Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cookie Party!

Every Christmas growing up, my mother would bake dozens of cookies and my brother and I would get to invite all of our friends over for a cookie decorating party. Since living on my own, it has never fully felt like Christmas without these parties. This year, I decided it was time to rectify the situation by having my own cookie party. I collected my mother's shortbread recipe, cheated with a gingerbread mix, and got the boyfriend's mother's recipe for frosting.

I knew the party was going to be a success when I tasted my mother's shortbread and was immediately transported back to the parties of the past. My boyfriend felt the same way when we finished his mom's frosting and the flavor was exactly as he remembered. We made three batches of frosting (adding red and green food coloring to two of the batches) and placed half of each batch in a piping bag and the other half in bowls for spreading. With the addition of some store-bought decorations we set up the table and were ready to go.


Mom's Shortbread
Adapted from Silver Palate's Shortbread Hearts

3/4 pound sweet butter softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 t salt
1/2 t vanilla extract

Blend butter and sugar in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Sift flour and salt together and add it to the butter and sugar in a few additions. Add vanilla and blend well. Gather dough into ball and flatten slightly on waxed paper. Place in the refrigerator and chill 4-6 hours.

Heat oven to 325*
Roll dough to 5/8 inch thickness and use cookie cutters to cut desired shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 20 - 40 minutes before baking. Bake for 20 minutes, until just starting to color lightly - do not brown. Cool completely on racks before frosting.

Mary's Frosting

16 oz confectioners sugar
6 T butter
2 T milk
2 T cream (not heavy)
1 1/2 t vanilla
1/8 t salt

Combine butter, milk, cream, vanilla and salt in a stand mixer and blend. Add confectioners sugar in small amounts until all the sugar has been incorporated. Place half the mixture in a piping bag and the other half in a bowl for spreading. *Note - when making red and green frosting, reduce milk by 1 T and add food coloring at the end.

There were so many amazing and creative cookies. I decided to include just two here, but could have easily included 15 or more. The whole day was a great success and a lot of fun. Cookie parties will again be a mainstay of my Christmas season. Merry Christmas everyone!



Sunday, December 14, 2008

Salt Cured Salmon


Beautiful pictures are my first attraction to a dish. It's why I subscribe to more food magazines than I know what to do with and why I continue to buy cookbooks when I have 30 at home that haven't had more than one or two recipes made out of them. I'm a sucker for food photography. It's why, when I was reading the latest issue of Donna Hay, I immediately knew I had to make their salt cured salmon. The beautiful pink flesh contrasted with the green of the dill made an amazing picture and since salmon is my favorite fish, this was a sure bet.


The recipe is very simple and I think the biggest secret was splurging on a beautiful piece of fresh salmon from my local fish monger. Not cheap, but worth it for this dish. I got home from the fish monger and within just ten minutes, had the fish curing in the fridge for brunch the next day. Then it was time to head off to Surfas, a restaurant supply store in Culver City. Heaven on earth for someone like me. I'm there pretty much every other week and am always spending more money than planned.

When I got to Surfas, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had installed a cheese and charcuterie counter. When I realized that the person working the counter was a friend of mine, surprise turned to elation, followed quickly by a sense of loss for the recent progress on my workout routine and healthy eating. I knew having David as the gatekeeper to this wonderful world of cheese would be a blessing and a curse in my life. Mostly blessing, but there would be consequences, and mostly in the area of my clothes not fitting properly.

I spent the next fifteen minutes tasting different cheeses and talking about everything that David had available. I left with a great selection (after heading in with no intention to buy or having any specific need for cheese) and amongst that selection was a beautiful chunk of aged gouda called Beemster Classic. It's delicious and smooth with little crystals that crunch in the back of your mouth as you chew. We all agreed that if ever there was a breakfast cheese, this was it. I was excited knowing that I had the perfect dish, curing at home, that desperately needed a delicious cheese to go with it.


To cure the salmon use this simple recipe that I'm borrowing from Donna Hay. I cut the recipe since I'm only cooking for two, but this can easily be doubled to serve more. Smoked salmon is a tradition at my house on Christmas morning, but this year I think we'll be curing ours at home.

Salt Cured Salmon

1 1/2 pounds fresh side of salmon, skin removed
1/2 bunch of dill, chopped
1/2 cup rock salt
2 t white peppercorns
1 T sugar
2 t water

Coat salmon in chopped dill. Stir together salt, peppercorns, sugar and water. Place half the salt mixture on a piece of plastic wrap, place the salmon on top of the salt and coat the top and sides of the salmon with the remaining salt mixture. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and place in a rimmed baking dish (the salmon will give off a good amount of liquid). Place another dish on top of the salmon and weigh down with a few cans of food. Refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove from the plastic wrap and wipe off the salt. Slice thinly and serve with the following recipe or as desired.


Salt Cured Salmon and Beemster Classic on Toast
Serves 2

2 large slices good sourdough, or in this case, Gilroy Garlic Bread
6 - 8 shavings of Beemster
2 eggs
1 tsp vinegar
6 slices of salt cured salmon
Butter for the bread

Heat a small pot of water to poach the eggs. When the water is almost simmering, add the vinegar and swirl the water in a circular motion. Add one egg and cook for 3 - 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels and repeat with the second egg. Toast and butter the bread. Layer the Beemster, salt cured salmon and finally the poached egg on the toast and enjoy! 

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beef Short Ribs - Locally

Bringing together all of the local ingredients for this dish has been a great learning experience for me and one that is having a lasting effect. While I've always loved shopping at the farmers' market, I'm now making a point to pass up produce at the market and waiting for my weekend market. It's not convenient, but it's one of the little changes I can make while trying to be a conscience eater.

All this effort has the added benefit of tasting delicious. The short ribs were amazing, I'm certain due to the high quality ingredients and the higher quotient of homemade goods that went into making them. The only thing I would change for the next round is doubling the recipe. They tasted even better the next day and I would have loved to have more on hand.

Beef Short Ribs - Locally
Serves 2

2 pounds J&J Grass-fed, California Short Ribs
3 T Tutta California Olive Oil
1 onion
2 carrots
3 celery stalks
4 cloves garlic
1/2 t salt
3 T Tutta California Cabernet Vinegar
4 thyme sprigs
2 California bay leaves

Preheat oven to 325*
Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a dutch oven and brown short ribs on all sides. Remove short ribs to a plate. Cut celery, carrots and onion into chunks and add to a food processor with the garlic. Process until well-blended and almost paste-like. Place vegetable mixture in the dutch oven along with the salt and tomato paste and saute until vegetables begin to soften. Stir in two cups of the stock along with the vinegar, thyme and bay leaves. Nestle the short rib pieces in the vegetable mixture, adding more stock until the ribs are completely submerged. Cover and place in the oven for 2 - 3 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the thyme and bay leaves and discard. Serve the ribs with some of the cooking liquid and polenta. Enjoy!