Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Post-Thanksgiving Blog on Thanksgiving Desserts

I would like more than anything to host Thanksgiving in our condo in Brooklyn, or to live somewhere with enough space to host my family and/or my in-laws under one roof. This is certainly a challenge I welcome. Unfortunately, we live in Park Slope and space isn't what it is in suburbia. So we have a nice dining room table that can hold six people. We did host passover for my Dad, stepmom Kim, sister Kaila and brother Josh, but that's just about the capacity we can handle here.

We did spend thanksgiving with my inlaws and I contributed two desserts: walnut-gingerbread panna cotta and pumpkin oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The panna cotta is from the recent issue (November 2009) of Martha Stewart's everyday food and the recipe should be found online on the website by doing a search for panna cotta.

This recipe was not hard at all - puree 20 gingerbread cookies and 3/4 cup walnuts in a miniprep to make the crust and mix with 3 T of butter and a T of brown sugar. Then press into a pie plate. The crust then should be baked at 325 until lightly browned for about 25 minutes.

The filling is prepared first by heating 1/2 cut heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of honey and a quarter teaspoon salt. Then I whisked in a package of gelatin that had been activated in 3 tablespoons of water. The gelatin is what will ultimately make the panna cotta congeal. Finally, away from the heat, I added 1 3/4 cup greek yogurt (you must use greek yogurt, not plain yogurt - I chose to use 2% greek yogurt, however) and 3/4 a teasopon of vanilla.

Next the filling is added and the panna cotta should be refrigerated for 2 hours.

In addition, I made a fruit topping similar to the one in the book, which called for a chutney-like jam made of dried plums, brown sugar and orange zest. Instead of the dried plums, I substituted dried figs and it was delicious.

As far as the pumpkin cookies - I am not sure where the recipe came from but I have been making them since I was a kid. The recipe calls for mixing the following in a mixer - 2 sticks of butter, 1 1/3 cups Quaker oats. 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup of splenda-sugar (half sugar-half splenda), 1 cup libby's pumpkin puree, 1 egg, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 cup chocolate chips. Make into cookies and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes until lightly browned.

One great way to make these cookies is to make them large and decorate them with pumpkin faces. This is perfect for with kids for halloween and I can't wait to do this with my own children every year like my mom did with me. You can decorate them with different color cake icings, m and ms, candy corns etc . . .

The creativity with these cookies is endless and perfect for children - like I said, I cannot wait to make these cookies with my own kids. They're also perfect for the adult who likes to be a kid. I looked forward to doing this every year at Halloween with my mom. I should add that the ones I made for thanksgiving were not decorated, however, but I figured the pumpkin was still seasonal and they seemed to be enjoyed just the same.

Panna Cotta on Foodista

Pumpkin on Foodista

Pumpkin Cookies on Foodista


Friday, November 27, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Beer Bread

I've always been told that I am very prolific in whatever I do. I have a lot of excess energy, enough to bottle and sell. Perhaps this explains that when I cook, I can never make one or two things in small quantities. Rather, I have a compulsion to make large amounts of food or a variety of different things and I don't space it out. I suppose this would be idealy suited to having a large family, provided that my future children were willing to eat things like braised oxtail, tamirand chutney, and beer bread. Probably not so likely. The other thing about this prolific quality I have (some might refer to it as obsessive, perhaps intense, or maybe just hyper, driven and energetic) is that I work extremely quickly. I was always a fast writer, editor and worker, whether it was as a journalist for the newspaper in college or as an attorney. So, I expect it will lead to my being a pretty prolific blogger as well.

Beer bread. What is beer bread? Well it is bread made with beer. I had never heard of beer bread until very recently. In fact, I had only so much cooked with beer once, when making a Guinness beef stew after a family trip to Ireland in June, 2007. But the concept of putting beer in bread does make sense. Beer contains large quantities of yeast which is ideal in bread. Plus, depending on the type of beer you use, that would impact the bread itself and perhaps the types of other ingredients that one would add to the bread to complement the flavors in the beer.

I'm not such a big beer drinker. I never have been. I tend to drink about half a beer, or one beer if I really like the flavor. I also have this face that I make when drinking some kinds of beer (even if I claim I like the beer). My husband refers to it as my beer face and can tell instantly how much of the beer I will finish based on the face.

I should also mention that even if you do not drink, beer makes for an interestingly textured bread that is good with various meat dishes and stews - a hearty kind of bread. The bread itself does not contain any alcohol (all of that is lost when it bakes at a high temperature) so even if you have reasons that you would not drink beer, you can still make beer bread.

The basic recipe is very simply. However, I intevented my own recipe here. Beer bread calls for 3 cups of self rising flour, 8 oz of beer (whatever kind you prefer), 1/2 cup of sugar in a buttered or pam-ed bread pan.

I have four mini bread loaf pans (half loaves) so I cut the recipe in half and made two different kinds. For starters let me explain about the self-rising flour. This is not regular all-purpose flour. You can either buy self-frising flous or make your own. If you are going to make your own, like I did, add 1 1/2 tsp of baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt for each cup of flour you use.

For other flavors beyond the beer, you could add anything that complements the beer you selected. Since I had not planned on making this recipe before this afternoon, I used what I had - 1/2 cup of grated cheddar for each of the two batches and some diced chives. However, other ideas for good beer bread could perhaps include different types of nuts, grated carrots, pumpkin puree, bananas, even chocolate (if you were using a chocolate stout.)

As far as the types of beer, I used 8 oz of Post pumpkin ale (Brooklyn Brewery) for half of the beer bread and Guinness for the other half (I had to know what the bread would taste like if I used Guinness). Finally - bake at 375 until the bread is lightly browned and cooked through (check with a fork) Mine was done in about 40 minutes. However, I suspect it could take 1 hour if you use larger loave pans.

It turned out great. A somewhat tough and chewy bread which, as I expected, rose beautifully in the pans. The pumpkin and guiness flavors were evident as the bread took on the essence of the flavors in the beer. The cheese definately added some nice flavor and texture as well. I would not use this bread to make french toast or a turkey sandwich, but it is perfect snack bread, and would taste excellent as a complement to various meats, braises, stews and even soups. I plan to have some with the braised oxtail which is still in the oven.

Beer Bread on Foodista

Bread on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Braised Oxtail - Sweet Spiced Oxtail, Duck Confit Salad, Goan Spiced Crabcakes and Better Guacamole

Tonight's dinner is a recipe I first made sometime around late 2007 when I first bought the Tabla cookbook, by Floyd Cardoz, who specializes in American food infused with Indian spices at his New York City restaurant, Tabla.

Like most of his recipes, this one infuses some great Indian spices and has a strong and wonderful cinnamon flavor which complements the oxtail well.

What is oxtail - it is exactly that the name implies. Interestingly, although oxtail has become somewhat of a culinary delicacy in recent years, it is very affordable. It's not something I have been able to find in most manhattan or brooklyn meat markets (hence I have not made it since late 2007). However, fresh direct now carries it. I purchased about 2 lbs of oxtail from fresh direct earlier this week which I have now defroasted, for about $13.

The recipe, on page 159 of Cardoz's book, requires a spice blend of cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, chile, turmeric and a small amout of cayenne). I suggest adding about half of the suggeted amount of the peppercorns - they're a bit strong for my taste.

In addition to the oxtails, the braise also requires canola oil, onion, garlic, celery, carrots, ginger, red wine, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. These are all pretty ordinary ingrediants for any braise. However, what makes this recipe unique is the spice mixture. This particular recipe, like much of Indian cooking is a bit on the sweet side, but not overpowering. And it's an interesting mix between the Indian spices and the oxtail.

I should mention that there's a couple other recipes in this book that I highly recommend - and which I will include in this entry, since I have made both within the last two weeks - goan spiced crabcakes and the waldorf salad with duck confit.

As far as the crabcakes, this recipe involves a tomato base that incorporates some interesting spices as well (cumin, corinander, turmeric, cayenne, ginger and garlic). I made this recipe awhile back for our foodie friends Eric and Lauren, and Eric indicated that essentially this is a homemade variation on a tomato curry, meaning that the mixture of the spices themselves is how you make curry. This was certainly news to my husband who loves this dish but had always professed to hate curry. The recipe then calls for lump crabmeat, as well as a small amount of whitefish mouse. The whitefish mouse is easily made in a miniprep food processor (one of my favorite kitchen toys) by pureeing the 3 oz of whitefish with egg and egg white. In addition, salt, pepper, lime juice and panko bread crums are incorporated into this recipe.

There are a number of ways to serve this - the book suggests serving with guacamole, which they refer to as an avocado salad (page 18 of the book). I've long made my own guacamole in a mojete and I have always made it with 2 avocados, 1 tomato, some onion, a couple tablespoons of lime juice, a but of jalapeno to taste (depending on how spicy you want it), and dashes of salt and pepper. However, since reading the Tabla book, I satarted adding a teaspoon of cumin to my guacamole and it's wonderful - it just enhances the flavor in a truly wonderful way. I feel like I finally perfected guacamole. The mojete is essential - you cannot make real guacamole without one. It maximizes the surface area of the avocado or something like that, and enables you to puree the avocados and mix the guacamole the way it is suppose to be made. I believe we got ours from crate & barrel. The mixture of the crabcakes and avocado/guacamole is wonderful and the two flavors complement each other well.

Other ways I have served it include a red pepper sauce which I have made (and one day will blog about, I am sure), or various types of chutney which are certainly worth experimenting with. I am sure one day I will have to devote an entire blog entry to various chutneys, but that is best saved for another day.

On to the duck confit salad. This is basically an american recipe ( a waldorf salad) with a bit of a twist. This is found on page 29 of the Tabla cookbook. However, I have not followed most of the recipe at all, but simply use it as a guide. The first step is making the dressing - a spice orange juice reduction. Basically, I reduce the orange juice with star anise, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. This creates a very flavorful orange juice reduction. The dressing calls for adding a chicken stock/ginger/shallot reduction as well - I don't get this at all. It adds very little to the dressing and in my opinion, it not worth the time spent reducing the chicken stock. So, I skipped this part and simply mixed the OJ reduction with some canola oil and that's my dressing. Then, I cut up some gala or honeycrisp apples for the salad. Recently, I've been getting these from the local farmers market here in Park Slope. Then I added the duck confit, walnuts and a bit of Chaat masala to the salad and that's it. I don't usually bother with the cilantro, chives, chile and other ingredients as I do not feel they are necessary. This salad is a great dinner salad and it works as a weekday meal since it doesn't take a very long time to prepare.

Oxtail on Foodista

Duck Confit on Foodista


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: How I Started to Cook

So, I have never written a blog. Someone suggested that I do this about my food, so here I go. I am married and live in Park Slope, Brooklyn. By day, I am a lawyer in Manhattan. But I love to cook. And, I love to write. Back in college in suburban Philadelphia (Haverford College), I was a newspaper editor and I loved writing for the newspaper, but I never wrote about food, and I never did journalism after college. Somehow, this eventually led to a career in law.

Anyhow, I didn't really cook much growing up at all, and I didn't cook much when I lived alone when I first moved to New York either. It wasn't that I didn't like to cook, I just never really had done much. Also, whenever I did cook, it created a huge mess which I never was much interested in cleaning up. Finally, in those early days I always had a tiny kitchen, a tiny sink and no dishwasher. My first apartment after college was at Columbia University, shared with a strage chemistry graduate student named Liz. She did do some cooking, supposably but was so friendly that she kept all of her kitchen equipment in padlocked cabinets. So that didn't encourage me to learn how to cook either.

I started really doing some cooking when I first started dating my husband, Brad in 2004. Brad really had no idea how to cook at all at that point. But we figured out some meals together. Around this time, I tried to make tri-colored marzipan rainbow cookies, a very complicated recipe. It was a total disaster - they tasted terrible, looked awful and I stained my hands green. We did bring them to a party at Brad's suggestion and I believe only one of his friends was drunk enough to try a cookie. These were my humble beginnings.

I slowly got better. My mom got me a description to Everyday Food, Martha Stewart's magazine. In the beginning, I stuck to these recipes. The directions were easy to follow and they always came out perfectly, even when I was first starting out. And they were great recipes - for everything. I had new ideas each month. Say what you want about Martha, but her recipes are the best - I still love them to this day. And she knows her shit. Her challah is better than the challah from the Kosher cookbooks I've used. Go figure.

From 2004 through 2008, I cooked more and more, but mostly on the weekends. I had a pretty demanding job with very long hours as a attorney at a large firm. So most weeknights were spent ordering take-out on the firm account at work. But I loved cooking on the weekends.

In late 2008, due to various economy-cratering events, I ultimately wound up working at a small firm with more sane hours. However, it was just to expensive in the midst of this non-ending recesssion to eat out or order in all the time. So, my husband and I decided that we (mostly me) would cook at least 5 nights a week from our home in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I'd cook and he'd do the laundry. Now he helps with some of the cooking, but I don't even remember how to use the laundry machine.

When you cook that much you look for new recipes. I get bored easily so I needed new and different recipes to challenge myself with. The more complicated the better. I'd find recipes online, in cookbook, on facebook and from a variety of sources. I figured out in this last year how to make just about anything from scratch - apple pie, challah, crabcakes, cupcakes, ice cream, chutneys of all kinds, tuna burgers, braised oxtail - you name it - from the ordinary to the weird. Oh, and I figured out how to make the elusive rainbow cookies in my stand artesion mixer (a 2006 engagement gift that finally found its home in my kitchen when we moved to Brooklyn in April, 2008). In fact, the rainbow cookies, far removed from that intial disaseter, are now one of my best recipes. In this time, I only found one thing I prefer NOT to make from scratch - that would be gingerbread. Why? Well apparaently, in addition to the obvious ginger, cinnamon and flour, ginerbread is made with unsulfured molasses. Who knew that unsulfured molasses absolutely stinks?

So thanks to this recession, I learned how to cook just about anything. Would I still be eating PBJ, goat cheese covered apples and take-out every night if Al Gore had prevailed in Florida on that sad November night? Perhaps. At any rate, a newly energized Sasha eagerly planned my menus for the week and looked forward to my sunday grocery shopping almost as much as pre-recession I looked forward to shopping at bloomingdales. Well, almost. In this time period, we started doing dinner parties, which I learned I love to do. I actually found cooking to be relaxing and a good use for all the restless energy I seemed to always have. And I liked cooking food in mass. I wish more than anything that we had enough space to host large thanksgiving and jewish holiday dinners.

I guess I have always been a "foodie" in terms of the restaurants and foods I liked. I never really was a picky eater as a child, so this was a fairly easy transition. I'm very petite - I never ate much (either as a kid or even today) but I would try everything and ate a variety of foods.

After posting enough food on facebook, people (encluding people I hadn't seen in years who saw my updates on facebook) started to think I was some kind of foodie-supercook person. Eventually someone suggested that I write a blog about food.

So here I am - I plan to blog about the food that I prepare, foods I plan to cook, and food I have cooked, and include pictures as well.

There are a few foods that I do not eat that you will never see here: pork, bacon, ham, licorice, capers and olives. Also, no lobster because I cannot kill anything in my kitchen.
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