Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Roasted Pork Loin with Sherry, Dijon, and Thyme with Blue Cheese Sauce

Made this one for a TON of family back home. Even people who claimed not to like pork devoured it. But to be honest, I'm not sure if it was the pork or the blue cheese sauce. I think you could probably serve it on fried raccoon tails and nobody would complain.

I used dry sherry for the marinade, and as I only had two hours to marinade it, left it out at room temperature, flipping it over midway. Next time I'll marinade it over night in the fridge.

Between this and the rum cake, my brother in law proclaimed me the queen of squeezing alcohol into recipes. All hail the queen!

Roasted Pork Loin:
Should easily serve 10-12 adults, but double check to see what butcher says.
* Remember, the key to pork is to NOT over cook it, and to leave a little fat on when roasting to protect it - especially a large roast that will be in the oven a while.

1 6 pound boneless pork loin, tied (have your butcher do this - say you want to roast it)
1 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
14 small garlic cloves, or 7 large ones, halved length-wise
salt and pepper

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, to add to pan as needed (as marinade dries and evaporates)

Get out a medium to large, ridged roasting pan that will easily fit your roast and all the marinade without overflowing.

Using a pairing or similar sized knife, poke slits down each side of your loin to hold the garlic cloves, about 3/4 inch apart (just make sure they're spaced evenly across the center of each long side of your roast.) Stuff cloves into the slits, then slather the entire roast with dijon, not forgetting ends. Evenly sprinkle thyme leaves all over.

Carefully pour your sherry over the roast, trying to 'coat' all sides but not being too spastic about it - your going to flip it over halfway through marinating anyway. Do the same with the soy sauce.

If you're short on time, leave the roast out at room temperature for one hour, carefully flip to the other side and let sit one more hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425. Sprinkle your roast with salt and pepper (not too liberally - you've already got salty soy on there.)

Put in the oven for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and cook another 1 and 45 minutes, adding stock to pan when necessary (you don't want the bottom to be dry or it will burn), or until a thermometer is inserted into the center reads 165 (will come up to 170 while it rests.)

Let rest for ten minutes before serving. Meanwhile, whip up blue cheese sauce.

Blue Cheese Sauce:

4 oz blue cheese crumbles
2/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup light mayo
1 and 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce

Mix all together in a medium pan over medium heat on the stove, until cheese has melted and all has combined into a nice, velvety sauce. Serve warm with the pork.

* By the bye - since it is that time of year - I want to add that I've made this sauce with both low fat sour cream and mayo - and no one knew the wiser. There is virtually no fat in the pork loin, so this can not only be company friendly and impressive but figure-friendly too.

McCormick's Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are about 8 billion schools of thought on chocolate chip cookies. Of all those schools, here's one of my favorites - yes - even over the beloved Nestle recipe. I think the difference for me is the 4 teaspoons of vanilla extract. And need I say it - use McCormick's:)

McCormick's Vanilla Rich Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 5 dozen or 30 (2 cookie) servings.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 to 10 minutes per batch

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups butter, softened
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
4 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
1 package (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

2. Beat butter, sugars, eggs and extract in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.

3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until bottoms are browned. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Butter Rum Cake for the New Year

Some people eat Black Eyed Peas for New Years. This year, I'm going to start my own tradition and eat rum cake.

When I went home to Texas for the holidays, I was determined to make a butter rum cake like my mom used to make for holidays when I was in high school.

I made one, thinking it would definitely come in third place behind the chocolate cake or fudge pie in the competition for crowd favorite (chocolate is very big in our house) and watched it disappear before the rum glaze had time to completely soak into the golden sponge. I had to make another one the very next morning.

There's something indescribable that happens when that buttery rum glaze goes swimming in that piping hot cake straight from the oven. It doesn't make the cake soggy as you would expect - if anything, it makes it more 'cakey' while forming its own luscious yet light on the tongue icing (kind of a sauce/icing hybrid.)

Besides I figure, if Black Eyed peas bring luck, butter rum cake has to do one better than that.

Butter Rum Cake

2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup dark rum (we just used Bacardi gold)

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark rum (again - we just used Bacardi gold)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease (well!) a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan. In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in the eggs, 1/2 cup water, oil and 1/2 cup rum. Blend or stir well. Pour batter over the brown sugar in the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by combining 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a medium pan over medium heat. Allow to come to a boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, to keep from boiling over (you may need to lower the heat a hair or take it off the burner for a few seconds now and then to keep it from boiling over.) Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup rum.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poor a third of the glaze over the hot cake WHILE STILL IN THE PAN. Let it soak for 10 minutes, then gently turn out onto serving plate. Carefully poor or brush the remaining glaze over top and sides (I just pour it all over the top then just dump the rest in the center to let it soak in on its own time.)

Ideally, let the cake continue to soak for several hours - and good luck with that... People were scooping the glaze out of the center and drinking it at my house.

But then again, we're heathens.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

I'm off to Texas to cook and bake with my family! Stay tuned for some holiday sweets!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Apps Part III: Sausage and Cheese Stromboli

I've talked before about how much I love planning a party - maybe even more than actually having the party.

My pre-party ritual is always the same. I sit down on my couch, wine glass in hand, and spread all my favorite cookbooks out in front of me. I turn on Food Network or a DVR'd episode of Martha so that I'm completely immersed in the entertaining spirit. I then flip through my books, flagging things I haven't made before or old favorites, juggling all the possibilities in my mind.

Then, just when I think I've got the perfect mix of textures, flavors, and contrasts and have begun envisioning myself as Hostess of the Year with an article about me and my fabulous parties in The New York Times, my husband walks by and asks the dreaded question....'Are you going to make any real food?' The scene then plays out like something from an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode. The deja vous-ness of it all makes me dizzy and I turn red as I calmly try and explain that everything I serve is real food (which is true - read my blog - it's not like I'm the queen of lettuce cups or anorex canapes or anything...) But it doesn't phase him - he just replies, 'I don't want to have to eat 20 of something to get full...' and walks away, leaving me reeling to figure out what this means in the context of a cocktail party. Why God -oh why does he do this to me? (Brief moment where I assure myself that I am the queen of the kitchen, then healthy sip of wine...)

But the truth is - men and women probably have different agendas when it comes to eating at parties. Us ladies want something tasty that a) won't stick in our teeth b) isn't too messy that it could ruin our outfit and c) is petite enough to manage while talking and still looking gorgeous (i.e. two bites or less.) Men, on the other hand, seem to have one pre-requisite for party food - something that fills them up. The whole caveman thing, I guess.

So, in order to keep matrimonial peace when it comes to entertaining, I now try and include at least one 'real food' option for Kris in my stable of appetizers. And honestly, after years of battling, I now realize it's a good thing. Because even though I envision my cocktail parties as glamorous soirees where everyone easily drifts from room to room like floating snow in a shaken globe, the truth is they're usually a little closer to a scene from Roadhouse, or at least Breakfast at Tiffany's. They're loud and chaotic and fun - and you can't always even get to the appetizers (which create a bottleneck in my narrow kitchen) - and by the time you do - you may be grabbing at what's left, hoping and praying there's some 'real food.'

So, for this appetizer series, the real food is a sausage and cheese calzone, sliced into fat wedges for people to grab and roll with though out the party, hopefully dipping in warmed marinara en route.

Sausage and Cheese Calzones, with Warmed Marinara
* This recipe is my take on Andrea Immer Robinson's Sausage Bread. I love her show 'Pairings' on Fine Living. They don't air it enough.

13.8 shredded oz can refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury)
1 lb sweet Italian sausage
1/2 teasoon dried oregano, divided
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably fresh-grated)
1 (17 oz) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped, then thoroughly dried by pressing with paper towels
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts, gently toasted in oven for 3-5 minutes on 325, optional
1 (8 oz) ball fresh mozerella, sliced into 1/8 inch slices
1/4 cup parmesan
tiny pinch kosher salt or sea salt
1 large egg, beaten, mixed with a splash of water

1 jar of your favorite marinara for dipping.

Add your sausage to a medium/large non-stick skillet heated over medium heat. Break up with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring occasionally until sausage begins to brown, about 12-15 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon oregano, nutmeg and garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more, until garlic has softened. Take the pan off the heat, stir in red bell pepper and pine nuts and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400. Roll out your pizza dough on a lightly floured surface into an 8 by 16 inch surface. Gently transfer the dough to a parchment lined baking sheet sprayed with non-cooking spray. Layer your slices of mozzarella down the center, overlapping and stopping a good two inches before each length-end. Then, using a slotted spoon, sprinkle your sausage mixture over the cheese, being careful to leave 2.5+ inches free width-wise so you can fold it over. Fold one end over, then the other so that they overlap. Fold and tuck ends.

Using two large spatulas, very carefully flip the stromboli over so that it is lying on its seems. Brush the top lightly with your egg wash, then sprinkle evenly with parmesan, oregano, and kosher or sea salt.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Cool ON A WIRE COOLING RACK (to prevent it from getting soggy) for 5 minutes before cutting into the size slices you desire. Serve with warm marinara, heated in the microwave.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Appetizer Series: Part II - White Trash For All!

I realize as a New Yorker, there is some value in telling my non-NY readers what is currently 'hot' in this temperamental, fashion forward city. Well - one thing that's white hot is - white trash! Just take a look at the most popular items from some of the city's darling restaurants. There's deep fried short ribs at Momofuku Ko, cheese fondue at Blue Ribbon, deviled eggs at The Spotted Pig, and even baked artichoke dip at Freeman's.

Freeman's, in the lower east side, is considered THE restaurant. Not in a '21' kind of way or even a 'Felidia' kind of way - but in the way that every 'artist', be it writer or designer or even model can be found there any given night, looking fabulously low key (in a way that surely took a couple hours' work), ducked into a shadowy corner under some intentionally ironic form of taxidermy or English hunting portrait, sipping a cocktail as though that, in itself, takes work. (I live in the West Village, where fellow neighbors and myself love to joke that the models look positively exhausted from being so beautiful...) Well - it's the same thing here, only it applies to both sexes, no matter how attractive...or unattractive.

Anyway, Freeman's serves amazing food - Meat and Potatoes food for that matter - and people can't get enough of it, including the aforementioned artichoke dip. When I first dined there with friends and watched them scoop it up like it was the last bowl of food on Earth, I had a hard time not laughing. Sure -it is incredibly delicious - but it's artichoke dip! Had none of these people ever set foot in a TGI Friday's?

Either way, the power of the artichoke dip seems to have survived the 70's, 80's and its notorious stint at chain restaurants. And it's further evidence that people love to dip things. I tried for years to have cocktails parties sans dip - only to have someone (i.e. my friend Zach) bring a 7-layer dip that disappears long before anything else.

I've racked my brain as to why people love dips so much and all I can think is it's a primitive psychological thing- as if stabbing a chip into a bowl has replaced the stabbing of an animal or spearing a fish...or maybe it's as simple as dips are people's first 'party' food when they're little which makes them nostalgic and comforting...hell if I know.

Either way I've given up the fight...the jury's rested...the verdict's in - and it's baked artichoke dip.

Ode to Freeman's Baked Artichoke Dip

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or white wine
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon whole grain dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large clove garlic, or 2 small, minced
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce (or hot sauce if you prefer) - or tad more if desired
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
tiny pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 jar (12 ounce) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons half and half

3 tablespoons Panko crumbs combined with 3 tablespoons shredded Parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid Mixer (or food processor or big bowl and do it by hand), add the cream cheese, mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, dijon, zest, Parmesan cheese and garlic. Mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add Worcestershire sauce, mozzarella cheese, salt, and black pepper, mix just until combined. Add artichoke hearts and half and half mix again until well combined. Transfer mixture to a well greased 9-inch square glass baking dish. Sprinkle over panko-parmesan topping, then drizzle with olive oil or melted butter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until bubbly and browned. Let cool for five minutes before serving.

* It should be noted that this dish is perfect for prepping the day before. Just make as instructed, holding off on adding the topping, cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge overnight. Remove a half hour before baking and continue with topping just before putting in the oven. You may need an additional 5-10 minutes of baking time.

Homemade Garlic Crostini

1 narrow loaf French bread, cut into 1/4 inch slices (save yourself time and ask someone at the bakery counter to do this for you)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
sea salt
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Place bread slices on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with oil and season lightly with salt. Bake 10-12 minutes until light golden brown. While still hot, rub the halved garlic cloves over the slices. This will give them a nice, mellow garlic flavor without a garlic 'bite.' Serve piled high next to your glorious dip.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Apps: Part One

Welcome to my 3 part Holiday Appetizer series!

The first recipe is a little bit fancy, yet captures the elements of the most beloved white trash snacks (salty and sweet), beautifully. I won't lie to you - it's also a little expensive - but it redeems itself in the fact that you can:

a) make it ahead and refrigerate it, covered in plastic wrap, until your guests arrive
b) sit at a counter, mindlessly watching TV while making them (no cooking involved, just a little culinary origami)
c) relieve yourself of the panic that bacon appetizers create (i.e. a house or apartment filled with bacon smoke)
d) save yourself the laborious task of beheading and chopping dried figs or fruits

I will say I adore the classic bacon-wrapped dates and Parmesan, but I've experienced too many horror stories with making them for parties, involving forgetting them on my grill and having $40 of food literally go up in smoke, becoming little appetizer ghosts doomed to forever circle the earth in search of the perfect party. Therefore this is my no-bake, no-smell, no-panic alternative. And yes, I've had prosciutto-wrapped figs, but fresh figs are in season for about fifteen seconds and even when they are - aren't quite sweet enough (in my opinion) to go one on one against the prosciutto - while dried figs require more work (see above) and frankly, just sort of lie there under the meat, cold and joyless.

Besides - and I know I'm about to commit culinary blasphemy here - but fig spread, with its deep amber color, gentle sweetness and teasing crunch, tastes a hundred times better than any fig I've ever tasted - fresh or dried. Sue me.

Prosciutto Wrapped Figs and Cheese:

(I like the mellow, creamy bite of St. Andre cheese here to play fiddle to the salty prosciutto and sweet fig spread, but you could easily substitute a small chunk of good Parmesan, Gruyere, or even a smear of goat cheese)

1 package of good quality prosciutto (4-6 slices), cut in half, length wise
1 jar fig spread
1 medium wedge St. Andre cheese (a triple cream cow's milk French cheese) - about 4-5 oz

Set up your assembly line: you'll need a teaspoon to dole out your fig spread, a knife to cut your cheese, and a plate on which to assemble the bundles.

Place a strip of prosciutto on your plate. Cut off a half-inch wedge of cheese (the size of a small pat of butter) and place on one end of the prosciutto. Top with a half-teaspoon dollop of fig spread, then gently pick it up and wrap the rest of the prosciutto around and around the little bundle until you have a package. Continue with the rest of your slices.

• Prosciutto can be very tricky to work with once it becomes warm - I like to cut mine into slices, separate out on a cookie sheet lines with wax paper, and put in the freezer for five minutes before assembling. If any become sticky again - just stick back into the freezer for a little 'time out.' Don't be afraid to tell that prosciutto who's boss!

Up next: Baked Artichoke Dip with Home-made Garlic Crostini