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November 2005
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January 2006

Merry Christmas


I'm in Berlin to eat Weihnachtsgans and crack my teeth on Springerle and see this for the first time and drink tea with my mother and listen to little boys in sailor suits sing Christmas carols on the radio. It is dark and cold outside, and I am loving every minute of it.

I won't be posting much because a dial-up connection, when you're used to high-speed Internet, is enough to make any normal person scratch their eyes out and that is NOT the spirit of the holiday season, IS IT? Besides, I'm embarrassed to admit that after years of getting used to the abomination that are PCs, I am woefully unskilled to use my mother's Apple. I hang my head in shame.

You still have a few days to donate to A Menu for Hope and enter the pot for some fabulous prizes. We've raised an amazing amount of money so far. Thank you! Have a safe and peaceful holiday.

Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies


Head over to the Paper Palate today - part of the newly launched Well-Fed Network - where I've blogged about testing some of the recipes in Martha Stewart's special Holiday Cookies issue.

Cocoa meringues were a blast to make (and eat). I love how a bowl of liquid egg whites combined with sugar and heat and force change into an entirely different substance. Twisted butter cookies were simple but tasty. A Martha-ized version of the Thin Mints of yore resulted in delicious results, and was surprisingly easy to execute.

And on a different note, I'm actually in Berlin, on my mother's computer, totally and utterly confused as to why Typepad seems so different and unnavigable here. Is there something in the drinking water? Is it my jetlag? Does Apple want to see me cry? Anyway, have patience and bear with me. I might figure it out, I might not. Here. Goes. Nothing.

Elizabeth David's Cotelettes de Porc au Cidre


I am nothing if not determined. One week I say I need to eat more meat, and the next week I am doing so. Buying pork chops...pounding chicken breasts...looking forward to the Christmas goose. My protein-deficient self raises her weak little arms in triumph! I have to say, it is awfully satisfying to hear that perfect sizzle when a piece of meat hits the hot, greased pan. And now that I am in possession of a cast-iron skillet, my fantasy of cooking like Ma and Pa in the big woods can finally come alive. Avast, salt pork!

In November, the editors of the LA Times compiled a list of their favorite cookbooks. It was lovely to see what old standbys are used by the folks with access to so many fabulous new cookbooks. Charles Perry listed Elizabeth David's French Country Cooking as his favorite, and chose to print a recipe for pork chops, David's terse instructions helpfully fleshed out by the kind and willing LA Times Test Kitchen. I love reading David's books on food, but find her recipes to be too daunting for trial in my kitchen (pedant that I am, I prefer having exact amounts listed).

I loved the dish's simplicity, and the flavor was fantastic. I used shrink-wrapped pork chops from the grocery store (I know, I disgust myself, too), but will make this again after buying good pork from the farmer's market. I halved the recipe, making only two chops, but I was still able to feed myself over the course of three meals. My only regret was halving the sauce - I could have lapped up twice as much. Soaking the plain, boiled rice on my plate, it was delicious.

Elizabeth David's Cotelettes de Porc au Cidre
Serves 4

2 tablespoons of oil
4 boneless pork chops (about 1 inch thick)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tablespoon of flour
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup hard cider (you could use regular apple cider, but not apple juice)
1/4 cup water
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp capers

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a pan and brown the chops (that you have sprinkled with salt) on each side. Take them out and add the flour to the pan. Stirring with a whisk, let the flour turn golden. When it is smooth, add the cider and the water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Put the chops back in the sauce, and add the pepper, the garlic and the rosemary. Cover the pan and put it in the oven for 30 minutes (if your pork is thinner or your oven hotter, you'll need less time - this is just a guideline). Five minutes before serving, add the capers to the sauce.

Bernard Clayton's Honey-Lemon Whole-Wheat Rolls


There is nothing, nothing, better than homemade bread. Is there? I don't think so. Well, maybe the feeling that comes from making the homemade bread. The yeasty scent in the kitchen, the powdery flour on the backs of your hands, the sensation of a crisp crust breaking under your teeth and the sink of warmth below. When you find a recipe that is easy and fast and produces bread that smells so very good, you must hold on to it tightly. Make sure you bookmark this one; it's fantastic.

Excerpted in the LA Times this past June, the recipe comes from Bernard Clayton Jr.'s The New Complete Book of Breads. Not only is it easy because it uses a food processor and the dough comes together in a snap, but you can also make the dough at bedtime, form it into rolls and let them rise overnight in the fridge to be baked in the morning for breakfast. I didn't have this kind of time, so I just prepared the dough, let it rise for an hour and a half in my warm kitchen, then formed the rolls and let them rise a bit longer before popping them in the oven. Let me tell you, a warm roll as a bedtime snack is a very nice thing, indeed.

What do they taste like? Like my childhood. Grated lemon peel and whole-wheat flour and a touch of honey make these wholesome and delicious. They are best eaten plain or split and spread with plain butter. Jam or honey are too sweet for these soft rolls that taste so good on their own.

First, you pulse together flour, yeast, salt, hot water, honey, lemon peel and butter (I substituted butter for the shortening called for).
After beating in part of the whole-wheat flour, you let the batter rest a bit before beating in more to create a soft but not sticky dough.
This gets turned out and kneaded (because it will kill your food processor otherwise), until a gorgeous round ball emerges, that you cover and let rise for a while.
Form the dough into small balls (the recipe says that it makes 24 rolls; I only got 12) and let them rise until puffy.
Bake them, with a pan full of icecubes at the bottom of the oven, until browned and a wondrous perfume fills your kitchen.
Split and eat. Or if you're generous, share them with your boyfriend. You might live to regret it when you have none left a few days later. So, hoarding is also an option.

Lemon-Honey Whole-Wheat Rolls
Makes 24 rolls

3 cups bread flour (or good quality all-purpose flour such as King Arthur)
2 (1/4 ounce each) envelopes dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups hot water (120 to 130 degrees)
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 to 3 cups whole-wheat flour

1. Using a food processor, attach the short plastic dough blade and add the bread flour or all-purpose flour, yeast, salt, hot water, honey, butter and lemon peel to the bowl of the processor. Pulse to make a batter-like dough. With the machine running, measure in 1 to 1 1/2 cups of whole-wheat flour. Blend well. Turn off the machine and let the batter rest for 3 minutes, until the whole-wheat flour has been absorbed. TUrn on the machine and gradually add 1 to 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour through the tube. Turn off the machine, remove the cover and feel the dough. It should be soft and a bit sticky, but a solid (not hard) mass.

2. Turn on the machine and knead for 45 seconds, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too heavy and the processor stalls, remove and continue by hand. (If this happens, turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. It will be sticky but light. Add sprinkles of bread flour or all-purpose flour as necessary and knead by hand. Depending on how long your dough was kneaded in the machine, you may be kneading for up to 10 minutes, adding flour as needed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Test to see if you've kneaded enough by slapping your hand on the dough, holding it there for a count of 10, then lifting your hand up. If bits of dough stick or cling to your hand, continue to knead, adding flour. If the hand comes off clean, the dough's ready for the next step.)

3. Form the kneaded dough into a mound and cover it with wax paper. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

4. Knead the dough for 30 seconds to press out any air bubbles. Using a sharp knife or dough blade, cut off pieces of dough a little bigger than golf balls. Roll between your hands to form balls. Place each ball on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, flattening slightly with the palm of your hand.

5. Brush the rolls with oil. Cover with plastic wrap that is loose enough to allow the rolls to rise but is sealed around the edges to hold in the moisture. Place the sheets of rolls in the refrigerator overnight.

6. Remove the rolls from the fridge and let them sit, covered, at room temperature for 25 minutes while the oven heats to 400 degrees. Place a small cake pan on the flour of the oven to heat as the oven heats. Have about a dozen ice cubes ready.

7. Uncover the rolls. Place them in the oven, then quickly and carefully place the ice cubes into the hot pan on the bottom of the oven (steam will rise immediately) and close the oven door. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the rolls are browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Birthday Cake


Tuesday night I took one step closer to the inevitable. In the weeks before my birthday, I spent nights awake wondering, "Lady Baltimore or Coconut Chiffon? Italian Meringue Icing or White Chocolate Buttercream?" Because it's much easier to worry about the kind of cake you'll make for your birthday than it is to realize that at 28, you're not at the point you thought you would be when you were a kid looking into the future.

But then I found myself surrounded with my dearest friends, old and new, and my beloved Ben, with a glass (or two, or three?) of champagne in my hand. Around me people were talking and laughing and eating cake; music played in the background and as I sat back for a moment, a sense of pure bliss coursed through me. I thought, life plan or no life plan, I have everything I need.

And the cake, you're wondering? I made Martha Stewart's Inside Out German Chocolate Cake. The cake layers were thick and fudgy like brownies, not as high and fluffy as I had expected. The custardy, crunchy filling was delicious, and the ganache was fruity and smooth (I stuck my finger in both concoctions during preparations to taste). Everyone loved it, but I was too busy drinking champagne and gazing lovingly at the people around me to even have a slice.

Florence Fabricant's Braised Lamb Shank Ragu


This picture practically makes me want to rip my shirt open and beat my fists against my chest. Meat! As you might have noticed, I rarely mention it. I'm not a vegetarian, but the plain fact is that I will always prefer a plate of pasta or a hunk of bread to even the choicest chop of meat. I am trying to amend my protein-deficient ways, though, and figured that this recipe would at least give me a few shreds of meat with my nightly spaghetti tangle. This sauce is different from traditional meat ragu - it's sharper and gamier.

I loved the process of making the sauce. The wondrous scent of aromatics and braised meat wound through the apartment in a deeply satisfying way. There really is something to slow-cooking meat, it lets you decompress and unwind from your day as you set about doing something elemental: transforming humble ingredients into a pot of something that will warm and sustain you for days to come. And for someone who rarely spends time at the meat counter, there was a bit of adventure in the air as thick bones encased with raw meat popped and spattered on the stove.

In the end, this is a simple, but rich-tasting sauce that is easily frozen and reheated without much damage to the flavor or consistency. That first night I ate it fresh on hot spaghetti and covered with gratings of pecorino, yet a container of it frozen in the fridge was a life-saver a few weeks later, when Ben and I were hungry for dinner, but too tired to leave the house. It might not totally replace my beloved meat ragu learned at the knee of a dear friend from Bologna, but I'm sure I'll make this again. After all, I quite liked being knuckle-deep in lamb meat.

Braised Lamb Shank Rag├╣
Yields: 4-6 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces diced pancetta
2 lamb shanks, about 2 1/4 pounds
2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 branches fresh rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, or a large can of plum tomatoes
Red pepper flakes to taste

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in 4-quart ovenproof casserole. Add pancetta, lightly brown and remove. Add lamb shanks, brown on all sides and remove. Lower heat; add onions, garlic and rosemary. Saute until soft. Add white wine. Scrape pan, return pancetta and lamb to casserole, season with salt and pepper, then cover and bake 90 minutes, turning lamb once.

2. Remove lamb from casserole. Cut meat from bones, trimming off fat and gristle. Finely dice meat and add to casserole. Add tomatoes and red pepper. Simmer on top of stove one hour. Check seasoning. Serve with pasta and pecorino cheese.

A Menu for Hope II


In the wake of last year's disaster in Southeast Asia, Pim at Chez Pim set up a foodblogging fundraiser with great success. This year, in the hopes of raising money for the earthquake victims in India and Pakistan, Pim has decided to hold a virtual raffle. The money donated will go through the First Giving website - and no money will pass through any of our hands. Unicef will be the recipient of the money, which will be specifically earmarked for the Kashmiri earthquake victims.

Let's get down to the nitty-gritty. One raffle ticket costs $5. In return for your generosity, Pim has assembled a list of prizes donated by foodbloggers around the world. And what prizes they are! From tea-time with Clotilde, to an autographed Chocolate Book from David, to food photography lessons, to dinner at Manresa - the choices are delectable and seemingly endless.  You can, of course, donate more than $5 - the more you donate, the more chances you have of winning the prize your little heart desires.

From my corner of the world, I'd like to offer up one of my prized cookbooks, Cooked to Perfection, by Anne Willan. This beauty is sadly out-of-print and no longer to be found in bookstores. Anne Willan is founder of La Varenne, and cooking teacher extraordinaire (Amanda Hesser wrote The Cook and the Gardener whilst living and working at La Varenne). The book is full of gorgeous photographs that show and explain how every stage of preparing a proper meringue, a batch of homemade bread, or a perfectly cooked steak should look like. Willan explains in detail how to achieve perfection in the kitchen and how to remedy any mistakes you might make. In addition, she includes fabulous recipes with which to try out each technique. An added incentive: whoever wins the book will also receive a bag of homemade cookies from me to nibble on while curled up on a couch, reading.

Here is a round-up of the prizes available. Click here to donate at the First Giving website. Remember to specify which gift you'd like to receive in the comments section of the donation form. Thank you for your generosity - it is greatly needed by so many.