Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Ham

I was trying to decide what to write about. It's not that I haven't been cooking, but the things I cook around Christmas time are usually just family favorites. I made up my usual batch of cut-out Christmas cookies. My sister and I decorated them with the help of the two older boys. When a four-year old and a two-year old help paint food coloring-laden powdered sugar topping onto cookies, something unusual happens-some cookies disappear before they are completely painted. My two-year old was painting a star. He painted an edge, said, "Look, Mommy!" I smiled in approval. The next time I looked over there he was painting another point on the same star, but the previously painted point was missing. It was eat-and-paint-as-you-go.
We made gingerbread men and women, decorated with royal icing and red and green M&M's. For that perfect icing, you must use meringue powder.
My sister and I also made homemade marshmallows. I was going to cut them into fun shapes and dip them in chocolate, but I was rushed so I just cut them into squares. They were delicious, nonetheless, and my four-year old kept asking for "more square marshmallows".
I made biscuits and gravy, pasta with browned butter and pecorino romano, beef stroganoff, grilled chicken with penne and creamy white sauce, and soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I cajoled my mom into making her chicken pot pie and chicken enchiladas. Let's just say the last two weeks I spent eating. I ate at In-N-Out, Del Taco, Chilis, the Blue Plate, Spaghetti Factory and the Waffle Shop. I could include other meals here, but I don't want to be obscene. I am sure you probably feel full just reading what I ate. But I saved the best meal for last.
Christmas Dinner.
My husband suggested I write about the usual ham recipe. We always, always, always have ham, au gratin potatoes, croissants and Martinellis on Christmas Day. We have recently added a breakfast casserole my mom discovered, which I may add here later. We usually have a vegetable, and this year it was my same old green beans with bacon.
The ham recipe is really simple. I just add a few things to the sauce, just like I remember my mom doing. Seriously, its so easy, its not even really a recipe. But its really, really good. If you don't like your ham recipe, you should try this one. If you do like your ham recipe, you should try this one. It's different, and there are so many ways you could change it up, like substituting orange marmalade or pomegranate jelly for the pineapple-apricot.
I always buy the same ham, it comes in a red foil-looking wrap. It is a bone-in, spiral-sliced ham. There is a seasoning packet in it that you are supposed to mix with 3 Tablespoons water and heat on the stove until boiling. I add the water it calls for, and also, a half a 16-oz jar of pineapple-apricot jam, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
I cook the ham according to the package directions, which is usually baked, covered with foil for somewhere around two hours. At the one hour mark I baste with about half the glaze. I pour a little bit in between each of the slices. At the 1:45 mark I do it again, using the rest of the glaze. When the ham comes out of the oven, I transfer it to a platter, and pour the juices into a saucepan and turn it on high. Once its boiling, I mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water and whisk well. Pour about 1/4 cup of the mixture into the boiling glaze and whisk until slightly thickened.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eat Here- Blue Plate

Yes, here it is-another restaurant review. I may start doing this full-time instead of cooking at home...just kidding. Although, this restaurant, is, I believe, my new favorite. Honestly, I think it is the best place I have ever eaten.
Well, first-my husband has been getting better at finding restaurants for us to try. I suggested that he check the internet for 'Best of...' restaurant guides from magazines, like Bon Appetit, and the result has been that we have been eating at more restaurants I want to write a review for. I decided this time I would bring my notebook, and try to take down a few of the details of the meal.
My husband was flying into San Fransisco, and we decided to leave the kids with grandma and make a date of it. He found this restaurant, and I have to admit, as we approached the locale, we were a bit unsure. We decided to just go in and give it a shot.
We arrived about six, and I think there was one other couple there. The seats were very close to each other, and about eight feet from my seat was the kitchen, situated in the dining room. A dim, bluish light cast an unusual pallor over the dining room, but the dim interior was a nice romantic switch from the over-lit restaurant interiors. Our waiter seemed slightly preoccupied, but was quite adept. We started with a dungeoness crab salad with frisee sprinkled over the top, spanish chorizo aioli, and a crispy slow egg. I have to admit, I wasn't sure what a 'crispy slow egg' was. It was a soft cooked egg that was coated and fried in something crunchy that tasted like cheese. The crab salad was light and fresh, and absolutely delicious with the silky egg yolk mixed in. The chorizo aioli was amazing. I could have written a post about that. The delicious flavors usually associated with chorizo made their way into a light but flavorful mayonnaise based sauce that perfectly complimented everything on the plate. Ahhhh...I wished there was more of it.
Oh, I forgot. A plate of fresh focaccia had made its way to our table in the meantime. It was good, but was quickly overshadowed by what was to come.
My husband ordered the painted hills ribeye with garlic french fries with horseradish pub cheese fondue, and I had the chicken thighs with wild rice and sliced toasted chestnuts. It was accompanied by grilled puntarelle, with a fuyu persimmon sauce and a malt mayo. We also ordered the drunken Spanish goat cheese macaroni as a side. It was kind of a lot of food, but we consumed everything edible on the table. The steak was the best I have ever had. It was a huge piece of meat, not what I was expecting at a high dollar restaurant. It was perfectly cooked, and practically melted in your mouth. It was simply topped with an herb butter, one of my husband's favorites. He was wishing for a bit more kick from the horseradish fondue, but it was a perfect accompaniment. I believe my chicken thigh was brick-cooked. The skin was deliciously crunchy and the inside was intensely flavorful. The persimmon sauce was delicious, even though the chicken didn't really need it. I was savoring every bite. The grilled puntarelle was something I have never had or heard of, but there are so many hybrids out there, sometimes its hard to keep up. It looked like a form of mustard greens, and I looked it up and it turns out its related to chicory, native only to Rome. It was pretty darn good. I am not a big fan of cooked greens, usually they are overcooked for my taste, but this was crunchy and extremely flavorful.
The goat cheese macaroni was phenomenal. If I ever eat at this restaurant again, I won't be able to write about it because I am pretty sure I have run out of adjectives. The macaroni was so creamy, and it was topped with a perfect, crunchy, buttery bread crumb topping.
I am sorry to break the news to you, but you probably will not be able to enjoy the exact feast I did, but I am sure yours will be just as delicious and life-changing. I believe their menu changes daily. There were many dessert offerings, including coconut creme pie, tangerine sorbet, affogeto, vanilla creme brulee, pumpkin mascarpone cheesecake and warm chocolate cake with fleur de sel caramel. I would have loved to try one, but, sadly, I was much too full.
I would recommend reservations, as the place was popping at the seams by 7:00 pm. If you had to wait, though, it would be worth it. Oh, I forgot to mention. The entire meal ran us the cost of eating at Outback...not bad, right?

The Blue Plate Restaurant
3218 Mission St.
San Fransisco, CA 94110

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stuffed or Dressed? (Stuffing)

I know many people who, oddly, don't care for stuffing that much. I say, what kind of stuffing have you had? I imagine it must be some horrible rendition in some horrid school cafeteria. Or perhaps your great-aunt made it with something you didn't like in it-raisins, oysters, celery, onion, etc. Which are not bad things, but if you don't like them or the way they are cooked it can ruin your stuffing experience.
I love stuffing. I know we really should call it dressing, because we never actually stuff the bird, but we always just call it stuffing. I love it and we only have it a few times a year! Recently I have begun making it when we have a roasted chicken, which happens several times a year, and also when we have ham (a twice-a-year occasion). I like it anyway it comes. I even order turkey dinners at restaurants because I just love stuffing and gravy! At a restaurant I worked at, we served several Thanksgiving banquets the week of, and the sous-chef knew of my affair with stuffing and saved me a large portion each time. I still ate plenty on Thanksgiving! A few years ago, I discovered an absolutely delicious stuffing recipe, and it has become a family favorite. It has bulk sage sausage, apples and cranberries in it. I always make one pan of that stuffing, and one pan of plain (for the unadventurous). I usually have none of the sage stuffing left. You can make the stuffing with a box mix, and just add the additional ingredients, or make it from old bread that you baked in the oven until its dried. If you use your own bread, just saute some finely chopped onions and carrots with the sausage, and season with salt and pepper.
I make this early in the day on Thanksgiving, and I put it all in a pan, cover with foil, and reheat while the Turkey is resting. I know I have mentioned Thanksgiving a lot, but I think its time we serve stuffing all throughout the year, instead of making it wait until Thanksgiving to make its appearance on our table. Let us have a stuffing revival!
Sage Stuffing
1 lb sage sausage (homemade or purchased)
2 boxes stuffing mix, any brand
4 cups water
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon,
4 cups homemade chicken broth
2 small apples (crisp, sweet apples like gala, pink lady, fuji or jazz are best)
1/3 cup dried cranberries

Brown sausage in a large pot over medium-high heat.. Add apples and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add stuffing mix, dried cranberries, water and bouillon (or homemade chicken stock), and turn off heat. After thoroughly combined, transfer to a 9x13 glass baking dish. You can cover and reheat at 350 for about 25 minutes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sugar and spice, Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin is my realm. It has been for quite sometime. When I was fourteen or fifteen years old, I decided I was going to make a couple of desserts for a church potluck. I was going to make pumpkin bars, pumpkin roll, and pumpkin pie. I was going to make it all from scratch, and all from actual pumpkin, not canned. I boiled the pumpkin. I did that for several years. I boiled it, and  it was so waterlogged, after I removed the skin and pureed it I cooked it down to try to remove some of the liquid. I ran into a myriad of problems cooking the pumpkin this way. Some times it was very fibrous, and sometimes my recipe was way too watery.
I found out just a few years ago that there is actually a particular pumpkin that is used for the canned pumpkin. It has a flesh that can only be described as 'custard-y'. The usual pumpkins we buy for their appearance in the fall months usually do not have this attribute. These pumpkins are called 'sugar-pie' or 'pie' pumpkins. I have asked at grocery stores and produce stands, but everyone looks at me like I have two heads. I have since decided that I will either have to: A. grow my own pumpkins, or; B. resign myself to buying canned pumpkin, or; C. use the pumpkin I can find and deal with its idiosyncrasies.
So, I have yet to grow my own pumpkins. Every year something happens, the kids dig out my plants, they die, I forget to plant them in time, we move...etc.
I have also discovered that roasting the pumpkin results in a mellow, rich flavor without the extra water that I have to get rid of. I roast halved pumpkin, cut side down, on a stoneware baking pan at 350 for 1-2 hours, until the pumpkin is soft to the touch. After it cools I puree it and freeze it in 1 cup portions to use in recipes. It works fine in recipes. But I still just buy canned pumpkin if I have none left in the freezer.
These cupcakes are just another cupcake recipe. Not really. They are from one of my favorite cookbooks, and they are moist and delicious. They actually can be a cake, which I think would be amazing, but I was taking them to a party and I didn't want to risk disaster. They have a modest maple cream cheese frosting, sprinkled on the on the top, and I had someone remark that they were the best cupcakes they ever had. Not bad for pumpkin, huh?
If you made this into a cake, I would finely chop the pecans and sprinkle them all over the top and press them into the sides.

For the cupcakes
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

12 ounces cream cheese
3/4 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, preferably grade B
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted and finely chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 and position and oven rack in the center. Place muffin liners in pans.
Cream the butter with the sugar, beating in the bowl of the stand mixer on medium-high until very light in color, 4 to 5 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, although you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.
Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl to blend. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs to the butter mixture. Add the pumpkin and blend well, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Alternate combining the wet and dry ingredients. 
Bake until toothpick inserted comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Make the frosting: Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the maple syrup and confectioners' sugar and mix thoroughly.
Frost cupcakes, and sprinkle the tops with toasted chopped pecans or pumpkin candies.
Makes 18 cupcakes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Eat Here-The Rose Restaurant

A few weeks back my husband and I decided to spend a night away from the kids. We really needed it, it has been quite a while. We were supposed to go away for a weekend in August, but extenuating circumstances prevented that, so it got postponed and shortened. My husband found a restaurant for us to visit, somewhere new for us to try out.
The Rose Restaurant in Prescott, Arizona is inconspicuous. It occupies a house that has a nostalgic look about it. As you enter, there is a lovely little area that was a household foyer in a former life. You might be greeted by the owner, a sweet middling woman from the midwest. She makes the place. She greets each patron at their table, announces the specials, and pushes her homemade pies. She bakes the pies herself, and that evening we had the privilege of sampling her handmade pecan pie. But I will tell you about that later.
The restaurant is sprawled across the ground level of a spacious house, with tables and chairs situated perfectly in the now-open rooms. There are enough seats to make you feel like there are other people around, but not so many that the room lacks privacy.
The restaurant has a definite French flair, but classy, updated decor keeps it feeling fresh. The menu holds traditional offerings, many with an updated twist.
We started with the Brie and roasted garlic, it was delicious. My husband thinks it was the best brie he has ever had. It was cooked to perfection, as was the roasted garlic, a creamy, delicious addition to the platter. There were actually a couple of appetizers I wanted to try, but I wasn't sure if he would like all of them.
We settled on the prime rib and lobster tail. My husband and I are not really big eaters, so usually if we have a starter, meal and dessert, we split all of it between the two of us.
The prime rib came with fresh veggies and a potato gratin dish, both were delicious, but the prime rib was stunning. Cooked to perfection and so tender! The horseradish sauce was perfect, and the lobster tail was divine. Everything was seasoned perfectly, in my opinion.
We ended with a slice of pecan pie, one of my favorites, and it was perfect. I know I have used that word many times, but there are no other words like it! If I had a restaurant, I would model it after the Rose Restaurant. It is definitely on my list of places I want to return to, and I would recommend it again and again.

The Rose Restaurant
234 South Cortez Street
Prescott, AZ 86303-3939
(928) 777-8308

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