Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Broken Records

Another year coming to a close, another year where I'm still in the same rut, the same stagnant space, the same state of discontent.  You'd think I'd learn by now.  You think I'd set goals that were more concrete, more specific...so much less nebulous.

It's the last Tuesday of December, the last Tuesday of 2014...it is a cold, blustery night in Los Angeles.  The weather widget on my phone says that at 8:15pm, it is 49 degrees, but with the winds, feels like 39 degrees.  Cold.  Can I take these winds as a sign?  A sign that I'm finally ready to blow all the crap out of my life...make definitive goals, figure out where it is I really want to go, and stop thinking that life will fall into place by a magical snap of my fingers.  I don't expect 2015 to kick off without a few bumps and rough starts, but I do expect 2015 to turn into an infinitely more productive year than 2014, 2013, and even 2012.  That's a lot of time.  I have a lot of making up to do.

But before I get to work, there needs to be a drink.  A drink to say, 'so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye' to 2014 and all the fear, anxiety, and unhappiness I have poured into too many of its 365 days.  Bring out the bubbly, let's toast to a new year where I worry less, see more sun than clouds, see more good in me than bad, and appreciate the person I am, instead of sinking so much energy berating myself for what I'm not.

Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year...a truly fulfilling 2015.

A New Leaf Cocktail
Makes 2

6 fl oz cava (though Champagne or prosecco will do)
2 fl oz sweet vermouth
2 tbsp citrus simple syrup
2 tbsp fig jam
4 fl oz orange juice, fresh squeezed (about 2 medium oranges)
orange peel for garnish

In a small lidded jar or cocktail shaker, add the orange juice and fig jam.  Shake vigorously to break down the jam.  If you think you've shaken enough, shake more.  With each coupe glass, rub a strip of orange peel along the rims to transfer some of the oils to the glasses.  Into each glass, pour 1 oz vermouth, 1 tablespoon of the citrus syrup, and 2 oz of the orange and fig juice.  Stir to mix well.  Top each glass with 3 oz of cava and garnish with orange peel.

Note:  The citrus syrup is something I had left from making candied citrus peel a couple of weeks ago.  You can substitute simple syrup or make your own syrup with the peel from one medium orange (pith removed), 1 cup water, and one cup sugar.  Bring to a simmer, stirring to make sure the sugar dissolves, then simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes.  Strain peel and store in refrigerator.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Star Bright

There has been a lot of biscotti baked this past week.  A LOT.  Not all for me.  Most of those cookies have been packaged and shipped across the country to (hopefully) delighted customers.  But I am still looking at half a dozen containers holding what's left.  As much as I love biscotti, I had it in my head that I really, really wanted to make something that hinted at Scandinavia.  Whatever I made had to have cardamom.

I flipped through a couple of my Scandinavian and Danish cookbooks, I scrolled through the holiday baking list on the Sweet Paul website, and I did a little Googling.  I wound up at the Cooking Light site, reading the recipe for Swedish Almond Cardamom Stars.  They came together pretty easily and the almond and cardamom flavors shine through.  The Cooking Light recipe calls for a glaze, but I opted for a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar instead.

So, here we are at another Christmas.  Stay safe, eat well, enjoy the time with family and friends.  I wish you all a wonderful holiday!

Swedish Almond and Cardamom Stars
From Cooking Light
Makes about 4 dozen or more

2 cups flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup almond paste, crumbled
1 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup orange juice, fresh
3 tbsp vegetable oil

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix the orange juice and oil together, set aside.  In a large bowl, add flour, sugar, baking soda, cardamom, and salt.  Whisk to combine.  Add butter and almond paste, and with a pastry cutter, blend into flour mixture, creating a pebbly texture.  Add half the orange juice and oil mix and continue blending to bring dough together.  Scrape bowl as necessary.  Add remaining liquid and mix to combine.  You should have a dough that lifts easily away from surface of bowl.  

Split dough into two equal sections.  Lay down a large piece of plastic wrap and flatten dough into circle.  Fold over plastic wrap and roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness.  Repeat with second piece of dough.  Chill both for about an hour.

Cut out cookies with star cutter (or whatever you like) and place about an inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet.  [I used a small star cookie cutter, about an inch and a half across.]  Bake for 6-8 minutes until edges begin to turn golden brown.  Cool on rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Best Laid Plans

When I decided a couple of months ago that I was going to have a Christmas party this year, I felt as though I had months to straighten the place up, do a massive autumnal Spring cleaning, and plan the perfect little soiree (which I'm always planning in my head to some degree).  I haven't had a get-together in close to five years.  It was time.  I even thought it would be great to have a fondue party (to officially break in the fondue pot my parents gave me for Christmas a few years ago).

My party would be a 2014 version of this:

1952 Diane and Allan Arbus

People dressed spiffily, a table spectacularly laid out, sparkling conversation, and wine flowing freely.  Then, before I knew it, Thanksgiving happened.  There has been no autumnal Spring cleaning, no straightening, and I have barely thought of holiday logistics.  I still don't have a baking schedule, a completed Christmas card list, or a wreath on the front door.  

All this means there will be no party.  At least not a Christmas party.  Maybe a New Year's party?  Not a New Year's Eve party (too stressful)...but a get-together post-holidays, when peace and calm reign again.  It will be a few close friends, a pot of melted cheese, free-flowing wine, and no pressure to throw a 'perfect' party.  Doesn't that sound like a good idea?

But...just because I'm not throwing a holiday party doesn't mean that I can't share a couple of appetizer ideas for your holiday get-together.  They are easily cobbled together, requiring not a lot of prep, and are great to add to any selection of cheeses, salumi, dips, or whatever else you find yourself craving.  

Persimmon and Tarragon Bites
Makes 12

1 Fuyu persimmon, sliced thin
1/4 cup goat cheese or cream cheese
1-2 sprigs, fresh tarragon
black pepper, fresh ground
12 mini toasts, crackers, pita chips

Place a half moon slice of persimmon on each toast, top with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cheese, and garnish with 2 tarragon leaves.  A fresh crack of pepper is a nice addition.  

So easy it's not even a recipe!  But that's what you want...easy!  Time to actually mingle with the people you invited to your house!  To be honest, I cannot lay claim to this combination.  The credit must go to a woman that I've spoken to a couple of times at the produce exchange I go to.  She brought the tarragon at this month's exchange and when we were chatting she shared this combination with me.  I came right home and made it, since I had the goat cheese, the toasts, the persimmon, and thanks to her contribution...the tarragon.  It's divine.  She also offered the cream cheese substitution for those who don't like goat cheese (who are you people?).  Doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling this will be no problem.  

Warm Herbed Olives

1-2 cups, olives (a variety)
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
black pepper

In a large skillet, over low heat, add olives, rosemary, garlic, and pepper.  Stir frequently to combine everything and allow flavors to mingle.  

Again...this will require little to no effort.  Be sure to get a variety of olives.  You can buy a mix at any grocery stores that has a decent service deli and they will probably already be a little seasoned.  If you can, buy small amounts of single varieties that you can combine as you like.  Kalamatas, picholines, Nicoise, Alfonsos...there is a whole world of olives out there for you to conquer!  If you don't like rosemary, you can take it to a different level with oregano, or even basil.  The important part is to warm them to release a little of their oils and develop the depth of their flavors.  

Spicy Almonds
Makes 2 cups

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp shichimi togarashi or chili powder
pinch of salt
2 cups almonds, roasted, unsalted
3-4 dashes hot sauce

In a large skillet over medium flame, heat the olive oil until it barely starts to shimmer.  Add garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, togarashi, and salt.  As the spices begin to warm, stir to mix together.  Add almonds and stir quickly to coat with oil and spices.  Lower heat and add hot sauce, still stirring to distribute hot sauce evenly.  Remove from heat and let cool.