Monday, December 29, 2008

The 9th Annual Pozole Party

This year was the 9th Annual Pozole Party - the ultimate "Last Christmas Party" historically held on Christmas Eve Eve (December 23) regardless of the day of the week. In the intervening years since December, 2000, much has changed, both for the party and it's participants. It's grown for one thing - from five original guests to over thirty, and as you might expect, the guests have, shall we say, "matured." Instead of a bunch of twenty-somethings slurping margaritas before going home to mom and dad's for the holidays, we now have moms and dads who can't slurp too many margaritas because they have to get home to relieve the babysitter. It's traditionally been a bit of a raucous party, and while it's been an absolute blast, I think we may be ready to acknowledge the effects of the passage of time. James is lobbying for one last go round with the old format for the 10th Annual, but after that I forsee a revamp - perhaps an earlier time slot and a different day. It would be kind of nice after all to be able to cook on Christmas Eve - something we haven't been able to do, well, ever.
Last year I shared the formula for the margaritas (which were still a pretty big hit this year, babysitters be damned) and this year - yes - this year, I have the Posole recipe. (We've always called it the Pozole Party, with a "z", so for the sake of continuity I'm sticking with that, though we spell the name of the soup with an "s." Don't ask too many questions.) James has kept this pretty close to his chest in the past - but I watched him this time, and I have the two recipes that he cobbles together to make it - so I think I can do a pretty good job of replicating it here. It's certainly not complicated - that's the beauty of it really. It's just pork and chicken soup with hominy - the mix-ins and garnishes are the seasoning, and everyone can customize his or her own bowl.
Posole Party 08
Of course, if you don't live in San Diego you won't have access to the El Indio tortilla chips or the Las Cuatros Milpas tortillas, or the salsas from the Farmers Market taco stand. Sorry 'bout that. I would take mail orders - but I'm afraid the shipping costs would be prohibitive.
Pozole 2007 039
A more or less original recipe, adapted from versions in Mexico -the Beautiful Cookbook and the NY Times

1 whole organic chicken
3 cloves garlic smashed
2 medium carrots - cut into 3 pieces
2 stalks of celery - cut into 2 pieces
1 onion, cut into eighths
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
small bunch of cilantro stems, tied together with twine or tied in a cheesecloth bag
(chop the leaves for garnish.)
roughly 10 cups of water

3 pounds of lean boneless pork - any combination of shoulder or butt
1 tablespoon of salt
2 carrots - cut into four pieces
2 celery stalks - cut into two pieces
1 onion - cut into eighths
1 tablespoon of peppercorns
10 cups of water

1 pound dried hominy (we used Rancho Gordo )
1 onion

Garnishes: chopped onion, chopped cilantro, dried oregano, chopped fresh and/or dried chiles, limes, and sour cream mixed with a few drops of hot sauce.

Prepare the hominy by soaking overnight in enough water to cover by one inch. Drain the hominy and place it in a large pot with 1 onion cut into quarters. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender - about 2 hours.

Place the chicken in a large pot or dutch oven and add the garlic, onion, 1 tablespoon of salt and cilantro stems. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered over medium to low heat for about 30-45 minutes, just until the meat is cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate. Pull the meat off the bones, remove the skin and shred the meat, keeping the carcass intact. Return the carcass to the pot and simmer the stock over low heat for another hour.

While the broth simmers, cook the pork. Place the pork in a pot with salt, onion, celery, peppercorns and water, and bring to a boil. When the water boils, skim the surface and reduce the heat. Simmer over medium heat for one hour. Remove and shred the meat and strain the pork broth. Remove the bones from the chicken broth, and strain if necessary. Combine the pork broth, chicken broth, hominy, shredded pork and chicken in one pot, and bring to a simmer for twenty minutes to combine flavors. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with the dried oregano, peppers, sour cream, lime wedges, shredded cabbage and additional salt and pepper. Pass tortillas on the side.

Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo also has a wonderful sounding Posole Verde recipe here that can be made vegan with the use of vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. James also made an experimental batch of the Verde with some pepitas, tomatillos, etc. this year, but it needs a little more work before we can post it!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
Oh my, I am soo tired. In a good way of course, after hosting a party last night and getting all the holiday shopping and wrapping and baking and cooking done. I really wish I could sit down and write a big long post right now, but sadly, I cannot. We're on our way out to two more festive occasions tonight and another tomorrow, but I promise you when I come back, I will have posole, and peppermint bark, and pink lady cake to share. Wow, didn't realize there was so much alliteration in there. Links and photos and recipes, oh my!
To whet your appetite, here's a photo of some Posole from the party last night. It's not the most photogenic stuff in the world, but it is delicious!

Merry Christmas everyone, and to all a good night!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rainbow Cookies and Afternoon Tea

Rainbow cookies
I first discovered (and fell in love with) these little almond paste and butter filled squares when I was in NYC this past October. Even then I thought about making them for the holidays - it just seemed so right given their festive red and green color scheme. I knew it would be a project, but I also knew the recipe was likely to make a lot - and they would probably keep well since they're so dense and moist. When Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard landed in my lap a couple of weeks ago, I figured it was serendipity. The book says that at Spago, these are served as petit fours after dinner. When I tweeted that I was embarking on this project I actually heard from a friend who used to make them there for that very purpose. She confirmed what I was already learning - that they are indeed labor intensive, but very much worth the effort.
The laden table
I made them specifically for a Sunday afternoon gathering of some girlfriends - a holiday tea and handmade gift exchange. Everyone was asked to bring some cookies to share and a gift for the exchange (handmade by someone, but not necessarily the guest herself.) We drank rose champagne and white hot chocolate with vanilla bean and orange, (tea? what tea?) and ate cute little open-faced sandwiches, fancy cheeses, scones, and cookies. It was a lovely afternoon. At least I enjoyed it, and it's always a good sign when you have fun at your own party, I think. Here's the menu:
cucumber with mint butter and curried chicken salad tea sandwiches
Holiday Afternoon Tea
December 14, 2008

Pierre Robert, Cave Aged Gouda and Stilton/Gloustershire Cheeses
Prosciutto and Salami
Frog Hollow Farms Peach Chutney
Bread and Cie Baguette

Cucumber with Mint Butter and
Curried Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches on Brioche
Puff Pastry Bites with Feta and Caramelized Onions
Roederer Brut Rose

Ginger Scones
Assorted Cookies
Eclipse White Hot Chocolate with Vanilla Bean and Orange
Jora's ginger scones
Everyone made delicious cookies and candies - there were ginger spice and butter cookies, dark chocolate fruit and nut clusters, some with milk chocolate, some with white chocolate, lemon and cornmeal, and even vegan gingerbread men. Jora made the scones, and Angie brought homemade toffee.
We ate all we could, and everyone took home as many leftovers as they were willing.

Making the rainbow cookies was really a two day process - not because it's especially difficult or tricky, but because there are several steps. First, a rich dough is made with almond paste, butter, sugar, flour and almond flour. This is divided into thirds, two of the parts are colored red or pink and green, and the third is colored yellow or left plain (I left mine plain.) The cake layers are baked just until dry on lined sheet pans, cooled, and then carefully stacked on top of one another. Each layer is brushed with simple syrup, and raspberry and apricot jams are spread between the layers. The stacked layers are then weighted and refrigerated overnight to soak up the syrup, and the next day, the whole cake is glazed with chocolate and cut into squares. The result is a melt in your mouth hybrid of cake, cookie and candy - buttery and rich, kissed with fruity jam and dark chocolate. It's one of those things that is more than the sum of its parts, and each of its parts are pretty delicious all by themselves.

There were a few things about the recipe that didn't work for me though - my food processor was not large enough for the whole batch of dough, and I have a hard time believing that anyone in a home kitchen would have one that would be - so I've modified it to use a stand mixer for part of the process. I also think the directions could be a little more specific. I drew on some of my pastry schooling in the process, so I'll put those details in. One of the major reasons this recipe is worth the effort is that it makes a TON of cookies (120 one inch squares, according to the recipe.) I have half of the batch frozen, and I lost quite a bit to scraps (which are very tasty snacks in and of themselves) and I still had dozens of the little suckers. The finished cookies taste even better a few days after they're made, and will keep for at least a week or two refrigerated.
Rainbow cookies cross section

Rainbow Cookies
adapted from Sherry Yard's Desserts by the Yard

For the cake:
12 ounces almond paste
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 pounds butter (6 sticks) softened and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 large eggs, separated
3/4 cups almond flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
3 cups All Purpose flour
red food coloring
green food coloring

1 recipe simple syrup (place one cup of sugar and one cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stir to dissolve sugar and allow to cool.)
3/4 cup apricot jam
3/4 cup raspberry jam

For chocolate glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick butter
1 1/2 tablespoons corn syrup (The original recipe calls for 5 Tablespoons of corn syrup, but I used this amount and it worked great.)
1 1/2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray 3 12x17 inch half sheet pans with pan spray and line with parchment. (The spray will keep the paper from sliding when you are spreading the thick batter.) Lightly spray the parchment.

Place the almond paste in a food processor and blend for two minutes. Add the sugar and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand. (I had some problems getting my food processor to "grab" the mixture - it just wanted to spin through it, but I kept scraping and pushing it down and finally got it incorporated. )

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat to soft peaks. Transfer beaten egg whites to another bowl, and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment.

Transfer the sugar and almond paste mixture to the bowl of the mixer and add one quarter of the butter. Beat the butter into the mixture. Continue to slowly add the butter 1/4 at a time until it is incorporated and the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend in the egg yolks one at a time on low speed. Still on low speed, blend in the almond flour, then the All Purpose Flour - just until incorporated. Last of all, fold in the beaten egg whites thoroughly but gently.

Weigh the batter on a kitchen scale, and divide it into three portions of equal weight. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir 1-2 drops of red paste food coloring into one portion, and 1-2 drops of green food coloring into another. One third of the batter should be bright pink and one third light green. (Sherry also suggests dying the third section yellow, but I opted to leave it natural.)

Scrape all of one colored batter onto one end of a half sheet pan and spread it evenly, pushing the batter with the spatula to the outer edges of the pan, making sure the layers are at least 1/4 inch thick. Slide your finger or a damp paper towel around the inner edge of the pan to remove any excess batter. Repeat with the remaining 2 portions of batter.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. (This is a good time to make the simple syrup.) Rotate the top and bottom pans from top to bottom and turn them around. Turn the middle pan around. Bake another 10 minutes, or until the cakes are dry and firm to the touch. They should not brown and they should not rise. Allow the cakes to cool in the baking sheets for 10 minutes.

When the cakes have cooled, place another empty half sheet pan in front of you upside down. Spray the pan with pan spray and place a layer of parchment paper on it with several inches of overhang. Invert the white or yellow cake onto the parchment covered upside down pan, and peel the parchment off the top of the cake. Brush the cake liberally with simple syrup and spread with the apricot jam using an offset spatula. Repeat this process with the pink layer, brushing it with simple syrup and spreading it with the raspberry jam. Top with the green layer and brush it liberally with simple syrup. Trim any crumbling edges and remove the loose crumbs.

Use the parchment overhang to slide the cake off the pan and place in one of the now-empty half sheet pans. Cover the cake tightly with plastic or wax paper and place one of the other empty pans on top. Weight it evenly with something else in the fridge, and refrigerate the cake overnight. (At this point, the cake can also be wrapped airtight and stored in the freezer for three to four weeks.)

Make the chocolate glaze:
Combine the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave on low power until the butter is melted. Stir to melt the chocolate. Stir in the corn syrup and the Grand Marnier. The glaze should be smooth, shiny and pourable. (It will cool and set when it is poured on the refrigerated cake.)

Remove the cake from the refrigerator and unwrap it. Pour about 1/3 of the glaze in a wide strip down the middle of the cake and spread it gently with an offset spatula, stopping just before the edges. Be careful when gliding over the surface that you avoid scraping the cake and getting crumbs in the glaze. When the glaze has cooled, repeat the process until the glaze is about 1/8 of an inch thick (you will probably have quite a bit left over.) When the glaze is firm and starting to dry, you can use a pastry comb or fork to make a squiggly pattern in the top of the chocolate if you like. Refrigerate the cake again for at least thirty minutes or until the glaze is completely set.

To cut the cake, use a sharp narrow knife dipped in warm water and wiped dry. Cut only in one direction - being careful as you pull the knife up through the cake so that the glaze does not peel off the cake. Also be careful in picking the cut pieces up off of the paper, as the bottom cake layer may want to stick to the parchment. The finished glazed cake can be frozen - cut or uncut - for two to three weeks as long as it is well wrapped.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Birthday Supper for Jimmy


Jimmy's Birthday Supper
December 8, 2008

El Indio Chips and Salsa
Taittinger Brut Rose

Dry-Aged Steaks
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Yorkshire Puddings
Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon

Banana Creme Brulee "Pie"

James B-day Dinner

Monday was James' 39th birthday. He insisted he didn't want a big party, and since next year is the 40th (which, at least in my opinion, DEMANDS a big party) - we decided to make it a quiet evening at home. I procured some nice, thick dry-aged steaks, a bag of James' favorite El Indio tortilla chips and a bottle of Eberle Cabernet from Iowa Meat Farms. (I had hoped to get to Homegrown, but just wasn't able to make it to La Jolla.) Then I roasted some brussel sprouts with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pepper, salt and red pepper flakes and baked up some yorkshire puddings, aka popovers. Aren't they pretty?
James B-day Dinner

Since it was a birthday dinner, of course, there was also an indulgent dessert. A few weeks ago, I received an email from Amazon, telling me they had shipped my most recent order. I couldn't remember placing an order - but maybe I did it accidentally? Or maybe James did it and then played dumb? I have no idea to this day, but whichever way, I wound up the proud but accidental owner of the new cookbook from Sherry Yard, "Desserts by the Yard." It was in my "saved to buy later" list - so it wasn't totally random, but who knows if I ever would have sprung for it.
Desserts by the Yard

I'm glad Amazon (or whomever) did the job for me. It's absolutely marvelous - full of classic and fun desserts with a decadent twist arranged in groupings that mirror the stages of Sherry's career. The early part of the book focuses on New York - where she grew up, went to culinary school and had her first pastry job (at the Rainbow Room, where she started out as a cigarette girl!) The middle stage reflects her stints at Campton Place and Catahoula in the Bay Area, and the latter part is based on her time in LA, where she has been since about 1993 working for Wolfgang Puck at Spago and Chinois on Main. Sherry's personality comes through in the little blurbs and anecdotes throughout the book, and her can-do attitude and impeccable taste are reflected in the recipes. Some of them are show-offy, but others are not at all - and the tips, hints and basic recipes in the book are indispensible. And then there are the photographs - oh the photographs. They're in a class by themselves - and they really made me want to make this dessert.

It's a riff on Banana Cream Pie, fancied up with a slab of puff pastry in place of the crust, and a layer of frozen creme brulee instead of custard. These layers are topped with some marinated bananas, and the whole mess is slathered with whipped cream. It sounds killer, and it is - in more ways than one. Definitely not for the faint of heart...
Banana Creme Brulee Pie in progress

I used frozen puff pastry dough, but I have a great easy recipe for it over here on this post. A batch is a great thing to have in the freezer. The creme brulee is a standard creme brulee recipe, cooked in one large flat piece and frozen. I cut it down by 1/3 so that I would have the amount I wanted, and it fit perfectly in a 9 inch square baking pan. (I used roughly half of that when I put it together.) The bananas are marinated in orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla and booze - the recipe calls for kahlua, but some top notch rum would be delicious as well. Sherry also tops the puff pastry with chocolate but I used some salted caramel I made the other day. The recipe makes a whole pint, which is a wondrous thing. Here it is, along with the recipe for the rest of the pie and the popovers, as I adapted them:

Banana Creme Brulee "Pie"
adapted from Desserts by the Yard, by Sherry Yard.

basic components:1 4x8 inch piece of all butter puff pastry dough, baked and cooled
1 recipe creme brulee, below, frozen and cut into a slab 1/2 inch smaller than the pastry dough all around
marinated bananas (see below)
whipped cream
salted caramel sauce

For the Creme Brulee:
(make the night before, or very early in the day)

3 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup of sugar minus 1 tablespoon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste, or seeds from 1/2 of a vanilla bean
4 1/2 large egg yolks

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper and position it inside a 9.5 x 17 inch baking pan.

In a heavy 2-3 quart saucepan, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla and heat to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the mixture to steep for 15 mins or so. Check the temperature, it should be about 165 degrees.

Whisk the egg yolks lightly into a large bowl. Whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks, tempering it in, and strain the mixture into the 9 inch pan set into the 9.5x17 inch pan. Position both pans on the rack in the oven, and pour hot water into the larger pan to 3/4 of the way up the sides of the inner pan. Bake for between 1 hour and 1.5 hours, until the custard is set but still jiggles slightly. Remove the inner pan from the water bath and cool completely. Wrap the entire pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for several hours or overnight. When it is frozen solid, remove the pan from the custard by dipping it in warm water and lifting the paper lining out of the pan. Peel the paper off the custard, wrap it in plastic wrap and replace in the freezer until ready to use.

Bake the puff pastry, marinate the bananas and whip the cream within a few hours of serving:
For the Bananas:
2 ripe but firm bananas
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons kahlua or dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Slice the bananas and toss with the remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Cover bowl with plastic, pressing plastic onto the surface of the bananas, and refrigerate.

Whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar.

In a small bowl, whisk whipping cream until thick. Add powdered sugar and whip until stiff peaks form.

Puff pastry:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut a rectangle of butter puff pastry dough (thawed but still cold) about 4 inches by 8 inches. Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking pan in the upper third of the oven and bake until dark golden brown, about 20 minutes. (Sherry recommends setting another pan on the pastry to flatten it, but I tried this and thought it was too tough.)
Set aside to cool.

Up to one hour before serving, place the puff pastry on the serving platter. Warm some homemade or storebought caramel sauce (or chocolate if you prefer) to a spreadable or pourable consistency, and spread over the puff pastry dough. Unwrap the layer of frozen creme brulee, and trim and scrape it to a neat shape about 1/2 inch smaller than the pastry. Place on top of the caramel. Refrigerate for up to two hours.
Just before serving, spoon the bananas over the creme brulee layer and spread with the whipped cream. Slice with a sharp knife, wiping the blade between cuts.
Serves 4 (The recipe above makes enough creme brulee for at least 8, so just double the size of your pastry and the amount of bananas and cream if needed!)

and if you want to make your own marvelous salted caramel...

Salted Caramel Sauce
10 1/2 oz sugar (by weight)
1 oz corn syrup (by weight)
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 oz of butter cut into small pieces
1/2 t vanilla paste or 1/4 of a vanilla bean pod, scraped
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon of good quality sea salt, such as Maldon. (Start with 1/4 and add more to taste.)

Measure your ingredients and have them ready to go before you begin.

In a medium saucepan - between 2 and 3 qts, cook the sugar, corn syrup and water until the mixture reaches a deep golden color. The depth of color will determine the flavor of your caramel sauce. The darker you go, the less sweet and more intense it will be. Once it starts to color it happens quickly, so watch it carefully once it starts to brown. You want it to have some good color, but you want to catch it before it starts to turn reddish.

When your sugar syrup is nice and brown, tilt the pan and carefully pour in the cream. It will foam and bubble and release steam, so be careful not to burn yourself. Stir until the mixture is incorporated and the bubbling has subsided. Add the butter, vanilla paste (or seeds) and salt, and bring the mixture back to a boil (this happens very quickly.) Remove from heat. Dip a spoon in the caramel and allow it to cool. Taste and add more salt a pinch at a time as desired.

Makes one pint.

Yorkshire Pudding Popovers
adapted from Nigella and other sources I can't quite recall
(a slightly different version of this recipe has appeared on this blog before)

1 cup of milk (I used nonfat with a couple of tablespoons of half and half mixed in to give it more body)
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ground mustard
1/4 cup very finely grated fresh parmesan or other very sharp cheese, loosely packed
5 or 6 grinds of freshly milled black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 Tablespoons of butter, cut into quarter inch chunks if using a popover pan, or slightly smaller than 1/2 inch chunks of using a muffin tin

Preheat the oven to 450

Whisk the milk, eggs and seasonings together and set aside

Put the pieces of butter into the cups of your pan and preheat the pan in the oven for about 3-4 minutes, until the butter is melted. Watch it carefully so it doesn't brown too much or burn.

While the pan is in the oven, whisk the flour and shredded cheese into the egg mixture. (It is important that the cheese is fresh and very finely grated, otherwise it might keep the batter from rising.)

Bake at 450 until the puds are puffed and browned, and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Crack the oven door and turn it off - and leave the puddings in for five to ten minutes to dry out. Serve immediately, while hot and crisp. Makes 10 in a mini popover pan, or 6-7 in a muffin tin.