Foodie Tuesday: Holidays on Ice

As lazy as I am when being an ‘everyday’ entertainer, that attitude of mine only multiplies and intensifies when it comes to special occasions. I have no interest in hosting a party if everyone is having fun except me. So it’s especially important to me when I’m thinking of any event, particularly a festive one like a holiday (and I’ll embrace any holiday that’ll have me, if it means an excuse for celebrations with friends and loved ones), that I do as much of the heavy lifting as I can ahead of the day. Being a piggy with a sweet tooth, and not opposed to alcohol in moderation, that means I am known on occasion to haul out the Fix It-Douse-It-Forget-It recipes. You know, the ones that you put booze in or pour it over, seal up like little yummy mummies, and tuck away in a safe spot to age until party time. Keep ’em on ice, so to speak.

One of my favorites for this used to be Christmas Pudding, usually using a classic recipe like the lovely one given to me by a friend in London the very first time I visited there nearly thirty-five years ago. I have since become even lazier; it’s a million-ingredient extravaganza with real fresh suet and tons of over-the-top fat and sugary delights, and requires fussy prep and long, carefully monitored steaming in (for those of us who lack a real pudding steamer) a low-tech contraption cobbled together from whatever substitutes one can find for the pudding tin, before one can even attend to the artful draping in layers of liquor-soaked cheesecloth and plastic wrap and tinfoil. Heavens! I’m salivating just thinking of the glory that emerged from those efforts when long weeks or months had passed and it was time for the great unveiling. A large spoonful of that miraculous stuff, re-warmed and blanketed in equally boozy hard sauce and washed down with a good stiff tot of port, and I was undoubtedly well enough pickled to last several months on a dark cupboard shelf myself. But it was a bit too much, not only the excess of caloric craziness and vaporous intake, but also in the immense labors it took to accomplish it all.

Nowadays I am (literally, to be honest) inclined toward greater ease. But I still enjoy some indulgences for the same special occasions, even holidays that might have little personal resonance if it weren’t for the permission they give me to indulge so. Now that we’re rumbling into the high holiday season as America immerses in it (and let’s just start with tomorrow, which according to my quick research, is Nevada Day—who but a handful of devoted Nevadans knew!), there will be no shortage of reasons for partying. Now that I think about it, my birthday is the feast day of La Guadalupana, and since I have without even having previously made that connection been decanting a homemade rose liqueur (from dried Mexican rosebuds, no less) that I think would be highly appropriate to her story, I might have to find excuses to tuck that event in as well. Guess that just confirms my longstanding belief that my own birthday is a major holiday.

But meanwhile, there are all kinds of seasonal treat regarded as something like a serious requirement in this country if one is to celebrate the holidays properly. Anything and everything pumpkin flavored, of course, with warming spices, the occasional fall fruits (apple, pear, quince) and maple syrup and various nutmeats thrown in—these are all high on the list, some of them with an emphasis on High. Oh, and eggnog. Never forget the eggnog. So I, being fairly easily led to hankering for food-and-drink-related things that are being touted and offered nearly everywhere I look, follow the resultant trail of salivation, if not salvation, right to the sources.

Today I felt moved to put together some of these seasonal treats, some to pop in the refrigerator for fairly immediate consumption (though intended to last for a few days in the chiller, at least), and a bit to wait for their starring moments. The former includes a Fall dessert combination of pumpkin, apple, and pecans, and the latter is this year’s take on eggnog. Because sipping champagne-and-roses (as I intend to do with a nice sparkling Rosé spiked with the aforementioned rose liqueur) is probably not enough.

Photo: Pumpkin-Apple Dessert Makes a Good Breakfast

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert makes a good breakfast, don’t you think?

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert

Not pie, but close…to pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie, all in one big ridiculously happy dish. Or served separately, if that’s your happy wish. See that? I made a little rhyme, too, all for the sake of my sweet tooth. The measurements in all of these are approximate and to taste, as are any cooking times and temperatures. You know me.

Pumpkin Pudding

1 large tin of pure pumpkin puree (29 oz), 3 eggs, 1/2 cup dark maple syrup, 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1 Tbsp vanilla, a hefty pinch of salt, 2 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp allspice. Blend together thoroughly, pour into a greased covered pan, and bake or microwave (on high for about 5 minutes) until the eggs have thickened it slightly. Refrigerate.

You will probably not be shocked to know that I amped my pumpkin pudding up with the addition of a couple of scoops of vanilla whey protein powder, because I will be having some for breakfast once or twice before it’s gone.

Apple Pie Sauce

1 each Granny Smith (or other bright-flavored) and Fuji (sweet) apples, peeled and cored and diced, 2 Tbsp clarified browned butter, 3 Tbsp minced candied ginger, and a pinch of salt, all cooked down into a still-chunky bright applesauce with a quarter- to half-cup of gold rum.

Bacon-Maple Pecans

Pecan halves, bacon fat, and dark maple syrup. Melt and heat them together until the nuts grow faintly toasty and the fat and syrup caramelize, and you have candied pecans made in hog heaven. Yeah, you can use any sort of favored fat you like, so don’t cry if you’re vegan! Goodness is still within reach!

Photo: Pumpkin-Apple Dessert after Dinner

Pumpkin-Apple Dessert after dinner is good, too.

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And in honor of a couple of fabulous Puerto Rican ladies (Natalia and Fabiana) I happen to know and greatly admire, my take on the PR version of eggnog, or Coquito.

[Note: Just to be on the safe side and to take advantage of the slight thickening that heat brings out of eggs, I have made this in custard-fashion, cooking it slightly, but aside from the usual caveats regarding at-risk persons (i.e., the pregnant, the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems) and raw eggs or alcohol, the combination of the two has been scientifically proven to kill, rather than foster, salmonella. Just so’s you know. Salud!]

Coquito Loco Rico

1 cup coconut butter, 54 oz coconut milk, 6 egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 Tablespoon vanilla, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, and 1 tsp ground cardamom, all blended together and cooked, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Pour into a container that can be tightly closed (I used a 3 quart pitcher with a tight lid), add a pint of gold rum (I used PR-produced Bacardi), stir, seal, and stash in the depths of the fridge for as long as you can stand waiting The large proportion of alcohol keeps the eggs from spoiling. Serve cold or hot, straight up (high-octane!) or mixed with additional nonalcoholic coquito, eggnog, cream, or milk of any kind, and preferably in good company.

Because you may need the comfort, since this stuff can be so good it’s scary. Happy Halloween, everybody. Even if you don’t care to dress up for it or recognize it as any kind of meaningful event for you, it can be well worth your while to gather some friends and loved ones to celebrate something with a flavor-packed dessert or a rollicking drink.

Foodie Tuesday: Egg Head

The simplest way is almost always the best way, when it comes to my kitchen-witchery. I’m neither skilled nor patient enough to do the kinds of serious culinary magic others can and will do, so what I make best is uncomplicated, straightforward, and dependent upon good ingredients rather than genius ways of making them into fantastical creations. I come back to the wonders of the egg time and time again, as a result. Fresh eggs never let me down, and I am just experienced enough that I rarely let them down, either.

I learned how to make quite reliable creamy scrambled eggs: start with a serious spoonful of butter or ghee even if using a nonstick pan as I do, keep the pan on medium heat, and stir the beaten eggs gently but constantly until they get almost to the desired doneness. I’m closing in on my ideal with fried eggs: nonstick pan, lots of the aforementioned yummy fat, eggs broken gently into its pool and cooked, again, over not more than medium heat, but covered and undisturbed. I like the whites lightly set and the yolks slightly runny, and I’m getting better a gauging how long this takes, but generally know it just takes longer than I really wanted to wait, if I keep the heat low enough not to harden the underside at all. Crispy eggs are a different kind of delicacy.

I can even boil, steam, shirr, or poach an egg reasonably nicely, depending on my mood and whatever I want to do with the eggs in the long run. Speaking of poached eggs, ever done them in milk or cream with a dash of vanilla and a small dusting of nutmeg? Yep, a great way to stave off dreary winter cold with a ‘deconstructed eggnog’—especially if one happened to take out the eggs and melt a couple of dark chocolates into the remaining hot liquid for cocoa with which to wash down the oval goodness. A nice flaky croissant or a scoop of toasted-almond quinoa alongside and you’re ready to chase a Yeti around the block a time or two.

But what good is such heated comfort in the dregs of summer’s heat?

What I want is the comfort and fuel of the delicious egg but in a lighter-brighter mode. So my recent most-repeated version of eggs has been a sunny and easy to concoct little number I will call: Holland-Daisies.Photo: Holland Daisies

Not a recipe, just a quick mashup, literally, of two soft-boiled eggs, a couple teaspoons of melted ghee, a hearty splash of lemon juice, a dash of pink Himalayan salt (why not bow to the Yeti even in his/her off-season?), and a generous sprinkle of dill. Fresh dill, snipped, if you have it, or dried, if not. I chop/mash/stir these together with a fork or the end of my small wire whisk. Eat at any temperature; they’re creamiest if they’ve been heated together before dining, though. Delicious, delicious.

Not bad by itself, when I’m in a hurry, but I rather prefer a more leisurely approach to any meal, if possible. So a side dish or two is a good thought, too. On the pictured occasion, the sides were sautéed mushrooms topped with crispy bacon pieces, and some sweet cantaloupe with a sprinkling of ground cardamom. Glass of cucumber-ginger lemonade to wash it all down coolly. I’d happily make egg salad sandwiches with this sunny egg mix, perhaps on lightly toasted slices of a dense, sweet pumpernickel. It could be very tasty heaped in the middle of a Yorkshire pudding or popover. Room-temp or cold, it would be a nice topper for a green salad. But when I’m hungry for this treat, I’m happy that I can even grab some of the lovely pre-boiled eggs my sweet husband often leaves in the fridge for me when he’s making them for his breakfast as I, an immensely spoiled person, am still sleeping, and whip up a batch of instant sunlight for…brunch.

Thirsty Thursday: Egging Me On to Greatness…

…not really. Just to warmth and contentment. But, given my adoration of nearly all things egg-centric (see what I did there?), it’s no surprise that when I got both thirsty and chilly this week my thoughts turned once again to eggnog, but this time warmed, not cold. If I thought I could procure some fresh ostrich eggs for the purpose, I might well experiment with ostrich eggnog, because every time I make that drink it mysteriously disappears in a trice, and cracking and separating so many eggs at a time does get a little tedious.Photo: Ostrich Eggs

Never mind that, eggnog is worth it.

So this time, I varied it again with both the heat treatment and the flavors, just to please my  palate with a little change from the most recent batches. One part cream, two parts whole milk, a splash of vanilla bean paste, a pinch of salt, a hefty sprinkling of ground cardamom (one of my very favorite spices, as you know, and very holiday-friendly too) and a squirt of honey. I steeped traditional Earl Grey tea in the mix while bringing it all to a steaming scald and then, having separated eggs and put the yolks into the blender at medium speed to fluff ’em up for a while, I poured the hot-hot milk mix in a thin stream into the machine and let it cook up the eggs whilst whipping the whole into nearly as enthusiastic a froth as I was building up in anticipation of drinking it.

I did let it cool enough to not scald me as well, and it was worth the wait. It’s even worth the wait I put you through by forgetting to put up a Foodie Tuesday post this week. Oops. The nog was warming and comforting, as hoped, and with a dash of yolks for protein that made it a great way to stave off any hints of hunger until dinnertime. At dinner I ate a bit of chicken, but I think I can safely say that though I’ve nothing against trying ostrich meat, which I hear is delicious, the likelihood of my finding any of it handily nearby to fix for my dinner in north Texas is about as high as that of my getting its eggs for my eggnog, so I’m sticking with the chicken-and-egg approach for now, and can assure you that at least on this particular day, the egg came first. But I win. Now you know.

Photo: Earl Grey Eggnog

2014 will soon be So Yesterday!

Digital illustration from photos: Pedaling Furiously

Here we go again, pedaling furiously into the next year. Wow! So much hustling and hurtling. So many fireworks going off in every direction! So many possibilities.

First, a little bit of a kindly sendoff for the year-that-was. A tasty dinner together with my beloved, a refreshing glass of brut champagne for an early toast, just in case we don’t care about staying up until midnight. We’re not fussy about holidays and parties and when they get celebrated, and yeah, we’re kind of old geezers about a whole lot of things, and have been since way before we were technically old, or geezers. In any event, as ordinary as we are in most ways, we’re not necessarily conventional in many of them, either, so we sip our champagne at 7:30 pm and wash down our steak and roasted potatoes with it. The apple crostata didn’t set up, so it was better served as applesauce (with the few little bits of the crust that toasted up properly) for dessert, and washed down with homemade eggnog. No big deal; the day when a crostata doesn’t crisp up fully before the filling tries to scorch is neither a new thing nor the end of the world.Photo: Meat & Potatoes are Nothing New

And the eggnog was spiked, after all.

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Foodie Tuesday: Meringue Merengue

Digital illustration from a photo: Egg SeparatorEgg Separation Anxiety never plagued me much, even if there’s no support group dedicated to its eradication. Mom taught me how to break open an egg delicately enough to slip the yolk from one half-shell to another over a cup or bowl while letting the albumen slide away, keeping the yolk intact and the white pristine enough for a good souffle or meringue. But do I think to do so very often? No, hardly ever. I really do love souffles and meringues, so it’s silly not to do a little egg separating and have a little bit of delicious, fluffy fun once in a while.

Heaven knows that inflated eggwhites are highly trend-friendly these days, anyway. All I have to do is have one little look at any of the menus, Pinterest boards, food blogs, or cookbooks that are current to be instantly engulfed in a vast snowbank of handmade marshmallows, mile-high mousses, and macarons. I think I can safely say that I am so far from being trendy as to have missed out on cutting any edge more exciting than my homely and unvarnished manicure.

Trends are usually overrated, anyway. Beaten eggwhites? Not.

But let’s stop dancing around this and start talking about what separating eggs can do for deliciousness. Less merengue, more meringue!

Kransekake biscuits! The famed Norwegian celebration dessert, a conical construction comprising rings of ground almond meringue that, in my family’s recipe, is made with a fantastic, simple (nuts, egg whites, sugar. Period.) dough to bake up into lovely chewy cookies when broken for eating.

Meringue crusted tarts! Cinnamon crust, apple filling with tawny port. Rose water crust, strawberries in pomegranate curd, topped with candied rose petals and finely chopped pistachios. All sorts of options that imitate but don’t supplant the lovely Pavlova in their magical variety. A lightly sweet, crisp meringue topped or filled with soft fillings of fruit, custards, mousses, and the like makes for a heavenly treat.

And, since it’s holiday time hereabouts, my own variant of île flottante, eggnog with a meringue cap. I kept both very simple this time around: the eggnog being an extremely uncomplicated thin custard made with cream, whole milk, cane sugar, a pinch of salt, a whole vanilla bean, a good grating of fresh nutmeg, and a whole bunch of egg yolks—in this case, the yolks of eight eggs for a combined quart of milk and cream. Warmed to a near-scalding temperature while being whisked continuously, it thickened slightly before going into the refrigerator for further thickening and chilling.

[For those who wish, a nice tot of bourbon, rum, or brandy (or any other liquor or combination of them that you like) can give this dessert-y treat a grownup twist, as long as you’re grownup enough to imbibe intelligently and stay away from dangerous things like cars, cliffs, and ex-spouses*.]

Meanwhile, with the eggnog chilling in the fridge, there’s plenty of time to whip up the eggwhites into sturdy enough peaks to keep their winsome little curlicue tops under the broiler while getting a quick gilding. All I added to the eggwhites while beating them into submission was a big splash of lovely dark maple syrup.

Pour some eggnog into a glass, add liquor if you like, and top with a little party hat of golden-skinned soft meringue, and toast the occasion. And the goodness of eggs, while you’re at it! Cheers!Photo: Eggnog with a Party Hat

* Note: Just in case anyone takes me too seriously, I should mention that I have the privilege of being married to a guy who has two genuinely excellent exes, and I consider them both fabulous human beings, so I only have to avoid the aforementioned cars and cliffs, myself. In fact, I’ll happily tip back some tipple with either of my predecessors anytime without fear of anything but conviviality (and possibly, hilarity) happening. It’s all about how the relationships are managed, just as it’s about how we manage our imbibing.

Foodie Tuesday: If the Bunny is Coming, Maybe We Should have Some Eggs

Whether you’re on board with the celebration of Easter or not, you probably know that around this time of year lots of people think thoughts in a bunny-related vein. Rabbits have long been popular as symbols of fertility, spring and renewal in a wide range of human cultures and groups. If a cute little long-eared, hopping critter should happen to appear at your door in the near future, why not assume it’s a friendly visitation from the harbinger of true spring, whatever the form, and welcome the visit with great hospitality.

In addition to the bunny business, there’s the widespread recognition of the symbolism of eggs to express similar ideas. So whether or not you’re planning to celebrate a visit from the Easter Bunny with Easter Eggs, a rabbit’s presence could very happily be marked by a feast of eggs. Brunch, or otherwise.

I love eggs in so many, many preparations, but I am surely not alone in forgetting, that along with all of those familiar favorites, the egg represents not only a great symbolic entity but also an astoundingly versatile ingredient, capable of being prepared and enjoyed in innumerable ways. Go ahead and celebrate your spring rabbit revels with a great Benedict or soufflé or custard or omelette or eggnog, if you like; I will continue to delight in eating and drinking all of those and many more lifelong loves.photo

But I might also fiddle around with those tasty little packages of refreshing nourishment in some less expected ways. Like, perhaps, a simple anytime meal of fried eggs on mashed potatoes, with a drizzle of rich gravy (my little trick for making it with meat juices is yummy for this, but I’d leave out the wine when making it for eggs; cream or yogurt would be nicer here; add sausage or leave it plain, as you wish) and a nice scattering of crispy potato crumbs made by pan-frying instant potato flakes in butter. Or enjoy the eggs as an accent in the meal, making Mexican-inspired deviled eggs—my own version of Huevos Diablos, if you will—a very simple item to prepare by mashing the yolks of hard boiled eggs with spicy salsa and crema to taste. Guacamole, by the way, makes the perfect egg-stabilizing perch on the plate, as well as a fitting accompaniment. Mmm, eggs. Hop on over and eat some.photo

Foodie Tuesday: It Shouldn’t be Too Difficult

People can get so overwrought over the holidays. Whatever those holidays may be, they have a way of bringing out the worst in the expectations we have of ourselves, never mind what we think we have to live up to for others’ sakes. So I tend to opt for the less fussy and somewhat unconventional, and I definitely prefer what’s simple. Leave the designer food extravaganzas to those with more patience and money and fewer friends and loved ones waiting to be visited or holiday lights to be savored where they twinkle and glitter on treetops and roofs, fences and storefronts. But I digress.photoHoliday brunches (it it my firm belief, as a person who does not believe in getting up a second earlier than necessary, that holidays of all times require sleeping in too late for holiday breakfasts) are an opportunity to have some favorite simple treats that can be easily thrown together for a snack-tastic sort of meal. Steamed ‘hard boiled’ eggs, bacon candied with a mixture of brown sugar and dark maple syrup, a little cinnamon and a dash of cayenne, a homemade chocolate malt, grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches, or some plain, juicy-sweet clementines–or all of the above. In that instance, there’ll be plenty to keep you well fueled until holiday dinner. Whenever and whatever that ends up being.photoMy love of savory + sweet foods, too, is not new, not unique to me, and not limited to any particular group of foods. There’s the wonderful long-standing tradition of such delicious delights as ham with sweet glazes, rich curries with sweet chutneys, sundaes with salted nuts, and cheese boards with fruits, just to drool over thoughts of a small few. And it’s interesting that time and tradition contend to restrict our thinking of certain foods or ingredients as belonging automatically to desserts or not, to a sweet category or a savory one, and further, if sweet then to desserts; if savory, non-dessert.

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Cloudy, with a high chance of deliciousness: spiced cider.

These days, then, when I’m cooking I tend to think of what ingredients I’m hungry for among those on hand, how they might go together, and what kind of dish will result. Even when the dish is finished, I’m not always certain it would easily classify as sweet or savory, entrée or side dish, main item or dessert. After all, there are plenty of old recipes leading to such seeming incongruities as smoked salmon cheesecake or candied pork. Herbs and spices, those basically non-caloric, strongly flavored elements that color and distinguish other ingredients, are a logical tool for transformation. A simple cup or glass, hot or cold, of spice infused cider becomes so much more than simply apple juice, and cocktails can turn from frilly to fiery or from crazy to cozy, depending on their infusions.

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Squash and apples make fine companions.

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Then there’s praline happiness, which I’m not averse to eating by the forkful.

If both apples and squashes can make delicious pies or side dishes equally well, why not meld all of those characteristics and veer off onto a slightly divergent path? One day I saw the inviting fall bin of pumpkins and squashes beckoning me from right next to the apple display in the produce section of the grocery store and voila! A sweet-savory side dish was born. I chopped the peeled, cored apples and blended them with lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, a dash of vanilla, a pinch of salt, a splash of maple syrup and a tablespoon of instant tapioca, and I spooned it all into the two seeded, salted halves of the pretty squash, topped with a big pat of butter to melt over it all. Into the oven it went at medium-high heat until the squash was tender enough to yield to a spoon, and I served the squash and the apple filling together with a praline crumble topping I’d made by baking a mix of chopped salted nuts, butter and brown sugar.

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Many things, sweet or savory, are happily enhanced with a touch of praline.

This little oddity easily occupied the same space on my menu normally reserved for the famous-or-infamous dish with which so many American holiday tables have either a sacred or scared relationship: marshmallow topped sweet potatoes. Sweet and savory, not to mention fatty and ridiculous, either dish is quite okay with me, and it wouldn’t surprise me any more than it would you to hear me described that way as a result. As a bit of an oddity, too, for that matter.

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Steamed carrot pudding. Not bad all on its own whether for any meal or afters.

And speaking of love-it-or-hate-it foods, there’s eggnog. What would you guess about another rich food with outsized calories in a small, sugary package? Yeah, obviously another semi-guilty love of mine. I often make a quickie eggnog for breakfast, blending a raw egg or two plus a pinch each of nutmeg (maybe cinnamon and cardamom, too), salt, vanilla, and raw local honey with cream, whole milk yogurt, or water. [Yes, I eat raw eggs often, and I’ve never in all my years had the remotest problem with it. But I’m generally very healthy. Others do so at their own risk.] When available, a ripe banana makes a delicious thickener/sweetener. Oh, and the same can be said of vanilla ice cream, of course!

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Broth-cooked carrot pudding with eggnog sauce.

However it’s made (or bought from a good organic supplier), eggnog also makes a fantastic sauce for another of those holiday-associated goodies, pumpkin pie. And when I say pumpkin pie, I happily include a host of similar sweet/savory and dense-textured treats like sweet potato pie, steamed puddings, loaf cakes, bread puddings and other such brazenly heavy-duty things–all of which would make equally lush and luscious dessert or breakfast, in my book–are nicely complemented by a sauce of smooth, creamy eggnog. If a little is good, a lot is great, or as Dad has wisely taught us: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing! Well worth a little recovery fasting in any event, eh!

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Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Toast it with a spiced cider, perhaps?