Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nourishment for the Heart, Soul, and Mind

Throughout the year we nourish ourselves not only with food but with our connection with others. On this New Years Eve, I’m sad to say that one individual who truly nourished the lives of other with wisdom, grace, and kindness passed way just yesterday on December 30, 2009. Her name is Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis, and I’m honored that she was both my professor and advisor when I studied with her at SUNY New Paltz. She served as the chair of the Black Studies Department and was the director of the Scholar’s Mentorship Program at SUNY New Paltz. Throughout her life she impacted the lives of countless individuals, both inside and outside the classroom. There is both sorrow and sweetness as I recall the memories surrounding this inspirational woman—sorrow in the loss, and sweetness in the moments I spent with her. 

Dr. Wade-Lewis touched the lives of many students, colleagues, friends, and family members—and she will be missed by all. There were some days I walked into her classroom empty, and she filled me with knowledge or hope or confidence. Although she has now passed, her memory will continue to nourish our lives.

Her influence went far beyond the classroom, and she will not be forgotten. Her memory lives on in all who were touched by her. In the excitement of welcoming in the new year, I hope that all who knew her will take a moment to reflect on the life of this amazing and inspiring woman. In the New Year of 2010 I wish you all the companionship of people who can offer the same nourishment for your heart, soul, and mind as Dr. Wade-Lewis did for so many in her life. Have a happy and healthy New Year everyone.
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!
The new year brings us hope for peace,
A new day for mankind,
Where we can all live hand in hand
And leave all hate behind.
For auld lang syne, my dear.
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
When dreams they seem so far away,
Your soul can feel so low.
But love is never far away;
Your heart won't be alone.
Let's make a world where people care,
A world that knows no fear,
Where we can open up our hearts
And hold each other dear.
Our children grow, they need to know
The Future's theirs to hold.
If we can teach them how to love
Then the world can carry on.
For auld lang syne, my dear.
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Song of the Week: Les Poissons

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A New Years Tradition


Over the last three years it has become a tradition for my boyfriend and me to go to the restaurant Provence in Albany to indulge in escargot and a martini every New Years. Provence is one of my favorite restaurants and will receive a proper review one of these days, but our New Years tradition is always one of the most pleasant ways to say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new.

One of the dishes that Provence does best is their escargots à la bourguignonne. When I first tried escargot I didn’t know what to expect. I assumed it was an overrated delicacy—how good could snails be? I soon found out—so good. Of all the places I’ve tried escargot, Provence is definitely my favorite. They are Burgundy region snails cooked in a traditional style in a cast-iron dish with garlic butter and topped with a slice of brioche. The result is delicious, moist snails that have absorbed the flavorful garlicky sauce and are complemented by the lightly toasted, yet soaked in butter, bread on top. Each order of escargot comes with six snails, so it’s perfect for sharing—especially when your boyfriend always lets you eat four out of six!

Provence also makes a perfect martini, which is my cocktail of choice—Bombay Sapphire gin, straight up, on the dry side, with olives. It’s the perfect drink for the winter time with clean flavors like freshly fallen snow and hints of juniper berries. Like Frederic described in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, martinis are “so cool and clean” and make one “feel civilized,” especially when sitting at a classy restaurant like Provence.

As the holidays wind down and the new year begins, a trip to Provence is a great opportunity to sit down for an hour, relax, and indulge in a beverage and some of the best cuisine in Albany. If you’ve wanted to try Provence but don’t quite have the monetary means for a full-fledged meal, I highly recommend sitting at the lovely bar and just ordering a cocktail or glass of wine and an appetizer. If snails aren’t your thing, they have plenty of other tasty starters to try.

Bon appétit and happy New Year!

http://provence-restaurant.net/provence.html

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Quote of the Week: Tasting the Stars


"Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!"


—Dom Perignon, as he discovered champagne

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas

“‘When a man is tired of London,’ remarked Samuel Johnson, ‘He is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ It can be said equally of Paris that not to have seen it through the eyes of love is not to know it at all.”
—John Baxter

There’s something about Paris that I just love. Now, I’ve never actually been to Paris, but the city seems to take hold of my imagination. Its allure stretches across the Atlantic Ocean and keeps me entranced though it is still largely unknown to me. Someday I will get to Paris, but until then I’ll keep myself satisfied with books, films, and any taste of French cuisine I can find. Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is one of my favorite books of an American’s experience in Paris, and when I opened my stocking a few days ago to find a book entitled Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas I knew I had received a perfect holiday read.

Immoveable Feast was written by John Baxter, an Australian-born man who ended up marring a Parisian woman late in life. His story is one of being welcomed into his French family, and it is at his first Christmas in France that he really enters into the culture and magic of the country and the traditions of his new family. Baxter soon inherits the duty of cooking Christmas dinner, and this book shows glimpses into the past and French culture as he tells the story of one particular year of cooking the Christmas feast for eighteen guests. The tradition of coming together as a family was strong in Baxter’s experiences in France. The family used food and wine to keep history and memory alive, and Baxter comments that “Proust was right. Any house or garden or town existed only as the sum of the feelings experienced there. It was remembering history and maintaining tradition that kept the material world alive.”

Baxter explains that at Christmas in Paris the streets are deserted, shops and restaurants are closed, and the only wanderers are usually tourists. The city shuts down as families come together to enjoy good times and good food. The book is filled with insights into the French people and their perspective on the world. For example, Baxter states that “The French are no strangers to vice. Indeed, they invented many of the more interesting ones and have worked hard for centuries to perfect the rest. To the French, sin—provided it is conceived with imagination and carried off with flair—is like the dust on an old bottle of burgundy, the streaks of gray in the hair of a loved one, the gleam of long, loving use on the mahogany of an ancient cabinet. It’s evidence of endurance, of survival, of life.” The joie de vivre of French life and the traditions maintained during Christmas fill the pages of the book and one feels they can really taste the experience of French culture.

Baxter’s Christmas feast contains several courses, but it is the first course of oysters that most intrigues me. Oysters are a key part to the Paris Christmas—an item I wish was more common in my own household during the holidays. Baxter elaborates on the appeal of these delicious creatures, stating that there is “something in the seasonality of seafood, its essentiality of freshness, that demands our instant attention. The translucency of an oyster’s flesh, the gleam of a fish’s eye, and the sheen of its skin are imperatives that transcend the banality of existence.” I couldn’t agree more. Good seafood does seem to have an almost magical quality that brings one in touch with a bit of the boundless ocean through one simple bite. The custom of bringing that experience to the table to begin the Christmas dinner makes perfect sense to me. Other courses include sides of vegetables and potatoes, bread, cheese, fruit, dessert, and, of course, the entrée. Baxter describes the planning of the menu and the cooking of the courses with such delicious detail that it will surely appeal to any foodie.

One of the interesting cultural tidbits I picked up from the book is differences in what is acceptable to bring to a host’s home. In America it’s very common for a guest to show up with a bottle of wine for a host or hostess. Baxter explains that in France nobody would dare bring wine, bread, or cheese to someone else’s home because these items are staples that everybody already has on hand. It would be like bringing a plate and fork to someone’s home in America. Rather, the French show up with gifts like flowers or chocolates—but wine? Never. The books brims with lots of these little cultural insights that will surely interest any reader who wishes to explore other cultures through food.
John Baxter’s Immoveable Feast is a great read for the holiday. I highly recommended it to anyone interested in Paris, French food, and the traditions they keep alive in France. Or to anyone who dreams of Paris and the day when she will wander the streets, soak in the magic of the city of love, and taste every last bite that Paris has to offer.

Christmas Dinner


Christmas dinner was a success! The variety of cheeses paired with crackers, slices of baguette, and fresh blackberries were great to snack on while we waited for everything to finish cooking. The roasted Cornish game hen came out with crispy skin and moist, flavorful meat. The roasted potatoes were nice and soft on the inside but crispy on the outside. The green beans were simple and tasty--I just steamed them and spooned a light sauce over each portion. And the experimental carrot pudding was very well received. The pear and goat cheese tart was the perfect way to end the meal. I served it with Prosecco and everyone loved it. I hope everyone else had an equally delicious holiday experience! Cheers!





Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guess Who Just Found Out She is Cooking Christmas Dinner?

In response to a call from one’s mother on Christmas Eve morning saying that the restaurant she wanted to eat out at on Christmas Day was closed, most people would have offered to help find a suitable restaurant that was open. If you’re wondering what kind of freak would jump at the opportunity and offer to cook Christmas dinner—well, that’s me.

Rather than dreading the last-minute shopping trip to the grocery store and having to come up
with a holiday menu, I immediately starting thinking of all the delicious seasonal dishes I could cook and started my grocery list. I could see the menu building in my mind, and with my mom footing the bill, I planned to go to Price Chopper as soon as I got out of work to see what I could scrounge up in the afternoon of Christmas Eve.

Within a half hour I had my menu planned. For starters, while we waited from the entrée to roast in the oven, I plan on putting out creamy camembert, apple-smoked gouda, crackers, and a baguette, with some blackberries on the side.

The pinnacle of the meal will be roasted Cornish game hens, which I just learned to cook recently. I flavor them to perfection by rubbing the hens with olive oil, salt, and pepper, lightly browning the skin, and stuffing the cavity with a slice of lemon and fresh rosemary. Then I roast them in the oven with garlic cloves. About half-way through cooking I pour a mixture of white wine and chicken broth over the hens and let the birds soak in the delicious liquids. After the hens are cooked, the remaining liquid is taken and boiled for a few minutes until it thickens into a sauce. For the vegetarian entrée, I decided to use the same cooking method as with the hen but with vegetarian chicken cutlets. I’ve made the Cornish game hens before and they are delicious, but I’ve never tried the vegetarian version before, so we’ll see how it comes out tomorrow night!

The sides for the meal include red potatoes, green beans and carrots. The red potatoes will be roasted with the skins on and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. The green beans will be steamed and topped with a light sauce made with olive oil, salt, white wine vinegar, and egg yolk. And the carrots will be made into a carrot pudding. I’ve never made or eaten carrot pudding before, but I was inspired by the book I’m currently reading called Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter. In the book, John Baxter, who is originally from Australia, has to cook Christmas dinner for his French family, who he is related to by his marriage to a Parisian woman. As he is preparing dinner he realizes he needs to come up with a vegetable dish for one of his toothless relatives. After finding some carrots in the fridge, he purees the carrots with flour, egg, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and cottage cheese, and then places it in the oven to bake. It sounds simple and tasty enough, and I’ve got most of the ingredients in my kitchen, so I’ll give it a go and see if it’s any good. Luckily, if it doesn’t taste great we’ll have plenty of other food for dinner.

The dessert will be a pear tart with goat cheese and port, which I found online compliments of Emeril Lagasse. This recipe sounds absolutely delicious and the perfect way to end the meal. I plan on pairing it with a little celebratory champagne.

Even though I had to rush to put the menu together and get everything prepared, I’m happy to be able to cook for my family tomorrow night. If there’s one gift that I’m always willing to give, it’s the gift of food. I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the dinner sometime after Christmas.

Merry Christmas Eve everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family, and food!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Quote of the Week: Nourishment for Soul and Mind


"Let Christmas not become a thing
Merely of merchant's trafficking,
Of tinsel, bell, and holly wreath
And surface pleasure, but beneath
The childish glamour, let us find
Nourishment for soul and mind.
Let us follow kinder ways
Through our teeming human maze,
And help the age of peace to come
From a Dreamer's martyrdom."

--Madeline Morse

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Zoraida's Coquito


When Zoraida is in the house, it’s not Christmas until everyone have a glass of coquito in their hands! Zoraida is one of those amazing people that everyone should have in their lives—kind hearted, caring, fun, joyful, curious, and not afraid to say anything. I’m lucky enough be able to call Zoraida a friend and spend some time with her this holiday season. Zoraida has got that magic touch when it comes to cooking, especially with delicious and savory dishes like roasted pork or holiday concoctions like coquito.

So what is coquito? It could be described as Puerto Rican eggnog, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s smooth and creamy with flavors of coconut and loaded with lots of Bacardi. If you’ve never tasted it, then you really need to try it.

Zoraida was nice enough to share her recipe with me to post here, but I have to warn you that even when people use her recipe it never quite comes out like when she makes it! She somehow gives it that little extra splash of love that shines through when you take a sip. This recipe will make one gallon’s worth of coquito.

Zoraida’s Coquito
4 15 oz. cans of cream of coconut
4 12 oz. cans of evaporated milk
6 egg yolks
Bacardi light rum
vanilla extract
ground cinnamon

1. In a blender combine one can of cream of coconut (make sure you scoop out anything left in the can when you pour it out), one can of evaporated milk, two egg yolks, Bacardi, a dash of vanilla extract, and a dash of cinnamon.

2. Blend the ingredients together and pour into an empty gallon container.

3. Repeat until the rest of the ingredients are used up.

4. Serve over ice.

The result is such a delicious treat that you’ll never want to celebrate the holidays again without it. As the concoction gets colder it will get thicker and creamier, and you’ll want to shake up the gallon container before serving it. You can add as much Bacardi as suits you—there’s no specific amount in Zoraida’s recipe, so you’ll just have to add that ingredient by feeling, or rather, by tasting.

Thanks so much to Zoraida for sharing this special treat with us!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Song of the Week: Twelve Days of Christmas




An interesting perspective on the role of food in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" can be found here:
http://www.messybeast.com/dragonqueen/12-xmas.htm


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Celebrating with Latkes


Food is an incredibly valuable tool to learn about other cultures, religions, and traditions. It helps us to understand how other people see the world and live their lives. With the holiday of Chanukah occurring right now, cooking and eating traditional Chanukah foods is a way to experience others’ culture if you are not Jewish and to immerse yourself further in your heritage if you are Jewish.

While in elementary school, the parents of Jewish families would always come in during Chanukah and teach the class about the holiday and teach us to make latkes. Coming from a Buddhist family and living in a largely Christian town, the experience of learning about Jewish traditions in school informed me about other people’s beliefs and traditional holiday practices. Today many schools choose to ignore religion altogether, but I have to say that learning about Chanukah in school certainly opened me up to other experiences and also made me feel more connected to the traditions being celebrated at my friends’ homes. And I really can’t argue with using food to teach children about anything!

Potatoes made crispy by frying in oil always taste good, and I’m a big fan of fries and chips—but latkes are really something special. You don’t have latkes just any old day. Those lovely potato pancakes that are crispy on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, nice and warm, topped with sour cream and applesauce are a treat that doesn’t come too often throughout the year. In celebration of Chanukah, latkes, and other fried foods, symbolize the oil that lasted for eight days in the Temple in Jerusalem. The story behind the holiday is that the Syrians were driven out of Israel by Judah and his followers, called the Macabees, and the Temple in Jerusalem was reclaimed. After the temple was rededicated, the Macabees wanted to light the
N’er Tamid, or eternal light, which once lit should not be extinguished, but they only had enough oil for the light to burn for one night. They found a small amount of oil to light the lamp that was enough to burn for one evening, but miraculously lasted for eight nights, which was enough time to process more oil to keep the lamp lit. Today, believers of the Jewish faith celebrate this “Festival of Lights” by lighting a menorah each night for eight nights, exchanging gifts, and eating celebratory foods like latkes.

Latke recipes tend to not vary much from one another. After reviewing several latke recipes online, this recipe is what I came up with to create lovely, crispy latkes.


Latkes

2 large baking potatoes, peeled and grated
½ white onion, diced
1 egg
1 tbsp flour or matzo meal
Salt
Vegetable oil

1. Peel and grate the potatoes and dice the onion.

2. Place the grated potatoes and diced onions on a paper towel or a dry cloth. Roll the towel up around the potatoes and onion to remove any excess moisture. This step will help keep the latkes crispy while you fry them.

3. Put the potato and onion mixture in a bowl and add the flour, egg, and a little bit of salt. Mix together.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat.

4. Place spoonfuls (about two tablespoons) of the batter into the hot oil and push them down to form flat pancakes.

5. Fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown.

6. Place the latkes onto a rack so the extra oil can drip off and sprinkle them with salt. If you need to keep the latkes warm, place them in a warm oven while you finish making the rest of the batch.

7. Serve with sides of sour cream and apple sauce.

I hope you enjoy these delicious latkes. Happy Chanukah!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quote of the Week: Latkes to Eat


"Chanukah, oh Chanukah,
Come light the menorah,
Let's have a party,
We'll dance around the horah,
Gather round the table,
We'll have a treat,

Shiny tops to play with,
Latkes to eat.

And while we are playing,
The candles are burning low,
One for each night,
They shed a sweet light,
To remind us of days long ago."


"Chaunkah, oh Chanukah"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Simple Treat


Looking for something simple and delicious to serve your guests this holiday season? Don’t underestimate one of the greatest snack foods—popcorn. I’m not talking about the popcorn that comes in a bag and is coated in weird oils and artificial flavorings that you pop in the microwave; I’m talking about real, beautiful, stove-popped popcorn. A lot of people don’t know how to make popcorn on the stove anymore since microwave popcorn has taken over the market, but it’s so easy that if you make it once and taste it in all it’s simple glory, I bet you will be hooked too. It’s also a healthy alternative to other snack foods (as long you don’t overdo the butter!).

I grew up eating stove-popped popcorn. We would make a big batch for the family and then divide it up into individual bowls to snack on while watching a movie. Popcorn is great because it goes well with so many flavors. My parents would always make it with Mongolian fire oil, while my sisters and I would usually just go for traditional salt and butter. Popcorn also matches well with seasonings like cinnamon and sugar, parmesan cheese, herbs, and basically anything else you are in the mood for.


The recipe is simple. Just take a pot (the more you want to make, the bigger the pot), and pour in some kernels—you want one even layer of kernels to cover the bottom of the pot. Then pour in some vegetable oil. I usually put in just a little, then swirl the pot around and see if I need to add more—you don’t need to overdue the oil, but be sure it coats the bottom of the pot and all of the kernels. Cover the pot and heat it at medium to medium-high heat. Leave it alone until you hear the kernels start to pop. Once they start popping, hold the lid on tight and shake the pot over the burner. Keep shaking occasionally (this keeps the kernels moving and prevents burning) until you hear the popping slow down. Then just take off the lid (watch out for flying popcorn) and season with some salt and pepper and pour a little melted butter over it.*


Stove-popped popcorn is the perfect blend of salt, oil, and crunch that is great to put out anytime you have guests over or when you just want a delicious snack. And it really does taste better than microwave popcorn—I guarantee it.

Watch some beautiful footage of popcorn kernels popping in slow motion here:




*Warning: Be sure to melt the butter before putting it on the popcorn. This may seem obvious, but I once made popcorn with someone and we noticed it tasted a little dry. I suggested we add some butter. He took the popcorn into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later. We kept eating the popcorn, and then I got a huge mouthful of soft, but unmelted, butter. Apparently, he thought you could just put chunks of butter into the popcorn. It was amusing but not particularly appetizing!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Beef and Oatmeal Stout Chili


There’s nothing like a steaming bowl of chili to warm your body and soul on a cold wintry day. I love to let a batch simmer on the stove for hours while letting the aromas fill my apartment and watching the snow fall outside. The first snow of the season inspired me to cook a big pot of chili and create a recipe for the blog this weekend. With most of my cooking I usually don’t follow recipes—I just throw the ingredients together and see what happens—so I encourage you to try variations of this recipe based on your own personal preferences. I also don’t give measurements for the spices in this recipe. Everyone enjoys a different spice level, so you should just add the spices to your liking. Of course, I don’t want my preference for heat to overwhelm your palate—just have fun and play around with the ingredients. However, I would say to definitely try it with the oatmeal stout. There is nothing like pouring a bottle of dark beer into your chili to make it extra delicious and tasty. I prefer Wolaver’s, but there are many good brands out there.

Beef and Oatmeal Stout Chili
1 bottle of oatmeal stout (or any dark beer)
3/4 cup beef stock
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 tomatoes, diced

1 15¼ oz. can yellow corn
1 19 oz. can light red kidney beans
1 19 oz. can dark red kidney beans
1 tblsp. oil
Spices: salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, chili powder, cumin, chipotle chili powder

1. In a large pot heat the oil (veggie or olive is okay) over medium heat.

2. Add the diced onion, green pepper, and garlic and coat with oil.

3. Add the ground beef.

4. While the ground beef begins to brown, toss in some spices. I recommend starting with less spice. Do a few shakes of each spice and let them soak into the beef. As the chili cooks the spices will intensify and grow stronger, and you can always add more later if you need more heat.

5. After the beef has browned, stir in the corn, kidney beans, and tomatoes.

6. Pour in the bottle of beer and the beef stock and stir all the ingredients together.

7. Bring the chili to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer.

8. After an hour taste the mixture and add more spices if you think the chili is lacking a good kick. I like to let the chili sit on the stove for a few hours to allow all the ingredients to meld together to create the right combination of hearty meat, hot spices, and tasty veggies. When you’re ready to indulge, ladle yourself out a bowl and pair it with a piece of buttered cornbread and some leftover oatmeal stout.

There’s nothing quite like relaxing on a lazy Sunday afternoon as chili simmers on the stove. I hope you enjoy this recipe for beef chili with oatmeal stout, and if you’d prefer a veggie chili, just substitute mushrooms or faux beef for the ground beef and veggie stock for the beef stock. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quote of the Week: There's a Happy Feeling Nothing in the World Can Buy...


There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray,
It'll be the perfect ending to a perfect day.
We'll be singing the songs we love to sing,
Without a single stop,
At the fireplace while we watch the chestnuts pop.
Pop! Pop! Pop!

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy,
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie.
It'll nearly be like a picture print
By Currier and Ives,
These wonderful things are things we remember all through our lives!

—"Sleigh Ride," lyrics by Mitchel Parish


Friday, December 4, 2009

Candy Cane Cocktails


It's the most wonderful time of the year again, and that means candy cane cocktails! I found the recipe for this peppermint drink two years at on the Food Network Web site and it has become an annual tradition ever since. Candy cane cocktails are a little bit sweet, a little bit minty, and a little bit creamy, and they are a perfect way to get in the mood for the holiday season.

Candy Cane Cocktail

1 shot vanilla rum

1 shot white chocolate liqueur
1 shot peppermint schnapps
mini candy canes

Shake the liquid ingredients together in a cocktail shaker (or just stir them together), pour into a martini glass, and garnish with a mini candy cane.

I tend to buy Cruzan vanilla rum and Godiva white chocolate liqueur, which is nice and creamy. I also recommend using mini candy canes—the first year I used large candy canes and they just kept getting in the way and falling out of my glass.

The candy cane cocktail is a great drink at any holiday gathering. You can check out the original recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sandra-lee/candy-cane-cocktail-recipe/index.html


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Song of the Week: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy




So what are sugar plums anyway? Alton Brown explained these sweet treats on a special Christmas episode of his Food Network show
Good Eats this past Monday. He explained that the "plum" in sugar plum was not always necessarily a plum, but in England when these treats were created it could refer to any dried fruit, like currants or raisins. These dried fruits would be mixed with nuts, sugar, and spices to create little delicious wintry gems. Alton provided a recipe for the sugar plums as follows:

Sugar Plums
6 oz toasted slivered almonds
4 oz dried plums
4 oz apricots and figs
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 honey
pinch of salt
1 cup coarse sugar

1. Chop the almonds in a food processor.

2. Add the dried plums, apricots, and figs to the almonds and chop them in the processor--but not for too long since they might become mushy.

3. Lightly toast the anise seeds, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds in a pan.

4. Add the seeds to the chopped fruit and almonds and mix with the salt, confectioners sugar, cardamom, and honey.

5. Form into small balls and let sit overnight.

6. Roll the balls in your hand to warm them up (that's what she said) and then coat in the coarse sugar.

I haven't yet tried this recipe, but at least we've shed a little light on what sugar plums are!


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Quote of the Week: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry


"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer."

—Ecclesiastes, 8:15


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tired of Turkey?



I know it sounds sacrilegious to most of us, but there are some people out there who, gasp, don’t like turkey—not even on Thanksgiving. Rather than berate these people for their food preferences, let’s see what we can come up with to accommodate their tastes. If you are tired of turkey, why not try this recipe for maple-glazed pork tenderloin with apple compote? It’s so easy to make that you could even cook it in addition to roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving.

Maple-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. rosemary (dried)
¼ tsp. thyme (dried)

1. Whisk all the wet and dry ingredients for the marinade together. Pour over a pork tenderloin that is approximately one pound, and allow it to marinate in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

3. Place the tenderloin on a rack in a shallow pan and cover loosely with foil. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes.

5. Remove the tenderloin from the oven and cover loosely with foil. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving.


Apple Compote

3 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 oz. spiced rum
Pinch of salt and pepper
Pinch of cinnamon

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Add the shallots to the oil and sweat for about one minute.

3. Add the diced apples and toss with the olive oil and shallots.

4. Stir in the salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

5. Pour in the shot of spiced rum.

6. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow it to simmer for at least ten minutes, or until soft.

If you’re not planning on enjoying this tasty tenderloin for Thanksgiving, I recommend serving it with roasted red potatoes with garlic and rosemary and green beans with shallots.


Quote of the Week: Thanksgiving


"The king and high priest of all the festivals was the autumn Thanksgiving. When the apples were all gathered and the cider was all made, and the yellow pumpkins were rolled in from many a hill in billows of gold, and the corn was husked, and the labors of the season were done, and the warm, late days of Indian summer came in, dreamy, and calm, and still, with just enough frost to crisp the ground of a morning, but with warm traces of benignant, sunny hours at noon, there came over the community a sort of genial repose of spirit—a sense of something accomplished."


—Harriet Beecher Stowe

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Thanksgiving Feast

Every family has its own traditions for Thanksgiving. There are several dishes that usually make it to our family table each year. During the day we snack on cheese, crackers, and veggies, plus whatever tastes we steal off of dishes while we cook.

In recent years we’ve introduced a harvest-style salad with various combinations of field greens, raisins, craisins, nuts (usually almonds
or walnuts), apples, and other delicious autumn-evoking ingredients.


We also always have bread or warm rolls with butter. Some years we have soup, such as the butternut-cider bisque I made last year for the occasion. The bisque is made with chicken (or vegetable) broth, butternut squash, carrots, celery, onions, and cider, and then finished with cream. As the soup simmers it fills the house with the scents of a satisfying Thanksgiving meal.


Other dishes that always make the table include ambrosia, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. The ambrosia is one of those classic 1950s-era dishes made with mini-marshmallows, shredded coconut, maraschino cherries, mandarin oranges, pineapple chunks, and sour cream. It may sound strange or even outdated, but I swear it’s very delicious and definitely loaded with sugar and nostalgia. Cranberry sauce always graces our table, and we tend to serve two versions—one from the can and one made from fresh cranberries. The mashed potatoes are usually made with roasted garlic and, of course, butter! They are tasty and creamy and a must have on any Thanksgiving table. Stuffing is also a classic dish, and we use my grandmother’s recipe for this annual holiday. Our version is composed of wheat bread, celery, Bell’s poultry seasoning, onions, sausage, salt, pepper, and chicken broth to keep it moist while cooking.






Of course we roast a classic turkey every year, but we have a couple of vegetarians in the family so we usually have a vegetarian option like faux turkey or chicken. I’ve taken over the turkey the last couple of years and determined how to make the perfect turkey. It involves butter, and lots of it! First take fresh herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary and mince them. Then take a stick of butter (at room temperature so it’s soft) and mix the herbs in until they are evenly distributed in the creamy goodness. When it’s time to roast the turkey take the butter and rub in all over the skin. Then take some butter and lift the skin of the turkey and spread the butter between the flesh and the skin. As the turkey cooks the butter will melt into the meat, keeping it nice and moist and preventing it from drying out. Instead of filling the bird with stuffing, cook the stuffing in a separate dish and fill the cavity with sliced carrots, celery, onions, apples, and herbs to imbue the turkey with even more flavor. Then just roast the turkey as you normally would, let it rest, slice, and serve!


Dessert tends to change every year—there’s no one particular dessert we have, although we tend to have at least one pie. This year we’re serving apple-butter pumpkin pie, apple crisp, and cookies. We’ll also be making whipped cream with local cream from Meadowbrook Farms and sweetened with honey.

Whatever you and your family serve this year I hope you all have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Mỹ Linh


The other night I went out for a meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Albany—Mỹ Linh. It is an excellent Vietnamese restaurant with a fascinating history. The family that runs Mỹ Linh escaped from Vietnam during the Vietnam War and came to Albany in 1979. After years of saving they first opened Mỹ Linh in 1993 and still manage the restaurant.

On the night of my most recent visit I went for two of my favorite dishes: Chã Giò (fried rolls) for the appetizer and Vit Rút Xu’o’ng (crispy duck) for the entrée. We also selected an item from their new teaser plate menu—Su’o ’n Ram, which are bite-size pork ribs that are simmered in a sweet, caramelized nuoc mam sauce and finished with scallions. The pork was nice and tender, and the sauce was slightly sweet but not cloying.

Chã Giò are definitely my favorite appetizer at Mỹ Linh. The rolls are lightly fried to crisp and are stuffed with a succulent filling of minced pork, shrimp, and vegetables. The rolls are accompanied by lettuce, cucumber, carrot, and mint. You take each roll and wrap it in the lettuce and other vegetables and then dip it all in a nuoc mam sauce. The rolls are crispy and warm and the vegetables are cool and refreshing—together they create the perfect appetizer for a Vietnamese meal.

Many of the dishes are served with nuoc mam sauce. The restaurant’s Web sites describes nuoc mam as “a clear piquant sauce” and says “it is almost broth-like in its intriguing delicacy.” This sauce “does not shout at you. Rather, it speaks softly of gentle breezes and moonlit nights.” Poetry in a sauce—delicious! The Web site also explains that nuoc mam is to Vietnam as soy sauce is to China or Japan. I’m not sure exactly how Mỹ Linh creates this delightful sauce, but nuoc mam usually contains lime juice, fish sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, rice vinegar, and garlic. The resulting sauce is light and subtle yet incredibly flavorful. You can even buy Mỹ Linh’s signature sauces on their Web site.

To accompany the tasty dishes I ordered a Mỹ Linh Martini. This drink is a concoction of Bombay Sapphire gin and salted lime juice with garnishes of salted lime rind and lemongrass. Usually this drink perfectly complements the flavors of Vietnamese food, but something went horribly wrong with the drink on this particular night. The culprit: too much salted lime juice. All I could taste was salt—it was as though the bartender had filled the glass with ocean water rather than gin. The waiter was kind enough to replace the drink with a new one, but he didn’t seem to grasp the idea that a subtle balance could be reached between no salted lime juice and too much, so I just ordered the martini minus the salted lime juice. I still highly recommend this beverage as I’ve had it before with no issues, but from now on I think I’ll ask them to go easy on the salted lime juice just to be safe.

I first went to Mỹ Linh when I was a kid, and that was when I discovered that I loved duck. I’ve had various excellent meals at Mỹ Linh, but by far my favorite is Vit Rút Xu’o’ng, which is half of a boneless duck that is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and wine. The duck is pan fried until it is nice and crispy and served with a spicy nuoc mam sauce, perfumed rice, and broccoli. Because of the high-fat content of duck, I always believe it is best when chefs leave the skin and let is get extra crispy—Mỹ Linh always does it right.

My boyfriend got Bò Bõn Món, a dish of four different styles of beef. These four styles are beef wrapped around sugarcane and grilled, beef seasoned with lemongrass and served with green peppers, beef marinated with plum sauce and red pepper, and New York strip steak marinated with garlic and grilled with black pepper. These variations on beef were served with a spicy dipping sauce. My boyfriend enjoyed all the styles except the beef with sugarcane. I've had this dish before and think it's an excellent choice for a red-meat lover.

I highly recommend Mỹ Linh to anyone who loves food. The flavors of the cuisine are always light, delicate, and flavorful—never heavy or greasy. If you’ve never had Vietnamese food, this restaurant is definitely the place to try it for the first time. You can check out the Web site and menu here:

http://www.mylinhrestaurant.com/



My Linh - A Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quote of the Week: A Respectable Bird


"I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country....The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America."

—Benjamin Franklin




Friday, November 13, 2009

New World Oysters

New World Bistro Bar in Albany, New York, periodically has special events, such as their Halloween celebration a couple of weeks ago. After viewing the upcoming specials in advance I knew I couldn’t resist a visit on Halloween night, but there was one item on the menu that really hooked me—oysters topped with Black Bullfin Caviar. I could only imagine the combination of succulent oysters and little pearls of caviar deliciousness. Thankfully, my Halloween evening included dinner at New World

The oysters were available individually, so you could order one just to taste or a few for a full appetizer. In addition to the caviar, the oysters were also topped with a little dollop of crème fraîche. I would never have thought to combine crème fraîche with oysters, as I generally just squeeze lemon on top, but it was absolutely sublime. The creaminess of the crème fraîche melted into the oceanic oysters as the black caviar popped in the mouth with little bursts of divine flavor. Accompanied with a classic martini, these oysters were the perfect treat for Halloween.


As always, I highly recommend New World Bistro Bar to any diners in the Capital Region. I wish everyone could taste these oysters, but it will probably be a while before you have the opportunity again!


Be sure to check out my other posts on New World Bistro Bar:
New World Bistro Bar
Thanksgiving Eve at New World
Thalamus Anyone?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cook or Be Cooked


Last night I saw a commercial for the Food Network’s new video game Cook or Be Cooked. It’s designed for Nintendo Wii, and you can play in multi-player mode or alone. There are over thirty recipes to cook from and Susie Fogelson, a Next Food Network Star judge, and Mory Thomas, a Food Network Chef, are there to guide you along your virtual culinary experience. You get the opportunity to slice and dice, stir and mix, and fry and bake, and then have Susie and Mory taste and critique your food.


Now, I love all things food, but this just seems a little ridiculous to me. I have to wonder who exactly is going to play this game. Can it really that fun or satisfying to play? Is it for people who don’t have kitchens or can’t afford to buy ingredients? You can’t even make your own recipes—you have to follow the ones created by Food Network for the game. You also don’t get to be in a cool environment like Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium. Instead, you’re just in an average kitchen. Didn’t video games used to be about fantasy and adventure not everyday things you can do in your home?

What makes cooking exciting is not just selecting ingredients, planning meals, slicing vegetables, and turning on the oven—it’s more about the scent of the food cooking, the warmth rising from the stove, and, of course, eating what it is created and sharing it with others. Cook of Be Cooked may be able to help some people learn some basics about cooking, but it could never really teach how to cook. Part of cooking is relating to the food—something a video game could never recreate.

I suppose it’s not all that different than watching other people cook and eat on TV, but at least when watching food shows you can get inspired by other cooks and get ideas for creating new dishes. I personally can’t wait for the next hot game coming out for Nintendo Wii—Clean or Be Dirty where you get to mop the floor, scrub the tub, and clean up after your Cook or Be Cooked meals.

You can check out the official site for the game here: http://www.cookorbecooked.com/#/home