Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cauliflower Gratin

Another one of the dishes from Christmas Eve, and one which was gone before I could get the chance to take a photo, this is a great vegetable side dish which I make quite often: It's easy, requires few ingredients and the kids eat it.

That right there makes it golden.

Cauliflower Gratin

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • ½ cup mayo
  • 1 T whole grain mustard (I like Maille)
  • a few dashes of Franks Red Hot Pepper sauce
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper

  1. Clean the cauliflower very well, removing the leaves and cutting off some of the thick stem, but keeping the head intact.

  2. Par-boil or steam the cauliflower until a knife-point can slide into one of the florets without a lot of resistance - about 7 - 10 minutes, depending on the size of the head of cauliflower.

  3. Drain and plunge into a cold-water bath to stop the cooking process.

  4. Preheat the oven to 350.

  5. Put the cauliflower in a baking dish.

  6. Mix together the mayo, mustard, hot sauce, salt and pepper and the grated cheese. Coat the cauliflower with the mayo mixture.

  7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the topping starts to turn golden.

  8. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Not pain à l'ancienne, but pain ordinaire

So yesterday, after lusting over the thought of a fresh loaf of pain à l'ancienne, from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I dived straight into the book a bit hastily and made the starter for regular old pain ordinaire.

Oh, gee, what a shame, right? Ha! Even the most ordinaire of pains ordinaires is probably light-years away from any other white bread out there.

I can hardly wait for this to be done. :)

However, I have managed to restrain myself and follow the author's suggestion to let the pre-ferment, or pâte fermentée, sit in the fridge overnight instead of using it right away. Letting it sit longer allows it to develop a more complex flavor, so if you're as crazy about bread as I am, the result is worth the extra effort and wait.

When I took it out of the fridge, the starter was nicely puffy, a good 1½ times larger than it was when it had gone in the fridge.

I was worried yesterday when I was putting the pâte fermentée together, because the recipe directions indicated that the water should be at room temperature. Ok, but what does "room temperature," really mean?

I live in a drafty old house with deplorable insulation. This morning, the air temperature outside was in the single-digits; in my kitchen, it was 56°F. So, whatever temperature constitutes "room temperature," I can bet it's not a mere 10 degrees warmer than the inside of my fridge! I saw in the book that Peter Reinhart made casual mention of a scenario where room temperature was 73°F.

That's a long way from 56°F! I ended up turning on the oven to warm up the kitchen a bit, bringing it up to the mid-to-lower 60°s.

The dough for pain ordinaire is now resting nicely in an oiled bowl next to the stove, covered in plastic wrap, where it can rise in warmth for the next two hours before shaping.

With luck, in 2 hours it will have grown to twice this size.

Edit (2:30): The baguettes have been shaped and are in the final proofing stage before being baked. They need to rise to 1½ times this size before I put them into a scorching-hot, moist oven.

I use a roasting pan of hot water in the bottom quadrant of the oven to create the necessary moist interior to attempt to mimic the conditions in a bread oven of a professional bakery.

Here are the two baguettes on their final rise:

Closer view:

Edit (5:00): When I took the baguettes out of the oven, they looked great. Nicely golden and crisp on the outside:

And with a lovely crumb on the inside:

Great. But how does it taste?

I sliced off a thick piece, slathered it with good salted butter and... *sigh* ... heaven.

Then I had to taste it, just the bread, to get a sense of it. The crust was sharp and crispy, but inside it was soft, not over-done. It wasn't tangy like a sourdough; it was creamy and smooth. Once I chewed it, there was a subtle "something else" just lingering on the palate, something slightly nutty, and wholly satisfying in that umami way.

The only disappointment was that the spots on the crust where I scored the dough hadn't bloomed properly. I think I need a razor to make the slashes next time. Also, I think I may have to shape them in a canvas couche to support the sides to that the baguette seems rounder in cross-section instead of the sides sloping down.

Still, it tastes phenomenal, so I'd say that it's a very successful first attempt.



One of the desserts from my Christmas Eve dinner. The crust is a very rich shortbread-like pastry whose richness comes from a ton of butter and ground almonds.

When I first made it, I was surprised at how short it was. I thought that the 1 cup of raspberry filling could not be nearly enough, although it was perfect. I made this in a 10-inch springform pan. The next time I make this, I may seek out a slightly smaller pan or add just a smidge more filling.

The crust is outstanding, though. I think that it might stand on its own as a great shortbread, or as the base for a thumbprint cookie.


For the dough:
  • ¾ cup blanched, sliced almonds
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • ½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • ¼ t cinnamon
  • 1/8 t ground cloves
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 9 T unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 large egg, cold
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • ¼ t almond extract (optional)
For the filling:
  • 1 cup raspberry preserves
For the topping:
  • 1 large egg
  • pinch of salt
  • confectioner's sugar for dusting
  1. Grind the blanched almonds very well in a food processor. In a large bowl, combine the almonds, flour, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Mix well.

  2. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch chunks and add them to the dry mixture. Mix on low speed until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg and extracts, then mix until the dough starts to form.

  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface and gently knead until it comes together into a ball. Be careful not to overknead.

  4. Divide the dough into two pieces, one twice as large as the other, and shape into balls, and then flatten them into disks. Wrap each disc tightly in plastic wrap, put in separate plastic bags and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

  5. When you're ready to assemble the Linzertorte, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

  6. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the larger disk of dough into a 12-inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick. Pat the dough into the tart pan, gently pressing it into the corners and sides. Do not stretch it, just press and pat gently. If the dough becomes too soft or oily, freeze it for a few minutes.

  7. Spread the raspberry preserves evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Refrigerate while making the lattice top.

  8. Roll the remaining disk into a 10-inch circle, about 1/4 inch thick. Use a knife or a pizza or pastry cutter to cut the dough into ten strips, about 3/4 inch wide.

  9. Remove the tart from the refrigerator and carefully lay five strips evenly spaced about 3/4 inches apart across the tart. Lightly press the ends of each strip into the edges of the crust. Lay the remaining strips above and perpendicular to the first strips, pressing the ends into the edge of the tart.

  10. Chill for at least 15 minutes before baking.

  11. Whisk the egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the egg over the lattice and crust, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the filling bubbles and the pastry turns golden brown.

  12. Cool completely on a rack before unmolding and serving.

  13. You can re-heat it if you like. Dust the top with additional confectioner's sugar and then serve.

  14. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Christmas Eve Sauerbraten

From my Christmas Eve dinner.

From the minute the idea gelled in my mind to have a mostly-German themed dinner, I knew I wanted to make Sauerbraten. I knew that I wanted to recreate the one we grew up eating. The Sauerbratens I'd tried since the last time I had it at Gasthaus Edelweiss, over 20 years earlier, never came close to the original.

I was cautiously optimistic when I smelled the marinade simmering the very first evening; it smelled just right to me. I base a lot of my cooking on how things smell as well as how they taste. By the time it had finished simmering on Thursday night, I knew I was close, but when my sister tasted the leftovers on Christmas day, even though cold, she said, "OMG, this is just like the Sauerbraten from Gasthaus Edelweiss!"

Success. :)


  • 5 - 6 pound eye of round roast
For the marinade:
  • 1 ½ cups of red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 1 ½ cups of water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 8 allspice berries
  • 10 juniper berries
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 onions, sliced
For the braise:
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced into large chunks
For the gravy:
  • ½ - ¾ cup crushed gingersnaps
  • Sour cream

  1. 3 - 4 days before you plan on cooking the meat, rinse the eye of round roast and pat dry. Place in a large, 2-gallon ziplock freezer bag. Put that in a large bowl (I used the ceramic dish from my 8-qt crock pot).

  2. Put the marinade ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Do not boil. Turn off the heat, take it off the burner and let cool.

  3. Once the marinade has almost come to room temperature, carefully pour it onto the meat inside the bag. Press out the air and seal it up. Rotate the meat once or twice, making sure each side has had contact with the marinade. Place the bag back into the bowl and put it in the fridge to marinate for 3-4 days.

  4. Flip the meat at least once every 24 hours as it marinates to be sure that each side of the meat has had extra time sitting in the marinade.

  5. On the morning of the day you’d like to eat, take the meat out of the marinade and wipe it dry. Strain and reserve the marinade liquid. Brown the meat in olive oil in a heavy dutch oven over medium-high heat.

  6. Place the meat in a large crock pot (8 quart or bigger) and cover with the reserved marinade. Add the 2 sliced onions and carrots, cover and cook on low for 10 hours.

  7. Every few hours, flip the meat in the broth as it cooks to ensure an even braise.

  8. When the meat is ready, take it out to rest on a platter. Strain the liquid into a saucepan and heat it up. Whisk in gingersnap crumbs to thicken the gravy to the consistency you like.

  9. Slice and serve with the gingersnap gravy. Optionally, you can put a dollop of sour cream on top and mix it in with the gravy.

  • Timing: I started making this on a Monday night to be eaten on a Thursday.

  • Advice: get the best cut of meat you possibly can. I went to a German deli/butcher shop locally for this meat which was trimmed up fresh for me.

  • This thing was a beast! I had the hardest time flipping it while I was browning it, but that’s because it was crowded into my 7-qt dutch oven. Use the largest pots and bowls possible to make it an easier job.

  • The recipes I consulted for a roast this size said to cook on low for 10-12 hours, but it was done after 10 hours, and only a few of my guests had arrived, and it wasn’t even time for appetizers. The next time I make this, I will start it a few hours later.

  • Of course, this thing can be cooked in a dutch oven on a low simmer on the stove-top or in a slow oven (200F).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cinnamon Rolls

Last month, I posted the recipe to my cinnamon rolls which are a Christmas morning tradition: November 30 - "I Dreamed a Dream."

In years past, I've made them the night before, put them in the fridge for a slow rise overnight and baked them first thing on Christmas morning so they're freshly-made. This year, I was so whipped from my big Christmas Eve dinner, I had planned to make them before turning in, but I fell asleep. I was on the couch watching "It's a Wonderful Life," telling myself, "Just 5 more minutes. I'll get up and make the dough in just 5 ... more ... Zzzzzzzz ...."


Fortunately for me, the kids got up at the obscenely early hour of 4:30 am, so I ended up making the dough a little before 5 am and the rolls came fresh and piping-hot out of the oven all set and ready to be devoured at 7.

This year, instead of slathering them in a diabetic-coma-inducing icing, I decided to eat them plain, but hot and slathered with butter.

Still the best thing ever for a special holiday breakfast... or a post-holiday breakfast 4 days later.

Steamed Green Beans with Walnut Vinaigrette

The forgotten dish from the sauerbraten dinner the other night. I've been making this for years. Sometimes I add some raw onion if I have a really mild, sweet onion like vidalia, but lately I just have the green beans and the walnuts.

This vinaigrette really improves after sitting a day or three. I'd take a picture (I'm eating it right now... yes, at 2 :30 am) but I don't have any daylight for the photo. Maybe tomorrow.

If I don't eat it all, that is. ;-)

Edit: Here it is, right before I devour the last of it for lunch.

Steamed Green Beans with Walnut Vinaigrette

  • 2 pounds green beans
  • ½ cup walnut pieces

Basic Walnut Vinaigrette:
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 heaping tablespoons crushed walnut
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 T finely minced onion, paper-thin
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
  • ½ cup walnut oil
  • 2 T canola oil
  1. Wash and sort through the green beans, trimming off the ends and cutting them into 1 or 1½-inch pieces.

  2. Steam them for 7 minutes, then immediately submerge in an ice-water bath to stop from cooking further. Refrigerate.

  3. Make the vinaigrette by mixing all the vinaigrette ingredients together, shaking well to mix thoroughly.

  4. Add the vinaigrette to the green beans a bit at a time, tasting until you've got the amount you'd like.

  5. Toss in the walnut pieces, put the cover back on and shake, mixing well. Refrigerate for an hour or eat right away.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Buttered Rosemary Parker House Rolls

I wish I had a picture of these, but we devoured them.

Dear God.

Buttered Rosemary Parker House Rolls

  • 3 T warm water (105° - 110° F)
  • 3 T sugar
  • 2 ½ t yeast
  • ½ cup (8 T = 1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 cups of bread flour
  • 1 ½ t salt
  • 1 ½ - 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • chopped fresh rosemary
  • sea salt

  1. In a small bowl, pour the warm water over the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let it sit for 5 minutes and get foamy.

    If the yeast does not foam, it is either inactive or the water was too hot or too cold. Start fresh and make sure you have an accurate thermometer to gauge the temperature of the water.

  2. In the meantime, melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the milk and heat to lukewarm (105° - 110° F).

  3. In a large bowl, mix together the yeast mixture, the butter mixture, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, the bread flour and the salt. Mix well. Then stir in enough all-purpose flour to make a slightly sticky ball of dough. The dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

  4. Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking.

    This dough, rich in fat, is silky and luxurious-feeling, a real pleasure to knead.

  5. Get another large bowl and butter it. Place the ball of dough in the buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise for an hour.

  6. Butter a large baking dish (11 x 7 x 2).

  7. Divide the dough into 20 pieces, forming them into balls. Place them in the pan in 5 rows of 4. Cover with a tea towel and let rise another 45 minutes.

  8. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

  9. With the handle of a wooden spoon, press down and make a lengthwise crease on the top of each roll.

  10. Cover and let rise another 15 minutes.

  11. Brush the tops with the remaining tablespoon of butter, melted, and sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary and sea salt. Bake 25 - 30 minutes until the tops are nicely golden-brown.

  12. Serve hot with more butter, or you can make them ahead of time, wrap them in foil and reheat them in the oven for 15 minutes.

  • I strongly suggest getting a good thermometer to test the temperature of the liquids if you work with yeast dough. It really takes the guesswork out of it.

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part IV: The Dinner

Well, three days later I've finally recovered from the abundance of festivity enough to give a run-down of the dinner. The food was fantastic - all the effort was worth it seeing people eat heartily and with pleasure; the wine flowed freely and the company was terrific.

The Food

Amuse bouche: - Goat cheese and roasted beet stacks with balsamic reduction.
I loved this last-minute addition; the flavors melded together nicely and it was a visually striking dish the way the beet juices seeped into the goat cheese, turning it hot pink.

Appetizer: Kartoffelpuffer - German Potato Pancakes
I'd really missed the potato pancakes we had growing up. They were not the kind similar to latkes made from grated potato, but smoother and puffier, but neither did they appear to be made from leftover lumps of mashed potato.

After some searching, including some consultation with a Facebook friend in Germany, I got it.

When I tasted the first tester out of the skillet, as is my right as cook, I got swept back to Gasthaus Edelweiss and their fluffy, cripsy potato pancakes.


The Main Course:
  1. Sauerbraten
    After going back and forth over the procedure, I finally decided to cook it in the crock pot on low for 12 hours. A good decision, except that the meat was done in 10. I turned the heat down to warm and let it sit in the broth until it was time to let it rest on the platter and make the gingersnap gravy.

    It was delicious, and this also came pretty close to what we grew up eating. Everyone enjoyed it, but the real test was when I brought the leftovers to my sister's house and she tried it. She said, "OMG Barbara! This tastes just like the sauerbraten we had at Gasthaus Edelweiss!"

    The gingersnap gravy was tangy without being too thick. As good as it was on its own, we discovered how much better it was with a bit of sour cream added to it.

    Again: success. :)

  2. Spätzle
    I love these things. My SIL brought over her Spätzle-maker, andI really need to get one of my own.

  3. Red cabbage slaw
    My SIL's canned spicy red cabbage slaw complemented everything perfectly. I need the recipe, too.

  4. Steamed green beans with walnut vinaigrette
    Would you believe it? I forgot to put this out!

    Several of us had even taste-tested the vinaigrette of walnut oil and balsamic vinegar right before I started making the other dishes, and we put it back in the fridge to sit a while.

    A shame, because it was tasty. It'll be today's lunch. :)

  5. Roasted Onions, Shallots and Leek with Grueyre Croutons
    This was another sort of last-minute, I'll-just-wing-it dish. A good choice.

  6. Cauliflower gratin
    So simple, so delicious. I make this pretty often because it's easy, it's good and the kids will eat it.

I made Parker House rolls brushed with melted butter, chopped fresh rosemary and sea salt.

Yeah, piping-hot, straight from the oven? Pretty good. They were good cold, too, which I discovered when I inhaled one down before making my cinnamon rolls in the wee hours of Christmas morning.

  1. Linzertorte
    I forgot to dust it with confectioner's sugar, but it was pretty good. The almond short crust was especially yummy.

  2. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
    Another SIL made this, and after I'd taken the first bite I knew I needed to have the recipe. Again, this was just like the black forest cherry cakes we'd had when we were kids: a not-too-sweet chocolate cake, a chilling made from kirsch and sour cherries (very important), and topped with freshly whipped real whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

    I had two, count 'em, two pieces of leftover cake yesterday.

All in all, a great meal and the best part was when people hung out in the kitchen drinking wine while I puttered around.

The second best part? Lots of leftovers.

Lots of leftover wine, too. :)

Recipes are forthcoming

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Goat Cheese & Roasted Beet Amuse Bouche

I will give a breakdown of the Christmas Eve Sauerbraten dinner soon, but before I get to it I'd like to make special mention of a last-minute addition to the menu: an amuse bouche of herbed goat cheese sandwiched between stacked slices of roasted beets. I topped them with a dollop of crème fraiche and a tiny sprig of thyme and drizzled a balsamic reduction on the plate.

Good God, it was good.

And look!

The beet juices seep down into the goat cheese, turning it a vivid hot pink! I absolutely loved that aspect of it.

I love the idea of an amuse bouche: a little tidbit of something to tantalize the diner's palate. It should be something that leaves the eater wanting more.

A teaser.

Besides, it's just fun saying "amuse bouche."

Say it and giggle with me.

Goat Cheese & Roasted Beet Amuse Bouche

  • 3 beets
  • canola oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 4-0z log of goat cheese (chèvre)
  • Crème fraiche (If this is not available you can substitute sour cream)
  • sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup of Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T butter

  1. Roast the beets: Preheat the oven about 350. Wash the beets very well, with a pastry brush, coat them with olive oil and give them a sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper and a grinding of sea salt.
  2. Place the beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil and close it up into a packet. Place the packet in a roasting pan and roast for about an hour until you can slide a knife point in the beet easily.
  3. Once the beets cool, slide off the peels and cut into thin 1/4-inch slices.
  4. Assemble the stacks: Spread goat cheese on one beet slice, then stack another slice on top of that, spread some goat cheese on that one and top with one more beet slice.
  5. Wrap tightly with some plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to assemble - a few hours to overnight the longer you wait, the better it will be.
  6. Make the balsamic reduction: Bring 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to low and let the vinegar reduce down by about half to a thick syrup. Stir occasionally. Take it off the heat and add a tablespoon of butter and whisk until melted and incorporated.
  7. When you're ready to plate them, unwrap the stacks and cut into a neat square, then cut in half.

    So, 1 beet and goat cheese stack using 3 layers of beet and 2 layers of goat cheese will yield 2 portions for an amuse bouche.
  8. Place a dollop of crème fraiche on the top of the stack and garnish with a tiny sprig of thyme. Drizzle a bit of the balsamic reduction around the plate and serve.
  1. When I was making these I taste-tested a few of the edges as I cut them off. No joke, I think my eyes rolled back into my head and I groaned when I tasted them. So yeah, this is a keeper.
  2. If I were to do anything differently, I might add a little bit of sea salt to the top of the stack before adding the garnishes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part III: Menu Revision & Food Prep

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part I: The Menu
The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part II: Shopping and Initial Food Prep

D-day (dinner day) fast approaches and my to-do list has not really shrunk any. The first thing I do this close to food prep is change the menu somewhat.

Part I- The Revised Menu:


I found a recipe that looks promising!

My SIL is bringing her homemade applesauce, too. Excellent.


It is marinating away nicely, and I've pretty much decided to go with the crockpot. My only question now is whether to cook it for 11-12 hours on a really long, low simmer or 5-6 hours on high. Slower might be better, even if it means I'm in the kitchen at 5:30 browning that beast in the dutch oven.

Oh yes, I've decided to give that Martha Stewart dutch oven a whirl. We'll see how the enamel holds up.

6 am Update: I've decided to give it a go in the crockpot on high.

  • Spätzle: check.
    You bet your ass there will be spätzle. I'll make a triple batch if I have to!

  • Red cabbage slaw: check.
    SIL is bringing it.

  • Green Beans in walnut vinaigrette - check.
    I have to rummage up my vinaigrette recipe and hope like hell I still have walnut oil. I forgot to check.

    Also, I bought some beets. I thought that I could roast them and toss them in with the green beans. Yes? Maybe?

    Otherwise I fond a really cool roast beet goat cheese appetizer that would make a nice amuse bouche.

  • Braised Leeks with Chestnuts - nope.
    I couldn't find the recipe for braised leeks, but I did dredge up this, which I think could be adapted by adding some leeks to it. Roasted Onions with Gruyere Croutons

  • Cauliflower gratin - check.
    All systems go on this.

No idea. I was thinking of my Maple Wheat dinner rolls, but don't think the flavor will work with everything else. Now I want Parker House rolls, but don't have a go-to recipe for those. I'll just wing it.

Yes, I like to live dangerously.

  1. Linzertorte - check.

    This is definitely happening. I think I need to make it as soon as I get the roast in the crockpot though.

  2. Apple Strudel - Nope.

    I just don't think I'll be able to get this done too if I'm making the strudel dough, and I forgot to get phyllo, and I'll be damned if I'm going back to the grocery store.

  3. Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte - I hope like hell YES.

    Another SIL offered to make one and bring it, provided her cold doesn't get the best of her.

    What is not to love about Black Forest Cherry cake, a mess of kirsch-infused chocolate cake with chocolate shavings, sour cherries and cream. Dear God - or perhaps that should read; Lieber Gott!

Part II - Timing

Timing the events in the kitchen so that everything appears on the table at the same time, and at the perfect temperature, is an intricate dance which includes strategic runs of the dishwasher, the rummaging out of serving platters used once a year, that panicked 11th-hour mini-laundry load when you realized you've forgotten to wash the tablecloth, and copious amounts of wine.

Wine is not merely for saucing the dish but also saucing the chef.

So, I have a very hazy idea of what needs to get done when.

  1. Meat.

    I have to get to the meat first. I have to take it out of the marinade, pat it dry and then brown it nicely before chucking it back into the crockpot with the strained marinade and some carrots and onions to cook forever.

    Something tells me it is going to take a while to brown well. You're not supposed to use these dutch oven on a very high heat on the stovetop. A piece of meat this big over medium-low heat? Yeah, it'll take a while.

  2. Linzertorte.

    Actually, if I still have it in me after I blog this, I could really probably bake this sucker first and then refrigerate it. Barring that, it is the very first thing I'll do once the meat is safely in the crockpot.

    Most recipes I've found for it mention that the torte needs to chill a while, even a whole day if possible.

  3. House Prep

    A shitload of cleaning: laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, mopping, putting-away-of-various-items etc.

    Lucy has promised that she will be my big helper. She is dying to run the vacuum, although it pains me to watch her vacuum: she misses whole swaths of the carpet. Whatever. I'll let her have her fun.

  4. Cookies

    Yes, damnitall, I ran out of cookies and need to bake some more to send to my MIL & FIL and to the neighbors.

    Plus I'm making a little sweet treat to set on the plates, a pre-appetizer snack, if you will. I made a bunch yesterday and they're so easy I'll have the kids work on them. Chocolate Hazelnut Sticks. Stick 4 of them n a cellophane bag and presto. Snack.

  5. Bread

    Whatever rolls I make, I'll need to bake them ahead of time and then warm them up I think I might be able to let them rise in the fridge and stick them in the oven once the meat is resting and I'm making the gravy, but my oven is kind of small. :/

  6. Table Prep

    Get the cat the hell out of the dining room. That will be a job for the kids. Then they'll fluff out the tablecloth and set the table with as little breakage of my fine stoneware (ha!) as possible.

    I'll have to have them set the living room coffee table which will serve as the dreaded Kids' Table. Sorry guys, maybe next time I'll have a bigger dining room table! You'll survive.

  7. Food prep

    • Wash green beans;

    • Peel a shit-ton of onions, shallots and clean leeks;

    • Roast the shit-ton of onions, shallots and leeks;

    • Roast beets for the green beans or the amuse bouche - still undecided there.

    • Make the garlic croutons;

    • Shred gruyere and put it back in the fridge;

    • Fry up the bacon;

    • Roast the chestnuts (I can still use them for something);

    • Pre-steam the cauliflower;

    • Make the vinaigrette;

    • Make the topping for the cauliflower;

    • Drink some wine;

    • Feed the kids something at some point;

    • Freak out over some lost ingredient;

    • Have some more wine;

    • Feed the cat;

    • Take a shower;

    • Assemble the cauliflower and the onion dishes;

    • Get the assorted vegetable dishes in the oven to heat through - onions/leeks and cauliflower;

    • Make the spätzle batter;

    • Steam the green beans;

    • Assemble the amuse bouche if making, and plate it;

    • Make the gingersnap gravy - this is just about the last thing that needs to be started;

    • Make the spätzle;

    • Carve the meat.

OK. That should be just about it, though I'm sure I've forgotten some small detail.

OMG I've lost my fucking mind, haven't I?

It ought to be great. :D

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chocolate Hazelnut Sticks

I found these over at Pioneer Woman's cooking blog a few weeks ago, and knew that I'd be including them in my tins of treats this holiday.

I made a few adjustments based on taste and scarfed down about 6 of them within the space of 45 seconds or so.

Oh yeah, they're good.

What's more, they're easy, and a great treat that kids can help you make.

Go crazy.

Chocolate Hazelnut Sticks

  • a package of the long thin, plain Italian breadsticks
  • 1 cup meltable chocolate wafers or chocolate bark
  • 2 heaping tablespoons Nutella
  • very finely chopped hazelnuts
  • sea salt

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper.

  2. Melt chocolate in the microwave, stopping every 30 seconds to stir and check on it. Stop microwaving it when the wafers start to look shiny.

    Trust me, you do not want to scorch the chocolate - I've said it before, let me say it again: Burned chocolate is an abomination.

  3. Add the Nutella and stir well until it melts in with the chocolate.

  4. Break the breadsticks in half and dip the broken half in the chocolate/Nutella mixture, swirling around and building up a lush and lovely coating of chocolate.

  5. Lay them on the lined cookie sheet and sprinkle with chopped nuts.

  6. Grind some fresh sea salt over the top.

  7. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer and let them harden before removing to a plate or packaging in cellophane bags.

  • The original recipe did not call for salt, but when I ate the first tester this morning, they were just too sweet for me and I thought, "What the hell, let's put some salt on that bad boy," so I did.

    Of course, I have been craving chocolate-dipped potato chips lately, so perhaps I have just been longing for that salty-sweet combination.

  • I also changed the procedure by putting them in the freezer to set faster. I was running way behind in getting these tins of treats ready and knew that the only way I'd be able to bag up these sticks was if they spent a stint in the freezer. It's a very handy trick to know.

Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies

Another cookie from the Christmas Cookie Arsenal, these are so simple to make and really satisfying. My older daughter tried one yesterday and said, "It's too bad there aren't more." I gave her 'a look' for being critical and she said, "What?! It's a compliment! I could eat these all day!"

Just for her, I am baking another batch.

Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies

Yield: 20 cookies
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated, each part lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup toasted skinned hazelnuts, ground
  • 2 T confectioner's sugar
  • Raspberry jam
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

  2. Put butter and ½ cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

  3. Add egg yolk and vanilla, and mix well. Reduce speed to low.

  4. Add flour and salt, and mix until just combined. Form the dough into a ball, put it in a plastic bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.

  5. Stir together toasted hazelnuts and 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar in a small bowl until well-mixed.

  6. Break off small pieces of the chilled dough and roll into 1-inch balls; dip balls in egg white, then in hazelnut-sugar mixture, coating well.

  7. Space the cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

  8. Press down center of each ball with your thumb.

  9. Bake for 10 minutes.

  10. Remove from oven; press down centers again with a spoon or your thumb if you have asbestos hands.

  11. Return to oven. Bake cookies until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more.

  12. Let cool slightly on sheets on wire racks.

  13. Fill each center with jam.

  14. Devour.

  • Silpat mats. I used to think that parchment paper was the key to perfect cookies and rolls until I burned a batch of crescent rolls that had been placed on parchment paper covered one of my "well-seasoned" cookie sheets. Even two layers of parchment can't keep things from burning on a dark sheet.

    Then I tried those air-insulated sheets, but didn't like the way that they had no lip to speak of.

    I finally broke down and bought a Silpat mat and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to bake.

  • Filling: People always seem to scream for strawberry or raspberry filling, but honestly my favorite is black currant.

    I bet if you changed the extract to almond extract, replaced the hazelnuts with ground almonds, and used cherry preserves, you'd have one damn-good cookie.

    Wow. That is almost worth a trip to the store for cherry preserves!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowball Cookies

Also known as Pecan Butterballs, Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies, Russian Teacakes. These divine concoctions of ground pecans, confectioner's sugar, butter and flour are irresistible. Fragile and crumbly, yes, but buttery, rich and nutty with that airy coating of 10x pulverized sugar, they beg to be devoured.

Of course, now my kitchen looks as though a hot-air balloon filled with confectioner's sugar collided with a grove of pecan trees, but hey, it's Christmas!

Snowball Cookies

  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, chopped very fine or ground in a food processor
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar for dusting and rolling
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Toast the pecans first. Place whole or halved pecans on an ungreased sheet pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, stirring a few times until the nuts are light brown and fragrant. Don't let them burn.

  3. Let cool in a bowl and set aside. Grind them in a food processor when they have cooled.

  4. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with vegetable shortening spray, or do what I do and place your Silpat baking mat on the sheet.

  5. Using a stand mixer or heavy duty hand mixer with the beater attachment, beat butter on medium to high speed about 2 minutes or until fluffy. Make sure that there are no clumps of butter.

  6. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat again, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently.

  7. Add the vanilla extract and salt and beat again.

  8. Turn the mixer to low. Slowly and carefully, add the flour and ground pecans to the mixing bowl 1 cup at a time, scraping the bowl after every addition. It should go without saying, but remember to turn off the mixer when you scrape the bowl!

  9. By now, the mixer will have started to slow down. Don't over mix, just mix only until the dry ingredients are blended.

  10. Using a cookie scoop, ice cream scoop or teaspoon, measure out a 1-inch piece of cookie batter, and roll them between your palms, shaping them into 1-inch balls.

  11. Place on prepared pans leaving a little room between cookies to allow for spreading.

  12. Bake in 350 degree over for 14 minutes or until cookies are almost firm and the edges are slightly browned. Let them cool just enough to handle.

  13. Measure out 1 cup of confectioners' sugar into a large bowl. Sift the sugar if necessary to remove all lumps.

  14. Working with about 5 - 6 warm cookies at a time, roll them in the bowl of confectioner's sugar until they're completely coated. Place on a clean parchment covered cookie sheet.

  15. When the cookies are all coated, start over again, and roll them in powdered sugar a second time. Shake off excess and place on cookies sheets.

  16. Yields about 4 dozen cookies.

  • I like to place these in mini-muffin papers.

  • If the butter hasn't all been whipped up, some of the cookies will spread out a bit when cooking. They still taste great.

  • I always seem to make an unholy mess with the confectioner's sugar every time I make these. I think I saw one recipe that called for you to fill a brown paper bag with the sugar and putting the cookies in there a few at a time and gently tossing them around in the bag. It might be worth a try.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part II: Shopping & Initial Prep

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part I: The Menu.

So, for the full scope of this saga, we have to back up a few days. Sometime last week I decided to do a Christmas Eve dinner for family, which in this case is an assortment of in-laws (funny story there, I'm actually still on great terms with all of the soon-to-be-ex's family). I sent out a few emails and lo and behold, people can come!

I'd been thinking about Sauerbraten a lot lately, and since the in-laws have a goodly amount of German in them (like me) I figured that a German-ish meal would be ok. Not everyone likes German food. Their loss, IMO. But apparently, this sounds good to the people involved. So, I'd been perusing Sauerbraten recipes for a while and noticed that a lot of them suggested cooking the roast in an enameled dutch oven.

If you know me at all, you know that I've been lusting after an enameled dutch oven like a Le Creuset for a while. When I'm in my right mind, I can not justify a $300 pot during the height of my spending season (A kid's birthday plus the Christmas hoopla? You've got to be kidding me). But last week I noticed that Macy's had an insane sale on Martha Stewart enameled cast iron cookware. I had a coupon for 15% off and thought to myself, "Why not?"

So I did.

Once I got it home I read the reviews.


There's a reason they say, "Act in haste, repent at leisure."

The reviews were evenly split: people either loved them or or hated it. I guess the quality control on some of these Made in China products is sketchy. Yeah ok. but what got me was the card inserted in the box giving tips on maintaining the enamel. One of the tips that caught my eye and caused my jaw to hit the floor was this gem: "Do not cook or store acidic foods in order to preserve enameled surface."

DoubleYoo-Tee-Eff? If you know anything about cast iron enamelware, the entire point to it is to compensate for cast iron's pesky propensity to react with acidic foods. Everything else about cast iron is pretty damn awesome, so they coat it with a layer of enamel so it's no longer reactive and you can basically cook anything in it. Sure, except Martha's pots.

So I was bumming. I thought that I could probably cook the meat in my crock pot because Sauerbraten requires a long slow sort of braise, and what could be more perfect for that than a crock pot, right? So what if it's not 100% traditional, if it produces good results. I posted about it at Chow and heard back from a very content Martha Stewart pot owner, so all may not be lost yet. We shall see.

My next dilemma was finding some of the more exotic ingredients for the marinade, specifically, juniper berries and allspice berries. I swore to myself I would have everything bought for the meal today. Let's see how I did.

Shopping & Prep with Babs:

  1. Marshall's

    I hit this place because I'd read that the Home Store in Marshall's sometimes has Le Creuset pots at deep discounts. What? A girl can still dream!

    Result: Nothing bought.

  2. Bed, Bath and Beyond

    I wandered in there to price Le Creusets, but they had none. They had Emerilware and Frontagnac or something. I asked if they had a spaetzle maker, but alas, no. If I want one of my own, I have to drive down to the store in Vestal, near Binghamton. The crazy thing is, that's not too far for me to drive for a cooking gadget. Yes, you may call me a bit of a gadget-whore. My SIL is bringing hers, so no worries.

    Result: Nothing bought.

  3. Liehs and Steigerwald

    This is that German deli and butcher ship I'd found online. They prepare their own Sauerbraten spice blend, so I was hoping to get some when I picked up the cut of beef for the roast. Sadly, they only had the spice mixture at the other store, which is closed on Mondays. They did trim up the most beautiful eye of round roast I've seen for me, so not a trip wasted.

    Result: a big honking cut of meat.

  4. Spice Rack, Inc

    This place was allegedly on the same road as the German deli. They allegedly sold spices. Who knew, because I could not find them. I drove the block twice and could not find any signage or sight of their store. At this point I despaired of finding allspice berries.

    Result: Big, Fat Nothing.

  5. Wegman's

    I'd looked online earlier at their website and saw that they stocked juniper berries (Yay!) but not allspice berries (Boo!) I only had a few things to get there, but when I got there, on a whim, I thought I'd go look for allspice berries anyway. I FOUND THEM! They were hidden in the natural foods spice section, NOT the regular old baking section.

    *victory dance* <-- I really did that in the spice aisle at the store; what's more people saw me and probably didn't think anything of it.

    Result: VICTORY!

  6. Price Chopper

    I was driving back to Syracuse and realized I'd kill for a Diet Coke and small grinder, so I found myself at yet another freaking grocery store.

    Result: Diet Coke and a mini-grinder.

  7. Salvation Army

    I am having more people over than I have plates for, so I thought I'd go to Sal's Army and see if I could pick up a decent plate or two for cheap.

    Boy, did I luck out. I got 8 Oneida plates and 6 matching bowls for $8. They almost match my current stoneware.

    Result: VICTORY!

  8. Home

    When I pulled into my driveway, I smelled skunk-stank. (We have a colony of city-skunks in my neighborhood) and I immediately thought of my cat: small furry 4-legged obnoxious critter = skunk or Cheetah. I realized that I had forgotten cat food and kitty litter.

    Result: Back to the store.

  9. Price Chopper

    Got the same cashier surprised to see me back soon.

    Result: The damned cat should have no complaints.

  10. Home

    Hung out for a few hours with the kids.When they left to go with their dad, I thought to clean out my fridge in anticipation of sticking 6 pounds of marinating beef in there. I found that the cauliflower had already gone over to the dark side. Much muttered cursing later, I hopped in the car.

    Result: Just a quick trip to the store and a cleaned out fridge.

  11. Price Chopper

    Rushed in and got a cauliflower, and some more semi-sweet chocolate morsels and hazelnuts, because you never know, I may decide to whip up another batch of Crisis Brownies tonight.

    Result: Success.

  12. Home

    I got home and decided now was the time to make the marinade and get the meat going. I poured the red wine vinegar into my measuring cup only to find that I was 33.3333333% short. By now I have abandoned the muttered cursing and moved straight on to really loud, creative cursing.

    Result: Hop back in the car and shoot down the damn hill to the damn store.

  13. Price Chopper - the 4th trip that day

    I stalk in, grab a big bottle of red wine vinegar and get the same cashier who does a double-take and asked me "Forgot something?" "No. More like 'ran out of something!'" We laughed, I paid, I left.

    Result: This had better be my last goddamn trip to the store, a store, ANY store today!

  14. Home - for the 5th time? Or something, I've lost count.

    Got the marinade simmering, a glass of wine poured, then the meat marinated and IN THE FRIDGE!!

    Result: SUCCESS!

Coming soon: How the meat cooks and the rest of the meal unfolds.

The Sauerbraten Sagas - Part I: The Menu

If only we still spoke Old English, I could write this like one of the Eddas.

So, Christmas Eve dinner. I'm making a German dinner. That's the plan, anyway. The menu so far, and believe me, this is subject to change pending any kitchen disasters and perilous mood changes, is as follows:


Kartoffelpuffer - German Potato Pancakes served with applesauce or sour cream.

Here's the thing about these. Most people, when they think of potato pancakes, think of latkes, made with shredded/grated potatoes.

Now those are yummy, but we grew up eating a potato pancake that was made from a batter of pureed potato, flour and egg. They fry up fluffier than the latkes. I have had a bitch of a time finding the recipe, but I'm working on it.


Sauerbraten - German marinated pot roast.

I went on about this at length this morning in a status update entitled "Apparently when it comes to Sauerbraten, people have very strong feelings about the gravy and whether or not gingersnaps have any place in it."

Done well, Sauerbraten is sublime: melt-in-your-mouth meat accompanied by a gingersnap-thickened gravy. Really, words can't describe it.

It is accompanied by:

  • Spätzle, a cross between a noodle and a dumpling, and coated with lots of butter.

  • Red cabbage cole slaw. It works as a salad, and hey, Germans love their cabbage.

  • Steamed green beans with a walnut vinaigrette. Ok, so not specifically German, but it's really good. I may toss in some bacon too, just because... say it with me, kids: "Bacon makes everything better."

  • Braised leeks with chestnuts. At some point over the past few days, I found a divine-sounding recipe for braised leeks, but hell if I can find it now. it's possible that I only dreamed of finding it. That sort of stuff happens to me all the time. I may just make something up. I have the leeks. I have the chestnuts. I'm feeling sassy.

  • Cauliflower gratin. Very simple. Just par-boiled cauliflower covered with a mixture of mayo, whole grain mustard, paprika and freshly grated parm or romano and baked until nicely browned.


Haven't thought about this, but I suppose I can make my totally non-German, but completely worth it, Maple Wheat dinner rolls.


  • Linzertorte. Who doesn't love Linzertorte?

  • Apple Strudel. Maybe. I probably do need another dessert.

To drink:

  • Wine

  • Beer

  • Possibly egg nog.

  • Maybe even more mulled wine.

Next installment : Day 1 of shopping and prep!

I need to write about this in order to maintain my sanity. Thanks!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cookie-Palooza is Coming!

I've been busy with other things the past few weeks, though if really pressed, I can't even recall what they were. Scratch that, I remember now: I hosted a big birthday event for my youngest. I made a ton of food and took pictures of none of it. I'm bad. It was tasty though.

I can say that I've spent the past week or so planning Cookie-Palooza. I used to make Christmas goodies to give to people, but fell out of the habit much the same way I fell out of the Christmas card habit. This year I'd like to change all that, and what better way than by baking 3 - 4 dozen of 10 different kinds of cookies?

It's ambitious, I know. Also slightly insane, but that's how I do things.

Today I'm having a mini-birthday to-do for the same birthday kid as last weekend because my sister couldn't make it the first time around. Since we devoured the gigantic ice cream cake days ago, today I'm making a pan of my favorite brownies: the eponymous Crisis Brownies.

I call them Crisis Brownies not because of any exotic addition of vitamin THC or anything, but because sometimes when you're in the throes of a crisis, you just need something super-chocolatey.

These brownies fit the bill.

Babs's Crisis Brownies

  • ¾ cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into large, 1-T pieces
  • 2 T heavy cream
  • 12 oz (at least) semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup chocolate chunks (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped nuts (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 and spray an 11 x 7 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

  2. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa and baking soda with a whisk to break up any clumps of cocoa.

  3. Bring about 1 ½ inches of water to a boil in the bottom of your double boiler; reduce heat and then in the top pan of the double boiler* heat the butter and sugar until the butter starts to melt, add the heavy cream, and then gradually add your chocolate, stirring constantly to be sure that the mixture doesn't burn. Burnt chocolate makes the angels weep.

    The chocolate can be morsels, blocks or squares, and in my book, the more the better. I usually use a mixture of various semi-sweet chocolates.

    *If you don't have a double boiler, you can make your own by placing a stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.

  4. Once the chocolate is all melted, add the vanilla extract and then remove from the heat immediately and scrape into a large bowl.

  5. Set this bowl inside a larger bowl which has some ice on the bottom and let the chocolate mixture cool.

    Before adding the eggs, you can test the temperature of the chocolate mixture like I do, by sticking a clean finger into the mix and tasting it. You kill two birds with one stone this way because you can also test how sweet the mixture is. Win-win.

  6. Add the eggs, mixing well.

  7. Gradually stir in the flour mixture and mix until smooth. Now you can add extras like chopped nuts or, my favorite, more chocolate.

    I usually use about 10-12 of some wonderful Belgian dark chocolate truffles chopped coarsely.

  8. Pour batter into prepared pan.

  9. Bake 25-35 minutes until a toothpick jabbed into the center comes out clean. This recipe makes very dense, moist and fudgy brownies.

  10. Transfer pan to a rack to cool before cutting the brownies.

  11. If you serve them warm with ice cream you will thank me.

  1. These brownies may be a lot of work, what with the double boiler and all, but they are worth every lick of effort.

  2. Even made with generic store brand semi-sweet chocolate morsels, this recipe blows away any boxed mix brownies you could make; when made with more expensive baking chocolate, they will bring tears to your eyes.

  3. I believe that if you doubled the eggs in the recipe, you'd end up with a lighter, airier, cake-like brownie, if that's your thing. I am firmly in the dense, moist and fudge-like brownie camp, so I stick to just the 2 eggs.

    Don't get me wrong, cake has its place, but when I want a brownie, I want it to be somewhere in the territory between cake and fudge.

A closer look at the deep, fudgy moistness.

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