Monday, January 7, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: 12th Day, The Swanson (Bacon-Wrapped Turkey Leg)

There are many things I love.  The recipe for the final day of Christmas (twelve drummers drumming) combines many of them.  Food that you can eat with your hands, bacon, and Ron Swanson.

I completely love Parks and Recreation.  I admit, I wasn't certain at first.  But I kept watching, with Alec's insistence, and am so glad I did.  Without it, I wouldn't know Ron Swanson.  And that would be incredibly, incredibly sad.  Because he is a man with an excellent mustache, a disdain for the human population, and a healthy love of bacon.  He's basically me.  But with a mustache.

And if I didn't know Ron Swanson, I would never had heard of The Swanson.

And if I had never heard of The Swanson, I wouldn't have had one of the most amazing things ever last night.  And today for lunch.  And there wouldn't be a second batch in the oven right now.

Missing out on all of that would be unforgivable.

What is The Swanson?  That's simple.  It's a bacon-wrapped turkey leg/drumstick.

And making them is just about as simple.  There's absolutely no reason not to make this as soon as possible.

So get going.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming...

The Swanson (Bacon-Wrapped Turkey Leg)
(makes 4 turkey legs)
from Arkansas Foodie

4 turkey legs
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground sage
12 pieces bacon

Preheat oven to 300F.

Combine spices in a bowl.  Thoroughly rub the spice mixture on the turkey legs.

Wrap each leg in three pieces of bacon.

Place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 2 hours at 300F, then raise temperature to 350F and bake for another 25-30 minutes, until bacon is wonderfully browned.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

...eleven pipers piping...

...ten lords a-leaping...

...nine ladies dancing...

... eight maids a-milking... swans a-swimming...

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

12 Days of Christmas: 11th Day, Piping Hot Toddy

Pipers piping.  It's a tough one.  I didn't get this far last year and don't know what I would have done if I had.  But this year, stomach-flu-free, I had to decide.  And so I went with what could possibly be construed as a cop-out and made a hot drink.  A piping hot drink, if you will.  (And since there was a tea kettle involved, there was a bit of piping.)

But cop-out or no, a hot toddy is a classic drink that's really perfect for this time of year.  This made a rather sweet version, which was quite fine with me, but if you don't like overly-sweet toddies, you may want to back off on the amount of honey.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping...

Piping Hot Toddy
(serves 1)

1 tbs honey (to taste)
1 oz whiskey, brandy, or rum
Juice from 1/4 lemon
1 c. hot tea
Slice of lemon, to garnish

Coat the bottom of a mug or Irish coffee glass with the honey.  Add alcohol of choice and lemon juice.  Add hot tea and stir to combine.

Garnish with lemon slice and enjoy immediately.

...ten lords a-leaping...

...nine ladies dancing...

... eight maids a-milking... swans a-swimming...

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: 10th Day, Salt-Baked Fish

Lords a-leaping.  This is where I derailed last year, due to debilitating stomach flu.  And which is why frog legs sadly make me a bit nauseous to this very day.

But not so this year!  This year I made salt-baked fish.  Because fish leap.  Lots of things do, really, but I haven't made fish in a while.  (Alec wanted rabbit, but I'll be making rabbit coming up for Of Mice and Men.)  And, we're both still healthy.  Which is the ultimate goal.

But I am beginning to suspect that there may be a 10th Day of Christmas curse.  Because this fish tried its damnedest to kill Alec with tiny, tiny fish bones.  While I had a few in mine (which is to be expected when cooking whole fish, so watch out), his was rather ridiculous.  Whoops.

I thought this was delicious.  The fish is baked whole in a solid coating of sea salt.  And it does not make it overly salty.  Instead, the salt serves to hold in the moisture and flavor from the stuffing.  And makes for a unique presentation when you crack the salt shell open with a spoon.  You could switch this recipe up to add whatever spices or stuffings you would like.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten lords a-leaping...

Salt-Baked Fish
(serves two)
from Serious Eats

2 whole fish, about 3/4 pound each, or 1 whole fish, 1/ 1/2 pounds (use white-fleshed fish, like sea bass, trout, sole, or bream)
10 sprigs thyme
3 slices of lemon, halved
Olive oil
3 c. sea salt (2 c. coarse, 1 c. fine)
1 egg white

Preheat oven to 400F.  Pat the fish dry inside and out.    Stuff each fish cavity with half the thyme and lemon.  Lightly grease the whole outside of the fish with olive oil.


In a medium bowl, mix together the salts and the egg white with your hand.  Add water a bit at a time until it reaches the consistency of wet sand that you might use to build a sand castle.  It needs to be moldable and to stick together.

On an ungreased baking sheet, pat down a layer of the wet salt the size of the two fish, about 1/4" thick.  Place the fish on the bed of salt and mound the remaining salt around each fish, 1/4" thick.  Create a tight seal.  Leave the head and tail exposed.

Bake for 30 minutes, then let rest for 10.  Use the back of a spoon to crack the salt crust.  Peel back the skin and lift off the top fillet.  Remove the bones, then lift out the second fillet, leaving behind the skin and bottom layer of salt.

Serve immediately.


...nine ladies dancing...

... eight maids a-milking... swans a-swimming...

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

12 Days of Christmas: 9th Day, Ladyfingers and Tiramisu

There's not many obvious choices for nine ladies dancing besides ladyfingers.  And granted, I made ladyfingers for the 9th Day of Christmas last year.  But this year I threw in tiramisu as well, to change things up.

You can naturally use store-bought ladyfingers to make a tiramisu, but then you'd miss out on the unique experience of making ladyfingers, which involves turning a pan upside down while unbaked ladyfingers cling carefully onto it.  And, somehow, they don't fall off!

The ladyfingers recipe, being from Julia Child herself, is naturally flawless.  The tiramisu recipe, however, while delicious, had some issues.  Mainly that after a night in the refrigerator, it more resembled tirami-soup (coinage credit goes to Dustin, one of the guys I work with) than tiramisu.  However, the next day, it had somehow thickened up more.  So something in the expresso cream mixture is off, I feel.  Maybe more mascarpone?  Maybe less espresso?

Either way, it still tastes very good.  I think I'm going to have another piece as soon as I post this, actually...

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing...

(makes 15-20 ladyfingers)
from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

1 tbs softened butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar in a sieve or shaker
1/2 c.  plus 1 tbs sugar, divided
3 eggs, divided
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. flour, in a sifter

Preheat oven to 300F.

Butter two baking sheets.  Do not use parchment paper.  Dust with flour, then knock off the excess.

In a large mixing bowl, gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks.  Add the vanilla and continue beating for several minutes until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and forms the ribbon.  The ribbon is what happens when eggs yolks become thick enough that, when lifted, they fall back into the bowl forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.  Set aside.


Beat the egg whites and salt together in a separate, clean bowl until soft peaks are formed.  Sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed (whites will stand up stiffly and not fold over on themselves).

Scoop 1/4 of the egg whites over the top of the egg yolks mixture.  Sift on 1/4 of the flour.  With a rubber spatula, carefully and delicately fold the egg whites in until partially blended.  Do not completely mix in.  The mixture needs to stay light and puffy.

Add 1/3 of the remaining egg whites and 1/3 of the remaining flour.  Fold.  Repeat with half of the remaining whites and remaining flour.  Repeat with the last of the whites and the flour, folding until partially blended.  Do not over-mix or the batter will deflate.

Scoop batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tube opening.  Squeeze even lines onto the prepared baking sheets, making finger shapes 4" long and 1" wide.  Space them 1" apart.

Dust with a 1/16" layer of powdered sugar.  

To dislodge some of the extra sugar, turn the baking sheet upside down and gently tap the back of it.  The ladyfingers will not fall off unless you are too rough.

Bake in the middle and upper third levels of the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the ladyfingers are a very pale brown underneath the sugar coating.  They should be slightly crusty outside but still tender on the inside.

As soon as they are done, remove from the baking sheets with a spatula and cool on racks.

(serves 4-6)
adapted from Food Network

3 egg yolks, room temperature
1/8 c. sugar
1/4 c. rum, divided
3/4 c. espresso, divided
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
about 14 ladyfingers
Cocoa powder, to serve

Whisk the egg yolks on high speed in a mixer until very thick and light yellow.  Lower speed and add half of the rum, half of the espresso, and the mascarpone cheese.  Mix until smooth.

Combine the remaining rum and espresso in a shallow bowl.  Using half the ladyfingers, dip one side of each ladyfinger in the espresso-rum mixture and use to line the bottom of an 8"x8" dish.  Pour half the espresso cream mixture over the top.  Dip one side of each of the remaining ladyfingers in the espresso-rum mixture and create a second layer in the dish.  Pour the rest of the espresso cream on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, dust with cocoa powder.

... eight maids a-milking... swans a-swimming...

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: 8th Day, Horchata


The 8th Day of Christmas is now officially my favorite day of Christmas.  Because of this recipe.  Thank you, eight maids a-milking, for all your inspiration.  And thank you to whoever it was, ages ago, that invented horchata.  Because I'm hooked.

If you've never heard of horchata (which I never had until a few years ago, when a friend adopted the word for her stage moniker), it is a milky rice-based Mexican drink.  You may have tried RumChata (which is my new favorite alcoholic drink)?  It's that, minus the rum.  And really, I did a taste-test today, and my homemade horchata and the RumChata taste almost identical.  I think I actually prefer the horchata.

And it's ridiculously easy.  And cheap.  It has four-five ingredients, depending on how you make it, and one of them is water.

This would be the perfect drink for summer.  Really, it's the perfect drink for anytime, but I can already imagine sitting in our backyard, reading a book and sipping a tall, cool glass of horchata.  I can't wait.

Incidentally, it does mix well with rum.  In case you were wondering.

On the eight day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking...

(makes about 6 cups)
adapted from David Lebovitz

2/3 c long-grain white rice
3 c. warm water
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 c. sugar
2 c. milk or rice milk
Ground cinnamon, to serve

With a coffee grinder, or in a blender, grind the rice so that it is in fine pieces (about the consistency of coarse polenta).


Transfer to a medium bowl and pour the warm water over.  Add the cinnamon stick.  Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

Remove the cinnamon stick and puree the rice and water until it is as smooth as possible.  I used my immersion blender for about two minutes.  There will be a sand-like rice residue remaining at the bottom.

Strain through a sieve lined with several layers of cheesecloth into a large bowl.  Squeeze or push down on the rice residue relatively firmly to get as much rice flavor as possible into the horchata.

Stir in the sugar and the milk, stirring until all the sugar has dissolved.  Refrigerate until completely chilled.

Enjoy over ice with ground cinnamon to garnish.

Store in the refrigerator for up to four days. swans a-swimming...

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: 7th Day, Cream Swans from Game of Thrones

The 7th Day of Christmas happens to be a double whammy.  While this recipe for cream swans fulfills the requirements for seven swans a-swimming, it also comes from my new favorite book series Game of Thrones.  Awesome.

A while ago, I broke down and bought A Feast of Ice & Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook.  It was kindof an early Christmas present.  To myself.  Several weeks before Christmas.  But this book?  It's beautiful.  And it has gorgeous pictures of all those things in Game of Thrones that make you drool (well, minus Tyrion and Jamie Lannister).  There are Medieval and Modern recipes, and it just so happened that they included a recipe for cream swans, which appear ever-so-briefly in A Clash of Kings.

"For the sweet, Lord Caswell's servants brought down trays of pastries from his castle kitchens, cream swans and spun-sugar unicorns, lemon cakes in the shape of roses, spiced honey biscuits and blackberry tarts, apple crisps and wheels of buttery cheese."

Seriously.  I love Game of Thrones.  Possibly because there's so much food in it.  So. Much. Food.

And these swans?  Delightful.  They take a bit of work and sometimes a bit more luck, but they are beautiful and delicious.  I would definitely love to serve these at a party.

They involve making meringue, which in theory isn't hard.  I've successfully managed more than a few times.  But for some reason, I had to attempt it three times, and waste more eggs than I care to admit, before I actually succeeded this time around.  That's the problem with meringue.  It's wonderful, but high-maintenance.  If your bowl and beaters aren't immaculately clean, the egg whites won't stiffen.  If you add the sugar too soon, the egg white might not stiffen.  If you look at it cross-eyed, the egg whites... okay, maybe not that last one.  But it felt like it the other day.

But, eventually, I triumphed.  Without throwing a temper tantrum, even.  I only stomped my foot once.  Maybe twice.  And cream swans were had.  And devoured.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven swans a-swimming...

Cream Swans
(makes 6-8 swans)
adapted slightly from A Feast of Ice & Fire, by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer

6 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 1/2 c. superfine sugar
Slivered almonds
Vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or sorbet, to serve

Preheat oven to 225F.

Using a very clean mixer (with equally clean beaters), beat the egg whites until foamy.

Not foamy.
Add in the cream of tartar and beat on medium high until soft peaks form.  The eggs will begin to expand throughout this period.  Keep going until there are soft peaks.  This is best tested using a spoon.  Dip the spoon into the egg whites and pull it out.  If the whites form a soft peak, you're there.

While continuing to beat on medium high, add the sugar in slowly, a few tablespoons at a time.  Don't rush.  The whites will begin to thicken and turn a lovely white.  You want to keep beating until stiff peaks form.  Use the spoon technique again.  If you dip the spoon in and the peak stands up on its own instead of folding over on itself, you've got stiff peaks.  Don't worry too much about over-mixing.  Once you've add the sugar, it's almost impossible to over-beat the whites.

Load the stiff whites into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.

The book contains a template for the wings, neck, and base, but it wouldn't be very hard to freehand it.  The base will need to be large enough for a scoop of icing, in a teardrop shape.    The wings are a comparable size.

Pipe the base, wings, and neck onto sheets of parchment paper.  Use a slivered almond to make the beak.

Place parchment paper onto baking sheets and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  The book recommends checking on the smaller pieces halfway through.  I did so and found that the meringue wasn't done yet.  I baked for the entire 1 hour 20 minutes and didn't have any pieces that were over-baked.

Turn the oven off and leave the meringue in the oven overnight so that it can dry out.  The following day, you should be able to easily pick the meringue pieces off of the parchment paper.

To assemble, lay out the base on a dish.  Place a small scoop of ice cream on the base.

Attach the remaining pieces: a wing on each side, the neck in the front.  Repeat to assemble the other swans. Serve immediately.  With or without a spoon speared in the ice cream in true Game of Thrones fashion.

...six geese a-laying...

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

12 Days of Christmas: 6th Day, Foie Gras

The 6th and 7th days of Christmas are belated, I know.  But I had two large New Year's Eve events yesterday, one of which involved making 12 dozen cupcakes.  So I was a little busy.

But I should be getting back on track for the rest of the 12 Days.  Even though I head back tomorrow to work after being off since December 20th.  Which will be rough.

Anyway, I had planned to make a goose for the 6th Day of Christmas, what with the six geese a-laying.  But as usual, my planning is atrocious and I didn't buy said goose at Christmas-time while they were still being sold.  So I went with Alec's suggestion of making foie gras.  Ideally, I would have used goose liver.  But good luck finding that in St. Louis.  So I made chicken liver pate.

A lot of people hear the word "liver" and get a sort of automatic lip curl of disgust and doubt.  Mostly, they haven't tried it, or they've tried terrible examples of liver.  But if there's anything I've learned in my few years of being a foodie, practically anything can be made to taste good if you do it right.  And livers are something that can be done very, very right.

Alec and I love foie gras.  (And liver.)  The recipe I use comes from a book I got from the bargain bin at Borders, called Irish Food and Cooking.  It's a recipe for Duck liver pate, but finding duck liver is just about as hard as goose liver around here, so I work with what I have.  Chicken livers.  The recipe even states that "duck or chicken livers are interchangeable."  So there you have it.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six geese a-laying...

Foie Gras (Chicken Liver Pate)
(serves 4-6)
from Irish Food and Cooking, by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell

1 onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick)
8 oz. livers (chicken, duck, or goose)
2-3 tbs. chopped fresh mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary)
1-2 tbs brandy
salt and pepper, to taste
1 bay leaf (optional)
1/4-1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

Cook the onion and garlic in 2 tbs of the butter over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until just turning color.

Trim the livers and add to the pan with the herbs.  Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the livers have browned on the outside but are still pink on the inside.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Cut the remaining butter into slices.

Process the cooled liver mixture in a food processor (I got to use my new food processor for the first time!) or blender.  

Add the butter in gradually, dropping the slices down the food chute onto the moving blades, to make a smooth puree.

Add the brandy, then check the seasonings and add salt and pepper as desired.

Note: I made a larger batch.  You will not have this much pate.

Transfer to a 1/2-1 pint ramekin or dish.  

Lay a bay leaf on top if desired, then pour the melted butter over the pate, just enough to cover.  Let cool, and then chill in the refrigerator until you want to eat it.  Enjoy with bagel chips or mini toasts.

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.