Remembrance

mandarins

 

The events in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday continue to make my throat tight and my heart heavy. I cannot make sense of it and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I’ve long been taught to respond to even the most senselessly awful events with love and compassion. The eternal hope is that the goodness of life will eventually outweigh the horrors. But when something this inexplicably vile happens, it can be hard to find that spark of hopeful light in all the darkness.

Like a number of other bloggers out there, I am going to take a break from the recipes, the holiday frenzy, and the giveaways today to create a little space for all of us who are still fumbling our way back to a new, tender balance.

(If you’re in need of a little boost, I suggest reading or watching President Obama at last night’s prayer vigil. It made me cry and gave me hope that things might finally start to change.) 

 

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Holiday Giving: Cookbooks for Everyone!

stack of books

Cookbooks are one of my favorite things on the planet. I have them in every room of our apartment. I cook from them, read them in bed, give them as gifts, and even use them occasionally as furniture (there’s a stack in our living room that doubles as an end table).

I was told recently by the folks at Eat Your Books (an awesome service that allows you to enter all your cookbooks and the blogs you follow in order to be able to organize and  search them) that nearly 3,000 cookbooks come out every year. I only see a small fraction of those, but I still manage to wade through a whole heck of a lot. These are some of the best that have crossed my path since about this time last year.

Poptails

Poptails is a fun book for all cocktail lovers. Author Erin Nichols (she writes the blog Erin Cooks) has concocted 60 boozy popsicles for cooling down on hot days. Part of what makes this book genius is that she’s found a way to treat the alcohol so that you can get it to freeze well.

Marmalade

I wrote about Marmalade recently, but to recap, it’s a charming little book that features a number of recipes for marmalades (both sweet and savory). Everyone who’s interested in taking their preserves in a decidedly citrus-y direction should have this on their shelf.

Real Snacks

Yogurt covered raisins? Homemade saltines? Corn nuts without the package? You’ll find recipes for them all in Lara Ferroni’s new book, Real Snacks. Many of the recipes have gluten-free options and they all take a more wholesome approach than the classic snacks on which they’re modeled.

Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays

Speaking of gluten-free, there’s no better primer for gluten-free baking for this time of year than Jeanne Sauvage’s book Gluten-Free Baking for the Holidays. My sister had to stop eating gluten earlier this year, so we’ll be baking a lot from this book in just a few days.

An Everlasting Meal

I was so inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal when I first read it last spring and I continue to return to it when I need a little help being creative with the bits and scraps that so often fill my fridge and pantry. It’s a great gift for people who do better with a trace of an idea than a strictly structured recipe.

Pure Vanilla

I am devoted to vanilla. I am in the habit of buying my vanilla beans by the pound and try to tuck those fragrant seeds into nearly everything I jam or bake. Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever celebrates all things vanilla and everytime I pick it up, I find something new in it that I want to make (today I’m anxious to try the Nutty Vanilla Spread on page 132).

Food in Jars

I realize it’s probably in bad taste to put one’s own cookbook in their gift guide. But I can’t help but think it might just make a really nice present for someone who’s been itching to start canning.

Ripe

Cheryl Sternman Rule and Paulette Phlipot’s Ripe gorgeous book that is great for lovers of fruits, vegetables, reliable recipes, and vivid photography. It’s lovely enough to leave on your coffee table, but should really be taken to the kitchen and used. Buy it for anyone who needs a culinary lift.

Whole Grains for a New Generation

Whole Grains for a New Generation by Liana Krisoff (she also wrote Canning for a New Generation) is my current cookbook obsession. I’ve made four dishes from it in the last week and have at least 20 more earmarked for the coming months. It makes whole grains incredibly accessible and has me using things like rye flour and wild rice, which are two ingredients that have rarely entered my kitchen before. And now I adore them both.

The Meat Lover Meatless Celebrations

I did a whole lot of raving about Kim O’Donnel’s new book, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations over on Table Matters last month, but I can’t help but recommend it again here. It really is such a good book for those of us who want to cut back on meat without giving up anything in flavor.

The Kimchi Cookbook

The Kimchi Cookbook by Lauryn Chun and Olga Massov is such an awesome book for fans of Korean fermented pickles. It’s got a ton of useful information and the recipes are varied. I’ve long been intimidated by kimchi, but this book helped me get over my fears and dive in.

Dinner A Love Story

If you believe in home cooked dinners, eating with family, around a dining table, Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach should be on your shelf. It’s filled with sturdy, appealing recipes and stories from the dinnertime trenches.

The Homemade Pantry

Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry continues to be one of my favorites for basics. Its heft and photography, coupled with Alana’s words and recipes, make for such a pleasing cookbook experience. I still get a kick out of the fact that the recipes are arranged by the aisle on which they’d be found in the grocery store.

The Food 52 Cookbook

I collect old community cookbooks and have often felt a pang that they might be going the way of console TVs and cassette tapes. However, the Food52 community and cookbooks give me hope. Much like those old books, they gather the best from friends and neighbors (no matter how far-flung) and bring them together. The recently released The Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 does a beautiful job of this type of community collation.

Pure Beef

In recent years, many of us have made the switch from grocery store beef of unknown providence, to local, grass-fed beef, raised by farmers we know. However, with this kind of meat buying comes foreign cuts and untold cooking challenges. Lynne Curry’s new book, Pure Beef is sturdy, informative, and seriously useful if you’ve bought in on a cow and don’t know what the heck to do with the package labeled shoulder tender.

The Book of Kale

Kale is hot and you can count me among its many fans. In my search for more ways to incorporate this dark, leafy green into my diet, I stumbled across The Book of Kale by Sharon Hanna. It includes more than 80 ways to prepare kale. Never again can your family complain that they’re tired of kale, since you’ll be cooking it a new way every week!

 

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Preserves in Action: Hanukkah Edition

rugelach

Hanukkah took me by surprise this year. It started last Saturday night, which felt impossibly early to me (I still wake up most days thinking it’s November, so I’m woefully out of sync). The days since have passed in a blurry haze of deadlines, gift wrapping, and holiday parties. Though I’ve struggled to wrap my hands around this holiday of miracles and illumination, I’ve somehow still managed to light my menorah (two nights out of six so far) make a couple of appropriately celebratory foods. They both just happen to involve preserves.

The first thing I made was a batch of rugelach. These cookies are eaten all year long, but are particularly traditional around Hanukkah. The dough is made with butter, cream cheese, flour and just a bit of sugar. After some time in the fridge to chill, you roll out the dough, spread it with fruit jam, and spread chopped walnuts and raisins over top. The round of dough is sliced into wedges, rolled, chilled (ideally, at least. I rarely have room in my fridge to chill a sheet pan) and baked. They are divine and when I make them, I feel connected to all the women in my family who rolled these same cookies long before I was born.

latkes and applesauce

 

On Wednesday night, I made latkes. I don’t really ever follow a recipe for latkes (though I do employ this trick of soaking the shredded potatoes in a bowl of ice water to help extract the starch and prevent discoloration). Much like I assume my great-great-auntie Tunkel once did, I grate potatoes until it looks like I have enough. Add shredded onion, an egg or two to bind, flour to thicken, and salt and pepper for flavor. And then fry until crisp in a bit of oil. Topped with a layer of sour cream and applesauce (there’s the preserve!), they are such a treat.

How are you using your preserves this week?

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Honey-Sweetened Chestnut Butter

honey-sweetened chestnut butter

The first fall that my family lived in Portland was magical. We were escapees from Southern California and everything about the changing leaves, chilly nights, and morning frost was novel and thrilling to me. I was also innocently astonished by the new varieties of edible bounty around us.

Across the driveway, Mrs. Gosling grew raspberries and a wild herb garden. On the other side, Jan and Guy had pumpkins, beans, and apples on their tiny city plot. We had had plums and guava trees in Los Angeles, but the food of the Pacific Northwest felt sturdy and sustaining.

one and a half pounds chestnuts

One day, we discovered a clutch of chestnut trees on the lawn of a high school (ultimately, the very school I’d end up attending years later). My parents, caught up in my excitement over the idea of roasted chestnuts (Christmas songs made them sound so romantic), let me fill a partially closed umbrella with my haul (we had yet to learn that true Portlanders never use umbrellas).

We brought them home, gave them a cursory rinse and piled them onto a baking sheet. Never having had anything to do with chestnuts, we had no idea that there were multiple varieties or that you needed to make a little cut in the shell to prevent them from exploding once heated. It was, after all, in the days before we had the internet to help us with such research.

peeled chestnuts

Soon enough, the kitchen filled with smoke and the chestnuts began to explode in the oven. The inside of the oven ended up covered with a sticky, green nutmeat (turns out that these were the non-edible horse chestnuts) that had to be scraped off with an old butter knife. Our time as chestnut eaters was over before it got a chance to begin.

It was a good 20 years before I tried chestnuts again.

chestnut butter in the blender

In recent years, I’ve returned to the chestnut. Wiser and armed with better information, I’ve found that as long as you have the edible variety, those hard shells contain flesh that is sweet, tender, and has a texture much like the bean paste you find inside many Chinese buns and baked goods.

There are a number of classical applications for chestnuts, including soups, stuffings, puddings, and roasted whole for snacking. Less common, but my favorite, is a chestnut spread. I tried a version made by Bonne Maman a few years back and was totally smitten. I’ve bought it occasionally since then, but it’s long been on my list of things to make at home. This was the week!

chestnut butter

This time of year, a number of grocery stores and farmers’ markets carry chestnuts. If you  have the option, sort through them and select nuts that are firm, heavy, and that don’t feel like the nutmeat is rattling around inside the shell. Unlike most other nuts, which seem to last forever in their shells at room temperature, chestnuts are highly perishable and need to be stored in the fridge. If the chestnuts are pre-packaged, make sure to get a few more than you’ll need, to compensate for the few that will inevitably be moldy inside.

To prepare the chestnuts to make this spread, you cut an ‘x’ into the shell and then boil them for 20-25 minutes, until the spot where you cut begins opens up on its own. Once the time is up, you drain them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking. Then you peel. Peeling chestnuts can be a time consuming task, because there’s both a hard outer shell and a papery skin that need to be removed. But it’s that kind of pleasing, mindless work that goes well with a good podcast.

chestnut butter, above

When you make this spread, you have to be diligent and puree until it is intensely smooth. I made mine in the Vitamix, because I knew it would eventually give me the texture I wanted, but there was a lot of starting, stopping, and scraping involved. It also needs a goodly amount of water, adding in small increments, to achieve silkiness. I imagine it would also work using a food processor or even an immersion blender, though I did not try it this time around.

Like so many nut butters, this one is good smeared on toast or crackers. It’s also a nice filling for small shortbread cookies or as an addition to a platter of cheeses (I was talking to Madame Fromage earlier today and she suggested pairing with the goat cheese called Robiola. It’s wrapped in chestnut leaves, so they’d compliment each other beautifully). It’s also a wonderful homemade holiday gift for chestnut lovers, as it’s unusual, seasonal, and delicious.

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Holiday Giving: More Favorite Things

adorable mugs

We’re heading into the holiday home stretch here, friends. Tonight is the midway point of Hanukkah, the winter solstice is a week from Friday and, as they say, there are just 12 shopping/cooking/crafting/making days before Christmas. The gifting season is upon us. If you’re still stumped for ideas, here are a few more things I like (I’ll have a fresh good gifting recipe up tomorrow as well).

Since first discovering them, I’ve been entirely charmed by these mugs. The one with the knit print is double walled, so that you can hold it even when its filled with steaming liquid. The one on the right is from a line called Mugtails and is available in rabbit, cat, and fawn styles in addition to the squirrel one pictured above. They’re sold by Korin.

coffee and tea

For morning caffeination efforts, I regular turn towards two tools. A hand-cranked coffee grinder that fits onto a wide mouth mason jar (I like having to work a little for coffee) and a Teastick (fill with loose leaf tea and swish through a mug of hot water. It’s perfect for a quick cup). My particular model is currently sold out, but I hear good things about this one, too.

earlywood

I’ve long been obsessed with wooden tools and since last year, Earlywood Design has been my favorite purveyor of all things useful, handmade, and satisfyingly tactile. I particularly like their slant-edged scraper, but I’m slowly amassing a well-rounded collection of their utensils (next on my personal list of wants from Earlywood is their short server). They also have awesome customer service. One of the scrapers I bought started to split along the grain and they were happy to replace it. Many thanks to Nici of Dig This Chick for turning me on to them.

jar shaker

 

You’re all familiar with my inability to resist any mason jar accessory. Well, from the moment I saw the Mason Shaker, I knew I had to have it. I’m not a huge cocktail drinker (simply because I have a lousy tolerance for booze), but I love this shaker lid for batches of homemade lemonade. Must like the Teastick above, it appears to be sold out. However, I spotted a bunch at my local West Elm about a week ago, so check your bricks and mortar stores if you want to get one before the holidays.

petty knife

 

Last February I visited Korin, a store in New York that specializes in fine knives and tableware and they gave me a Petty knife to use and review. I rapidly shot up my list of favorite kitchen tools. Having a knife that exists in the space between a small paring knife and a larger chef’s knife is a boon for tasks like quartering apples, cutting carrots into sticks, and opening avocados (things I do a whole heck of a lot). It would make a really great gift for a cutlery lover.

All good gift guides come with a giveaway and this one is no different. Thanks for Korin, I have the mugs pictured at the top of this post and the petty knife pictured just above to give away to one lucky winner.

Here’s how to get in on the giveaway:

  1. Leave a comment on this post and tell me one thing you’re hoping to get done before the new year.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Saturday, December 15, 2012. Winners will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog on Sunday.
  3. Giveaway open US residents only.
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post. I cannot accept submissions via email.
Disclosure: Korin has provided the mugs and knife for this giveaway. They did not pay for placement. All opinions remain mine. 

 

Quick Pickled Romanesco Broccoli

pickles after one week

A couple weeks back, I bought a bright green head of romanesco broccoli. It was more money than I should have spent on a single handful of produce, but ever since trying it a few years back as a pickle on the Farmhouse Platter at Supper, I’ve had a weakness for it.

romanesco broccoli

I like it best as a quick pickle (also known as a refrigerator pickle), because it stays most crunchy and crisp that way. You also retain more color if you keep it out of a boiling water bath canner.

florets

It’s an easy pickle to make. Take on head of romanesco broccoli and break it into florets. Because of the spiral arrangement of the little fractal heads, it typically breaks apart quick easily. Place spices in the bottom of the jar and pack the florets in on top (my particular head fit perfectly into a pint and a half).

pouring pickling liquid

Heat apple cider vinegar, water and salt together just until the salt dissolves. Pour the pickling liquid over the florets and use a chopstick to ease out any air bubbles.

pickling

Place a lid on the jar. Once it is cool, pop it into the fridge and let it sit for about a week before beginning to munch. You’ll end up with deeply tangy, crunchy pickles. This time of year, when soups and braises appear on our weekly menu with greater frequency, having these in the fridge makes me very happy. The recipe is after the jump.

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Winners! Jennifer (#455) wins the set of Weck Jars and the ladle from Kaufmann Mercantile. Jan Jack (#183) wins the Jars Go To tote from A Tiny Forest.

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