January 26th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Gnawed your fingernails to the nubs over worries about the economy, work, health problems or those of your family, friends and pets? Oh, why not blow a few bucks and escape to New York’s Hudson Valley for the weekend? The visit will do nothing to replenish your dwindling bank account but it will undoubtedly provide some fun in the cold, winter sun.
Shortly before Christmas Sean and I returned to our favorite Hudson Valley town of Rhinebeck. Twenty minutes north of FDR’s home and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Rhinebeck offers everything that we crave in a get-away destination. Historic sites. Plethora of art, antiques and independently owned shops. Excellent restaurants. Independent movie theater. Wineries. Farmer’s markets. All within walking distance of our lodging.
In terms of lodging, if you want to walk downtown as I always do, you’ll end up at either the Veranda House B&B or the Beekman Arms and Delamater Inn. Opened in 1766, the Beekman is listed in the Historic Hotels of America and boasts of being America’s oldest operating inn.
If it’s history you crave, you may experience the 70s — 1970′s — at the Beekman; many of the 73 rooms appear as though they haven’t been renovated since then. Luckily, since my last stay, the hotel had hired someone to paint the walls in and expose the lovely wood floors in some of the Delamater’s rooms. As a result, our room looked cheery and bright.
Outside of town, I love the 1745 Olde Rhinebeck Inn and Le Petit Chateau Inn, which is located a few miles from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. With both I can enjoy beautiful surroundings, well-appointed rooms and hot, gourmet breakfasts. Couldn’t dream of anything better, except, of course, to be able to walk into town.
Perhaps it’s because of the classes that I’ve taken and meals that I’ve eaten there or the fact that so many local restaurants are owned, operated and staffed by Culinary Institute grads but say “Hudson Valley” and I immediately think “CIA.” The presence of America’s top culinary school has resulted in a great cookware shop, Warren Kitchen and Cutlery in Rhinebeck, and a wealth of outstanding restaurants.
On campus Sean and I have feasted on local, regional cuisine at American Bounty. For classic French food we’ve dined at Escoffier. Hankering quick, casual food, we have turned to the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. I’ve yet to make it to St. Andrews Cafe or the Italian Ristorante Caterina De’ Medici but I suspect that their meals are just as delicious.
Back in Rhinebeck we have a variety of cuisines from which to choose including French at Le Petit Bistro , Italian at Gigi Trattoria, New American in the former, 19th century Baptist church Terrapin, French-American at Calico, Mediterranean at Arielle and Latin at Sabroso. While I won’t claim a favorite, I do make a point to stop by Gigi’s for the vegetarian minestrone, Terrapin for portobello mushroom steaks and Sabroso for tapas.
Craving appetizers or a drink, I might pop into Foster’s Coach House, the Beekman Tavern, the Firebird Lounge (for both drinks, food and pool) or Starr Place. When I need a bagel fix, I head to Rhinebeck Bagels. Pastries or diner fare? For the former I drop by Bread Alone. For the latter it’s Pete’s Famous, which has locations in both Rhinebeck and Hyde Park.
Fine food isn’t the only thing on offer in Rhinebeck but for now the other attractions will have to wait.
January 19th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Back in November I vowed to throw a huge inauguration bash. Hats. Horns. A loud, crazy, ‘let’s hear it for hope, change and democracy’ party. The day before the inauguration I’m instead left with thoughts of the blowout celebration that I would have had. Blame my lack of festivities on too many like-minded friends traveling, too many deadlines and too many other festivities to plan. With my fantasy menu still in mind, though, below are a few items that I would have served had I hosted a ”Yes We Did!” shindig.
APRICOT-GOAT CHEESE COINS
Wouldn’t it be nice if the economic crisis could be solved so simply, with a platter of apricot coins? (Yep, I’m really reaching with that one.) Originating with my friend Elizabeth, who found a variation of it on the Food Network website, this recipe has been altered yet again to make it slightly simpler but no less delicious.
25 dried Turkish apricots
3 ounces goat cheese
2 teaspoons skim milk
handful of candied, cinnamon almonds, cut into small pieces
honey for drizzling
Whisk together the milk and goat cheese until cheese becomes smooth and spreadable. Spread cheese on center of each apricot and top with a piece of an almond. Place apricots on a platter. Drizzle with honey and serve.
RED, WHITE AND BASIL SANDWICHES
Serves 6 to 12
If I used African blue basil, I could call this a red-white-and-blue sandwich. As African basil isn’t actually blue, has a distinct clove taste and is more difficult to find, I’ll skip the patriotic color scheme and choose traditional sweet basil for this dish.
12 slices of Haloumi cheese, pan-fried
4 tomatoes, washed and sliced
generous amount of fresh basil, washed
1 loaf of organic bread, sliced
splash of balsamic vinegar, optional
Assemble the sandwiches with 2 slices of Haloumi, 2 or 3 tomato slices, a handful of fresh basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar per sandwich. Cut each in half and serve as whole or half sandwiches.
Makes approximately 2 1/2 dozen
Created for a 2007 TMS column about cooking with fall mushrooms, this recipe ends up on my fantasy menu for its wonderful crowd-pleasing abilities. Sort of like our 44th president, eh?
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, cut into 2-½-inch circles
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
20 ounces cremini or white button, cleaned and trimmed
1-½ shallots, minced
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon water
1 egg, beaten
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
Several sprigs of fresh parsley, minced
Thaw frozen puff pastry sheets.
Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended by puff pastry manufacturer.
Melt the butter in a large frying or sauté pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté over medium heat until slightly softened. Add the shallots, salt and pepper and continue cooking over medium until mushrooms are soft. Remove pan from heat.
Using a 2-½-inch pastry cutter, cut out approximately 30 circles. Half will be used as the bottoms of the mushroom puffs. The other half will serve as the tops. Place the bottoms on ungreased baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart.
Add one tablespoon of water to the beaten egg and set aside.
Place one tablespoon of the mushroom filling on the center of each circle. Sprinkle Gruyere cheese and parsley over the mushrooms.
Taking one of the puff’s tops, apply the egg wash to the edges then place the moistened side on top of the mushrooms and press down on the edges to seal the puff. Repeat until all the puffs are assembled.
Bake in the oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, until puffs have risen and turned golden brown. For best results, serve immediately.
Hot and smooth, this drink undoubtedly has its own, legitimate name. However, as I couldn’t easily find it in my copy of “The Bartender’s Black Book,” for now it’s my cornily named inauguration drink.
12 ounces skim milk
12 ounces Bailey’s Irish Cream
8 ounces Kahlua
dark chocolate, grated for optional garnish
fresh nutmeg, grated for optional garnish
In a medium-sized saucepan heat the milk on medium heat. Take the pan off the heat, pour in the Bailey’s and Kahlua, stir and pour into small juice or stemless wine glasses. Depending on how generous you are when pouring, you may have more or less than 8 glasses of this drink.
Using a fine grater, grate the chocolate or nutmeg over the top of the drinks and serve.
January 9th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
I have spent countless hours fussing over complicated appetizers. Frantically sauteeing shitakes and scallions for mushroom puffs as the final minutes until party time ticked away. Haphazardly rolling out and filling fresh pastry dough so that arriving guests would have piping hot, miniature red pepper quiches as soon as they crossed through the doorway. Sweat. Anxiety. Ultimately panic as friends crowd the kitchen to watch me spoon roquefort-parsely batter into small, greased pans for their fresh-from-the-oven popovers.
No more! In 2008 I called a moratorium on time-consuming hors d’ouevres. Rather than resort to chips and salsa, crudite or a wedge of cheese with crackers – not that I haven’t carted those out, too — I have amassed an assortment of simple appetizer recipes.
Insalata caprese remains one of the easiest offerings. Gather together a ball of mozzarella, a few ripe, red tomatoes and lots of fresh basil. Slice the mozzarella and tomato and layer the slices on a plate, alternating between tomato, mozzarella and basil. Sprinkle some fresh ground pepper over top and serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Simple. Fast. Delicious.
If the layers seem a bit too commonplace, buy little balls of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and some bamboo skewers and offer an insalata caprese kabob. Skewered mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes are also a quick and tasty treat.
Sick of or can’t eat cheese? How about smoked salmon on pumpkernickel triangles, spiced nuts or marinated olives? When all else fails, I can count on my friend Elliot to deliver a box of mushroom, spinach, onion and pizza knishes from his local Jewish bakery. Talk about effortless! Just pop the knishes into the microwave for a few seconds, slide them onto a plate and serve.
Makes 25 to 30 skewers
25 to 30 mini mozzarella balls
6 or 8 ounce jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
25 to 30 bamboo skewers or cocktail picks
Drain and pat dry the sun-dried tomatoes. Slice each tomato into 4 to 6 strips.
Fold the tomato strip in half, place it on the skewer or cocktail pick. Add a mozzarella ball and another folded strip of tomato and set aside. Repeat until all the ingredients have been skewered. Place the skewers in a circle on a plate, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts
Taken from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites (Chatto and Windus, 2001), these nuts are delicious and fool-proof treats. Prepare a day or two in advance then place the nuts in a festive tin or serving bowl.
2 ¼ cups assorted unsalted nuts such as peeled peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons muscovado or dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven until they become light, golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Combine the rosemary, pepper, sugar, salt and butter in a large bowl.
Pour the toasted nuts into the bowl with the topping. Toss together until well-coated. Cool then place in a decorative tin or bowl.
Smoked Salmon Triangles
Makes 20 triangles
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 20 thick strips
10 slices of Rubschlager cocktail pumpernickel bread, found in the deli section of most grocery stores
3 to 4 ounces of creme fraiche
Diagonally slice the pumpernickel bread so that you end up with two triangles per slice. Spread the creme fraiche over each slice and cover with a strip of smoked salmon. Top the salmon with 2 capers and place the triangles onto a platter. Note: These can be made and refrigerated roughly an hour before serving. Left in the refrigerator any longer, the bread may become soggy.
Serves 10 to 12
Invite your friend Elliot to dinner or a party. Subtly remind him how much you enjoy the knishes that he always brings. On the appointed night set out a microwave-safe platter and await Elliot’s arrival. Snatch the white cardboard box filled with knishes from Elliot’s hands, pop open the lid and place the knishes on the platter. Place the platter in the microwave and heat for approximately 20 seconds. Pass around the warm knishes and enjoy!
January 1st, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
After talking to the staff at various Williams-Sonoma stores, some of whom dissuaded me from trying to bake it again, I steeled myself for one final attempt at making the Build-A-Bear Workshop Santa bear cake. On the morning of December 23, the day before our annual Christmas Eve party, I set out the ingredients, pre-heated the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, greased and floured the cake mold, and prayed to the baking gods that this time I would get it right. (For an accounting of preceding Santa bear cake disasters, read the previous entry, “Trials of Holiday Baking.”)
In spite of past tribulations, things went fairly well. No molten batter oozing over the edge of the pan. No decapitations. No suicidal falls. Only a slight neck fracture that I braced with frosting. So far, so good.
After the cake had cooled and I had consumed both dinner and stiff drink, I prepared to decorate. Since Sean was the driving force behind this holiday treat, he was given the chance of the season - to aid in outfit application. Little did he know that this exciting opportunity would last until one in the morning. Ah, Christmas baking!
The decorating marathon began with me filling in the huge center crack with leftover buttercream icing. Hole covered, Sean and I moved on to creating the illusion of fur. We did this by painting the surface of the bear with a chocolate glaze followed by a dusting of turbinado sugar. As usual, I ended up with far more sugar on the counter, floor and my fingers than on the cake. As a result, the poor guy looked as though he suffered from mange.
Fur applied, we focused on the Williams-Sonoma fondant Santa outfit. Warned of the difficulties of working with fondant, I passed the job of rolling out and cutting this thick, sugary paste to Sean. He expertly trimmed the fondant to match the Williams-Sonoma-supplied pattern and then handed each piece to me. I, in turn, glued on the Santa suit and facial features with dabs of buttercream. As the photos indicate, we forgot about the buttons on his coat and skipped the black-toy-bag-with-red-ribbon prop. Nor did we use a ping pong ball to mold the Santa cap. Hence why our hat flops. Why didn’t we fix the cap? No ping pongs on hand. As for the ample supply of toy cat balls, well, they seemed just a tad unhygienic.
Bear decorated, we gently wrapped him in foil and left him on the kitchen counter for the Christmas Eve unveiling. Unveiling it was. On December 24 everyone gathered in the living room to watch as I removed layer after layer of aluminum foil to reveal the portly, little fellow. Upon seeing him, our friends cried out, “He’s too cute to eat!” “Leave him for the Christmas Day guests!” was the consensus among everyone except Mike, who is, coincidentally, a veterinarian.
Amidst cries of protest, the doc employed his surgical skills, sliced into the back of the bear and extracted a big piece of . . . fondant. Serves him right!
Over a week later Mike remains the lone person to take a bite of the bear. Everyone else claimed that they found him too cute to consume. Instead, they opted for the chocolate-holly cupcakes or white chocolate-cranberry panettone that I had made as back up desserts or the orange-pineapple upside down cake that our friend Jim had baked.
In spite of their reluctance to try this little guy, friends and family need not regret missing a taste of Santa cake. Thanks to the $2, end-of-season sale at Williams-Sonoma on Madison and 86th, I’ve stocked up on enough Santa, soccer, and princess bear kits to construct an entire bear village. Then again, Santa does make a festive centerpiece. Maybe I should save myself some time and anxiety and simply shellac and shelve him for next year.