Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Tis the Season

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging...

After too long a hiatus, my new year's resolution is to recommit myself to this blog and post more wonderful recipes and photos than I have been over the past few months. Between a crazy work schedule and little things like getting married, I just have not had the time lately. But I heard from so many of you after my New Zealand post telling me how excited you were to see me post again and how much you've missed the blog, that you have all really inspired me to get back to it. Thank you all so much for supporting me. I plan to give you more delicious treats in 2010.

But first, a recap of the holiday season! This Christmas came at us fast and furious, descending as soon as we got off the plane from our trip in the form of a huge snow storm. And this was just the beginning, as we got dumped with another foot the following weekend. But being trapped in the house for the weekend was the perfect excuse to spend it cooking and baking!

Cranberries seemed to be my inspiration and theme this year. Cranberries and eggnog! I started the weekend with our Saturday morning tradition of pancakes. But I mixed it up a bit and made them with eggnog.

I also added a handful of chopped, toasted pecans.

I topped the pancakes off with cranberry maple syrup. Festive fuel to get us ready for battling the crowds and tackle our last minute Christmas shopping.

Eggnog Pancakes with Cranberry Maple Syrup
serves 2
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbl sugar or sucanat
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 cups eggnog
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/2 cup lightly toasted pecans, chopped
butter, for griddle
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (preferably grade b)

  • Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
  • Slowly pour in eggnog and whisk until just combined. Add beaten egg and whisk until combined, but batter should still be lumpy. Stir in chopped pecans.
  • Heat griddle or non-stick pan over medium-low heat. Grease pan with a bit of butter. Add ladle-fulls of batter to hot pan, and cook until bubbles on the top start to burst. Flip pancakes and cook 1 - 2 more minutes. Keep cooked pancakes warm in 150º oven cover in foil.
  • While pancakes cook, heat cranberries and maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until cranberries just begin to burst. Let cool slightly and pour over warm pancakes.
Dinner that night came from a great article in January's Food & Wine. Gail Simmons went through each season of Top Chef, and fixed all worst dish disasters. We're big Top Chef fans - although we're still not caught up on last season! Our DVR misses us. I was totally won over by Gail's recipe for Carla's roquefort souffle that curdled in the oven and was never served to the judges in the season 5 finals. I've been on a major blue cheese kick lately, and found a great hunk of really creamy, stinky cheese at Lionette's Market that was perfect for this recipe. Lionette's is one of my new obsessions. Its a little shop in the South End that sells local produce, eggs, dairy, cheese, bread and meat. This will definitely be the place I'll be sourcing meat from if I ever decide to cook it. The staff knows all the farmers and can tell you exactly where the meat came from and how it was raised. No mystery meat here.

The individual souffles rose beautifully in the oven, and were a nice golden brown.

They did sink a bit by the time they made it to the table! It was a perfect light meal served with a salad of arugula and shaved fennel and some grilled bread.

I adapted the recipe for 2 - but ended up having enough batter for a third little souffle. You could probably make 2 with slightly bigger ramekins.

Blue Cheese Souffles
adapted from Gail Simmons for Food & Wine Magazine
serves 2
1 Tbl unsalted butter, plus more for buttering ramekins
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 Tbl all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch of salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 1/2 ounces good quality blue cheese
3 eggs, seperated
1 Tbl snipped chives

  • Preheat oven to 375º. Butter 2 or 3 1 cup ramekins and coat the inside with 1 Tbl of parmesan each.
  • In a small saucepan, melt 1 Tbl butter. Sprinkle flour over butter and cook for about 1 minute, whisking constantly. Pour in milk, salt and cayenne and cook until very thick and bubbly, whisking frequently.
  • Scrape milk mixture into a large bowl. Stir in crumbled blue cheese and remaining parmesan. Whisk in egg yolks and snipped chives.
  • In a large bowl, beat egg white until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whites into the milk and cheese mixture until no white streaks remain. Pour mixture into ramekins, filling about 3/4 of the way full. Place ramekins on baking sheet and back until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

We woke up Sunday morning buried in snow. Perfect baking weather! I started with these Eggnog Cranberry Muffins from Annie's Eats.

I brought these to work and everyone loved the crumb topping.

I also made mini black and white cookies. I've never made these before and they are one of my favorite cookies. I like the chocolate side the best, and this icing was really chocolaty. I used a toothpick to divide the frosting and smooth it out.

Delicious alongside LA Burdick's Dark Hot Chocolate.

For dinner I made another recipe from January's Food & Wine. There was a feature on the best vegetarian recipes. This one was very hearty and seasonal - Baked Butternut Squash and Cheese Polenta.

The polenta is mixed with roasted and mashed butternut squash, smoked gouda and pine nuts, then baked until the top and sides get golden and crispy. I served it topped with tomato sauce mixed with sauteed mushrooms.

Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms
2 Tbls olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
salt and pepper to taste
1 - 2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1 lb cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter

  • Empty tomatoes with juices into a large bowl and mash with a potato masher or squeeze with hands (its messy but fun!). In a large pot, heat 2 Tbl olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until lightly softened. Add garlic and saute until just beginning to brown. And crushed tomatoes. Reduce heat to low and simmer until bubbling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in balsamic vinegar and simmer a few minutes. Stir in red wine and simmer for about 10 - 20 more minutes, adjusting seasoning as needed.
  • While sauce is simmering, heat 1 Tbl olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add 1 Tbl butter and stir until melted. add mushrooms and saute until all the liquid is released, about 10 minutes. Continue to saute until lightly browned on edges. Stir mushrooms in tomato sauce.

I roasted a huge butternut squash for the polenta, and used the leftovers for the Butternut Squash and Kale Bread Pudding I made for Christmas dinner. I also made a batch of brussel sprouts with buttered pecans.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Buttered Pecans
serves 10 - 12
4 pounds brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cups sliced pecans
6 Tbls unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt

  • Preheat oven to 400º. Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until one shade darker and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Pour pecans into small bowl and mix with softened butter and salt. Set aside.
  • Spread brussel sprouts in a large pan. Toss with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until tender and browned, 20 - 30 minutes. Toss with buttered pecans and serve.
My holiday sides were delicious, my father was the true star chef on Christmas day. He roasted a goose and made a rich port gravy, and he made beef wellington.

I had tastes of both of them and they were very good! He did an amazing job.

The holidays are almost over and we are going on yet another vacation! Our good friends Lisa and Marc invited us to join them in Bimini for New Year's. We can't wait to escape the cold and snow with a little island sunshine. See you in 2010 with a tan!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Zealand Wedding

First off, let me apologize to my loyal readers (my mom and Lizzy) for my extended absence from the blog world. But I have a good excuse - I got married in New Zealand! On 25 November, 2009 Derek and I became husband and wife. We still haven't gotten used to calling each other that. And New Zealand was just the most amazing setting. We would not have done it any differently. And it was so hard to come home after 3 weeks there.

We started the "premoon" flying into Auckland and drove straight North to the Bay of Islands, where we spent a couple nights in Paihia, a cute beach town. The highlight of the stay was a chartered sailboat tour  given by a really interesting couple. He was the captain and she cooked us a delicious lunch of asparagus quiche, homemade bread, pumpkin soup and almond cookies. All cooked from scratch in her little boat kitchen!

We left the beach in our rental car, and I tested my skills at driving stick shift on the wrong side of the road. It was a bit nerve wracking for both of us.

We headed to the Waitomo caves, where we stayed in the world's only Hobbit Hotel.

At the caves we took a tour where they suited us up in wetsuits and and sent us through the caves in inner tubes.

The ceilings of the caves were quite cool, all covered with glow worms. From there we drove to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing where we took a gorgeous day-long hike.

That's Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings!

Our last stop on the North Island was Wellington, the capital of NZ. Its a very cool, artsy city. This is where we decided we would live if we moved here. We took the trolley up to the botanic gardens and had a great view of the city.

We checked out parliament, where Derek was a statue.

We had some very good meals in Wellington, including a stop at La Tartine Gourmand recommended Capitol. We ate a yummy lunch of cheese and fries at The Tasting Room.

And breakfast both days was at Fidel's Cafe, described in the "the book" (Lonely Planet NZ was our bible) as the place for left wing radicals. Derek thought he would fit right in.

On both our trips I had the Fidel's Kickstarter, a juice made with apple, lemon, ginger and wheatgrass.

The food was great throughout the trip. They're very into seasonal, local eating there (partly because its an island) which is obviously right up my alley. And because it was late Spring in NZ, all of the delicious foods that recently went out of season back home were just becoming available. We ate a lot of asparagus!

From Wellington we took the ferry over to Picton on the south island, and feasted on these gigantic greenlip mussels.

Then it was off to Marlborough wine country, where we would be getting married! The day before our wedding we took a bike tour around the vineyards and had lots of wine tastings, a gift from my darling Lucy.

It got a little tough to stay on the bike towards the end! Then we checked into our cottage at Hans Herzog vineyard, where we would be staying and having the ceremony. It was absolutely amazing! We stayed in their little rose cottage, which was totally adorable.

For dinner the night before the wedding, they brought us the vinter's platter to eat in our cottage. We were expecting bread and cheese - but it was so much more! There were dishes of poached shrimp, scallops, smoked salmon, cured whitefish and an onion tart. All out of this world!

The morning of our wedding, we had a special delivery - the camper van that would be our honeymoon suite!

It was also Derek's dressing room as I got ready in the cottage.

We held the ceremony in the little garden behind the cottage. Our witnesses were our photographer and wedding planner, and other than that it was just the 2 of us.

Our friend Colucci wrote a piece for the ceremony which had us in hysterics and tears.

Everything was absolutely perfect and the setting could not have been more gorgeous. It was so romantic, special, and unique. And fun and relaxed, unlike the typical wedding! It was exactly what we wanted.

We followed the ceremony with a lavish 7 course dinner with wine pairings at Hans Herzog's gourmet restaurant. This was a big part of the reason I chose to have our wedding here - they are supposed to have the best restaurant in New Zealand.

And now, I have a confession to make. Throughout our trip, I ate meat! For the first time in 13 years! I wasn't suddenly ordering huge steaks, but I tried bites of meat whenever Derek ordered it. Most of the meat in New Zealand is grass-fed - we saw sheep and cows happily grazing all over the country. This is how animals are really meant to be raised, and I have much less of an issue with eating meat when its treated humanely and given a good a life. And I've also recently started to get uncomfortable with the restrictions I've placed on myself by not allowing myself to eat meat. Its become more like "I can't eat meat" as opposed to "I choose not to eat meat," which is really how it should be. I'm not expecting to really change my diet significantly, but I like having the option to try meat if I feel like it. Its actually quite liberating! Although overall, I wasn't crazy about any of the meat I tried. It all just seemed so chewy to me, when I'm used to eating fish. The exception was our wedding night meal. There was not a lot of meat in the seven courses. We started with a couple glasses of bubbles and some hors d'oeuvres.

We were served parmesan marshmallows, a little lemongrass coconut soup, and smoked salmon rolled in dukka. Then we moved on to a scallop carpaccio, followed by a vegetable salad, and poached shrimp topped with pig's snout.

Yes, I ate the confit pig's snout. But the highlight of the meal was the beef carbonara. Thin, perfectly seared slices of beef alongside an onion marmalade, with a coil of clear "pasta" topped with a runny poached egg. Yes, I ate just about every bite. I left a little piece for Derek so that I didn't eat ALL the meat.

Dessert was carrot-inspired, which sounds a little odd but was quite tasty.

A little carrot sorbet accompanied a cake with carrot, ginger and meringue. We also had a cheese course and petit fours at the end of the meal. And wine with every course! We were most definitely satisfied. It was the perfect celebration meal. Then we took the short, windy walk back to our cottage.

The next morning I cooked a lovely last breakfast in our cottage. The restaurant brought us fresh farm eggs, smoked salmon and home baked bread for us to prepare ourselves. I fried eggs and laid them on toast and smoked salmon.

Then it was time to move into the OCV - we called her Lamdchop.

Our travel around the South Island in little Lambchop was easily the best part of our trip (except getting married, of course). The van had everything we needed - kitchen, bathroom, dining room, bed - even a TV with DVD player. And it was pretty compact for being a little house on wheels. Derek loved driving it. I, on the other hand, cried the entire time I was driving it, which was only for about 30 minutes. New Zealand is a very camper friendly country. As long as there were no postings, we could park for the night in any spot we found, and there were trailer parks we could stay at in even the tiniest towns. The first night in the OCV was our best camping spot. We found a little road off the main highway (which was also a little road) that led right down to a little parking area on the beach.

I cooked the first of many delicious meals here. Pan seared king fish, broccoli, and mashed purple kumara, which is a New Zealand sweet potato.

We also snacked on some cherries we picked up at a farm stand, and dessert was a delicious chocolate mousse cake they made for us at Herzog.

From here we headed to the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. There is such a variety of terrain in NZ, we could go from the beach to glaciers in just a few hours. We spent 2 days at Franz Josef trying to get a helicopter trip up to the top, but the weather was too rainy and cloudy the whole time to go up.

It was a little better at the Fox glacier.

We had another delicious OCV dinner while camping at the glaciers, of broiled salmon, asparagus and more kumara.

Then we made our way down to Queenstown, spending the night at another great camp spot by a river on the way.
We also stopped at a beach where penguins were nesting!

Can't you see them? Yeah, they were pretty far away, but luckily we had binoculars and got a pretty good view of 2 of them playing in the waves. They were pretty cute.

We made it to Queenstown, the extreme sport capital of New Zealand. This is the place for bungee jumping, sky diving, and parasailing. But we passed on these activities in favor of my favorite sport - ice cream eating!

We discovered Patagonia Chocolates in Queesntown, and went there 3 times! They had all kinds of interesting truffles, including wasabi and lemon pepper, and amazing thick and rich hot chocolate, which came flavored with chili, fresh ginger, or lavender.

We also did a little horse back riding at Moonlight Farms set in the mountains.

The raised deer on the farm, which we assumed was for venison since they seem to raise a lot of that here. But Haley, our Scottish ride guide, told us they actually raise the deer for their antlers, which they scrape the velvet off of and sell to the Chinese for medicine. And it doesn't hurt the deer, and they grow right back.  Its supposed to be an aphrodisiac!

That afternoon we had lunch back in Queenstown. Fish and chips were pretty popular here - the English food influence.

We had some local beer with lunch - I got a pint and Derek had a liter.

But he still finished before me.

After we sobered up a bit, we drove down to Glenorchy, an adorable little town at the end of the road South of Queenstown.

After we left Queenstown we had a long drive to Christchurch, where we would drop off the OCV and end our trip. This was the point where I finally got behind the wheel...and cried more than at our wedding. Driving the big van, on the wrong side of the road, with a stick shift - it was just too nerve-wracking for me!

Before Christchurch we stopped at the Banks Peninsula, which was formed by 2 volcanoes. We drove along the edge of the summit and stopped to hike up Gibralter Rock.

I made tuna melts in the OCV for lunch.

We parked at a beautiful campground by the beach that night. Our last night in the OCV!

It was sad to say goodbye. I had been traveling with my wedding bouquet for the past week, but it this point it was time to toss it. Unfortunately, I only had a trash can to catch it.

With tears in our eyes, we dropped off the OCV in Christchurch. We became so attached, it was really starting to feel like home.

We did have an excellent last meal in Christchurch, at the Clarendon.

I started with roasted asparagus over ciabatta with a poached egg. My last asparagus for a long time!

And roasted monkfish topped with fried whitebait, which are tiny white fish that are only in season for about a month and considered quite a delicacy here.

And then, we embarked on our 35 hour trip home. We've been back for 2 weeks now and still wish we had never left! New Zealand was the most amazing, beautiful country and we had such a special time there. We're already planning our trip back for our anniversary!