting
Fresh Pasta

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until browned about 10 minutes. Be sure not to crowd the pan or the mushrooms will steam. Add shallots, and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Stir in parsley, and cook 1 minute more. Add wine and cook over high heat until the wine has evaporated. Transfer to a bowl, and cool briefly before stirring in Parmesan and ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread flour on a baking sheet; set aside. Cut fresh pasta dough into 8 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping remaining pieces covered with a glass bowl. Using a pasta machine, roll through the widest opening, brushing very lightly with flour. Fold dough in half crosswise; pass through machine again. Roll dough through remaining settings until it is about 1/16 inch thick (on the Kitchen Aid attachment, this is through setting number 6; this may vary depending on the type of machine used), using as little additional flour as possible.

Place sheet on a lightly floured surface with the long side parallel to the edge of work surface. Place 8 heaping measuring teaspoons of mushroom filling along the top third of the sheet about 2 inches apart. Moisten pasta around each mound of filling, using a pastry brush dipped in water. Fold the dough up and over the filling to enclose; press around filling to seal. Cut between mounds with a plain pastry wheel. Or use a 2 1/2-inch fluted round cutter to cut out ravioli, centering filling. Alternately, use a fluted pastry wheel to cut into rectangular ravioli. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Chill until ready to cook. The ravioli can be prepared ahead of time up to this point and frozen. Place baking sheet in freezer until ravioli are frozen. Transfer ravioli to a freezer bag, and keep frozen for up to 2 months.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add about 6 ravioli per serving, and cook until tender but al dente, about 2 minutes (slightly longer if frozen). In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of oil with 1 sprig of thyme for each serving. When ravioli are done, use a slotted spoon to remove from boiling water. Drain well, and transfer to skillet. Toss in butter, and divide among warm bowls. Top with shaved Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

Chocolate Truffles
Based on a recipe by Jacques Torres
About 180 truffles

2 cups heavy cream
21 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or Cognac

To garnish the truffles
Cocoa powder, coconut, confectioner's sugar, finely chopped nuts

Heat the heavy cream in a heavy-bottomed pan until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Make sure that you have chopped the chocolate finely. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-size mixing bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and letting it sit for 30 seconds to melt the chocolate. Then slowly whisk until smooth. As it cools, it will thicken and set. Use a small scoop to portion out each truffle. Use gloved hands to roll into a nicely shaped ball. Use your gloved hands to heat/melt the outside of the truffles and roll in your choice of coatings; coconut, cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, pistachios or other nuts.

The truffles will keep for up to 2 weeks at room temperature, when stored in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Count down to Turkey Day! Don't panic!

Okay, so you've got 20 people headed to your home for Thanksgiving and the panic has set in. Take a deep breath and relax. Get a pen and paper and make the following lists:

Grocery shopping list
Housewares list - bigger coffee pot, extra linens etc
Menu items
Cleaning list
Timeline - list all the dishes and how long they take to prep and cook, note recipes that can be made ahead of time.

Decide what to delegate. Yes, delegate you don't have to do it all to be a good host. Thanksgiving is about enjoying family and you can't enjoy them if you are running around town for 3 days before Thanksgiving and then cooking all day on Thanksgiving. So delegate! It makes others feel more a part of the day.

Get out your serving pieces and label them with sticky notes so that anyone can fill them on Thanksgiving. You can't imagine how much time you can spend just putting food on platters. Decide who in your family is great at making things look pretty. Have a few washed garnishing items like kale and red leaf lettuce. I always wish Dianne, assistant at Williams Sonoma, or Allyson & Alicia from the farm were around to help me plate. They do a lovely job and they have more patience than I do! Really you don't have to do everything yourself. It is more fun if you get others involved.

When planning your menu have items that can be made ahead of time, items that can be purchased and 1 or 2 highlighted dishes. Not everything has to be a star. Great purchased items include; cheese, a lovely cheese board can get you compliments for years and is little work, olives, nuts, cured meats like proscuitto, quick breads and crackers.

Prepping vegetables ahead of time can be a real time saver. I wash and trim my green beans and blanch them in boiling water for about 4 minutes and then shock them in ice water. I drain them and put them in a baggie in the fridge. I saute them with butter and almonds right before serving. I wash and peel sweet potatoes and squash and store in the fridge. I love to roast a bunch of root vegetables in the morning and then just reheat before serving. Roasted vegetables are easy and please lots of picky eaters. Mashing potatoes stay hot for multiple hours in a crock pot!!! See past post on the perfect mashed potatoes.

Don't forget to let your turkey rest. If it weighs in at 18 or more lbs. it should rest for 45 minutes covered in foil. While it rests make the gravy and fill the serving platters with food and put them on the table.

Have a great day. Don't forget to enjoy yourself, and if you cooked, someone else should clean up! Gobble gobble.

Monday, November 16, 2009

10 Steps to the Best Mashed Potatoes

Okay, Thanksgiving is right around the corner. Mashed potatoes are on everyone’s menu, and why not they are fluffy and buttery and a perfect vehicle for gravy. They encompass everything that is wonderful about comfort food. All of my friends that are on a diet please disregard this recipe or only have these for Thanksgiving this is NOT a low calorie recipe but I don’t eat mashed potatoes except on the holidays and when I do I go all out. Here are my top 10 tips for making the best fluffy, creamy, mashed potatoes:

1. Use a ricer. It looks like a big garlic press but keeps you from over mixing your potatoes. Have you ever had gluey mashed potatoes? They were overworked, maybe you used an electric hand mixer? Don’t ever put them in a food processor and I would also avoid a KitchenAid too.– Here is a link to a ricer at Williams Sonoma.

2. Don’t peel your potatoes. Wash them well and boil them whole. This way you get great potato flavor instead of watery potatoes. If you use a ricer you can cut them in half, putting the cut half down in the ricer and the skin will stay in the ricer. No peeling ahead of time! Be sure to have a hand towel handy the potatoes will be hot.

3. Start the potatoes in cold water.

4. Use the right potatoes. Use Russet or baking potatoes for fluffy potatoes but be careful not to overwork them. OR Use Yukon Gold potatoes for buttery flavor and if you insist on using an electric hand-mixer as Yukon Golds are less likely to get gluey. They have less starch than Russets.

5. Warm your cream or milk before adding to your potatoes.

6. Don’t let your potatoes cool before you mash them.

7. Keep them warm in a crockpot for several hours or put them in a casserole dish and top with a little extra butter and put a lid on. You can keep the casserole dish in a 350 oven for an hour, maybe an hour and half.

8. Use Crème Fraiche instead of cream.

9. Flavor with a little something extra – 1 head of roasted garlic or caramelized shallots, fried leeks, Parmesan cheese.

10. Workout a little harder at the gym on Wednesday so you can enjoy these mashed potatoes worry free.

Creme Fraiche Mashed Potatoes
2 lb Russet Potatoes
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 8oz container of crème fraiche
salt, to taste

Boil the wash potatoes whole until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Drain and cut in half. Use a ricer to mash the potatoes. Add 2 tsp. Salt, the butter, cut into pieces and the crème fraiche and stir until the butter is melted and the potatoes are creamy. Season to taste. Add warm cream or milk to make a softer, silkier mashed potato.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Biggest Loser - Cooking Class

Last night I had the pleasure of doing a Healthy Foods class for my friend Nicole. What a great group of women. These gals are competing at a local gym to see who can lose the most weight. Go Ladies!

We started the class last night with a couple of breakfast items because we know how important it is to eat breakfast but making food when you are barely awake can be dangerous. So we made steel-cut oatmeal and mini frittatas. The best part is both can be made ahead. Steel-cut oatmeal takes about 30 minutes to cook but if you do it Sunday night you can heat individual portions Mon-Fri mornings and just add toppings: agave syrup instead of sugar, dried fruits like cranberries and cherries(for antioxidants) and nuts(omega 3s). Yum! The mini frittatas can be heated in the microwave or oven and because they are small they heat quickly.

For those with a sweet tooth don't try to cut out all sweets. Control your portions and have a little something to satisfy the craving. I love SweetRiot they are Cacao nibs, lightly roasted, dunked in 65% dark chocolate for true chocoholics. They are crunchy and chocolately and only 1-2 calories a "peace". Love these! I found them at New Morning in Woodbury, CT Let the riot begin...

The Main entrees were Seared Tuna with a soy/sherry glaze and a cocoa-rubbed Pork Tenderloin. These were served with Sesame Roasted Green Beans.

Sherry Glazed Tuna Steaks

Serving Size : 4
4 7 Oz Tuna Steaks, can be frozen, defrost under running water
1 Tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper
2 tsp oriental sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup dry Sherry
2 Tbsp Scallion — sliced fine

Sprinkle tuna steaks on both sides with coarsely cracked black pepper, pressing gently to adhere. Heat sesame oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add tuna steaks and sear until brown outside and just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer tuna steaks to platter. Tent platter loosely with foil to keep tuna steaks warm. Add soy sauce, then Sherry to same skillet. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture is slightly reduced, scraping up any browned bits, about 1 minute. Spoon sauce over tuna steaks. Sprinkle with chives or green onion tops.

Based on a recipe by
Bon Appétit | August 1999
Joan Brett, Boulder, CO

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wine Downs and Flight of the Woodcock

It has been a fun culinary weekend and it isn’t over yet. Friday night we had one of our last Wine Downs at Jones Farm. We have two more Wine Downs before we close the season in December. What a great time of year to be on the farm. Bursts of color everywhere, the air is crisp, and I just can’t get enough of the spicy flavors that really shine when the weather starts to turn cool. Beautiful pumpkins and squash in different sizes and colors are everywhere you turn. I can’t wait to experiment with some of the lesser know squashes. At Friday’s Wine Down, A Chill is in The Air, we were lucky to have Larry McCulloch join us to talk about wine making. Larry has over 25 years of experience in wine making and like everyone else here at Jones is passionate about what he does. Larry talked about what to expect from this year’s yield and I couldn’t help but picture next year’s Wine Downs. There is something about being on a farm that really makes you take note of the passage of time. You think in terms of seasons and weather.

We started with a pumpkin hummus, sounds odd I know but it disappeared in a flash and even the those “suspicious” of vegetables enjoyed it. We served the hummus with toasted pita chips, broccoli and cauliflower, fresh from the farm. We served this with HARVEST TIME, an apple and pear wine that is delicately sweet with crisp fruit flavors. Next we moved on to the main course, an over-stuffed-pumpkin. We used a Blue Hubbard Squash. This is the original squash used for pumpkin pie. It has a wonderful, sweet and complex flavor. We stuffed the hubbard with a cornbread and chicken-sausage stuffing. We paired this with our Cabernet Franc, a great wine for vegetarian dishes, as well as, pork. Then we sampled some local cheeses(more on cheese when I talk about my Flight of the Woodcock) and paired these with our Merlot. For dessert we enjoyed a spicy pumpkin cake with sautéed apples. For dessert we served out First Blush. We had a full house of 20 wonderful people.

The Flight of the Woodcock

Saturday brought more culinary adventures. Sally and Thomas Camm from The Artisan Food Store, which I am happy to say is located in Southbury, CT hosted a Meet the Cheese-Maker event. Mark Fisher from Woodcock Farm, in Weston, Vermont spoke about how Woodcock Farm started making cheese 10 years ago. Mark and Gari Fisher started with sheep because it is easier start with sheep’s milk than cow’s milk. Cows require a much large area of land to raise and it takes 10 lbs of cow’s milk to make 1 lb of cheese where as it only takes 5 lbs of sheep’s milk to make 1 lb of cheese. The cheeses were outstanding and Mark who was an artist before making cheese is again an artist, now his artistry starts with milk. Here are the cheeses we tasted:

Feta (Sheep)
Raw milk feta made in a Bulgarian Style (one of my favorites)

Cloud 9 (Cow)
Mold ripened soft and creamy

Summer Snow (Sheep) - this will soon be gone... Enjoy while it lasts
Mold Ripened, unctuous and rich

Humble Pie (Cow)
Washed Rind Cheese, mellow and rich

Timberdoodle (Cow/Sheep) Another Favorite of mine
Washed Rind Havarti Style Cheese – We had this cheese at the Wine Down on Friday

Weston Wheel (Sheep) I can't get enough of this cheese
Aged Cheese, nutty and tangy

True Blue (Cow)
Smooth creamy soft style of blue

The cheeses were paired with wine. The wines were supplied by Nutmeg Wine and Spirits in Woodbury. The first wine was Jones Vineyard, Pinot Gris(no they didn’t know I was coming :-). Sally had us try the feta with the Pinot Gris first alone and then with a lovely tabouli and the feta. A wonderful pairing. They also served Hopkins Vineyard Lady Rosé another wonderful CT wine. Don’t be afraid, it is a nice dry Rosé and it paired nicely with Cloud 9.