Here is what I think…or one of the millions of things I think….find something to celebrate. It can be a little thing or a big thing or nothing real at all, but some creative thing going on inside your head. Take some time to celebrate something. It can only be a good thing, right?
This apple cake is of my own invention to celebrate no one thing, but just the season, the beautiful apples I had, a few lovely soft orange rose hips, some antique pieces recently acquired for props, the light coming in through the window on this particular day while I played with this still life. More than plenty to celebrate I think don’t you?
I made a wee cake and a larger cake..one to give away and one to enjoy.
A dusting of powdered sugar always seems celebratory to me.
Pure Vanilla Extract is one of the simplest & most appreciated gifts to give cooks. Bulk vanilla beans can be purchased online easily these days and combined with a good bottle or two of vodka or bourbon you have everything you need to make multiple bottles of richly flavorful Vanilla Extract is just a few weeks.
I have been thinking about why I like to make things a lot lately. As a child I made things with my hands all the time…little pieces of art or make-believe foods from mud, grass and sicks…pot holders and paint-by-numbers..my hands always busy and engaged.
I am like that to this day. I am pretty sure it is because the act of making stuff is something I can control in a world where so much is absolutely, insanely out-ot-control. When my hands and mind are engaged in a project I am more at peace and able to sort through my thoughts in a more calm manner. At the end of the process I have something to show for this time spent. An art piece, a cake or loaf of bread, a bottle of pure vanilla extract. Making stuff to share. We all have to find our way do we not? What is your method?
I split the beans…about 25 or so and add them to 6 cups vodka or bourbon. Add a tight-fitting lid and wait…..a small lesson in patience…..
….in a few weeks (2 to 4) you’ll have lots of pure vanilla extract. I keep my jar in a closet and shake it every few days to help release the vanilla bean seeds….week by week the color darkens to a deep amber.
I add a few of the vanilla beans to each bottle after I decant the extract. The vanilla flavor will just keep getting better.
You know how you hear about something that is so easy you wonder why you never thought of it? This happens to me all the time. “Pickled Grapes” is one of those things. I first heard about them on two different NPR programs within one week. Touted as the “new olive” for a cheese plate I was so intrigued I had to see for myself. The how-to is child’s play for the novice or seasoned cook. The finished cold, crisp, spicy pickled grapes are divine served with a few well-chosen cheeses for a Holiday cheese platter. It is all as “easy-as-this”.
Gather a few clean, dry pint size glass jars with lids…seedless grapes…a few spices & vinegar and your ready to go.
Grapes rinsed & drained then packed into jars and covered with hot, spicy vinegar mix…cooled to room temp, lids added and then jars chilled….ready to eat. 30 minutes start to finish! They will keep in refrigerator for a few weeks. Good food gifts for friends who don’t like olives as well.
Some suggested cheeses – Point Reyes Blue Cheese, Raclette 5 Peppercorns, Reypemaer Gouda. All have a unique flavor and texture and are complimented by the “new olive”…the ‘pickled grape”! It’s as “easy-as-this”.
Seedless Grapes – Red and/or Green, rinsed & drained, pulled from stems, enough to fill 4 or five jars – 6 cups?
2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
3 garlic gloves crushed and then minced
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons rosemary leaves from fresh stems + a few extra stems for jars
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red chili pepper flakes
Fill glass jars with grapes.
Bring wine vinegar, garlic, sea salt, sugar, rosemary leaves & red pepper flakes to a low boil and then turn to simmer, stirring for a few minutes to dissolve salt & sugar. Remove from heat. Stir in a few rosemary sprigs.
Immediately pour hot mixture over grapes in jars. Nestle sprigs of rosemary down into jars
Loosely cover jars and let cool to room temperature. Then cover with tight-fitting lids and store in refrigerator until ready to use. You can eat within an hour or keep for up to a few weeks in the refrigerator.
These are amazing and refreshing and everything delicious to serve with cheese & crackers or toss in a salad.
Notes: Other ideas to try when making the next batch…fresh thyme sprigs, red wine vinegar, whole garlic cloves…I bet you have some of your own ideas.
Based on recipes jotted down while listening to NPR shows.
2 tablespoons red currant jelly, melted to brush on crust
3 ripe, but firm pears, cored, peeled and thickly sliced
3 pluots or plums, cored and thickly sliced (or small tart apples)
1/2 cup demerara or other dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter cut into pieces
Grainy raw sugar to sprinkle over top of tart after baking
Place spelt flour in a food processor along with the butter pieces and vanilla bean powder. Process until mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add maple syrup and egg yolk. Process until a dough forms. (Add ice water if needed) Remove dough from food processor and form into a flatten disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll dough out onto a lightly floured surface into a large round. Fit into a 9 inch springform pan, folding extra dough to inside to form a thicker crust all around. Prick the bottom of the crust and chill for 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
When filling ingredients are ready remove tart shell from the refrigerator and spread the bottom with the melted red currant jelly.
Fill tart shell with fruit, and then sprinkle the demerara sugar over the fruit. Top with butter pieces.. Bake until fruit is fork tender, not mushy, about 40 minutes. Fruit will begin to caramelize just a bit. Remove from oven and dust with grainy raw sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Notes: You can make this tart with all pears or pears and apples as well. Great Holiday dessert.
I have been having some dark days. Since early morning November 9th. I have been out of sorts, prone to tearful eruptions, and feeling a dark sadness that is so vast and complicated that I cannot quite put my finger on it. I am pretty sure you know what I mean and may be feeling it too. November has been a cruel month.
But this afternoon while driving and listening to the radio I heard one of my favorite songs playing in the background. I turned it up and sang along. It lifted my spirits. I learned this song when I was around 9 or 10 years old. It was part of my grade school class American Folk Songbook. We had a record player in our class and our teacher would often play the record of folksongs and we would sing along. I believed it then and I believe it now…take heart, sing along…..
This is the first on my list of recipes to cook from this book, “Braised Garlic Chicken with Yellow Rice”. I had this dish in Miami over 40 years ago & in Cuba almost as long ago. If you can “dream in food” this dish has been one of mine. The chicken oh-so garlicky & moist and the rice cooked in broth & bijol (or annatto powder) for added flavor. Dios Mio!
When it was illegal to travel to Cuba from the United States years ago, therefore making the very idea much more enticing, my friend Terry and I traveled from Mexico to Havana a few times with a temporary visa that I still have. This was what was stamped instead of your real passport. No record of ever being in Cuba showed up in our permanent passports when re-entering the USA. There were few hotels in Havana at the time. On the main plaza The Ingleterra was a lovely old place with lots of ornate plaster and men in dark glasses sitting around in the lobby to watch who came and went. We were the only Americans there…Mexicans, Greeks, French, many internationals..and us.
On our trips half the time we were intoxicated by our surroundings and the other half from the mojitos. We had manicures, haircuts and salsa lessons given to us by the hairdresser, ate in La Floridita along with international men in suits doing deals, had chicken with yellow rice and plantains & more mojitos at La Bodeguita de Medio, strolled the Malecon, it was magical….we were young, we & Cuba were a novelty and we were changed forever.
The recipe for braised garlic chicken & yellow rice in this cookbook is exactly like my “food dreams” of this dish. Next I will try the roasted pork, the flan, the lamb….all simple to make recipes with familiar ingredients used in a very Cuban way. If you buy one cookbook this year or need a great gift for a cook or traveler this one is it.
2 cups bottles sour orange juice, or 1 1/4 cups fresh orange juice mixed with 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces, or 12 bone-in chicken thighs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Ingredients for Yellow Rice:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups long grain white rice
3 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
1 teaspoon bijol, or a pinch or saffron, soaked in a little warm water
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
Using a food processor, process 20 garlic cloves dropping them in one clove at a time. When all garlic is chopped, add the juice, oregano, cumin seeds, salt & pepper. Pulse to blend.
Place cut up chicken in a glass bowl & pour garlic marinade over chicken turning pieces to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 2-4 hours before cooking. Toss chicken every now and then in the marinade.
When ready to cook preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the chicken from the marinade. Reserve marinade. Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and season with salt.
Heat vegetable oil in a large cast iron or other oven-safe baking pot with a lid. Working in batches, sear chicken skin-side down in hot oil until skin is crispy and browned. As chicken pieces are browned set aside.
When all the chicken pieces are seared return them to the pot and pour the reserved marinade over all. Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil. Braise chicken for about 1 hour. Chicken pieces should be fork-tender with meat falling-off-the-bone.
Remove braised chicken pieces to a platter, covering to keep warm. Pour remaining braising liquid from the cooking pot to a small saucepan & bring it to a boil. Slightly reduce liquid. Taste & adjust seasoning with salt & pepper. Cover and set aside.
To make the yellow rice heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add the onion & a pinch of salt. Saute until the onion softens, about 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic & cook for 2 minutes.
Add the rice to the pot & saute for a few minutes until rice begins to smell slightly toasty. Pour in chicken stock & bijol or saffron. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat & cover tightly with a lid.
Cook over low heat until the stock has been absorbed. Taste & adjust seasoning if needed. (If using peas add them to the rice now.) Let rice sit covered until ready to serve.
When ready to serve Chicken: Turn on broiler and place chicken pieces on a baking pan, skin side up. Broil for a few minutes to re-crisp the skin. Serve chicken with yellow rice, spooning some of the reduced braising liquid on top.
Adapted from the cookbook: “Cuba! Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen” published by: Ten Speed Press, Authors: Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn, Jody Eddy
Last week I had a couple of projects going on at home from various clients…recipe developing and testing using canned pumpkin puree and as always happens I ended up with a can opened & partly used…what to do? I find it so hard to toss out food even though a large part of my job as a food stylist has to do with just that! This is the one part of being a food & photo stylist that is hard for me. I grew up in a blue-collar household, poor by today’s standards, and food was not wasted…ever. For some reason when we did not finish our food my Mother always brought up the starving children in India…why India I do not know…but it stuck and every time I toss out food I have that image in my head. Her point was made simply and straightforward.
By the last day of many photo shoots there is always food that has been too handled and left to sit out just too long while being photographed to be eaten. It has to be tossed and this always gives me pause. On the other hand, on most photo shoots we end up taking car loads of food to local food banks. I am hoping that cancels out my bad food karma turning it into good food karma.
So with a half can of leftover pumpkin puree and not wanting to toss into the trash bin, I tossed it into one of my easy weekend morning go-to recipes for two, now three ingredient biscuits. Deliciously saved and reused.
“The well” is my favorite part of biscuit-making…learned from my mother it always works to aid in making the most tender biscuits ever.
Dry ingredients….using a fork…make “the well” by pushing the flour mixture up against the sides of the bowl creating a bowl or “well”. Add wet ingredients all at once…..
….quickly stir together pulling the dry ingredients into the wet using a fork…don’t try to mix totally… gently and quickly make a “slaggy” dough….
….dump out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to meld wet and dry together to form a smooth dough…pat out into a circle…fold over and pat out again…repeat about 4 times…patting and folding and patting….
…cut biscuits straight down…no twisting the cutter and spread out on parchment lined baking sheet…
…brush tops with maple syrup and bake.
Warm from the oven smeared with softened butter. Happy Weekend y’all.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix together the flour, salt & pumpkin pie spice. Use a fork to make “a well” in the middle of the mixture.
Add pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons maple syrup & whipping cream. Using a fork, gently and quickly blend ingredients together. Your dough should not be totally blended.
Dump out onto a work surface lightly dusted with flour. Using your hands fold and knead to create a smooth dough. Pat into a circle, fold over and pat out again and folding and patting out…repeat 4 times lastly patting dough out into a circle about 1/2-3/4 inch thick depending on how you like your biscuits.
Cut out biscuits…taking care to not “twist” the cutter…just cut straight down. Place biscuits on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Brush tops with remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. Biscuits will be light and fluffy with a glazed top and are best eaten warm. They will keep up to one day and can be reheated.