Saturday, December 31, 2011

Countdown To New Years

I love breakfast and if given the choice, I would have bacon and eggs over just about anything. In fact, I like it so much, I often have it for dinner. 
Unlike most meals, I somehow never feel “legally responsible” for breakfast because my mother always told me to eat a good one and I do… but just on the weekends or on holidays.

I had Eggs Benedict and Cheese Grits for Christmas and plan to make a Mexican brunch on New Year’s Day.

It’s not the same old breakfast people are use to getting and there is nothing easier for an enormous crowd than Mexican. These recipes also taste delightful for anyone nursing a bit of a hangover.

You can find the recipes for the Queso Fundido and Salsa Verde on my recipe page.

Serve with miniature Margaritas,
Bloody Mary’s and

Patron and lime with a straw.

Miniatures just so you don’t forget how good this breakfast actually is.

Bon Appetit and Happy New Years!

adapted from Diana Kennedy
3 pounds of pork butt, with plenty of fat
1 cup of orange juice
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt

Cut pork into strips (three inches by one inch), add to a large pot with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours.

Turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered - about 45 minutes

When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat in the pan).

Serve shredded on a tortilla with Salsa Verde.

How easy is this recipe...
Beef Shank

Salt and pepper the meat. Brown on the stovetop.

Place in slow cooker and cover with 1 cup of beef broth.
Cook on low 8-10 hours.

Serve on tortilla with a pile of Pico de Gallo.

Pico de Gallo
Five plum (Roma) tomatoes
1/2 large or 1 small onion
3 jalapeno peppers
Handful of cilantro
lime juice

Chop tomatoes, onion, jalapeno and cilantro. Squeeze with fresh lime juice and season with salt.

Dessert for Breakfast? I’m not into cookies but this is one of my favorite recipes. Easy and so addicted with the caramel. I'll serve these along with Rosettes and butter cookie cutouts.

Caramel Pecan Cookie

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
30 caramels, halved and flattened
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon shortening

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Roll into 1-in. balls. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets; flatten slightly. Bake at 325° for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
Place a half-caramel on each cookie. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening; drizzle over cookies. Top with pecans. Let stand until firm. Yield: 5 dozen.

Christmas Giving

My neighbors and I exchanged holiday gifts this past week.

After all the BBQ’s and dinner we enjoyed together this past year, they know my guilty pleasure. 10 bottles of Franciscan and counting.

We can absolutely have another party with this haul.

Bon Appetit and THANKS!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tis The Season To Cheat

I recently read that the worst holiday drink is a Starbuck’s Venti 2% Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha which came in at a monstrous 660 calories, 22 grams of fat (14 saturated) and 95 grams of sugar. Last week, I would have looked for another beverage but this week – coming into the start of the holiday season- I say bring it on. In fact, make mine a Trenta.

I can cheat for a few weeks? Starting this minute so don’t try to slow me down or put on my brakes until January 2nd. Will I go crazy and eat everything in sight? Possibly. Probably. Reading through the lines, that’s a definite Yes.
Fact of the matter is, I just don’t have any self control when it comes to Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday.
I am one to take full advantage of a cheat and here’s why. For a gigantic part of the year we try to watch our calories, fat and sugar and do everything by the book but for the next few weeks it’s party time.
We got a little joyful ( ‘Tis the season) testing these holiday drink recipes unlike last year when I threw a few gumdrops in a martini and called it a holiday drink. Funny thing was that it was a hit. This year we poured over a lot of recipes and selected the following 14 as our drinks of the season. 
They are adaptable and you can increase or eliminate the alcohol in them all together. It’s Christmas so use your recipe magic.

I personally got into the mood by dressing the part. Falling off my platform reds is an exercise that I have to carry out at least once a year.

Can I pick a favorite? Like a true holiday party girl, I loved them all!

Bon Appetit!

Gingerbread Punch
3cups water
2 12-ounce bottles Guinness stout
¾ cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
12 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
3 whole cardamom pods, cracked
1 orange
1 ½ cups dark rum
Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Ground cinnamon

Combine first 7 ingredients in large saucepan. Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from orange in strips (orange part only) and add to stout mixture. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer over medium-low heat 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 15 minutes. Strain liquid into bowl; discard solids in strainer. Cover and refrigerate punch at least 8 hours or overnight.
Combine chilled punch and rum in large saucepan and bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Pour hot punch into small teacups or large demitasse cups.
Top with whipped cream and cinnamon.
Holiday Mojitos
Lime Wedge
Superfine Sugar
Marinated Cranberries
3 lime wedges
3 Orange wedges
3 fresh mint leaves
1 ½ ounces rum
1 ounce orange bitters
1 ounce cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh orange juice
1 ounce Mint Syrup
Cracked ice
Club soda

Rub a lime wedge around rim of a glass, and dip in superfine sugar. Place 3 rounded teaspoonfuls of Marinated Cranberries in the glass; muddle until berries are crushed. Add 3 lime wedges, orange wedges, and mint leaves; muddle. Stir in rum, orange bitters, cranberry juice, fresh orange juice, and Mint Syrup. Add cracked ice, and top with club soda. Stir.
*To make, cover fresh cranberries with orange-flavored rum for 2 days to 2 weeks
Pear Martini

1 ounce pear vodka or pear brandy
1 ounce spiced rum
1 ounce pear nectar, apple juice, or orange juice
Cinnamon sugar
Garnish: sliced pear

Combine pear vodka or pear brandy, spiced rum, and pear nectar, apple juice, or orange juice in an ice-filled shaker. Shake vigorously, and strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar. Garnish with a sliced pear.

Holiday Pear Margarita
1 ounce reposado tequila
1 ounce pear nectar or juice
1/2 ounce Simple Syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon chopped cilantro, plus 1 small cilantro sprig for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the ingredients except the cilantro sprig and shake well. Pour into a chilled margarita glass and garnish with the cilantro sprig
Hot Cider Nog
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
1 cup apple cider
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup bourbon (optional)
Sweetened whipped cream
Garnishes: cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon, apple slices

Whisk together half-and-half, milk, apple cider, eggs, sugar, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 15 to 20 minutes or until mixture thickens and coats a spoon.
Remove from heat; stir in bourbon, if desired. Top each serving with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish, if desired.

Christmas Brown Punch
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 
2 cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods, cracked
1 apple sliced
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 bottles honey amber lager
9 oz rum 

Add the water, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, apple slices and brown sugar to a large saucepan set over medium heat. Stir frequently to dissolve the sugar. Let the mixture reach a slight boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the lager and rum allowing to heat, but not to boil. Remove spices. Pour into glasses… transfer the apple slices as well. Makes 6 servings.

Salted Caramel Mocha

1 cup milk
1 cup hot, strong coffee
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons caramel sauce
½ shot rum or brandy
For the topping:

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon sugar
      Whipped cream
Caramel sauce

In a medium saucepan, heat milk over low heat until very hot. Remove from heat and froth milk with a frother, whisk or immersion blender. Or, pour into a Mason jar, screw on lid and shake until very frothy.
While the milk is heating, whisk together the coffee, cocoa, sugar and caramel sauce. Split the coffee mixture between two mugs.

Pour the hot milk and foam into the coffee, dividing evenly between the two mugs. Add the liquor.

For the topping, mix together salt and sugar. Top each mug with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce and a hefty sprinkling of the salt and sugar mixture. Makes 2 servings.

White Chocolate Eggnog
1 quart eggnog
1/2 cup white rum
1/2 cup white chocolate liqueur
1 cup whipped topping
Grated white chocolate, for garnish
Pumpkin pie spice, for garnish

In a punch bowl, combine the egg nog, rum, and white chocolate liqueur. When you are ready to serve, whisk the egg nog to make it frothy and pour the mixture into cups.

Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the whipped topping into each cup. Garnish each with the grated white chocolate and a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice.

Peppermint Patty

1/2 oz. crème de cacao
1/2 oz. peppermint schnapps 
1 oz. cream

Stir with ice, strain into shot glass.
Candy Cane Martini
1-1/2 oz vodka 
1 tsp peppermint schnapps 

Mix all ingredients with ice in a shaker. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Option: Garnish with a small candy cane or create a candy cane rim with crushed candy canes.

Mexican Hot Cocoa

2cups reduced-fat (2 percent) evaporated milk
1/2cupwhole milk
1/2cupchocolate liqueur
1teaspoonvanilla extract
1tablespoonunsweetened cocoa
1 1/2teaspoonsground cinnamon
1/4teaspoonancho chili powder
10cinnamon sticks
1dried red chile
2 1/2ozbittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/4cupheavy whipping cream

Whisk evaporated milk, whole milk, liqueur, vanilla, sugar, cocoa, 1 tsp of cinnamon and chili powder in a heavy saucepan. Add 2 of the cinnamon sticks and chili and cook gently over medium-low heat until warm. Add chocolate and cook, whisking until melted. Gently bring to a high simmer; reduce heat and simmer until liquid thickens and reduces slightly, whisking often, 10 minutes. Combine heavy cream with remaining 1/2 tsp cinnamon and beat until peaks form. Ladle 1/3 cup hot cocoa each into 8 teacups; top each with 1 tbsp whipped cream and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Serves 8.
I rimed the glass with a blend of chili spices. Delicious!
Bloody Mary Martini
1 medium-sized piece fresh horseradish, peeled and julienned
20 black peppercorns
1 pint vodka
5 cups chopped ripe tomatoes
½ teaspoon celery salt
4 celery stalks

Place horseradish and peppercorns in vodka bottle; seal; chill at least 24 hours. Puree tomatoes; drain with fine-mesh sieve; discard pulp. Add celery salt. Fill a shaker with ice; add 2 oz vodka (not peppercorns or horseradish), 1 oz tomato puree; shake.
Strain into martini glass. I used a cute little wine glass instead. Garnish with celery. I used a pickle – my favorite garnish for a Bloody Mary. .Serves 4.

You think these are just for kids? About 2 weeks into the holiday parties, I’m all about the Milk Shooters.
Candy Cane Milk Shooters
1 % milk
Mini-Candy Canes

Crush a few candy canes until they are dust and use them to rim two shot glasses. Fill each glass with milk and dip a candy cane in right before serving. Enjoy!

Last but not least…if you get into it and have too much holiday fun, try this for a morning after cure. It works especially well if you add a shot of whatever it was that did you in the night before.

The Cure
Seltzer water
1 cup sugar
5 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. salt
6″ of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
Combine 2 cups of water, salt, ginger, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a pan over the stove.

Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and let it sit, covered, until it is cool.

Strain the syrup into a jar and put it in the fridge to chill.
Fill a tall glass with ice.

Put 2 Tbsp. of the spicy-giner syrup and a lemon wedge into a glass. Add a shot of what ever you drank the night before.

Fill the glass with soda water and stir.

The Parthenon

One of my very first weekends in Chicago, right around Christmas, a business associate took me to The Parthenon (314 S Halstead) for a party that resulted in me missing my train stop on the way home and having to cab it back…a long way. When you do it once, you’ll likely not do it again. A lesson learned immediately and you blame it on the  Roditis and swear you’ll never drink it again…until the next time you go to Greektown. Let’s face it - anything brewed in the basement of a restaurant deserves a second taste.

My introduction to Greek food that night stuck as a lasting affection and I have since celebrated so many memorable events in Greektown. It is one of my favorite places in Chicago and the next time you want to have a grand celebration at a nominal price, head to The Parthenon.

I’ve done every restaurant in Greektown and it still does it the best.
Here are some of my favorite traditions at Christmas.
Bon Appetit!
4 ½ ounces, ¾ inch thick of Kasseri-style  cheese or Talagani
 Light Olive oil
 1 Egg (beaten)
 1/4 Lemon

Pour olive oil in pan – ½ “ depth.  Heat oil over medium high heat.
Put egg in one flat bowl and flour in another.
Dip cheese in egg hen in flour to coat.
Fry in oil.
Cheese should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
When done remove with tongs and drain on paper towel.
Splash with brandy and light.
Squeeze lemon juice over cheese and serve.

Fried Eggplant 
½ eggplant cut thin
Olive oil for frying
Coat with flour and fry in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

Drain on paper towels.

Shake on Alatopiperigano (1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano and a few grinds of black pepper).

Serve with Tzatziki

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 cup greek yogurt, strained
1 cup sour cream
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced

Combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Mix until well combined. Using a whisk, blend the yogurt with the sour cream. Add the olive oil mixture to the yogurt mixture and mix well. Finally, add the cucumber and chopped fresh dill. Chill for at least two hours before serving.
Greek Salad

8 small ripe tomatoes, quartered
1 cucumber, sliced thick on the diagonal
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (they did not use)
18 Kalamata olives, drained
2 small handfuls purslane
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
5-ounce slab feta
1 teaspoon or so dried oregano
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, optional

Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives and capers into a serving bowl. Add the purslane or arugula; season with salt and a few grinds of pepper. Put the feta on top; crumble the oregano over with your fingers. Drizzle the olive oil over, as well as the vinegar if using. Serve with bread.

Lamb Ribs

As many lamb ribs as you feel like devouring.

Rub them with Alatopiperigano (1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons dried oregano and a few grinds of black pepper)

Put them in a foil covered baking pan and cook them for 2 to 3 hours at 225 degrees.

Brown under the broiler or sear them quickly on very hot grill.

A Passport To Ethnic Cooking

Both of these cookbooks took me out of Chicago on a magnificent journey with their photographs (visuals are the key) and their timeless ethnic techniques. They reminded me why I love to cook and travel.

They go together don’t they? Food and Travel. I rarely think of one without the other anymore even if it’s just a trip to downtown Chicago.
So what’s the mark of a good cookbook? Makes you either want to get in your kitchen and instantly start chopping or hop the next flight to Greece or Morocco and pop in on a local restaurant or street food cart.
There is little distance between you and the rest of the world when you take a trip inside a cookbook.
Bon Appetit!
Food from Many Greek Kitchens
From one of my favorite cookbook authors, Tessa Kiros's, Food from Many Greek Kitchens  is the follow-up to her best-selling Venezia  and Falling Cloudberries.
The book is brilliantly photographed and is filled with classic recipes such as my all time Greek favorite Saganaki.
Her introductions make you want to try everything. Here is what she has to say about Vassilopitta:  "In Greece, everyone has a vassilopitta (cake) at New Year. The wonderful thing about this cake is that a flouri (coin) is added before baking. If you're lucky to get the piece with the coin, you'll be blessed for the year.
Much like the King cake in New Orleans, the Greek’s have a wonderful sense of celebration.
The BEST part: You’ll get so engaged in the photographs, you’ll want to book yourself on the next flight to Athens.
Mourad: New Moroccan
Mourad Lahlou is one of my favorite chefs. He came to San Francisco by way of Morocco and works miracles with traditional Moroccan recipes by putting his own twist and reworking them. The result: a new Moroccan that is my latest favorite addiction.
 “Mourad: New Moroccan”, is a personal, unconventional masterpiece that springs from his mother and grandfather, who raised him in Morocco. His mother taught him to cook time-honored dishes and his grandfather took him to the local markets.
I want a grandfather like that. Having grown up without one, I can appreciate the impression that the local markets must have left on Mourad. Even now when I go to the markets every Saturday in season, I am taken back by the strong influence of the local farmer.
With a PBS TV series, this cookbook, an "Iron Chef" victory and a Michelin star under his belt, many cooks I know are experimenting with his recipes.
Again the photographs of the Morocco I remember are absolutely stunning and will definitely make you want to learn (or relearn) how to prepare Moroccan food.

The Slurping Turtle

At 116 West Hubbard, the Slurping Turtle has high marks from food critics and fans alike.
We ducked in at 11:00 AM to dig into two small plates – the duck fat fried chicken and the pork belly – both worthy of all the praise they have been receiving recently.
I would be in the mood for some of the slurping noodles if it were a typical December day but it’s forty degrees outside so just give me a round of the Bad Hair Day of Shrimp (honestly that is a small plate) and a Lobster Corn Dog. I feel a winter picnic coming on.

Bon Appetit!