Monday, December 29, 2008

Rugelach wassailing

He'd been keeping it a secret from me since we met that he knows how to make rugelach, but D revealed it to me before this Christmas vacation. So we packed up the ingredients and made some here at our friend's country house in Lackawaxen. We were going to visit friends of our friends who are an artist and a caterer by trade (but many more things than that), and we decided to bring some rugelach with us for the visit. Hence, rugelach wassailing. Wassailing is defined in some texts as visiting-while-carolling, so we went rugelach wassailing over to Hawley and got a tour of the incredible toll house that they've made into a beautiful home.

Here's how we made the rugelach.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

Cut cold butter or margarine and cream cheese into bits. In food processor pulse flour, salt, butter or margarine, cream cheese and sour cream until crumbly. Shape crumbly mixture into four equal disks...wrap each disk and chill 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Roll each disk into a 9 inch round keeping other disks chilled until ready to roll them.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and finely chopped raisins (may substitute miniature chocolate chips for raisins).

Roll each disk into a 9 inch round keeping other disks chilled until ready to roll them. Sprinkle round with sugar/nut mixture. Press lightly into dough. With chefs knife or pizza cutter, cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll wedges from wide to narrow, you will end up with point on outside of cookie. Place on ungreased baking sheets and chill rugelach 20 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

After rugelach are chilled, bake them in the center rack of your oven 22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks.

If you wrap them up in some plastic wrap and tie them with a bow, they make nice house-calling gifts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Baking Bread on a Rainy Day

Baking is not my strong suit, especially baking things that require rising and yeast. But I thought, while I have the time and patience away from the city, let me try again to make bread. It's been rainy and dank here, so it was the perfect day to try it out. I used cake yeast this time, having had little luck with the powdered yeast the last few times I tried. It seemed to help.

Buttermilk Honey Wheat Bread

2 ½ tsp (one third of a package) of fresh/cake yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp honey
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Gently heat the buttermilk and the honey in a saucepan over a low flame. Do not boil. Add the yeast when the buttermilk has reached room temperature. Add the rest of the ingredients. The dough will be really sticky, but try to knead it for a bit. Place the dough in a greased bread pan and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size, whichever is longer. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes, or until bottom sounds hollow when tapped.

We served the bread alongside roasted chicken (which was brined and smothered in parsley and yucatan spice rub) and roasted for a long time at a high temperature with shallots, carrots, and beets. It was delicious and soaked up the juice perfectly.

Yucatan Empanadas

My favorite Christmas present this year was a set of empanada makers from D's sister. I've been thinking about making empanadas since before Thanksgiving. Frozen ground turkey from an organic bird was just waiting in the freezer to get doctored up into some spicy turkey empanadas. I'd never made them before, so I kept putting it off, mostly because I am not usually graceful enough with dough. But I threw a bag of the frozen turkey meat in our cooler for the few days we were staying at our friends' country house in PA between Christmas and New Year. Just before we left, D's sister dropped off some presents, and the empanada makers were among them. I researched some recipes, packed together the ingredients, and off we went.

This is the recipe for the dough, and followed by a website that gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to make empanadas.

Cornmeal Whole Wheat Crust

1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 minus 2 tbsp cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp almonds
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
6 whole coriander seeds
1/2 cup cold water (or more as necessary)
1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine flours, cornmeal, baking powder, seasonings and salt in a blender or food processor; pulse just til combined.

Add water, butter, and egg; pulse just til combined, adding additional water if needed. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface; knead gently 4 to 5 times. Place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°. Spray two large cookie sheets with cooking spray.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an approximately 6" circle on a lightly floured surface. Spoon 1/4 cup of filling into center of each circle.

This is what I did for the filling, but you could do so many things with empanadas....

1 lb ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
½ cup currants
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tbsp Yucatan spice mix
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt

Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until the crust is browned.

Step-by-step instructions:

And this is how we served it:

Choux Pastry Heart

One of my favorite bands is one I rarely ever listen to anymore. They exist in a particular time for me, but every once in a while, I remember a lyric or a particular melody that conjures up all kinds of complicated memories. The Cocteau Twins had a song, perhaps it was on Four Calendar Cafe, which came out in 1993, that contains "choux pastry heart" in the lyrics. I remember it, but I can't find it anywhere. Anyway, I have a favorite recipe for Mushroom Gougere that uses a choux pastry dough with gruyere cheese. It's delicious, but now I can only hum Corinne Bailey Rae's Choux Pastry Heart when I make it; the Cocteau Twins lyrics are lost to me.

My friends asked me to make a gougere for brunch over the holidays. I hadn't made it for a while, but it always gets rave reviews, so I was game.

Here's how to make it, somewhat adapted from the Vegetarian Gourmet by Roz Denny (1995):

Mushroom Gougere

Choux Pastry Crust

1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter
3/4 cup cold water
3 beaten eggs
3/4 cup diced Gruyere cheese (you can substitute any kind of Swiss)


1 small onion, sliced
1 carrot, coarsely grated
8 oz crimini mushrooms (or any kind of mushroom)
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp curry paste (mild or hot, according to your taste)
2 tbsp flour
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a round 9 inch glass pan.

Sift the flour and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper. In a large saucepan, heat butter and water until the butter just melts. Do not let the water boil. Fold the paper and shoot the flour into the pan all at once. With a wooden spoon, beat the mixture rapidly until the lumps become smooth and the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan. Cool for 10 minutes. Beat the eggs gradually into the mixture until you have a soft, but still quite stiff, dropping consistency. You may not need all the egg. Stir in the cheese, then spoon the mixture round the sides of the greased pan.

To make the filling, saute the onion, carrot, and mushroom in butter (or olive oil) until the onion is carmelized. Stir in the curry paste, then the flour. Gradually stir in the milk and heat until thickened. Mix the parsley, season well, then pour into the center of the choux pastry. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the dough has risen, but before it turns golden brown, add the flaked almonds. Continue to bake until the pastry is golden brown, and the mixture inside is somewhat stiff. Serve warm.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

There are so many different holidays this time of year.  It was just Christmas, and Chaunnakah, and Kwaanza, and now it's Boxing Day!  We were at our friends' country house and we all hosted ten friends for brunch.  After feasting and drinking champagne for a few hours, I had to lie down with the cat and take a nap.  Later that evening, we were here with just four of us, and one of our friends prepared leftover plates with parsnip puree, smoked salmon pasta salad, and a green salad on the side.  He served up sandwiches with sliced duck on french bread with mustard.  After dinner, I rehabilitated the pizelle batter and made these for dessert that we served with jasmine tea.

Italian Pizzelles

3 eggs
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. bourbon vanilla, or a very good vanilla, extract
1/2 c. butter
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. sugar

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will be stiff, but supple enough to be dropped by spoon. Batter can be refrigerated to be used at a later time. Makes 30 pizzelles.

My mother gave me a pizzelle iron a few years ago, so that's what I used. I dropped a heaping teaspoon of the batter onto the greased iron, and let cook until they steamed. I removed them with a knife. They weren't as neat as they could be; it takes practice.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I never really ate duck breast before. Last year, D. made duck confit for my birthday, but I don't really remember what it tasted like and besides, it was just duck legs. This year, our friends suggested that we have duck for Christmas dinner at their country house in Pennsylvania. They said they would prepare duck breasts for the guests, there were to be about a dozen of us. D. volunteered to get the duck from the butcher he knows, so that meant that they couldn't start the duck until we got to the country house. We were lazy that morning, and didn't really get on the road until the afternoon. When we arrived at the house at dusk, I had to deal with getting the cat all set up, and D. brought in the cooler. He ended up preparing the duck himself, though our friend had made a currant sauce to go along with it. I wouldn't know how to do it if you left me alone with a duck breast, but from what I recall, D. cut checkers into the fat of the duck breast, though not so far in that the meat itself was punctured. He seasoned them with salt and pepper, and let them cook in olive oil on the stove in a cast iron pan until the skin was crispy and brown. 

Then he popped them in the oven and cooked until they were medium-rare. He sliced the breasts and arranged them a on plate in the center of the table, and everyone passed around sides of the currant sauce, string beans, parsnip puree, and brussel sprout gratin. It was a delicious meal. The duck breast slices were wonderful on french bread with mustard and cheese the next day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I know that sounds pretty corny, but I'm actually watching It's a Wonderful Life for the first time in my life.  I can't believe I never saw this before. So complicated and compelling...I always thought it was going to be some simple sentimental movie. What a time.

The calmest night of the year turned into a task-filled evening: I was able to come home early from work but I had to pick up laundry, pack, wrap some presents, and make some things before the morning. I made pureed parsnips, batter for pizzelles, and cinnamon rolls for the morning. I didn't trust myself with the dough, so I enlisted D for some help. When the dough wouldn't rise, we turned on the oven and sat the bowl on top. The dough started to rise almost immediately.

My mother finally shared the recipe for cinnamon rolls that she's been making for the past few years on Christmas morning. I'm trying it for myself this year.


1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
1 Tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. salt
3 eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1 t. light corn syrup
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
2 T half and half

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Add the butter and stir until melted, let cool until lukewarm.

In large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk mixture. Add the sugar, 3 cups of flour, salt and eggs. stir well to combine. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or saran wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10x14" rectangle. Lightly brush the far edge with water. Brush the dough with melted butter. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and the brown sugar and sprinkle over the rectangle. Then sprinkle the raisins over the dough. Roll up the dough into a log and seal the seam.

Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, place the pieces in two greased cake pans or whatever you have to hold all the pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

The next morning preheat oven to 375 degrees Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Combine corn syrup with the vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk in the powdered sugar and enough cream to make a thick glaze, set aside. When rolls are done let cool a bit then drizzle the glaze over the rolls and serve warm.

You really don't have to put in the corn syrup for the glaze if you don't have it. and you can also sprinkle on chopped nuts with the raisins if you like. They freeze well. It sounds like a lot to do, but it is really easy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Best of the Leftovers

Tuesdays were never meant to be this easy. D and I came home a bit late and a bit short on planning tonite. I thought I'd make turkey legs with mushroom masala sauce, but D said he was sick of turkey. We've eaten it every day since Thursday. That's five straight days: turkey slices, turkey soup, turkey slices, turkey soup (again), turkey stuffed in delicata squash boats . . . I knew I was pushing the limit. So I asked him to defrost the sirloin I have in the freezer, and to pick up some lettuce and mushrooms so that I could make a beef and ginger stir fry and a salad. But when I got home, he said he had just gotten home and didn't have a chance to do it. Well, I said, I kinda wanted to order Atomic Wings anyway, and I started getting together some money to give him so he could pick them up on the way back from the gym.

But then I thought: damn, I have so much food in this fridge right now why can't I just make doesn't even have to have turkey in it! So I started taking out the cubed butternut squash that I had from the other night, the chopped kale, the ginger, an onion, some quinoa; I figured I'd make a stir fry. But then I thought: why not add some ground turkey that I haven't yet stuck in the freezer. Add some leftover ricotta cheese in there to make it all mushy. Maybe he won't even notice. And I could bake it in some of the phyllo dough that we used the other night.

I swear, this must be the best leftover turkey recipe I've ever dreamt up. I cooked it while I was listening to this awesome online service called Pandora radio (www., thanks so much to Ariel for the tip!) which takes a musician who you like, and collects all of the music that is like that music that you like, as rated by other pandora service users, and you just listen to it as though it is a radio station. You get to say whether or not you like the songs you hear, and pandora promises that it will not play songs like that one again. Anyway, I've been playing my Matt Nathanson station since this afternoon at work and I love it. What a great way to discover new music, seeing as how there is not a single consistently decent radio station that plays music that I like here in NYC.

I talked to an old friend while I was doing the dishes, and poured a glass of new Brooklyn Oeneology Motley Cru (very interesting...made by a local vintner so small they don't even have a website! I get my B.O. wines from LeNell's Wine & Likker ( Then I cooked up this thing:

Turkey Phyllo Torte

1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 cup turkey
2-3 cups shredded kale
1 cup cubed butternut squash (uncooked)
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tbsp small black currants
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 pkg (8 oz) phyllo dough
olive oil

Saute the onion until it becomes a golden brown and gives off a heady scent. Add the diced ginger and garlic and saute until tender. Add the ground turkey, brown for a bit, and then add in the butternut squash, kale, and mushrooms. Add some water or broth as needed to keep the mixture moist. Toss in a handful of currants. Then season with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and paprika. Saute until everything is cooked through and the butternut squash is a bit mushy, but not too mushy. Take off the heat and set aside until it is no longer too hot to work with. Line a springform pan (or a pie pan, but it won't turn out as a torte). Layer phyllo dough sheets, about five atop one another arranged to cover the pan, spraying some olive oil in between each layer.

Scoop in half of your turkey/kale/squash mixture and spread at the bottom generously but evenly. Dollop your ricotta cheese atop that layer, and repeat with another layer of turkey/kale/squash. Pat evenly, and layer another five phyllo dough sheets evenly over the filling.

Pop it in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes, then 400 for 15 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and some nuts (pistacchios). But if we were to make this recipe again (which seems likely) we'd sprinkle a handful of pistaccio nuts in the middle of the torte.

What a perfect meal.

The leftovers make a great lunch for the next day. I packed ours with a few olives, a slice of mango, and a handful of pecans. If you heat everything up together, it's delicious.