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Archive for December, 2009

New Year: New Blog

2010 is rapidly approaching, and although I am not a complete believer in New Year’s resolutions (seriously do people ever keep them past the second week in January?), I think it is important to set goals. Aside from getting a job after college, I am going to take some inspiration from the movie Julie and Julia(a recent Christmas gift from my parents who know me too well), and write a more focused blog. No, I’m not going to copy the premise of that movie and no, I’m not going to stop writing about my bread, cheese and wine revelations. This year, I am going to be brave and attempt to master new culinary skills. I want to make souffle, fillet a fish, de-bone a duck, make sushi and attempt to create my own sauces. Honestly you never know until you try, and you learn from your mistakes so why not take risks? I’m still a student, so it is hard to focus my life around food, but I am going to explore at least one new dish each week until graduation in May, and grow from there. For consistency’s sake I will publish my attempts on Sundays, and if I have any additional thoughts or foodie experiences I’ll provide those sparingly in separate blogs through out the week. I think this is a realistic goal. I’m committing.

Game On,

Nora

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No Fuss Appetizers

HOLIDAY PARTIES!!! WOOH! Good food, good company and lots of fancy holiday cocktail cheer! It should be a relaxing and enjoyable time to get together with those you love, but often the unsung host gets lost in translation, catering to everyone’s needs and doing last minute prep work in the kitchen. It’s a sad thing when you spend lots of time and effort and can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor. From my little bit of experience this season I have picked up a few tips for hosting parties so you can make your cake AND eat it too.

1. PLAN AHEAD: Sit down at least a few weeks in advance and make a game plan. What you are planning to make, what you are planning to do with the venue, when you are going grocery shopping, what you need to pick up, when to start preparations and a ‘day of’ schedule. Make things in advance! This will save you time and stress.

2. GO EASY: On the appetizers, plan things that are simple. It is always nice to have something to nibble at with cocktails and drinks, but there is no need to go above and beyond. The real star of the party should be the main course, so allocate your time and resources to that.

3. DON’T GO IT ALONE: Ask for help! Yes it is your party, and you want to be the all-star-host, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Have guests bring side dishes or mini desserts. Also, don’t neglect store bought quick-fixes. Add your own special touches and no one will know that it wasn’t from scratch.

My appetizer picks:
Spiced Nuts: So easy to make and impressive. I like cinnamon sugar roasted almonds: beat an egg white, toss almonds to coat, add cinnamon sugar and mix, spread out on a baking sheet and place in the oven at 250 for 45 minutes (stirring half way through the baking process).
Crudites and Dip: Mixed [eppers, broccoli, carrots and celery provide a colorful and light appetizer. I like to serve them on a platter around a bowl of hummus. It is a light and crunchy bite that is no-fuss and no mess.
Cheese: Have three or four cheese and cracker combinations. Make sure to take the cheese out of the fridge an hour or so before to come to room temperature. A cheese board never fails to satisfy and having a variety looks like you spent time on it. Add some dried fruits and grapes as garnish.
Dips: There are so many pre-made dips that are perfect for parties. Have two or three bowls with a variety of dips (put small spoons in the dish so people don’t create a mess ) and surround with blue, red and yellow corn chips. It looks fantastic!
Crab Cakes: It is always nice to have some sort of fish on an appetizer spread. Shrimp is easy, but dull and overdone. If you are going to go above and beyond on one appetizer make crab cakes. You can make them in advance and they only take about 10 minutes on broil in the oven to finish. They can sit out for a long time and are little bites of flavor.

Party On,

Nora

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Okay, okay. December 28, 2009 marks the day that the holiday hustle and bustle has finally ceased. I returned home 8 days ago, and after a day of much needed sleep-deprivation recuperation, I was glued to my kitchen. Baking is my therapy and the holidays provide a perfect canvas for me to be…well, therapeutic.

There are a million holiday cookies out this time of year which can be overwhelming. I like to experiment with cookies that I have never attempted before, but still want to make something pleasing and palatable for my family. Where to start…where to start? My action plan this year was to steal my mom’s 2009 holiday cookie magazine, and pick three or four interesting and delectable recipes. Well…three or four ended up being seven and I made dog treats to make it an even eight. It was a three day process that left my hands destroyed from dish washing and my body tired, full and overly sugared…but it was worth it. My repertoire now includes peanut butter chocolate toffee bars, pumpkin pecan spice cookies, holiday biscotti, chocolate cherry ginger cookies, triple chocolate ganache cookies, peppermint meringues, apricot amaretto cookies and of course peanut butter dog biscuits.

Naturally I had to sample them all (minus the dog treats but the smell of peanut butter did force me to eat a few spoonfuls from the jar)and after much internal debate I think the biscotti were by far my favorite. They were flavored with both rum and vanilla extract with a faint taste of citrus from a piece of finely shredded orange peel incorporated into the batter. I added buttery pistachios, tart dried cranberries and cherries and sweet dried apricots. The flavor combination was sensational. The baking process for biscotti tends to be long and tedious but leaves you with a crunchy but not break-your-tooth hard cookie. A perfect light and satisfying breakfast or after dinner treat that will leave you with a smile on your face and a (festive)song in your heart.

Now that my cookie baking rampage/therapy has ended, time for bigger and better things. My New Year’s resolution: be fearless. This year I want to venture out and make dishes I have never attempted. The only way to learn how to make a recipe perfect is to try, try and try again. I hope by the end of the year to bone a duck (I just watched the movie Julie and Julia…inspirational for a “servantless American cook.”).

Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit,

Nora

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With all of the herbaceous, highly seasoned, salty foods that I have been eating this winter, I have formed a soft spot in my heart for the 2008 Simi Valley Chardonnay. It is extremely buttery and provides a sweetness reminiscent of apples, pears and citrus. A lot of herb roasted turkeys (think Thanksgiving!), chickens, pork, even root vegetables are paired with dressings of orange zest, sauteed apples etc to contrast the savory flavors without overwhelming them. It comes as no surprise that this wine would accompany the food of the season. It is aged for 6 months in 25% new oak, and the flavor difference from the unoaked Finger Lakes Chardonnays that I am accustomed to, is enormous. I enjoy unokaed Chardonnay with grilled foods and fish in the summer, however; the slow cooked, braised, brined, baked, broiled, roasted foods of the winter need something a bit less crisp, and more luscious like the Simi Valley Chardonnay. So the next time you…lets say…herb roast a chicken, butternut squash and brussel sprouts, think Simi.

Cheers,
Nora

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I can’t believe that it has been over two months since my last post…THANKS COLLEGE FOR GETTING IN MY BLOGGING WAY! I just finished my last class of the semester so I thought it was an appropriate time to take a study break and rekindle my love for this blog. This is not enough space to write about my food experiences over the past few months, not to mention the most important holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, so I think I’m just going to start from scratch (after all the best tasting things are the ones made from scratch!!).

Upstate New York is finally seeing some traditional December weather, filled with high winds and snow, and I have to say it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The scenery along with the constant bombardment of holiday songs on every radio station/Starbucks/store that I enter is making me start to think of the most important part of the season…holiday cookies. Every culture and family has their traditional and favorite cookie. Of course gingerbread cookies are the face of the season but there are also butter cookies, linzer cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, fruit cookies, nut cookies, cut outs OH MY! The list goes on and on. Which got me thinking, what is my favorite cookie? It is a question that I had to ponder long and hard about. I have a sweet tooth so every cookie is amazing to me (good thing I get to sample a large variety this time of year!!!).

I’m not sure if it is my all time favorite cookie, but my memories of the holidays, cookie exchanges and cozying up on cold days with warm tea, surround my mom’s raspberry thumb print cookies. The dough itself is made from scratch and has a nice crisp texture of a butter cookie, without being too hard. After the dough is formed she would make little balls and roll them in egg white and cover it with finely crushed walnut pieces. If that doesn’t sound heavenly enough, she would leave a thumb print in the middle and when it was almost done baking fill the centers with a good quality raspberry preserves and put it back in the oven to finish crisping. They are perfect with any warm beverage and completely satisfying. My holiday season wouldn’t be complete without them.

Get in the kitchen with your loved ones and cook up a batch of memories!

Happy Holidays,

Nora

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