Ho ho ho

Christmas is the king of holidays. Indulgence is celebrated with no concern for price or calories. Grocery shopping is a grand outing that requires supreme organization; lists are divided by protein, produce, dry goods, and dairy and a team of shoppers is assembled. Seafood is ordered in advance at the local fish market and a brave trip is made the day of Christmas Eve to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.

All of this planning and groundwork is done knowing that the reward is the best meal of the year. But, if we didn’t enjoy the work (fighting Italians in the Bronx for prosciutto bread and cleaning clove after clove of garlic) then we wouldn’t bother. Last year my family opted to take a break from the big Christmas production and ordered Chinese food. We didn’t just miss the traditional feast but everything leading up to it, especially the time spent together in the kitchen. For all these reasons I am happy that we have reinstated the Christmas feast.

Happy Holidays,

The Feast Beast

Last Christmas morning Breetel and I served up the Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon buns and they were so good we had to do it again. I made the dough the night before and left it in the fridge overnight. This year we added my mom’s spiced pecans to half the batch; we just rolled the nuts in with the butter, sugar, and cinnamon. Maple extract is the best smell in the world.

On all holiday mornings it is essential to have cocktails with breakfast. We had Cava with pomegranate blueberry juice.

My father taught us how to make Rabbit Agro Dolce, a sweet and sour rabbit stew. Dad bought whole rabbits and I had the opportunity to practice butchering. The dish is prepared like most stews: meat is browned in a frying pan, the pan is deglazed with red wine, and everything goes into a pot of mirepoix with liquid and spices. The addition of brown sugar and red wine vinegar give this stew its unique flavor.

We couldn’t get a picture of the dish before plates were licked clean.

Braciole is beef sliced thin and stuffed with mortadella, Italian parsley, and pecorino. It’s browned on the stove and then finished in the oven with a tomato sauce. I don’t know if it’s traditional to throw potatoes in the pan but we did.

Arancini are rice balls that are stuffed, breaded and fried. It is necessary to chill risotto before hand. To form the arancini spread the rice flat onto your open palm, put the filling in the center, and close the rice around it creating a ball. For our filling we used pork, peas, and cheese. The balls are then coated in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before deep-frying. Served plain or with tomato sauce they make a tasty snack.

The winning dish was Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Eel Sauce. So easy and so fucking delicious. Wrap scallops in bacon and skewer them then cook in a very hot oven (about 500 degrees) until the bacon is crispy. Finish with eel sauce. Our sushi chef friend, Ben, gave us the eel sauce. If you don’t know Ben look for it in a store or ask your favorite sushi restaurant if you can buy some. I don’t know what eel sauce is but i love it.

Here are some other highlights…

Grandma’s antipasto buffet is a Christmas Eve tradition.

This is what elves eat.

Insalatta di Pesce Stocco made by Dad.

Clams also made by Dad.

Breetel and I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Ovenless Series, Finale

Rachael and I watched Mississippi Massala and ate Indian food. I did not have the energy or spices to make real Indian food so I improvised. The curry was not as hot as young Denzel Washington.

Vegetable curry:

chiles

butter

few tbsp curry powder

2 potatoes, diced

cup chickpeas

2 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed

cup plain yogurt

cup crushed tomatoes

salt

Preparation: heat butter in pot. Add chiles and cook until fragrant. Add potatoes and some curry powder and cook several minutes. Add chickpeas, spinach, and remaining curry powder and cook another few minutes. Then add tomatoes and yogurt and cook on medium-low heat until the potatoes are soft.

Paratha:

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

1 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter or neutral oil (I used vegetable)

Preparation: combine flour and salt in a bowl. Add water and mix with hands (or machine) until sticky. Allow the dough to rest 20 minutes at room temperature. Break dough into 4-6 pieces. Roll each piece into a circle and brush with oil. Then “roll up like a cigar, then into a coil not unlike a cinnamon bun.” I was totally confused when I read this so I hope my pictures make it more clear. Put a griddle over medium heat. Then press each piece of dough flat and roll out into a circle. Place in griddle and cook each side for a few minutes, brushing with oil. I found that after the first batch the griddle was oily enough and stopped brushing the bread. Cover bread loosely with foil or towel and serve immediately.

Also, my landlord got us a new oven. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The Ovenless Series, Part III

Rice pudding is a flexible dish. There are several ways to play with flavor. You can use a different kind of rice but will need to adjust the cooking time. Try substituting half of the dairy with another liquid; coconut milk is my favorite but eggnog sounds festive. I suppose you could make this vegan by using soy or rice milk but personally I can’t stand either. Any kind of sweetener will do: maple syrup, honey, molasses, agave, whatever.

Brown rice pudding is good for dessert, better for breakfast.

 

Toasted Coconut Brown Rice Pudding:

(Inspired by Eggnog Brown Rice Pudding)

2 cups water

1 cup brown rice

pinch salt

4 cups 2% milk

1 cup toasted coconut

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4  cup sugar

Preparation: In a pot bring water, rice and pinch of salt to a boil. Stir and reduce to a simmer. Cook thirty to forty minutes until water is absorbed. While the rice is cooking toast the coconut in a dry pan on medium high heat. Stir frequently while the color turns and remove from heat when golden. Add milk, vanilla, coconut and sugar. Cook over medium low heat for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or chilled. Garnish with dust of cinnamon or dark chocolate shavings.

 

The Ovenless Series, Part II

French toast, like scrambled eggs and pancakes, always disappoints me at diners. It never seems to be made properly which is a shame because it’s so easy.

All kinds of bread make great french toast: baguettes, whole wheat, challah, panettone, etc. Then you need an egg and some milk, cream, or buttermilk. Then flavorings: oils, extracts, and spices. Then sauce. This is the best part. Real maple syrup is expensive but it’s the best. For a less expensive and fancy alternative combine a cup of fruit, a couple of tablespoons sugar, splash of water, a pad of butter, and reduce. The lazy way is heat a little maple syrup and fruit.

Orange Spice French Toast:

egg

splash milk

spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves)

drop orange oil

bread (I used sourdough)

butter

syrup (I used blueberry maple)

Preparation: In a bowl whisk egg, milk, and spices. Add bread to bowl and let it soak, turning as needed. Put pan on medium heat and add butter. Add bread to pan and switch sides when dark brown. It should be crispy on the outside and just cooked through- don’t let it dry out.

The Ovenless Series, Part I

The holidays are all about baking… unless you don’t have a working oven. Today I begin The Ovenless Series which will continue until my landlord gets her act together. Do not fear my ovenless friends. Yes, we can celebrate the holidays and everyday stove top.

 

Breakfast potatoes:

potatoes, cut

any kind of fat

rosemary

salt & pepper

Preparation: put fat in skillet on medium-high heat. When hot add potatoes and spices. Cook until cripy on the outside and soft on the inside (about 10 minutes).

 

Spinach and blue cheese omelet:

eggs

cook spinach

blue cheese

butter

salt & pepper

Preparation: Put skillet over low heat. Add butter. Whisk however many eggs you want to eat with salt and pepper. Omelets are traditionally three eggs but I can only eat two. Pour eggs into pan and swoosh around, gently scraping sides of pan. Add spinach and cheese to one side of eggs. Fold omelet over filling. Cook until just set.

 

Beef Stew

Hearty, easy, great for winter. I’ve never made this before. This recipe is how my dad taught me to make coq au vin; I just substituted beef and cut the vegetables into chunks rather than dicing them. The broth seemed a little thin so I thickened with roux.

Beef Stew:

five carrots

half bunch celery

whole white onion

few tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper

bottle wine

rosemary

small can tomato paste

oregano

stew meat

roux (optional)

Preparation: In a large pot heat olive oil over medium flame. Saute vegetables with salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary. Add meat and brown. Pour lots of wine into the pot to cover ingredients; if you don’t have enough you can add water or stock. Add tomato paste. Stir it up. Cook it for about an hour or until the meat is tender. If you like a thicker stew add roux (instructions below). Eat with crusty bread and more wine.

Roux:

flour

butter

Preparation: Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium-high heat. When the butter looks foamy add a few tablespoons of flour and whisk it furiously. The roux will get darker the more you cook it. Lighter roux has more thickening power, whereas darker roux has more flavor. Learn how to do this and be a happier cook.

Thanksgiving, a Week in Review

For the past week I have been busy eating and drinking with my family in NY. All our celebrations revolve around the meal and begin with menu planning. This year there were two teams: mom and brother on Team Add On versus dad and me on Team Progress. Team Progress felt the traditional Thanksgiving menu had too many starches and lacked innovation. Team Add On felt none of the traditional starches could be sacrificed but we were willing to add new dishes to the spread. Because dad is foreign his opinion on this American meal did not hold much weight; Team Add On won. There were two of everything: traditional stuffing and cornbread stuffing, roast turkey and smoked turkey, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, Beth’s cranberries and Pam’s cranberries. The meal was an overall success and no one wanted for starch. I look forward to a creative Christmas menu which we have already begun planning with Google docs.

Happy holidays,

The Feast Beast

Note: All recipes served fourteen persons with leftovers.

My dishes:

Wednesday’s cocktail:

Prosecco

cherry juice

lime

ginger root

Preparation: Mix to taste and drink all day in the kitchen.

Parsnip and Apple Soup:

small parsnips (one per person)

few honeycrisp apples (1/4 per person)

yellow onion

olive oil

vegetable stock

water

salt & pepper

cheddar crisp (recipe follows)

Preparation: Heat oil in large pot. Cut parsnips, apple, and onions in large chunks and saute with salt & pepper. Cover with combination of stock and water. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Cool and puree. Taste to adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead of time and re-heated. Garnish with cheddar crisp.

Cheddar crisp:

Grate cheddar by hand or with food processor. Sprinkle thin layer on sheet pan covered with parchment. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes and let cool. Can be made ahead.

Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage, Fennel and Port Soaked Currants:

2 batches cornbread

2 cups corn kernals

1 cup currants

1/4 cup port

5 tbsp fennel seeds

1 sausage (I used Ndjua, spreadable salame, from Boccalone)

beef stock

Preparation: Make two batches cornbread and let cool. Roast corn kernals with whole chiles, salt and pepper in 450 degree oven until blistery; remove chiles and set corn aside. Heat port and currants in microwave or saucepan and set aside. In a skillet saute sausage with fennel until browned. Add currants to sausage and fennel and set mixture aside. Cube cooled cornbread and place in the biggest bowl you have. To the cornbread add corn kernals and sausage mixture. Toss with beef stock until wet and spongey. Place in baking dish. Bake in 350 oven about one hour. Can be made ahead.

Crispy Kale:

kale

seal salt

Preparation: cook kale until crispy in 450 degree oven. Salt. Eat.

Other highlights…

Dad’s smoked turkey wrapped in bacon.

They sat outside in the rain all day and it still needed to be finished in the oven.

It was delicious- like anything that’s wrapped in bacon.

Auntie B’s cranberry sauce. Made annually and enjoyed long after.

A vat of Mom’s mashed potatoes with bacon and scallions.

Smoked elephant garlic spread.

The whole plate with lots of other delicious stuff I didn’t mention. I was too full and liquored up to care about taking pictures of dessert. Dan made fried ice cream and it was awesome.