Yuletide Eats/Cucina de Natale

I’ve blogged previously about recipes from my Jewish grandma.  I have, however, been remiss in addressing my other culinary heritage.  For Christmas, I’m home with my Mom, and I think it’s time to come clean: I’m a pizza bagel.  Half Jewish.  Half Italian.  Actually, half Jewish and one quarter Italian/one quarter Welsh.  So, enough with the bagels: it’s time for pizza.  This Christmas, in between family time, I’m working a few traditional recipes into our meals, and posting them up here.

In Italian families, it’s traditional on Christmas Eve to eat fish.  When big clans get together they’ll often have a “Feast of Seven Fishes.”  I did this once with my grandparents and their friends: the feast lasted about 7 hours, with intense numbers of courses and a ridiculous amount of food.  Because last night it was just me and my mom, we just made a really nice fish stew.  I took the stew out of my mom’s copy of Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cook BookMarcella, if you haven’t heard of her, is to Italian cooking as Julia Child is to French: she wrote one of the first great English-language cook books for her cuisine – published in 1973.

We chose to do her brodetto di papi – “Dad’s soup.”  It’s a simple, flavorful homestyle fish stew.  Marcella’s recipe calls for whole fish and for pureeing of fish heads: I am technically on vacation and was simply not up for this.  So, to add flavor I substituted Madeira wine for white, and tossed in a tablespoon of baharat.  Cross-cuisine blog fusion!  It turned out tasty and festive, if I may say so myself.  I’m putting both versions of the recipe below (omitting fish heads), so you can try it old-school or modified.

While I was cleaning fish yesterday, my mom was pulling together a panettone – an Italian Christmas bread.  This bread has been a feature of my Christmas morning for as long as I can remember, and is largely responsible for making me a little obsessed with candied fruits (I love little surprise chunks of citron, citrus peel, etc.).  My mom uses a recipe from the old Vegetarian Epicure: it’s not a family recipe, but I’ve been eating it for so long that it is tradition. It’s not my handiwork, but I’m putting up pictures and recipe anyway – guest food is welcome!

Finally, today I’ve been heading north, so-to-speak, and paying tribute to my Anglo-Celtic heritage by trying my hand at figgy pudding.  Yes, the thing from “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  I got this recipe from my mom’s copy of Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cook Book: her copy is actually a 1970 edition picked up around that time in Taiwan.  The best bit: it’s pirated.  Yes, people apparently used to pirate books as well as DVDs.  I actually have pirated Taiwanese bound editions of Golden Age Batman and Superman comics my Dad picked up on that same trip.  (These volumes are totally the “root” of my comic book geekdom.  Thanks, Dad!)  About Craig Claiborne, though, if recipe copyrights are dubious/thin, is there really a big problem with a pirated cookbook?  Something for my lawyer readers to chew on along with Christmas dinner…

Brodetto di Papi (Serves 4 as a main dish)

1 1/2 lb. firm-fleshed fish (I used monkfish)
1/2 lb. shrimp, shell-on
1 lb. squid, cleaned, sliced into rings
A dozen assorted clams/mussels
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
(Optional: 1 tbsp. baharat)
3 tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 c. dry white wine (use Madeira if you add baharat)
1 1/2 c. canned tomatoes, crushed, with juice
Salt and about 10 twists of freshly ground pepper

1. Wash all the fish. Cut the fillets into slices about 3 inches wide. Set aside everything but the clams and mussels. Place the clams and mussels in separate pans, with 1/2 c. water in each, and steam for 10 minutes until the shellfish open. If any don’t open, they’re DOA and not safe to eat, so throw them out. Set aside the opened fish, still in their shells. Pour the juices from both pans through a sieve lined with paper towels and set aside.
2. Choose a skillet large enough to hold all the fish in one layer (if possible). Saute the onion in about 2 tbsp. olive oil until translucent, then add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds until it starts to get a little color. Add the parsely, and the baharat if you’re using it, and stir for about 30 seconds. Pour in the wine, raise the pan to high heat, and boil briskly for about 30 seconds until the alcohol smell coming off the pan abates. Lower the heat to medium-low, add the tomatoes, stir, and simmer (covered) for about 20 minutes.
Note: At this point in Marcella’s recipe, you’d add 4 fish heads and the salt and pepper, cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes, remove the heads, puree them, and toss the head mush back in. I might try this in the future. Or I might just toss in a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce to get that nice strong fishy flavor.
3. Add the squid to the tomato sauce, cover, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes at a slow simmer until the squid are tender.
4. Pour in the mussel and clam juices, mix, and add the fish pieces. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the shrimp and cooking another 5. Place the set-aside clams and mussels in the pan for a minute, then serve hot with crusty Italian bread.

Panettone (Makes 2 loaves)

1 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. warm water
1 package yeast
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. anise seeds, crushed in a mortar
1/2 c. raisins
1/2-3/4 c. mixed candied orange, lemon, and citron peel
1/4 c. maraschino cherries, drained
5 c. flour

1. Scald the milk. Stir in the butter, sugar, and salt. Cool to lukewarm.
2. In a large bread bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and stir in the milk mixture, eggs, anise, fruit, and half the flour. Beat with a wooden spool until very smooth.
3. Add the remaining flour and work it in for a minute to make a dough. Turn the dough out and knead on a floured board until smooth. Do not overknead, though, or too many glutens will form and the bread will come out tough.
4. Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch it down and let it rest 10 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape the dough into two even balls. Place each one on a buttered baking sheet, cover with a towel and let rise again until doubled (about 1 hour). Bake the loaves for 40 minutes, until golden brown on top.

Figgy Pudding (Serves 8-10)

For pudding:
1 c. dried black figs
1/3 c. chopped citron
1/3 c. chopped candied lemon peel
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 1/4 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 c. butter (suet if you’re feeling adventurous)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
1 c. grated raw carrot
1 c. grated raw potato

For the hard sauce:
1 c. sweet butter, softened
1 c. confectioners sugar
1/4 c. brandy, rum, or sherry
Nutmeg

1. Cover the figs with boiling water and let stand 10 to 15 minutes, until soft. Drain, pull the stems off, and chop finely. Mix with the citron, peel and nuts, and set aside.
2. Sift the flour with the soda. Add half a cup to the fruit and nuts and toss. (Tip: This keeps the fruit from sticking together and allows it to distribute evenly when you mix it into the batter.)
3. Cream the butter with the spices and sugar until fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, then add the grated vegetables. Gradually stir in the remaining flour until smooth, then mix in the fruit and nuts.
4. Pour the batter into a foil-line, greased 1 1/2-quart pudding mold.** Cover the mold with foil, stand it on a rack in an inch of boiling water in a pot with a tight lid, and steam for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Add more boiling water as necessary during this time.

For the hard sauce: Cream the butter and sugar well. Add the liquor a few drops at a time and beat until fluffy. Add the nutmeg to taste and chill.

**If you don’t have a pudding mold, a medium-sized all-metal mixing bowl should work fine.

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Apricot Spice Bars

Well, looks like it’s another baking post. I’ve been meaning to work on some non-dessert courses soon, but when I’m stressed (as I am during finals), baking is just all I want to do. This particular recipe is another non-vintage one: it’s actually a modified Baked recipe, tweaked to accommodate the massive amounts of baharat I have hanging around.

My love for the Rosemary Apricot Squares from Baked is well documented, and I’ve been meaning to make them for a while. I’ve also been thinking about ways to change up the recipe flavors and use spices other than rosemary (if you want the classic rosemary version check out this great post). I remembered this afternoon that dried fruit (including apricots) are often featured in Middle Eastern cooking, so to celebrate finishing finals I decided to see how Baharat Apricot Bars worked out…Here they are!

And a close-up…

Apricot Spice Bars (Makes 9 large or 12 medium)**

For the shortbread base:
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baharat or garam masala (or rosemary, in the original recipe)
12 tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla (I used triple sec)

For the apricot filling:
2 c. dried apricots
1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. brandy (used triple sec here too)
Pinch salt

For crumb topping:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/3 c. sliced almonds (original recipe calls for chopped pecans)
3 tbsp. cold unsalted butter

1. Combine apricot ingredients in a pot with water (1 1/2 c. if your apricots are very dry, 3/4-1 c. if they’re the moister vacuum-packed kind) and simmer for 40-50 minutes, until liquid is evaporated or very syrupy.
(NOTE: Watch your apricots carefully in the last stages of cooking.  I wandered off in my post-final-exam daze and started watching a very mesmerizing episode of What Not To Wear, and my apricots got a little too syrupy: they started to get some serious caramelization going.  This tasted fine with the baharat, which is intensely flavorful, but would totally kill this recipe if you used rosemary.)
2. While the apricots are cooking, spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray and line it with parchment paper.
3. Whisk flour, salt, and your spice of choice together in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, blend butter, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar until fluffy. Put the mixer on its lowest speed and add the flour mix in a gradual trickle.
4. Pat the resulting dough into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 350 degrees in the meantime. Bake the crust 25 to 30 minutes, until golden, rotating the pan halfway through. Cool on a rack and leave the oven on.
5. The apricot syrup should be done by down; puree it until smooth and let cool.
6. Combine all the topping ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a mixer and blend for about 15 seconds with the paddle attachment. Now add the butter and blend for about 1 minute, until the mixture is crumbly.
7. Spread the apricot filling over the shortbread, then sprinkle the crumb topping over it. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the crumb gets a little brown (and the nuts are nice and toasty!). Let cool for 30 minutes, then lift out using the edges of the parchment and cut into squares. Enjoy!

**I’ve included the original recipe’s indications as well, so you can make Rosemary Apricot OR Spicy Apricot Squares!

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Spice Up Your Life!

This recipe is from the internet, not from a vintage cookbook…but making your own spice blends is a seriously old-fashioned pastime (and one that I intend to try more, now that I have a nice new coffee/spice grinder).  Making your own spice blends is fun, thrifty, and a great way to make your house smell awesome.  Spices also make great holiday gifts: I know I already associate cinnamon and nutmeg with this season, so why not send some around!  You can easily toss a few tablespoons in small Ziploc baggies and mail them with cards without increasing your shipping costs too much. The spice mix du jour: Barahat, a Middle Eastern seasoning. I like it even more than the better-known za’atar.

I am also working on my food styling/photographing skills, so please give comments and tips!

Bahārāt (Makes about 3/4 cup)

2 tbsp. black peppercorns
2 tbsp. coriander seeds
2 tbsp. cumin seeds
1 tbsp. allspice berries
1 tsp. cardamom seeds
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
4 (3-inch) cassia or cinnamon sticks
2 tbsp. ground sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Grind it all up using a mortar and pestle, spice mill, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Some ideas for using bahārāt:

  • Toss it in ground lamb for stuffed eggplant
  • Add it to box couscous for extra flavor
  • Use it as a meat rub – for beef, chicken, even tofu
  • Roll zucchini spears in it and broil for 10-12 minutes
  • Cook lentils with it
  • Roast squash and use it place of cinnamon

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Toddy Time

The flip the other day was tasty…but today when I finished my first final and it was freezing out I wanted nothing more than a hot toddy. A classic hot toddy is just hot water, whiskey, and a sugar cube: it’s kind of an old man drink. I spice mine up a little by using honey and lemon juice, and tossing in a few cloves and a cinnamon stick. It’s all very free-wheeling: try it yourself and adjust the ingredients to taste! Maybe start with 3 oz. hot water, 1 oz. whiskey, a half tablespoon of honey, and a squeeze of lemon. Adjust to taste!


In other news: after finishing my exam down at NYU I was wandering around in a daze.  My feet, of course, led me to Broadway Panhandler.  Which was having a sale.  I successfully resisted the lure of new jelly roll pans and Silpats, but I did let myself get a couple of these cute vintagey Duralex glass mugs.  I grew up with Duralex glasses and have always found them kind of comforting.  Especially when filled with hot toddy.

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Pie [Study] Break!

I spent far long in one room today reading about obscenity (First Amendment exam Wednesday), so partway through the day I decided to go home and make a pie. Making a pie is a great way to re-take control of your life: there’s even a whole movie about it. This Kentucky cookbook I got out of the library has many, many amazing pie recipes – today my inner sassy Southern belle was particularly won over by a Buttermilk Bourbon Pie (hmm…I wonder what ingredient did that).

Two things sealed the deal: 1) the fact that this book said a 9″ full-butter and -cream pie should yield 6 servings, 2) the really bitchy intro: “This is a Kentucky specialty, but most of the recipes for it used too much flour and buttermilk. Finally I hit upon these proportions and we think the pie delicious.” I know I’ve talked about recipe culture before, and about the phenomenon of incremental improvement: this reminds me how much of that improvement is due to sheer bloody-minded competitiveness.

I used a half recipe of my new go-to Vodka Pie Crust. The filling is suuuuper easy – go on and try it for yourself! If pie intimidates you, this is a good place to start. Just channel some Southern belle resolve!

In other news, I think I’m starting to get better at this photo thing…here we have the whole pristine pie:

And an outtake! (Hopefully not blooper reel…)

Buttermilk Bourbon Pie (Serves 10! Not 6!)

1/2 recipe of your fave pie crust
3 eggs
3 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. buttermilk**
3 tbsp. bourbon
Nutmeg and powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 450. Roll out your pie crust, place it in a 9″ pan, prick the bottom a few times with a fork, and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Bake for 10 minutes, remove, and cool while you make the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
2. Beat the eggs with the sugar until fluffy and light yellow (the sugar grains should have dissolved). Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time, stirring a few times between additions.
3. Pour in the buttermilk, bourbon, and butter, beat until blended, and pour into the crust (don’t worry, it’s supposed to be kind of runny – it’s a custard, and will firm up in the oven).
4. Place the pie in the oven and bake about 25-30 minutes. The custard should be firm, but a little jiggly in the middle.
5. Remove from oven, cool, and dust with a mixture of nutmeg and powdered sugar.

**If you don’t have buttermilk or don’t want to buy it, you can make your own: just add 1 tbsp. white vinegar to milk and let it set for 5 minutes and it’ll curdle right up.

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Flipping Out

Some of you may have noticed either or both of the following on this blog: 1) I own a copy of a 1960s bartending guide and have not yet made anything out of it, 2) I love bourbon. My roomie finished her first final today and we’re both sitting inside being warm and cozy and I started thinking…let’s be warmer and cozier, Mad Men style. Enter: Mr. Boston’s Hot Brandy Flip recipe. I don’t have any brandy around, so I decided to use bourbon: I’ve had whiskey substituted in hot drinks before (including an awesome Hot Buttered Rye at Rye Restaurant in Williamsburg) and I thought it might turn out well. Boy was I right. This drink is like more grown-up, boozier take on eggnog. It is the Jon Hamm to eggnog’s Justin Bieber. Yum.

Hot Bourbon Flip (Makes one drink)

1 egg
1 tsp. powdered sugar
1 1/2 oz. bourbon
2/3 c. milk, heated to a simmer
Nutmeg

Shake or whisk the egg, sugar, and whiskey until frothy. Pour in the hot milk and sprinkle a little nutmeg on top.

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Baking, Clothes Swap, and New Camera!

It’s getting close to law school finals time (OK, well finals time is here but I’m lucky enough that my exams and papers are nicely spaced out). I took the time this week, though, to try a couple of new baking recipes for a clothing swap party with some friends, and for an end-of-semester party for my favorite seminar. I’ve done many swap parties with friends from home, but this was my first in New York. My friend Jewish Girl was kind enough to host and provide tasty dessert wine (well – tasty once we managed to remove the far-too-durable wax seal on top) and these adorable cupcakes decorated to look like meatballs and spaghetti:

You should read here about her adventures making them!

I brought Bourbon Balls. I kind of cheated and got a 1960s Kentucky Cookbook out of the university library, and I just could not resist when I found these boozy little bonbons in there…Seriously. They’re really boozy. This recipe is a Southern classic and they apparently do NOT kid around down there when it comes to bourbon…

In addition to these, I whipped up some key lime bars from Martha Stewart’s Cookie Cookbook, so I’d have plenty of sweets for my seminar. I love Martha: it gets me every time that this cookbook’s table of contents is a) pictorial, b) organized by texture (i.e., one page for “Cakey,” another for “Crumbly,” etc.). This book was published only 2 years ago, but I think it’s a total classic. It’s also got a lot of great takes on classic recipes – like these bars:

Finally, before I get down to recipes…I have to give a shout-out to my dad, who is directly responsible (via my Chanukah present – a gorgeous new Olympus EP-2) for the vastly improved photo quality on this blog. Thanks, Dad! And Happy Chanukah!  And one last picture just for good measure…

Key Lime Bars (Makes about 16)

1 c. finely ground graham cracker crumbs
2 1/2 tbsp. finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 c. sugar
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
2/3 c. fresh Key lime juice, (about 23 Key limes total)
1 c. sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
For garnish:
1/4 c. heavy cream
2 Key limes, thinly sliced into half-moons
1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a small bowl. Press evenly onto bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Bake until dry and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. (Leave oven on.)
2. Make filling: Put egg yolks and lime zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on high speed until very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add condensed milk in a slow, steady stream, mixing constantly. Raise speed to high; mix until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add lime juice; mix until just combined.
3. Spread filling evenly over crust using a spatula. Bake, rotating dish halfway through, until filling is just set, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (or overnight).
4. Cut into 2-by-2-inch bars. Put cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Garnish bars with whipped cream and a slice of lime. Ungarnished bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Read more at Marthastewart.com: Key Lime Bars – Martha Stewart Recipes

 

Bourbon Balls (Makes about 24)

1 c. ground Nilla wafers or graham crackers
1 c. ground pecans
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. light corn syrup
1/4 c. bourbon
1/2 c. powdered sugar

This one is super easy – you don’t even need to bake anything!

Mix all the ingredients together and form into balls 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Roll the balls in powdered sugar, place on a baking sheet covered in wax paper, and refrigerate for at least an hour. Enjoy!

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