Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Cookbook Gift Guide for the Holidays

I highly recommend Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart's Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking.  This newly released gem of a cookbook is packed full of traditional, modern, and sophisticated southern cuisine.  With a little over 700 pages, this is more of a tome than a cookbook.  This book reminds me of Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table or maybe even Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything.  It's very comprehensive and really celebrates southern cooking at it's finest.  You will not find loads of overly rich butter-laden recipes in this book.  Think of this cookbook as a fresh take on southern cooking with a modern, almost up-scale, classy touch.  Unfortunately this cookbook doesn't have too many pictures, but I honestly don't mind.  I don't think you will either.

For the baker in your life, The Back In The Day Bakery Cookbook  will charm you with it's whimsical retro design and gorgeous baked goods (both savory and sweet).  This is one of those books that you simply page through again and again because it's so very pretty.

Okay, Joy The Baker Cookbook.  Need I say more?  I fell in love with this book when I was invited to be a part of the Joy the Baker Cook-off.  Joy's blog is so much fun and her cookbook reflects her upbeat personality.  I've made so many recipes from this book and they've all been a hit, but Joy's Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting is incredible.  Worth the price of the book alone.  I'm buying a copy of this book for a friend of mine. 

Ina Garten.  When she writes a cookbook, you buy it!  Especially when the title of said cookbook is Foolproof.  Ina has a knack for writing recipes that turn out well every single time.  Foolproof  has the same gorgeous layout as Ina's other cookbooks and it's easy to fall in love with this book.  Best of all, the recipes seem very impressive while being easy and quick. 

My cast iron skillet is probably my favorite kitchen tool.  I love the versatility of being able to go from the stovetop, to the oven, to the table.  Of course, it helps that everything looks gorgeous when served in cast iron.  It's no surprise then that The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook  is also a favorite of mine.  This cookbook is full of gorgeous cast iron cookware and great recipes (many of them time-saving one-pot recipes). 

I'm a huge fan of Giada De Laurentiis.  I have all of her cookbooks, but Weeknights with Giada is probably my favorite Giada cookbook.  As my children get older, I have less and less time in the kitchen.  This is somewhat of a go-to cookbook for me.  I can always find something quick and easy that my kids will like.  This cookbook is great for people who are looking for something delicious without spending hours in the kitchen.   

And finally, Muy Bueno.   I have a soft spot for this book.  I really do.  It's written by three generations of women and it just screams family, love, and tradition.  I love the recipes in this book, but I love the stories even more.  This would be a great book for any food lover. 

These are my favorite cookbooks that have been published this year, however I'd really love to know which ones you liked the best.  What are some of your favorite cookbooks that came out this year?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Virgin Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis

It can't be all about the food on Thanksgiving Day.  You also need to have a variety of drinks.  These Virgin Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis are a perfect way to celebrate the holidays.  A ruby-hued, delicious, fruity, slightly tart, and effervescent drink that pairs very well with the flavors of Thanksgiving.  You should definitely give this a try!

I'm all about a little Black Friday shopping in the wee hours of the morning, therefore I need to drink a virgin cocktail on Thanksgiving Day.  The sparkling water in these bellinis lends a wonderful bubbly and fizzy cocktail feel.  I love a drink with some good fizz.  However, if you have no place to be, jazz things up by subbing the sparkling water for a bottle of champagne, prosecco, or cava.  Either way, this is a fantastic and festive drink that should have a place at every holiday table.

Virgin Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis 
recipe found online here
Serves 6-8
1 cup ice
1- 1/2 cups simple syrup, recipe follows *(I used about 1 cup)
1-1/4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice, chilled
1 (25.3 fluid ounces) bottle sparkling water, chilled
2 limes, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh mint, for garnish
Optional garnish:  pomegranate seeds (arils) and/or fresh cranberries 
Special Equipment: 6 to 8 cup capacity punch bowl or glass pitcher

For the simple syrup:  Place 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water into a medium-sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil (carefully), reduce heat to low, and cook about 5 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves.  Cool for at least 20 minutes.  Place in refrigerator until chilled.  This should yield about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of simply syrup.

For the Bellinis: Place the ice in a punch bowl or glass pitcher. Add the simple syrup, pomegranate juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well. Slowly pour in the sparkling water. Garnish with lime slices, mint sprigs, pomegranate seeds and/or fresh cranberries, if using, and serve.
 Happy Thanksgiving!!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Red Chicken Curry

We celebrated my son's sixth birthday this week.  Normally we just have a small family affair, but this year we did a big party with friends.  He had a great time and I'm so glad, but I was so consumed with party planning that I've done nothing about getting ready for Thanksgiving.  No planning, no shopping, no preparation whatsoever.  It's a good thing they'll only be six of us this year.

Before I get knee deep into all the Thanksgiving preparations I thought I'd take a minute to change gears and make something a little different.  I've had a jar of red curry paste in my pantry for the better part of a year now.  I've really been wanting to use it and was so happy when I spotted this recipe for Red Chicken Curry.  Better yet, I had all the ingredients on hand.  Love it when that happens. 
This is a simple curry dish with very few ingredients and I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  Let me just go ahead and say that the aromas while this cooked were so beautifully fragrant.  Cubes of chicken are cooked in wonderfully fragrant coconut milk until tender.  The scent immediately grabbed my attention.  I knew that I was going to love this dish.  Next, I went ahead and (rather innocently I might add) stir-fried a few tablespoons of the thick coconut cream along with several tablespoons of the red curry paste.  Once those two ingredients hit the pan I eagerly started to anticipate eating this meal.  What a beautiful bouquet of aromas.
It was love at first bite.  The chicken is very tender and the sauce is beautifully aromatic, creamy, complex, and yet delicate.  There is a little bit of heat from the red curry paste, but it's beautifully balanced by the coconut milk.  This is a dish that feels comforting and satisfying in so many ways.  Madhur Jaffrey hails this curry as the very best of the Thai curries and I can understand why.  If you're looking for something a little bit different please give this a try.

Red Chicken Curry
(Kaeng Pet Kai) 
Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Step-by-Step Cooking
Serves 4
1-1/4 cups coconut milk
1-1/4 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs (or breasts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons red curry paste
1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce, to taste
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves*
15 to 20 fresh sweet basil leaves
Whether using fresh or canned coconut milk, let stand until the cream rises to the top, then skim off 4 tablespoons of the thick cream and set it aside for use later.  Stir the rest of the milk to mix.
Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch cubes.  Pour the thin coconut milk into a medium frying pan.  Sprinkle in the salt.  Now put in the chicken pieces and bring the milk to a boil.  Simmer on a medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes (mine took only 12-15) until the chicken is just cooked.  Remove from the heat and set aside.
Heat the oil and reserved coconut cream in a heavy wok or wide heavy pan until bubbling.  Add the curry paste and stir-fry on medium-high heat until the oil separates and the paste is lightly browned.  Lower the heat and stir in the fish sauce (or soy sauce) and sugar.
Add the chicken, together with its cooking liquid.  Bring to a boil and simmer over a low heat for 1 minute.  (The curry can be prepared to this stage several hours ahead of time.)
When you are ready to serve, remove the central vein from kaffir lime leaves, then cut the leaves crosswise into very fine strips.  Reheat the curry if necessary.  *If fresh kaffir lime leaves are not available, use dried ones, pre-soaking them in a little water for 30 minutes .  Alternatively, you could use 2 teaspoons finely shredded lime or lemon zest.  

Put the hot curry into a serving dish.  Scatter the basil leaves over the chicken and, with the back of the spoon, submerge them slightly in the sauce.  Scatter the kaffir lime leaves over the top.

Theme:  Comforting Curries

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Blondies

I'm all about a bar cookie.  I'm also all about Ina Garten's recipes.  Her recipes are pretty much foolproof.  Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks her recipes are foolproof because she actually named her newest cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof.  Say what you will about Ms. Garten, but the lady can write a fantastic recipe.  

My daughter is participating in a bake sale this weekend and I wanted something that was reliable, delicious, and easy to package.  Ina's Chocolate Chunk Blondies are all of that and more.  With over a pound of chocolate in the recipe, this is definitely a cookie for all the chocolate lovers out there.  Please keep these blondies in mind for the upcoming holidays because they are fantastic! I really do believe this is one of those desserts that would be enjoyed by all.

Chocolate Chunk Blondies
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Foolproof
Makes 12 bars

1/2 pound (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temp
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temp
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1-1/4 pounds semisweet chocolate chunks 

Note:  I substituted regular chocolate baking chips because my store was out of chocolate chunks.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour an 8-1/2 x 12 x 2-inch baking pan (I used a 9 x 13 size pan lined with greased parchment paper for easy removal). 

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on high speeds for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy.  With the mixer on low, add the vanilla.  Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well, scraping down the bowl after each addition.  In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Don't overbake!  The toothpick may have melted chocolate on it but it shouldn't have wet batter.  Cool completely in the pan and cut into 12 bars.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Onion Fritters with Fresh Green Chutney

 The town I live in is pretty small and rural.  In fact, if you go down the street and make a left you'll run into a cattle farm.  To push my point even further, we were a dry county (no beer or alcohol sales allowed) until just about a month ago.  It's just a nice, small, old-fashioned kinda town.  While we do love living here, sometimes we miss living in a bigger city with all it's conveniences.  

However, just last week our little town had a grand opening for a brand new very fancy grocery store.  I was beyond ecstatic!  For four years I've been running to the "city", which is 30 minutes away, to get all my special hard-to-find grocery items.  Now all those special ingredients are right at my fingertips.  All I have to do is go down the street and make a left when I see the cattle farm.  It's literally minutes away.

My neighbors are laughing at me because I've been to the new grocery store every day since they've opened.  I know you all understand.  I can't believe that here, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, we now have a grocery store that has a sushi bar, and get this....a cupcake bar.  You can literally make your own cupcake.  Can I just tell you that this grocery store sells everything?  Heck, they even sell whole (skinned and deboned) frogs!  Crazy, huh?  

So anyway, I've basically been stalking the place with big wide eyes full of wonder.  It's safe to say that I've spent way too much money buying up all the ingredients that I've been dying to get my hands on all these years.

Chickpea flour, or besan, is one of the ingredients that I've been searching for until now. Chickpea flour can be used for many things, but what I've been wanting to make with it lately are these savory and totally addicting onion fritters. 

The batter for these fritters consists chickpea flour, egg, four different spices, green chile, and fresh cilantro.  The batter rests for awhile so that it has a chance to soak up all the great added flavors.   The diced onion is thrown in at the last minute right before frying.  These fritters are okay on their own, but magic happens when you dunk them in this Fresh Green Chutney.  The chutney is fresh from the addition of mint and cilantro, tangy from the yogurt, and a little bit acidic from the lemon juice.  It is a perfect pairing.  I served these as an appetizer prior to serving Jaffrey's Delicious Chicken Bits that I posted here last month.  If you're looking for a new way to prepare your chicken, please try those chicken bits.  They are absolutely incredible!

Onion Fritters with Fresh Green Chutney

1 large egg
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 fresh, hot green chile, finely chopped (do not remove seeds)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
vegetable oil, for frying
1 medium-large onion, peeled and chopped into medium-size dice

Break the egg into a bowl and beat well.  Add the water and the lemon juice.  Mix.  Add in the chickpea flour and mix well with a whisk.  Put in the salt, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin seeds, ground cumin, turmeric, green chile, and cilantro.  Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes.  Mix again with a whisk.  The batter should be of a droppable consistency.  

Put the oil in a wok or deep fryer and set over medium heat. You should have at least 3 inches of oil in the center of the wok.  When the oil is hot, put the onion into the batter and mix.  (This should always be done just before frying).  Remove heaping teaspoons of the batter and drop it into the hot oil.  Use up all the batter this way.  Stir and fry the fritters for 7 to 8 minutes or until they are golden red.  Remove the fritters with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.  Serve hot, as soon as the fritters are made.

Fresh Green Chutney

6 tablespoons plain yogurt
 2 heaping tablespoons coarsely chopped mint
2 heaping tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro 
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 teaspoon salt or to taste

Put 2 tablespoons of the yogurt and the mint, cilantro, lemon juice, and salt into the container of an electric blender and blend until smooth, pushing down with a rubber spatula if necessary.

Put the remaining 4 tablespoons of yogurt into a bowl and beat lightly.  Add the paste from the blender.  Stir to mix.

This chutney may be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Eat 'em all up til they're gone!

Theme: Relishes, Chutneys and Pickles