Penguin Books' Great Food Series

Friday, December 23, 2011

I wish I'd known about Penguin Books' Great Food series when I was shopping for Christmas presents. The series include works by classic food writers like M. F. K. Fisher and Alice Waters, to interesting sounding relics like A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig & Other Essays by 19th-century essayist Charles Lamb. With pretty covers  and a price of just $12 each, they'd make great hostess gifts. It's too bad the full collection isn't currently available in the U.S. I wonder if Penguin plans to release them eventually?

Monte's Ham

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

If you were to look up photos of me on Facebook, you'd come up with a shot of a severely cooked ham, and you might wonder to yourself why I left a photo of a ham tagged as me. Well, it wasn't just any ham: It was Monte's Ham. After requesting the recipe, my friend Nathaniel had tagged the ham as me in tribute to my sharing of this fine, fine ham recipe.

I first had Monte's Ham at the home of a food writer in Queens at a house warming party. Afterwards, I begged my friend who'd brought me to the party to find out about the ham, and in turn, she introduced me to the recipe for Monte's Ham. Nearly, every year since I've made the ham at Christmas parties. It is perhaps the most well-loved thing I cook (Marcella Hazan's bolognese lasagna is a close contender). Monte's Ham has become a holiday tradition.

When I went to look up the recipe on Saveur's website (it was originally published in the magazine's pages), I was greatly dismayed to see that the text from the Saveur Cooks Authentic American cookbook was absent, so I'll share it with you here. Monte's explanation of the ham is a good part of why I love this recipe so much—because really aren't all recipes better with a story behind them?

Note: New Yorkers, can anyone tell me where I can find a cheap 15 lb. ham? I've had to resort to much smaller specimens because I haven't been able to find one as big as Monte suggests?
"When I first moved to New York City," advertising copywriter Monte Mathews told us [Saveur], "a friend gave me two pieces of advice: First, if you wear an expensive watch, you can wear anything else you want; second, when you have a lot of people over, buy a cheap ham. I already had the watch, but the cheap-ham tip threw me, and my friend did not elaborate. Not long afterward, at one of my first big-city parties, what should I see center-stage on the buffet table but a giant ham, bone intact, brown as could be. And what a ham! The mingled flavors of brown sugar and orange permeated every bite, and there was a faint hint of spice in the aftertaste. Guests hovered over it, and as the evening wore on, it became unrecognizable – thoroughly picked over. My hostess, flush with the triumph of having entertained so well, was effervescent, and I, feeling particularly close to her that night, offered to stay behind and help clean up. As she washed and I dried, I begged, ‘Please talk to me about your ham’ Almost conspiratorially, she instructed me to buy the cheapest ham I could find, glaze the hell out of it, and cook it for a long time. ‘You can feed 30 people for $6.99!’ she exclaimed. I admit that I’ve never been able to find a bargain quite like that, - but 20 years later, I still swear by cheap ham and a great glaze. I trot one out several times a year, and it’s always the hit of the party."

Monte's Ham
From Saveur Cooks Authentic American
Serves about 30

15-lb. smoked ham on the bone

1 1/2 cups orange marmalade

1 cup dijon mustard

1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1 tbsp. whole cloves

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Trim tough outer skin and excess fat from ham. Place ham, meat side down, in a large roasting pan and score, making crosshatch incisions with a sharp knife. Roast for 2 hours.
2. Remove ham from oven and increase heat to 350°. For glaze, combine orange marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud ham with whole cloves (stick one clove at the intersection of each crosshatch), then brush with glaze and return to oven.
3. Cook ham another 1 1/2  hours, brushing with glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Photo: André Baranowski

Party Perfect: Smoked Salmon Dip

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My mother has long made a smoked salmon dip for parties. A casual recipe, she chops up smoked salmon and stirs it into softened cream cheese with chives, lemon zest, salt and pepper. So when I saw a recipe for a smoked salmon dip in the December issue of Bon Appetit, I immediately thought of my mother's dish and decided to give BA's version a try. I am glad I did: It was delicious. I made the recipe to the letter, using a wild smoked salmon from Costco (which gave it a very salmon hue). The flavor of the spread improved quite a bit after sitting for a while, letting the flavors meld. I'd make it the day before a party, or at the very least a few hours prior, and I'd stir some of finely chopped zest into the dip to give it some lemon lift. We served the dip with Stacy's "Simply Naked" pita chips, which made for a nice, neutral based for the salmon-y goodness. Also, note that this recipe makes a lot of dip!

Smoked Salmon Dip
from Bon Appetit

2/3 cup crème fraîche
2/3 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
4 teaspoons Horseradish (white)
1 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives plus more
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
Pumpernickel toasts, flatbread crisps, or bagel chips

1. Whisk first 3 ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Place salmon in a food processor; pulse just a few seconds at a time until salmon is reduced to pea-sized pieces. Add salmon and 2 tbsp. chives to crème fraîche mixture; fold to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be made 3 days ahead.
2. Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest from lemon (yellow part only). Cut lengthwise into thin strips. 3. Garnish dip with lemon zest and 2”-long pieces of fresh chives. Serve with pumpernickel toasts.

Swoon: Cabin 7 Alphabet Blocks

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My sweet friend Jen, co-founder of Cabin 7, has just launched the first collection of exclusive Cabin 7 gilded alphabet blocks. Cabin 7 has offered gilded vintage blocks for some time now, but this set was custom-made in Michigan for Cabin 7 and hand-gilded by Jen and her co-founder. I know she's been working on this a long time, so I was so thrilled to see Jen post about it on her blog. As she mentions, these alphabet sets are a limited-edition collection, so pick one up now!

(Almost) Perfect Water Bottle

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yesterday I spotted this great-looking water bottle at Whole Foods. I am fond of a similar water keeper that I own. With its bamboo top and shiny metal sides, the Klean Kanteen Reflect Stainless Steel BPA Free Water Bottle is almost handsome enough to justify the $30 price tag, but why, oh why must it be emblazoned with a large-ish Klean Kanteen logo? Note to manufacturers: If you're appealing to aesthetes, make your logo teeny tiny or invisible. Trust me, we'll love you for it. Besides, the best designs don't need a logo: They'll be identifiable all on their own (think Moleskine notebooks).

Re-Post: Butterscotch Eggnog

Last December I made an insanely delicious twist on a traditional eggnog from Melissa Clark's "A Good Appetite" column. Clark intriguingly described her nog, "The smoky Scotch made the eggnog more complex and gave it a savory taste, which went nicely with the caramelized flavor of the brown sugar." She more than delivered on her promise: It was delicious, heavenly, smoky and rich, but light--you could eat it with a spoon it was so wonderfully thick. Give it a try this holiday season!

Note: When I halved the recipe it still made much, much more than we needed to serve five people. Since it is such a rich, concentrated dessert, you can definitely serve more than a dozen people with the recipe below.

Butterscotch Scotch Eggnog
From The New York Times

12 large eggs, separated
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus pinch
2 cups whole milk
1 cup smoky Scotch whisky
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Grated nutmeg

1. In a large bowl, combine the yolks, brown sugar, vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Using an electric mixer beat on medium-high speed until thick and dark golden, about 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly drizzle in the milk, Scotch and brandy. Transfer to the freezer to chill while preparing the rest of the eggnog. (Or refrigerate for at least 2 hours before completing.)
2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Set aside. In another medium bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites and pinch of salt on medium-high speed, adding the sugar by tablespoons until soft peaks form.
3. When ready to serve, pour the yolk mixture into a large punchbowl. Fold in a small amount of whipped cream to lighten it, then fold in the remaining cream. Fold in the egg whites. Generously dust the top with nutmeg; serve immediately.

Yield: 12+ servings

Photo: Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

The Famed Life-Sized Gingerbread House

Monday, December 12, 2011

I've had a lot of nutty assignments over the years, but when my editor at ShelterPop called me last year to ask if I'd be willing to help her build a life-sized gingerbread house, it was definitely a unique challenge. Of my many projects for ShelterPop, helping to help plan and build a life-sized gingerbread house that was donated to St. Jude's Children's Hospital was my favorite. We had a ton of fun building it, and it was even sweeter knowing it was for a good cause. If you're curious about how we built it, check out this video.

I made the gumdrop wreath in advance, using a styrofoam wreath form and a LOT of gumdrops. To secure them to the form, I spiked each drop on a toothpick, covered the bottom in hot glue and pressed it into the wreath.

Editors brought in their kids to help. It was lots of fun "working" with the kiddos.

Quick Bough Door Decoration

Friday, December 09, 2011

In order to get our tree into it's stand, it was necessary to remove the lowest branches. We were left with three boughs, which I wired together and hung as a door decoration. The lovely green ribbon is recycled from Williams-Sonoma's gift wrapping, in which many of our wedding gifts came wrapped. A trio of shatter-proof ornaments are wired together to add a bit of sparkle.

Our First Christmas Tree

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Weston and I picked up our first Christmas tree on Sunday night at a sidewalk tree shop here in Fort Greene. It cost a whopping $50 (including the stand), but I have to say it's the happiest $50 has made me in recent memory. We had a few ornaments and I'd picked up a bunch of vintage glass ornaments last year at a thrift store, so we had plenty of things to fill the tree. A few bows added a touch of red and a larger bow was our substitute for a star. Here's Weston below carrying our tree home.

Cauliflower and Chickpea Pasta

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Last night was a cook-what's-in-the-fridge kind of night, and I ended up making a pasta dish with roasted cauliflower and chickpeas. The dish was inspired by Nate Appleman's method for preparing cauliflower from A16: Food + Wine, and the results were pretty tasty. However, if I were to make it again, I might add some chopped, fresh parsley for a brightness of flavor and a touch of color. Here's a rough recipe for the dish:

Cauliflower and Chickpea Pasta 

1 head cauliflower
1/4 c. olive oil (divided)
1 medium red onion
1/4 c. capers
1/2 t. red chile flakes
1 15 oz. can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1/2 lb. orecchiette
Kosher salt
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Core the cauliflower and separate into florets; cut smaller florets in half and quarter largest florets. In a bowl, toss well with 1/8 c. olive oil and season with approximately 1 teaspoon Kosker salt. Spread out on baking sheet and roast for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, set a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
3. Rinse the capers and pat dry. Thinly slice the red onion. Place the remaining 1/8 c. olive oil in a small pot over medium heat add the onion, capers and red chile flakes to the pan and stir. Cook for 5 minutes or until onions have softened.
4. Generously salt pasta water and cook pasta according to package instructions. Before draining, reserve 1/3 c. pasta water.
5. Return pasta to pot, and add toss with onion-caper mixture, chickpeas, and pasta water. Season with salt and pepper and additional red chili flakes to taste.
6. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese before serving.

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