Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! International Traditions to Ring in the New Year

It's time to ring in 2009. What are your New Year's traditions?

Of course, many of us raise a glass of bubbly and give our best wishes for a wonderful new year.

And in the South, New Year's Day isn't New Year's Day without a big pot of black-eyed peas. (I'll post a couple of recipes in a few days for the inevitable leftovers...)

But here are some other traditions you might adopt.

Pretend you're in Portugal and eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes midnight. You'll have a year of good luck.

In Peru, folks walk around the block with an empty suitcase to guarantee travel in the upcoming year.

Scots make sure and deliver whisky and fruitcake as they visit friends and loved ones

And as if black-eyed peas don't guarantee enough fortune, the Danes and Southerners eat cabbage also. Since it resembles money, eating it promises prosperity.

And, of course, kiss the person next to you as the clock strikes twelve.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recipe Using Stouffer's Spinach Souffle: Spinach Puff Pastry Pinwheels

If you're like me, you always have a couple of boxes of Stouffer's Spinach Souffle in the freezer. (I usually have their Corn Souffle as well.) It's an easy and somewhat elegant side when you don't feel like making something more complicated. I ran across an article from The Dallas Morning News recently that provided more than twenty recipes incorporating the souffle. Tried a couple fo them for a holiday happy hour we had. Both were quite yummy. I'm going to look to try some of the others and will let you know what I think.

In the meantime, here's the first. It was a HUGE hit at our party.

Spinach Puff Pastry Pinwheels
Makes approximately 40 appetizers.

1 (12 ounce) box Stouffer's Spinach Souffle
1 box puff pastry sheets, thawed in refrigerator according to directions
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook spinach souffle according to directions on box. (Note: Do NOT want it easy to spread.) Unfold pastry sheets and spread half of the souffle on each sheet. Sprinkle with cheese and roll. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 or more hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With serrated knife, slice rolls in 1/4 inch slices. Place on cookie sheet (pre-sprayed with cooking spray) 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until golden.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Year's Eve Cocktail: The White Lady

I think that New Year's Eve calls for a special cocktail. Not just a gin and tonic or margarita. Not even a martini. Something elegant. Something somewhat unexpected.

Here's one that fits the bill. The White Lady. A truly "retro" drink invented in 1919. It's tart and refreshing with a nice gin kick. This adapted recipe comes from New York's hip Pegu Club. (Don't omit the egg adds a nice smoothness.)

Make several to ring in the New Year!

White Lady
Makes one cocktail.

1/4 cup gin (something good and junipery like Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire)
2 tablespoons triple sec
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon egg white

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
1 tablespoon egg white

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year's Eve Appetizer: Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive Puree and Prosciutto

This is a starter from the multi-course wine dinner I fixed for my family last week. I'll post details on it soon, but wanted to go ahead and get this recipe out there so you could try it for New Year's Eve. It's really yummy. Lots of layers of flavor: creamy ricotta, toastiness from the bagel chip and almonds in the chive oil, and bracing tang from chives and prosciutto. Perfect accompanied by a glass of your favorite bubbly.

Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive Puree and Prosciutto
Makes 48 canapes.
From Food and Wine magazine.

1/2 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons marcona almonds
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
48 small plain bagel chips (1 1/2 inches)
12 thin slices prosciutto (about 4 ounces), cut into 3-inch-wide strips

In a blender or mini food chopper, combine the chives, olive oil, almonds and a pinch of salt and pulse to a coarse puree.

In a small bowl, lightly season the ricotta with salt and spread about 1 teaspoon onto each bagel chip. Carefully spoon a small dollop of the chive puree on top of each chip and garnish each with a loosely rolled up slice of prosciutto. Transfer the bagel chips to a platter and serve.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year's Toasts: Sparklers to Ring in the New Year

It's time to buy your sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. I am a big fan of the bubbles...from all over the world. So I've tried quite a few and will take the opportunity to share some of my favorites. Any or all would be perfect to welcome in 2009...whether you're having a low-key evening at home or a full-out blast with a cast of thousands.

When in France...
Of course the grande dame of sparkling wines is Champagne. To be a true Champagne, the wine must be produced in the Champagne region of France. This is the wine with names you're familiar with like Dom Perignon. Although usually pricier than other sparkling options, it's usually worth it...especially when you're going to savor it along with an elegant meal like this one I've blogged about previously. Here are some of my favorites. All on the affordable side.

Moet and Chandon White Star
This is one of my perennial favorites...and was my go-to Champagne year in and year out until I started getting more adventurous. It is a wonderfully balanced wine with nice acidity and rich finesse. I always find just enough toastiness in this one. It will cost you somewhere between $30 and $40, although you're likely to find it on sale at this time of year.

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
This one is also well-structured and at right at $40 a bottle a pretty good value.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Blancs
This French sparkler isn't a true Champagne, but a nice substitute. It retails for around $20 and I always associate the "Cremant" in its name with the creaminess I get when I drink it. It has one of the biggest "mouthfeels" for any of the wines on this list.

Some Spanish Options...
Sparkling wines from Spain (aka "cava" from the caves in which they are aged) are excellent sparkling options. Probably the best values you can find.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

I've blogged about this wonderful wine from Spain several times. And it's been a go-to-gift for me many times...delicious and the bottle with its pewter embellishments is always impressive. As for the wine itself, it's fruity and just delicate enough without being sweet. Clean and food-friendly with its creamy toastiness, it retails for just under $20.

Segura Viudas Brut Rosé

I love Segura Viudas' brut so much that I've been drinking their rosé as well. It's nice and "zingy" with strawberries on the palate. It's delicious with mild cheeses and other light appetizers.

And if you need a sparkling wine in volume for your party, you can't go wrong with two other Spanish cavas, the Segura Viudas Aria or the Freixenet Cordon Negro. Both are steals at around $10 and will satisfy even the discerning palates on your guest list.

Some Homegrown Options

There are plenty of sparkling options from right here in the United States as well. Of course there are several from California, but my American list includes an option from New Mexico if you can believe it.

I know you can find Domaine Chandon, a California cuvee from the folks who bring us Moet and Chandon, in your local wine store or even grocery. It's non-vintage brut goes for around $25 and scored 88 points in Wine Spectator. It's rich with nice pear and apple scents and taste. All-around yummy.Also look for American labels Gloria Ferrer (California) and Domaine Ste. Michelle (Washington). They score well with critics and are good values at less than $20. And the New Mexican option is Gruet Brut, a nice quaff with both citrus and toasty notes. I like serving it with something with green these tasty appetizers. Only fitting, don't you think?

And don't forget Prosecco, the Italian version. It's usually slightly sweeter than the others, but the driest versions are still great sips or food wines. I served Zardetto Prosecco at a mutli-course wine dinner last week. More on that later...

In the meantime, cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oyster Nachos

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but oysters are a winter food for me. Maybe it's the overwhelming fear that's been beat into us about spoiled oysters and only eating them in months with "r." (Silly given the advances in food technology.) Regardless, oysters aren't a bracing sea breeze on a hot summer day. But a bracing icy blast.

And I love oysters in all forms. Raw with horesradish-rich cocktail sauce, a little mignonette or just a squeeze of fresh lemon. Roasted ala Oysters Rockefeller. Stewed in a traditional pan roast or bisque. And especially fried.

Some friends took me to a wonderful new seafood restaurant here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. I saw this specialty on the menu and couldn't resist. It's a contrasting combination of tastes and textures that I'm going to serve as an appetizer at our traditional Christmas Eve Tex-Mex feast.

Oyster Nachos
Makes one dozen.

12 tortilla chips (try for ones with a little thicker texture so they don't fall apart)
12 oysters, shucked
Vegetable oil for frying
1/3 cup mayonaise
1/2 tablespoon sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce (or more to taste) (You might be able to substitute chipotle Tabasco sauce if you need to.)
1 cup fresh pico de gallo

Mix mayonnaise and chipotle sauce together.

In a deep fryer or frying pan, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, drain the oysters and dredge in cornmeal.

Fry in batches until golden brown, about two minutes. Drain on paper towel lined plate and season with salt.

To asssemble nachos, spoon a teaspoon of the chipotle mayonnaise onto a tortilla chip. Top with a fried oyster. Spoon a tablespoonful of pico de gallo on top. Repeat until you have a dozen prepared.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Easy Triscuit Appetizers

This is the time of the year when we're all looking for quick and easy appetizer recipes. Something we can fix quickly for drop-by visitors...or that we can take to parties. I ripped an ad out of a magazine a while back. Although disguised as recipe pages from a food magazine, it was an obvious shill for Nabisco to sell their "new" Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil Triscuit. While I don't usually succumb to such ploys, these looked interesting. I tried all three recipes for a casual happy hour this past week. Two of them were definite hits. (And they fit my definition of a good canape...base, "glue," and topping.)

Here they are:

Tomato Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Canapes
This is a nice complex combination of salty, sweet and tangy.

4 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into 24 thin slices
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 24 pieces
24 Triscuit Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil
24 cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly shriveled. Let cool.

Spread about 1 teaspoon goat cheese on each cracker. Place a slice of prosciutto on top of the cheese followed by a Parmesan slice. Top with a tomato and serve.

Italian Salami and Cheese Canapes
This is deliciously salty...almost bar food. Yummy for those partygoers who are drinking a good cold beer.

8 ounces sharp Provolone cheese, cut into 24 slices
24 Triscuit Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil
Thinly sliced dry Italian salami, cut into 24 cracker size pieces
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Preheat the broiler. Place the crackers on a baking sheet. Put a piece of cheese on each cracker and top with salami. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let cool slightly. Put an olive half on top of each cracker and serve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Microwave Peanut Brittle

Here's what I'm making as homemade holiday gifts this year. It's been a staple of our next door neighbor's kitchen for years...finally I begged her for the recipe. In cellophane-lined tins, it's a perfect gift. And easy enough that you still have time to make it for neighbors and last-minute guests. Maybe even stocking stuffers...

Microwave Peanut Brittle
(Note: You may have to adjust cooking times depending on the power of your microwave. Watch your first batch carefully and record those times for future cooking.)

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup light corn syrup.

Microwave for four minutes.

Add one cup peanuts (or substitute pecans or almonds) and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Microwave for another four minutes.

Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon butter.

Microwave for one to two minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon baking soda. Stir until frothy. Working quickly, pour onto a buttered or parchment-lined (a Silpat also works nicely) cookie sheet. Spread by shaking pan or with offset spatula. (Take care not to flatten the bubbles.)

Allow to cool completely and then break into pieces.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Quick and Hearty Breakfast: Oatmeal Smoothie

Sure...a piping hot bowl of oatmeal is a great breakfast on a winter day. But sometimes even that takes too long to fix...especially when we're in the rush of getting ready for the holidays. So, while it's not hot, this smoothie is definitely hearty. A quick and healthy way to start your day.

Oatmeal Smoothie
Makes one smoothie.

1 cup oatmeal
1 banana
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk (or soy milk)
1 cup crushed ice
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
Drizzle of honey
(You can also add 1 tablespoon peanut butter if you'd like.)

Put the oatmeal in your blender and pulse until powdery. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Romaine Wedges with Tangy Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

The Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy includes a major simplicity quotient. There's nothing wrong with quality prepared products from the grocery store shelf. And salad dressings fit that bill perfectly. Especially some of the ones you can find these ingredients with no preservatives.

But sometimes a special occasion calls for something homemade. And that special occasion can be nothing else than a beautiful rib-eye steak on the grill with a glass of great Cabernet. That calls for a special salad. It would be perfect with your Christmas rib roast or prime rib. Here it is....

Romaine Wedges with Tangy Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Serves four.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 cup crumbled Maytag blue cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 small hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

Combine first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Whisk in cheese, leaving some whole pieces. Season with salt and generous amount of cracked pepper. Place romaine wedges on plates. Drizzle 1/4 cup dressing over center of each. Top with onion.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Corn Fritter Casserole

I've been collecting corn pudding recipes for years. It's soothing comfort food and was one of the highlights of the staff potluck dinner at my previous job. I love it.

But I never make it. This recipe has changed that. The perfect blend of dense pudding and flaky cornbread, here's a side dish for the ages.

Corn Fritter Casserole
From Cooking Light.
Makes nine servings.

3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 large egg whites
1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8 1/2-ounce) package corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in onion, bell pepper, whole-kernel corn, and cream-style corn; mix well. Add muffin mix and black pepper, stirring until well combined. Pour into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cocktail of the Week: Briar Patch

Happy repeal of Prohibition Day! Seventy-five year ago, Congress got smart and let us drink celebrate with this.

This is a simply yummy drink. With sweetness, richness and a slight undercurrent of spiciness, it's the perfect cocktail to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter evening.

Briar Patch
From Gourmet.
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 oz (3 tbsp) bourbon
1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) chile blackberry syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
About 1/4 cup chilled club soda or seltzer
Mint sprig for garnish

Combine bourbon and chile blackberry syrup by shaking in a cocktail shaker (without ice) or whisking together in a glass measuring cup.

Fill an 8 ounce glass with ice, then pour bourbon mixture over ice.

Add lemon juice and top off with club soda.

Garnish with mint sprig.

Chile Blackberry Syrup
I love the combination of flavors in this. I am furiously thinking of other uses for the syrup...maybe a Tom Collins. Or as glaze for a pork chop even....

4 dried pasilla chiles (1 oz) wiped clean
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup blackberries (3 1/2 oz)

Discard stems from chiles. Break chiles (with seeds) into a medium saucepan, then boil with sugar, water, and lemon juice, stirring until sugar is dissolved and until mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 10 to 15 minutes.

Purée blackberries in a blender then force through fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl, discarding seeds (do not clean blender).

Purée chile mixture in blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then strain through sieve into heatproof bowl, pressing on and discarding solids. Whisk chile purée into puréed berries and cool syrup to room temperature.

Syrup keeps, covered and chilled, one month.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

Who needs Ranch? Make your own tangy creamy dressing with this recipe. You can pour it over shredded Napa cabbage as the recipe calls for...or just use on your favorite salad mixture. It's a nice refreshing break from Thanksgiving feasting.

Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
From Gourmet magazine.
Serves 4 to 6.

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 pound Napa cabbage, cored and thinly sliced crosswise (4 cups)
6 radishes, diced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced diagonally

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, shallot, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Toss cabbage, radishes, and celery with dressing.