When Harry Met Sally…or waiter, there’s too much pepper in my paprikash


When Harry Met Sally (1989) is what I watch every New Year’s Eve, without fail.  And apparently, I’m not alone because when searching for the best films to watch as the ball drops, it’s on many top ten lists.  Written by the brilliant late Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, this movie transcends the mere category of “rom-com” by offering us sharp insights about the nature of relationships between men and women–posing the question “Can men and women ever just be friends?” On the surface the film’s narrative plays out like a traditional romantic comedy, chronicling the relationship between the main characters Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) over the course of twelve years.  Yet, its the perceptive, quick-witted exchanges between the characters that is reminiscent of (Rina would say pay homage to) another iconic film set in Manhattan–Woody Allen’s comic masterpiece Annie Hall (1977)–from the use of American standards (e.g. the Gershwins, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington) on the soundtrack, to Harry’s style of self-deprecating humor.

As with Alvy and Annie, the dynamics between Harry and Sally is a case of opposites attract, though their relationship develops over friendship rather than romance, which allows the characters to not only get to appreciate each other’s idiosyncrasies, but to explore what they ultimately want out of their relationship…before sex enters the picture that is.  Sally, for example, has already been schooled by Harry about his “dark side” (he always reads the last page of a new book so he’ll know the ending in case he dies before he can finish it).  Harry is well acquainted with Sally’s “high maintenance” tendencies.

Since everything “on the side” is very big with Sally, I’ve come up with a couple of desserts that would satisfy even her particular demands.  The first is my Coconut Pee-Can Pie Pop Tarts served with a rich chocolate dipping sauce on the side–a mash-up of Harry’s playful enunciation of “pee-can pie” (from the Met Egyptian hall scene) and their coconut wedding cake with chocolate sauce on the side.  To make the pop tarts, I simply precook the coconut pecan pie filling on the stove, then chill it so that it becomes a thick caramelly paste-like consistency, perfect for spooning onto a pastry base.

Pate Brisee Dough (adapted from the Flour cookbook)

  • 1 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 8 oz. Unsalted Butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces and chilled
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 3 Tbsp. Whole Milk
  • 1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract (optional)

Combine the dry ingredients in food processor, pulsing a few times blend.  Add the butter pieces and pulse at 2-3 second intervals until the butter has been broken down into the size of popcorn kernels.  Whisk together the wet ingredients then add it to the dry mixture.  Continue pulsing until dough comes together in large clumps, then dump the entire mass onto a sheet of plastic wrap and shape it into a flat disk by folding the plastic wrap up over the dough and pushing down on it with the palm of your hands.  Chill the dough for at least an hour before using.  To form the pop tarts, cut the dough in half and roll it out to 1/8″ thick rectangle.  Cut the dough into 2″x 3″ pieces.

Coconut Pecan Pie Filling

  • 4 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 2 Eggs (Large)
  • 1/3 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Tbsp. Bourbon or Coconut Rum
  • 1 cup Chopped Pecans, toasted
  • 1/2 cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

Whisk together the first 8 ingredients until smooth, then transfer into a heavy bottomed saucepan.  On medium low heat gently whisk until the mixture begins to simmer and thicken.  Continue cooking for about another minute, then remove from the heat and stir in the pecans and coconut.  Transfer the filling into a shallow bowl and chill for about a hour or until very thick.

Rich Chocolate Sauce

  • 2 cups Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Espresso Powder
  • pinch of Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 1/3 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa
  • 4 oz. Semi or Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

Bring the cream and brown sugar to a simmer in a saucepan, then whisk in the corn syrup, espresso powder, salt and cocoa until smooth.  Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl, then strain the hot mixture over the chocolate.  Gently whisk the chocolate mixture until all the chocolate is melted.  Whisk in the butter until smooth and shiny.

For the second variation on this theme of “dippable” pie, I’ve made Apple Pie “Fries” served with a bourbon salted caramel sauce and whipped cream on the side.  Here, instead of filling and forming individual pockets, I roll out the pate brisee dough into a thin sheet, cut the sheet in half lengthwise, then spread a layer of caramel apple butter* (a homemade gift from my assistant) on one half, leaving a 1/4″ border.  *You can always just mix a little caramel sauce with some store-bought jarred apple butter.  Brush the border with a little eggwash or cream, then sandwich the other half sheet of dough on top, sealing the two sheets together at the seams.  Place the whole thing onto a lined sheet pan and brush the surface with eggwash or cream and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, then pop it into the freezer for about 15 mins. to firm up.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the chilled dough into 1/2″ strips.  Arrange the strips so that there’s about 1/2″ gap in between each one.  Bake the “fries” at 400°F for about 13-15 mins. or until golden brown.  Cool slightly, then dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Bourbon Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp. LIght Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Heavy Cream
  • 1/4 Vanilla Bean, scraped or 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
  • 3 Tbsp. Bourbon

Combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, and lemon juice (or vinegar) in a heavy bottomed saucepan, cover with a lid and bring to a boil on medium heat.  After a couple of minutes, remove the lid and continue cooking the sugar syrup until it becomes a medium dark amber.  Turn off the heat and carefully whisk in the heavy cream, vanilla and salt.  Return to the heat and whisk for a couple of more minutes until the mixture comes to boil and all the caramelized sugar is fully incorporated into the cream. Remove from the heat and whisk in the bourbon.  Transfer the caramel sauce into a glass mason jar or heat proof container.

More memorable than “Sally’s ordering” scene, is the infamous “fake orgasm deli scene” which by now has achieved cinematic cult status, both for its over the top humor and its authenticity.

In honor Meg Ryan’s unforgettable performance, I give you the I’ll Have What She’s Having Sandwich–pastrami and roast turkey (because she’s having turkey and he’s having pastrami) topped with  crisp applewood-smoked bacon and layered with Swiss gruyere cheese, between two slices of onion rye bread grilled in browned butter…of course served with Russian dressing and coleslaw on the side.

I'll Have What She's Having
I’ll Have What She’s Having

And finally to ring in the New Year, we must have a sparkling cocktail–this one I’m calling New Year’s Eve Kiss…because I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

 

New Year’s Eve Kiss

  • 1 oz. Premium Vodka (Hangar One or Grey Goose)
  • .75 oz St. Germain Liqueur
  • .5 oz. Pama Pomegranate Liqueur
  • .5 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters
  • 3 oz. Chilled Champagne or Sparkling Wine
  • Fresh Raspberry for garnish

Place the vodka, liqueurs, lemon juice and bitters in a cocktail shaker with 3-4 ice cubes.  Shake to blend, then strain into a chilled champagne flute.  Top with chilled bubbly and garnish with a fresh raspberry.

New Year's Eve Kiss
New Year’s Eve Kiss

Happy New Year!!

Finger in the Eggnog–Our Christmas favorites

Laura’s Favorite:  Take a sip of wassail and Scrooge yourself

There always is a need for an anti-hero, otherwise you wouldn’t recognize the good people in this world.  Christmas is not Christmas without Scrooge.  He just happens to embody the good and the bad, just like me. For this reason, I always have to watch Scrooged during the holidays.  It puts me in the festive spirit. Bill Murray portrays the best version of Scrooge. His quips are flawless and you fall in love with him just like Karen Allen who also happens to be the love interest of Indiana Jones in my favorite of the series (Raiders of the Lost Ark, not that horrible skull crystal one).  The best part is the ending as he relays a speech about love and the spirit of Christmas.  It always gets me going “Niagara Falls.”

For my holiday treat, I chose wassail. I grew up in a historic small town. Every Christmas, my mom and I would go on a tour to look at the old Victorian houses that were decorated inside and out.  Certain houses had snacks for their guests, and I always looked forward to getting steaming hot wassail in a fancy teacup. Now I believe traditional wassail has eggs and alcohol in it, but kids showed up for these events so I doubt there were any of those things in it. Therefore, I tweaked a traditional recipe to make it more kid-friendly and closer to what I think they used during my childhood.

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  • 4 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 cup of Orange Juice
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Pinch of ginger
  1. Combine all ingredients into a pot.
  2. Bring to simmer over medium low heat. Reduce heat and continue simmering for 45 min.
  3. Ladle into your favorite teacup and enjoy.

Rina’s Favorite: Martinis and Miracles

As Mimi has said in the While You Were Sleeping post, I’ve been in the Christmas spirit watching as many holiday movies and tv shows as I can before the month ends. I’m like this every year, so you can imagine how hard it is for me to pick just one movie as my absolute favorite. If I really had to choose, the one that I can never get tired of is Miracle on 34th Street (1947). First off, Edmund Gwenn plays the best Santa of all Christmas films, and secondly it has a smart script masterfully performed by Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood. The film’s reference to Macy’s and Gimbels department stores rivalry takes me back to my own childhood, staring in wonderment at all the holiday window displays and having a conversation with the Talking Christmas Tree at the Gimbel’s department store in downtown Pittsburgh.

I don’t really have a family favorite holiday recipe to share as our Christmases mainly consisted of staying up all night on Christmas Eve, eating Archway cookies and Whitman’s Chocolates. So I decided to try out a recipe inspired from one of my favorite scenes in the movie when everyone is having dinner at Doris (O’Hara) and Suzie (Wood) Walker’s apartment, and Mr. Gailey (John Payne) is wearing a makeshift apron and is actually doing the cooking (how modern!) Here is proof at how majorly attractive he is just holding a glass of milk:

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Anyway, also in this scene, Doris gets a call from Mr. Shellhammer who has just “convinced” his wife, by plying her with martinis, to let Kris Kringle live with them. Because I’ve been working like a dog, I’ve decided that this year I could use a reliably good, strong drink (to go with the cookies and candy) just like Mrs. Shellhammer does to celebrate the holidays!

My Version of the Triple Strength Martini

  • 3 oz Vodka
  • 1.5 oz Dry Vermouth
  • 1-2 Candy Canes
  • Ice cubes

Pour some of the vermouth into a chilled martini glass and swirl it around to coat the inside of the glass, then throw the vermouth out. Place a candy cane or three into a ziplock bag, crush into small pieces with a rolling pin or a pan, and then pour onto a saucer. Place the rim of the martini glass (that you just swirled with vermouth) onto the crushed candy cane pieces and rotate to coat the rim. You may need to wet the rim to keep the pieces in place. Add the vodka, 1 ounce of vermouth, ice and (to be festive) half of a candy cane or a hard candy peppermint into a cocktail shaker. Stir well and pour the drink into the martini glass. And that’s it! Sip it slowly, and gradually  you’ll start singing this song. Happy Holidays!

Triple Strength Martini

 

Mimi’s Favorite:  Smile, there’s an Elf in the kitchen.

Like Laura, when it comes to Christmas movies, I go for the comedies.  And nothing makes me laugh more than Elf (2003).  While there is no denying that this charming tale about a six foot three elf,  who discovers that he’s really a human and sets out to find his “true” family, is the kind of heart-warming fare we come to expect at Christmastime, Elf deftly uses humor to appeal to our humanity.  Will Ferrell’s Buddy engages everyone and everything with such genuine childlike enthusiasm that you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of his situation–such as when he gets his first taste of Manhattan.

In fact, some of the best moments in Elf play upon the juxtaposition of Buddy’s innocent “elf” perspective against that of the often more jaded New Yorker’s.  One of my favorites is the famous department store Santa debacle, which starts off with Buddy excitedly awaiting Santa’s arrival at Gimbel’s and ends with him accusing the “fake” Santa of sitting on a “throne of lies” and smelling not at all like the real Santa, but rather like “beef and cheese.”  Another funny scene is when Buddy goes to work with his father (James Caan) and accidentally gets drunk off of a co-worker’s whiskey which he mistakenly takes for syrup.

So, in the spirit of playful juxtaposition (and also because I have a somewhat twisted sense of humor), I give you my culinary take on Elf:

The Plush Lush Elf

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  • 1 oz. Premium Vodka
  • 2 oz. White Chocolate Creme*
  • 1 oz. Peppermint Schnapps
  • 1/2 oz. Creme de Cacao
  • Candy Cane for Garnish

Pour all the liquor into a shaker with 2-3 ice cubes.  Shake and strain into a martini glass, garnish with a candy cane.  *For the white chocolate creme, bring to a simmer 1-1/2 cups half and half with 1/2 vanilla bean scraped.  Pour the hot liquid over 5 oz. chopped premium white chocolate; let the hot liquid melt the white chocolate for a few minutes before whisking smooth.  Stir in 3 oz. vodka.  Transfer the mixture into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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After a few of these cocktails…

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“Napping” by the Christmas Log

Of course, nothing is better for a hangover than some munchies…

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Like some (Pastry) Thrones of Cheesy Beef…

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The filling is essentially a variation on the one I made for the beef and mushroom pot pie in the previous Love Actually post, substituting ground beef for steak and adding a little heavy cream and shredded Swiss Gruyere cheese to finish.  Cream Cheese Dough will work fine although I did use a Pate Brisee dough this time.  Follow the same basic steps as for mini chicken pot pies, omitting the top pastry.

And finally, because I love this duet…

Merry Christmas!

movie chicks good

 

 

 

 

Small Dice Challenge: Holiday Cookies

If you are waiting in anticipation of my rotisserie chicken, part 2, then you will have to wait a little longer, because I am tired of eating poultry at the moment.  Instead, I wanted to focus on the upcoming holidays.  I always make cookies at this time to give to my husband’s relatives and our neighbors. They’re the only ones left in my life that might trust my cooking abilities.  Plus, I try not to keep sweets in the house, and I wanted to try out some new ideas.

Sometimes, I crave my mom’s chocolate chip cookies.  Well, I say “my mom’s” but really it’s Nestlé Tollhouse’s recipe.  Either way, it’s an easy recipe. Though if you have read my previous posts on this blog, you know I do not like to follow recipes.  I have a way around this, however, which is that I memorized the recipe and follow it with a grain of salt or whatever the saying is.  In the past, no matter what I have tried, the cookies still don’t come out as chewy as I would like.  I read about using cornstarch, a lower temperature, taking them out early, breaking them up after rolling them in a ball, using less flour, melting the butter, etc.  I decided to try all of these methods at once to up my chances of having chewier cookies.  I followed the recipe as I had remembered it, but this time I melted my butter first. I also wanted more Christmasy-type cookies and decided to make them mint chocolate.  I substituted about a 1/4 of unsweetened cocoa for some of the flour.  I say 1/4, but I don’t ever measure accurately, so don’t hold me to that number.  I used peppermint extract instead of the vanilla too.  I mixed everything together, and the batter looked promising which is always a good sign.

Then I set the oven to, wait for it, 325º.  It took everything in me to not use my usual 350º but I persevered.  I rolled the batter into little balls and tore them apart then put them back together and put them on the cookie sheet.

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They look like turds.

I kept them in the oven for about 8 minutes and took them out to check how they were — they were still soft.  I decided to press them down a little bit to see if that would help and put them back in the oven.  After a few minutes, I took them out to rest.  In the end, they came out perfectly.  They were chocolatey, minty and chewy!

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Since not everybody likes mint chocolate (Rina, I’m calling you out), I looked through my cabinets to see if there was anything interesting I could make. I found shredded coconut and remembered that I still had leftover pecans in the freezer, so I decided to use those as well to make “Coco-nutties.” Get it?!  I still used the same recipe I always do, but to add more coconut flavor, I used coconut oil instead of butter which I also melted.  I wanted to use the rest of it because there was only a little bit left.  However when I poured it in, I realized it might have been too much.

I really use measurements as a guideline, more than a rule anyways.  This allows you to have different cookies every time you bake. It makes life more interesting.  Moving on…I had to make the pecans into small pieces, I’ve seen chefs do it professionally with the butt of the knife, but I’m not a chef, so I used my fingers to break them.  I had flashbacks of shucking pecans on my family’s farm in Texas.

IMG_20151217_163332Then I threw the pecan pieces into the batter along with the shredded coconut and mixed everything.

IMG_20151217_163356I repeated the same steps as I did with the Chocolatey Minty Chewies (by the way, that’s what I named them). This time the cookies came out pretty flat.  I knew I used too much coconut oil, but at least they were still chewy.

 

I am far from being done with the cookie-making though. My husband was looking through my cookie tupperware and was appalled that I didn’t have any flavors he liked. So, I told him I would make snickerdoodles since those are one of his favorite kind of cookies. I realized I had only a tiny bit of flour left, definitely not enough to follow my recipe.  I did, however, have white cake mix.  I was sure it would work. I poured it into a bowl and just added eggs, butter, and a secret ingredient that I will reveal to you now….

I had some brandy leftover from the time I made a cocktail for our Halloween post.  I’ve been using it for eggnog, but now I used it for my Schnockerdoodles. That isn’t a typo. That’s what I’m calling it. While mixing it all together, my mixer started getting wobbly. It was probably drunk from the brandy, but I’m pretty sure it is broken. Oh well, at least it was able to do one last job. I’ll probably still use the one side that works. After that was sorted out, I started rolling little balls and dipping them into sugar and cinnamon. I tried breaking them apart, but they didn’t stick as well with stuff on them, so I just kept them in ball form.

IMG_20151217_163612Finally, I baked the cookies and they came out fluffy and were approved by my husband, a pastry cook.  Personally, for me, I think they had too much vanilla flavor, but to each his own.

The INfamous (means they're more than famous) trio
The INfamous (means they’re more than famous) trio

While You Were Sleeping…I was cooking my ass off you lazy bastard

White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street have been playing as a double feature for the last couple of weeks on the Sundance Channel, so I tried to get into the classic holiday movie spirit (like Rina) and settled in for some “inspirational” viewing.  Four hours later, I was less than inspired to come up with anything for this week’s post.  I mean the only food mentioned in White Christmas was liverwurst sandwiches and buttermilk–that’s what Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) offered up as a romantic midnight snack to Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney).  Blech!  And the only thing that “stuck” in my mind after watching Miracle on 34th Street was little Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) demonstrating her bubblegum blowing skills to Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn)–what kind of parent lets their kid chew sugary bubblegum at bedtime?!?

No, the movie that got me thinking of food was the delightful romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping (1995).

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.26.54 PMSet in Chicago, it’s the story of a lonely lovelorn transit booth operator Lucy (Sandra Bullock) who, on Christmas Day, unexpectedly finds herself rescuing the object of affection, a handsome attorney named Peter (Peter Gallagher) who is mugged on the subway platform and pushed onto the tracks by a couple of thugs.  As she hovers anxiously around the comatose Peter, Lucy makes a comment about marrying him that is misinterpreted by a sympathetic nurse, who in turn later introduces her as Peter’s fiance to his family.  Overwhelmed by their flood of gratitude for saving his life and immediately drawn in by their welcoming embrace, Lucy allows herself to live the fantasy of being part of the Callaghan family.  Who can blame her?  While they initially accept her because they think she is Peter’s fiance, they offer her their love because they see what a wonderful person Lucy truly is, something ironically the self-absorbed and now comatose Peter never noticed.

Peter’s younger brother Jack, on the other hand, is not blind to Lucy’s finer qualities and finds himself “leaning” towards her, despite his earlier suspicions about her status as his brother’s fiance.  Likewise, Lucy realizes that she’s falling for Jack, who is not some “perfect vision” behind glass but a human being and true gentleman who walks her home in the snow and wants to hear her story.

And despite her shlumpy clothes and unkempt hair, Jack sees Lucy’s beauty and potential.  So, in the spirit of this, I present my Pear Fritter–a thing of beauty made from the seemingly throwaway scraps of donut dough (leftover from Eggnog Malasadas in last week’s post).  Instead of reforming the scraps of dough left after having cut out the rounds to roll out again (which often changes the texture of the dough, making it tough), just fold in some pieces of diced pear, proof and fry the dough to golden brown.  To finish, I dipped the fritters in maple bourbon glaze.  I should point out that when Jack finally sits down with his dad to tell him he doesn’t want to be in the family business (after his conversation with Lucy), he softens the blow with a box of donuts!

Incidentally, speaking of pears…we can’t forget the memorable exchange between Peter and his ex-girlfriend, the gloriously bitchy silicon-enhanced Ashley Bartlett Bacon (Ally Walker).  Her name alone was enough to inspire the creation of Ashley’s Bartlett (Pear) Bacon Pizza!  It’s a thin-crust pizza because a woman like Ashley would never dig into a Chicago-style deep-dish (too many carbs).

Ashley’s Bartlett (Pear) Bacon Pizza

1/2 recipe Pizza Dough

1 Bartlett Pear (or D’Anjou), cored and sliced

4 Thick-Cut Smoked Bacon, cooked, cut into 1″ pieces

1/2 Small Yellow Onion, thinly sliced

4 oz. Crumbled Aged Blue Cheese

As for the object of Ashley’s ire, whom she calls a “one-balled bastard,” we thought a single meatball slider would be the perfect way to honor Peter and his solo testicle.

One (Meat) Balled Bastard Slider

1 lb. Ground Turkey or Beef

1 Small Onion, chopped and sauteed

1 Garlic Clove, finely minced

1/2 cup Bread Crumbs

4-5 dashes Hot Sauce

1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt

1/2 tsp. Ground Black Pepper

1 tsp. Chopped Fresh Thyme

1 tsp. Chopped Fresh Sage

2 tsp. Chopped Fresh Parsley

1/2 tsp. Dried Oregano

1/3 cup Dry Red Wine (reserve half for de-glazing skillet)

2 cups Marinara Sauce (about 1 jar)

Grated Parmesan Cheese

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands until just combined.  Using a 1 oz. scooper, portion out the meatballs, then roll them in between your hands to finish forming into round balls.  Brown the meatballs on all sides in a heavy skillet in olive oil on medium heat.  Deglaze the skillet with the reserved red wine, then add the marinara sauce.  Simmer on low for 5 mins. to finish cooking the meatballs.

Rosemary Garlic Focaccia Rolls

Yield: 12

1/2 tsp. Dry Active Yeast

1/4 cup Warm Water

1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour

Dissolve yeast in the warm water and stir in the flour.  Cover and set it aside to proof for about 30 mins.

1/2 tsp. Dry  Active Yeast

1/2 cup Warm Water

2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Dissolve yeast in the warm water, then whisk in the olive oil.  Combine mixture with the proofed starter.

1-1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour

1/3 cup Bread Flour

1 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt

1 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Rosemary

1 Garlic Clove, finely minced

In a food processor fitted with a dough blade, combine the dry ingredients by pulsing a few times.  With the machine running, slowly pour in the wet ingredients.  Pulse at 10 second intervals until dough comes together and is smooth and elastic.  Turn the dough out into a greased bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and proof in a warm place until doubled in size.  Divide the dough into 12 pieces and form into balls.  Place the dough balls on an olive-oiled sheet pan, spray or brush with more olive oil and allow to double in size.  Bake at 375°F for about 18-20 mins. until nicely golden.

To assemble, split the rosemary garlic focaccia roll, then tuck in a meatball, spoon a little sauce onto the meatball and finish with a sprinkling of grated parmesan.

One (Meat) Balled Bastard Slider

And finally, to toast the holidays, I’ve created a liqueur that is sure to be more palatable and enjoyable than Grandma Elsie’s eggnog, which Lucy is warned to “sip slowly.”  Whether added to coffee or simply served over ice, my Gingerbread Creme is guaranteed to give you that warm fuzzy feeling.

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Gingerbread Creme

Yield:  about 2 quarts

2 cups Heavy Cream

2 tsp. Ground Ginger

1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon

1/2 tsp. Ground Cloves

1/2 tsp. Ground Allspice

1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

1/4 tsp. Ground Cardamom

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scrape

2 strips Orange Peel

pinch of salt

2/3 cup Premium Vodka

1/3 cup Light Rum

2 Tbsp. Orange Liqueur

8 oz. Guinness Stout, reduced to 2 oz.

1 Tbsp. Molasses

1  can Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 oz.)

Bring the cream to a simmer, then whisk in all the spices, vanilla, orange peel, and salt to combine.  Strain the liquid into a large pitcher, then whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Chill the liqueur before bottling.

 

Small Dice Challenge: Rotisserie Chicken, Part 1

My husband purchased a toaster oven recently, because our microwave caught on fire.  It involved a sponge and me pushing the cook button instead of the timer.  Microwaves really aren’t good for you anyways.  So, apparently, my husband liked that the oven had a lot of special features on it.  Of course, I don’t know what is so special about a toaster that takes the turning of three knobs to make a piece of toast (by the way, my toaster died recently, too).  An interesting feature though that I wanted to try was the rotisserie.  The book had directions to cook a 3-4 lbs. chicken, but I figured it could handle the 4.6 lbs. bird I bought.  I had never cooked a whole chicken before, but I imagined it was no different than a turkey.

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First, I looked for the bag of giblets inside.  However, they seemed to be still attached to the chicken.  I thought I would get them in a nice little package like what I found in my turkey, but chickens aren’t known for their charity.  I tried pulling what looked like a liver off, but it smushed in my hand.  I guess it had to stay there.  I proceeded to season the inside with salt, throwing some olive oil and other spices over the top.

"Draw me like one of your french girls."
“Draw me like one of your french girls.”

Then, I fastened the spit onto it and put it in the rotisserie.  I turned the three knobs to broil, rotisserie, and on.  It started to turn.  I began hearing sizzling sounds and smoke started coming out of the oven.  My bird was TOO big and its breast was hitting the top.  Son of a ….

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I took it out, but still needing dinner I put it into a glass baking pan, grabbed the wine, and covered the bottom of the pan with it.  Wine really makes all food taste better.  I’m pretty sure you can cook it with anything.  I added celery to it, thinking the extra water would keep the chicken moist.  I also re-seasoned it, since I had to wrestle to get the bird off of the spit and some spices might have come off when it was rubbing on the top of the toaster oven.

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Finally, I put the chicken into the oven at my normal setting.  It actually took a couple of hours to cook.  I covered it for an hour, then uncovered it until it looked good.  The bird came out looking amazing.  The skin was crispy, and the inside was moist.

Carcass
Carcass

My daughter enjoyed it.  She said, “Mmmm, this chicken is so good, if it fell on the floor, I would still eat it.” See! Wine makes everything better.  I ended up making chicken salad the next day and it was not dry even when it was cold.

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I still wanted to make a rotisserie chicken though.  This time I bought a 3.97 lbs. bird, which was within the range stated in the instructions.  I went through the whole process again.  This time the wings got caught up in the little heating thingy.

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Even in their afterlife, chickens are jerks.  Maybe the machine is meant for pigeons.  To be continued…

Love Actually…isn’t everyone’s taste, but certainly more appealing when food’s involved

This is one of those rare occasions when majority rules and we pick a movie that isn’t everybody’s favorite (eh hem, Rina).  Yes, we admit it’s kinda corny and flawed–not all the stories work and some are just plain depressing (ugh, we’re referring to the thwarted hook up scene between Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro)– but Love Actually is one of those holiday movies that invariably makes us smile…so Laura and I largely ignored Rina’s protestations and general bah humbug attitude.  As anyone familiar with the movie’s premise knows, it’s a hodgepodge of interconnected stories centered on the theme of love–misguided love (lust), unrequited love, first love, unexpected love, familial love–set against the backdrop of Christmas, that magical time of year when all kinds of surprising things can happen.

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One of our favorite stories centers on a novelist Jamie (played by the always charming Colin Firth), who escapes to France to work on a book after he discovers his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother and ends up falling for his beautiful young Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz).  Their burgeoning romance is sweet and tentative, made all the more engaging because he doesn’t speak Portuguese and she doesn’t speak English.

Although Aurelia cautions Jamie at one point not to eat too many pastries because he’s getting chubby (contrary to his own claim of having a fast metabolism) I think she’d still indulge him occasionally with something special for the holidays…perhaps something like Eggnog Malasadas (aka Portuguese Donuts)–delightfully airy pillows of fried nutmeg-scented dough, tossed in nutmeg and sugar and filled with a boozy eggnog custard.  These donuts are the perfect marriage of their two cultures.

Malasadas

Yield:  about 2 dozen filled donuts

1-1/3 cups Whole Milk, warmed

1 package or 2 1/4 tsp. Dry Active Yeast

4 Tbsp. Butter, melted

1/2 cup Sugar

2 Large Eggs

1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

4 cups All-Purpose Flour

2 tsp. Salt

3/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

*sugar and nutmeg for coating

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk, then whisk to combine; allow to stand for 5 mins.  Whisk in the melted butter, sugar and vanilla.  Whisk together the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

In a mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade, mix together the wet ingredients with about half of the flour until incorporated. Then, mix in the remaining flour until you’ve got a smooth, elastic dough.  *If using a food processor, pulse the dough at 5 second intervals.  If you have neither a stand mixer or food processor at your disposal, don’t worry.  You can mix the dough by hand.  In a large mixing bowl, just stir together the wet ingredients with about half of the dry until fully incorporated, then mix in the remaining flour until you have a manageable dough.  Finish the dough by kneading it on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and elastic.  Turn the dough out into a large greased bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size).  Spray the surface of the dough with a little non-stick cooking spray, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm, draft-free space until double in bulk (about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs.)  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, cut dough out with 2″ round cutter.  Transfer the dough rounds onto a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan and allow them to proof to double their size.

Heat the frying oil to 360F and carefully lower three pieces of dough into the oil at a time.  Fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain donuts on a wire rack.  While the donuts are still warm, toss them in sugar mixed with a little nutmeg.  Cool them to room temperature before filling with eggnog custard.

 

Eggnog Custard

1-1/4 cups Whole Milk

1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped

1/2 cup Sugar

1/4 cup Cornstarch

1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt

4 Large Egg Yolks

1 Tbsp. Butter, room temperature

2 Tbsp. Brandy

2 Tbsp. Dark Rum

1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil; discard the pod.  Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks until smooth, then gradually whisk in about half of the hot milk to “temper” the egg mixture.  Whisk the tempered egg mixture into the remaining milk and return the saucepan to medium low heat.  Whisk continuously for about 3 mins., until the mixture comes to a boil.  Strain the custard into a heat proof bowl, then whisk in the remaining ingredients.  Press the film of plastic onto the surface and allow the custard to completely cool,  before putting it in the refrigerator.  Chill the custard for about 30 mins. before filling the donuts.  To fill the donuts, create an opening in the side of each donut, then place the custard either into a piping bag with a round tip or in a Ziplop bag with a small hole cut in the corner.

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Another of our favorite stories is the one involving young Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his quest to win the heart of his dream girl Joanna (Olivia Olson).  Cheered on by his well-meaning stepfather Daniel (Liam Neeson), Sam races to the airport at the 11th hour to profess his love for Joanna, dodging a slew of airport security with his acrobatic skills to be rewarded, in the end, with a kiss.

After those countless nights perfecting his drum skills to get Joanna’s attention and willingness to get the “shit kicked out of him” by love Sam deserves a hearty meal.  Something Daniel might whip up for Sam is a rib-sticking Steak and Vegetable Pot Pie with Guinness (Liam is Irish after all).  This is a very easy to make dish that is sure to please anyone with a generous appetite on a cold winter’s night!

Steak and Vegetable Pot Pie with Guinness

Yields: 2

1 12oz. Rib Eye Steak, cut into 1″ pieces (or Beef Stew Meat)

Salt/Pepper

1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour

2 cups Button or Crimini Mushrooms, sliced

2 Medium Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

1 Medium Celery, chopped

1 Small Yellow Onion, chopped

2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped

3-4 Sage Leaves, chopped

1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley

1 Tsp. Chopped Thyme Leaves

1 Tsp. Chopped Rosemary

1 cup Beef Broth

1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste

2/3 cup Guinness Ale

1/2 package Ready Made Puff Pastry Dough, thawed

Lightly coat the steak pieces in 3 Tbsp. of the flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Brown the steak in a heavy skillet with some butter and olive oil.  Remove the steak from the skillet and add some more butter and oil, then the vegetables and herbs.  Saute the vegetables until the onions are soft and the mushrooms have released all their moisture.  Toss in the remaining flour, then stir in the beef both and Guinness and bring to a simmer.  Add the tomato paste and the steak.  Continue simmering until the steak is tender.  Cool the filling to room temperature.  Using an inverted bowl as the guide, cut out two rounds of puff pastry, about 1/2″ bigger than the bowl you’re using for the pot pie.  Spoon the cooled filling into two bowls and top with pastry rounds, tucking in the edges.  Brush the surface with a little cream (or beaten egg).  Bake the pot pies at 400°F for about 25-30 mins. or until golden brown and bubbly.

 

And finally, we can’t forget dessert (like I’d ever!).  Inspired by two stories, one of unrequited love (Mark’s for Juliet) and one of love discovered (The Prime Minister’s for Natalie),  I’ve come up with a sweet treat that is the best of both–Banoffee Trifle.  Juliet (Keira Knightly) arrives at Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) doorstep bearing a slice of Banoffee pie in hopes of getting him to help her find a video of her wedding to his best friend.  She’s under the impression that he doesn’t really like her much…until she watches the video and realizes that he’s actually in love with her.  Sadly, no amount of Banoffee pie is going to fix his broken heart.  On the flip side, The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) finds a Christmas card from his crush Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), the only person who ever brought him his favorite chocolate-covered biscuits and tea, that revealed her love for him, which sends him off in search of her on Christmas Eve.  To make the Banoffee Trifle, I simply alternate layers of crushed digestive biscuits with vanilla custard (use the same recipe as the Eggnog Custard, just omit the nutmeg and booze), sliced bananas, and dulce de leche.  To finish, I top it off with sweetened whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a slice of caramelized banana.

 

And because we love the way he shakes his booty, we give you Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump.”