Friday, December 30, 2011

A Salt's Worth

Boy, did I get some good Christmas presents! Yes, my loved ones know this foodie well.   I won't bore you with the list but let me show you these salts I got.

I know good salt when I taste it,  like that crunchy, flaky, sea salt or specialty salts with hints of truffle or garlic.  The smoked salt in this picture smells like the inside a barbecue pit.  Last night we tried a little of the Hawaiian red salt in a tossed broccoli and chickpea salad.  It was great, but here is where the subtleties of salt get daunting.  I mean when you enter the zone of red, pink, gray and black salts it is hard to know when to use which salt.  It's a place where all white sea salts are not the same.  All of a sudden my culinary universe has grown.   Do I start with a row of tiny bowls and a caviar spoon?  How do I know which salt is best for which dish?

As you can see I am still very new to the wide world of salt but here is what I have learned so far.
  • Hawaiian Red Alaea Salt gets its name and color from Alaea volcanic clay.  It is used in Hawaii to preserve meat, flavor pork at a luau and in a raw fish appetizer called poke.
  • Sea salt does not actually have less sodium than table salt but because of its size and flavor, one tends to use less.  See here and also here.
  • Black and pink salts tend to have a more mineral or sulfurous taste.  
  • Fleur de sel  is sea salt harvested on the western central coast of France. 
  • Whole foods has a good beginners salt guide.  Click here.
And here is what I recommend:
  • If you live in NY go to Oil, Vinegar and Salt in Chelsea Market for and amazing selection of salts (as seen in pictures above and below. 
  • Try smoked salt on Spanish mackerel because it is awesome!

Tell me more about salt.  I would love to here what you know.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thinking of Giving Fruitcake Another Try?

What happened to fruitcake?  Once upon a time it was a staple of the holiday season.  You gave one and someone gave you one back.  Then it made a home on your counter until after New Year's, staring at you with beady little red and green maraschino eyes.  At our house it eventually became a bad joke.  Oh no, not another fruitcake.  You may as well have said "head cheese."  They have the same visual appeal but the fruitcake weighed about five pounds more.  These were our fruitcake jokes.  Not to mention that, despite its name, it was reminiscent of neither fruit nor cake.  Until one day everyone caught on to the jokes and, at least in my memory, people stopped giving fruitcakes.  And we didn't miss them.  At least some of us didn't.

Recently the word "fruitcake" was brought back into my vernacular.  When fretting over my lengthy Christmas gift list, I called my mother-in-law, Andrea, to brainstorm gift ideas.  "You could get Grandpa Andy a fruitcake.  He actually likes it."  I replied with an eager "Great!" having heard the word bake before the word fruitcake.  Truth is, I really didn't know what went in a fruitcake.

Actually, this little cake as a very interesting history.  It dates back to Roman times when it's ingredients were primarily pomegranate seeds, pine nuts and mashed up barley. Throughout its long history the recipe has changed.  The crusaders added preserved fruit, spices and honey in the Middle Ages.  In the 16th century sugar was added.  In the Victorian Era, they added alcohol which I am sure helps its long shelf life. It may have also helped it being outlawed in eighteenth century England for being "sinfully rich."  Most interesting to me is that throughout its history this cake has been gifted to soldiers.  The Romans took it with them as sustenance during battles and it has been known to be given to soldiers in decades as recent as the 1960s.  If you are interested, you should read more about here and also here. 

So as you can see I did a little fruitcake research.  I found a great recipe on Chow by Aida MollenKamp called White "Groom's" Fruitcake.  I loved the choice of dried fruit (pineapple and cherries) and the use of Cointreau as the liquor ingredient. It feels special and festive without having to be neon colored.  If you ever happen to read this, Aida, thank you, you will make Grandpa Andy happy this Christmas.  I would also love to know where this recipe got its name. 

White "Groom's" Fruitcake
adapted from Aida Mollenkamp

Makes 1 loaf

1 cup pecans
1/2 cup walnuts
3/4 cup dried tart cherries (left whole
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup dried pineapple rings coarsely chopped
1/2 cup of Cointreau

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 a teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 a teaspoon ginger
2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
Bourbon for aging

For the fruit:

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss.  Cover tightly and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

For the Cake:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees and make sure your rack is in the center of your oven.  Grease a 9 X 12 loaf pan with butter, set aside.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ginger in a large bowl and set aside.  Using an electric stand mixer beat butteron medium highabout 3 minutes.  Add sugar and beat another 3 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time.  make sure each egg is thoroughly mixed in before you add the next.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl when necessary.  Transfer the batter to a large mixing bowla dn add the bowl of dry ingredients you set aside.  Mix in fruit that has been macerating little by little until it is fully incorperated.  Pour into your greeased loaf pan.  Bake for about 1 hour until golden.  When you stick a in a toothick it should come out clean.  Let cool for 30 minutes.  Brush with bourbon every 10 days for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Printable Holiday Menu Planner Giveaway!

So here is how you can print your holiday meal planner below:
  1. Double click on the image below.
  2. Then right click and you should see a window of choices.
  3. Select print.
  1. Double click on the image below.
  2. Click on File tab
  3. Select print.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What do you do with your Leftovers?

Saturday night's polenta made a great Sunday morning brunch.  Something I learned from the culinary talents of my aunts and cousins is that if you made a great pasta or rice dish the night before, chances are it will make a great torta then next day.  It is amazing what adding a egg or two will do.  If you have cheese (parmesan, fontina or mozzarella) even better.  Our Saturday dinner was a simple polenta with mushroom and tomato sauce.  The next day we mixed it together with 2 beaten eggs and added it to a hot skillet.  Once the bottom set it went in the oven at 350 degrees until it was done all the way through.  Then we topped it with poached eggs because, let's face it, everything is better with a poached egg on top.

What do you do with your leftovers?  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Manila Clams over Leek and Flounder Risotto

I made this on a Monday night.  A Monday night in December when I had gifts to make and buy and wrap, designs to complete, work lunches to pack and a floor to clean.  I haven't even touched the subject of cookies yet.  If you think that is bad, on Friday I made a chicken pot pie.  It all started with a casual glance toward my cookbook shelves.  One of those large, glossy pictured, hard covered beauties were calling me.  Sit down, it said, take a load of for twenty minutes or so and read about something rich and delicious.  The cookbook that was calling to me was a collaborative one by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.  I should mention that I just finished reading Julia Child's "My Live in France."  Now I am craving butter.  No, I won't reduce my cravings to just butter.  I mean really, when do I not crave butter.  It's that I was transported to a kitchen where food preparation can be poetry.  Don't just throw your aromatics in a stock pot, stud your onions with whole cloves first, bundle your herbs into a bouquet.  You think it shouldn't make a difference but when you smell the fragrant steam of your gently bubbling stock you know it does.  Just as when you you slow down and prepare anything with love and attention it always shows. 

I know this isn't a slowing down time.  Maybe that's why I always feel a little grouchy or blue at the close of the year.  Because I know in a blink it will be gone.  Sometimes there is so little time for savoring the present before we have to start all over again. 

I promise, next time I'll get to the cookies. 

Fish Stock

  • Half of a medium-sized (or a quarter of an extra large) onion 
  • 2 small carrots chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 to 4 sprigs of parsley
  • 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 leek leaf
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 a teaspoon kosher salt
  • fish bones, head and tail
  • 8 cups of water
Stud the onion with the whole cloves.  Using kitchen twine, tie together your herbs and leak leaf.  Now add all of your ingredients to your stock pot and bring to a boil.  Lower your heat and keep at a gentle boil until the stock is reduced by 1/4 of the liquid.  Pour your liquid through a strainer and into a bowl.
    Broiled Flounder
    • one skinless, boneless fillet of flounder
    • 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
    • 3 to 4 sprigs of parsley
    • sea salt for sprinkling
    • black pepper
    • olive oil for drizzling
    • 1 sheet of parchment paper
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lay thyme and parsley on parchment paper.  Then lay the fish fillet on top of the herbs.  Sprinkle with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Fold paper around the fish.  Broil in the oven for 5 minutes.


    • one leek cut in half and diced
    • half a medium onion, diced
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • pinch of crushed red pepper
    • approx. 4 cups of above fish stock
    • 4 to 5 saffron threads
    • White pepper
    • sea salt for sprinkling
    • half a lemon
    • 1 and 1/4 cup arborio rice
    • 1 broiled fillet of flounder (above)
    Heat your olive oil in a dutch oven. Add onion, leek and crushed red pepper.  Sautee` until soft and onion is translucent.  Add your rice and toss so that it is evenly coated.  Just as it is starting to feel dry add a ladle full of fish stock.  Stir and let the rice absorb the stock completely.  Stirring is very important to risotto.  It releases the starches and makes it creamy.  The more you stir the better.  Add another ladleful of stock and repeat. On third ladle, add your saffron threads.  Continue slowly adding stock until your rice is creamy and tender.  Add salt, white pepper and squeeze in some lemon juice to taste.  Crumble the flounder and toss in the risotto.
    Steamed Manila Clams

    • one carrot diced
    • one stalk of celery diced
    • half an onion diced
    • 2 tablespoons of butter
    • 1 dozen manila clams
    • 1 large handful of chopped parsley
    Wash clams by putting them in a bowl of cold water with a inch of cornmeal.  Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Heat your butter in a medium saucepan.  Add your celery, carrots and onion when the butter is melted but not brown.   Sautee` until the onions are translucent.  Add your clams and cover.