Sunday, December 30, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: 5th Day, Crispy Onion Rings

I'm fairly certain that just about everyone has the 12 Days of Christmas memorized up through the fifth day.   After that, well, it's hit and miss.  But the fifth day is particularly memorable in that it breaks the rhythm established throughout the rest of the song.  Who hasn't dragged out the "five gold rings" in their life?

When it came to cooking five gold rings, the most obvious choice is onion rings.  They're golden, and "rings" is already in the title.  So onion rings it was.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five gold rings...

Crispy Onion Rings
(serves 2-4)

1 large onion
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
a few dashes hot sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1 c. flour
1 c. breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying

Peel and slice the onion into 1/4" or thicker slices.  Separate rings.

Combine buttermilk, hot sauce, and spices in a medium bowl and add onions.  Stir to coat and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Put flour in one bowl and breadcrumbs in another.  If desired, you can add more of the spices used in the buttermilk to the flour.

Heat the oil to about 350F.  If using a frying pan, you'll need about an inch of oil.  Or you may use a deep-fryer.

Remove the onions from the refrigerator.  Dredge a ring through the flour to coat, then back through the buttermilk mixture, then place in the breadcrumbs and toss to coat.

Fry for 1-2 minutes on each side, until deep golden brown and crispy.  (It may take you a bit to get the temperature of the oil right.  I burned a few before I found the right temperature.)  Remove from oil to a paper-towel-covered plate.  Repeat with remaining onions.

Eat warm.

...four colly birds...

...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Friday, December 28, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: 4th Day, Black(berry) Bird Sandwich Cookies

I couldn't figure out until this morning what I wanted to do for the Fourth Day of Christmas.  Though usually sung "four calling birds," the actual gift is "four colly birds."  Colly birds are, basically blackbirds.  Again, no one around here sells blackbirds for me to cook.  Last year I made a blackberry pie (as in "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie") with bird cut-outs for the top crust.  But I wanted something different this year.

After we got home from Django Unchained at two in the morning, I lay in bed for quite a while trying to figure out what I was going to make today.  There was much sleepy whining and Alec telling me to go to sleep.  Finally, I did, still undecided.

But this morning, refreshed (kindof), I decided.  Black(berry) Bird Sandwich Cookies.  They're cute, filled with delicious blackberry jam, and fulfill my personal requirements for fitting into the theme of Four Colly Birds.

The cookie is a shortbread-esque cookie with a hint of lemon.  It's a bit dry, but that actually nicely offsets the sweetness of the condensed jam.  I made my own jam, but you could easily buy a jar to use if you don't want to go through the trouble (though it didn't take very long).

Also, although I made these with bird-shaped cookie cutters, you could of course use round cutters, or any other shape you desire.  I just don't know how many cookies you'll get from a different shape.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds...

Black(berry) Bird Sandwich Cookies
(makes approximately 40 cookies, or 20 sandwiches)
adapted from Proof: Patisserie

1 jar blackberry jam (store-bought or homemade)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp vanilla
zest from 1 lemon
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2-3 c. flour

Reduce the jam in a medium saucepot to thicken.  Let cool.  (I made jam from 18 oz. of blackberries and reduced it to approximately 1 cup.)

Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment if you have one.

Add vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and egg yolks.  Beat to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add in flour gradually, mixing on low speed.  (I added all 3 cups and the dough ended up far too dry, so I added in a bit of milk to moisten.)  Mix until the dough comes together.  You made need to use your hands to bring the dough together.

Divide the dough in two and flatten each half into a disc.  Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line 3-4 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let sit for 5 minutes.

Place one disc of dough on a floured surface and roll out to 1/4" thickness.

Using a bird cookie cutter (or cutter of your choice), cut out shapes and place 1/2" apart on baking sheets.  Repeat with second disc of dough.

You can gather up the scraps and re-roll to get more cookies.

Once you have cut out all the cookies, take a small 1" round cutter and cut out a circle in the middle of half the cookies.

Bake in batches in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until cookie is set and a light golden brown color.

Place on cooling racks until completely cool.

To make sandwiches, spoon jam onto the bottom half of the sandwich (the cookie without the circle cut-out).  For the birds, I used about a half tablespoon.  If you're using a shape, you will need to gently spread the jam across the shape.  (It will depend on the size of your cookie.  You want enough to cover once you press the top down, but not too much that it will overflow the edges.)

Top with the top half of the sandwich (the cookie with the circle cut-out) and press down gently.

Top off the cut-out with any leftover jam, if desired.


...three French hens...

...two turtledoves...

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

12 Days of Christmas: 3rd Day, Mushroom-Stuffed Cornish Hens

This post may be a day behind, but the food wasn't.  However, after eating these delicious hens, we went out to see Django Unchained.  And when we got home at 2 in the morning, well, I went to bed.  But here is the Third Day of Christmas, in all it's delicious glory.

I did Cornish Game Hens last year for the Third Day of Christmas, but this was a different variety.  Mainly in that each hen was wrapped in blanched bacon.  I looked no further.  Now, Alec complained that "something was wrong with the bacon," because it didn't taste as "bacon-y."  And yes, blanching does make for a subtler flavor.  But I liked it.  It didn't overpower the hen and it's mushroom filling, but you still got the amazing (yet subdued) flavor of bacon.  So no complaints from my end, but what do I know?  Next time, there is a request to make two hens with "normal bacon."  Critics.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... three French hens...

Mushroom-Stuffed Cornish Hens
(serves 4)
from Food Network

8 strips bacon
1 tbs unsalted butter
2 tbs minced shallots (about 1 medium shallot)
1/2 tsp minced garlic
10 oz. button mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and finely chopped
1 tsp salt, divided
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
2 1/2 tsp dry white wine
4 Cornish game hens, about 1 1/4 lb each
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

To blanch the bacon, place the 8 strips of bacon into a medium saucepan mostly filled with water.  Bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer for 7 minutes.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  After the 7 minutes, remove bacon from hot water and submerge in the ice water for 3 minutes to stop the cooking.

Remove from the ice water and pat dry on paper towels.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium high heat.  Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.  Add mushrooms, 1/4 tsp salt, and white pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their juices and the juices are reabsorbed/evaporate.  This can take about 12 minutes.  Once the liquid is gone and the mushrooms begin to caramelize, add the wine and cook, stirring to deglaze the pan, until the liquid is gone.  Remove from heat and let cool.

With your fingers, very carefully loosen the skin from over the breasts to make a pocket.  Do not break the skin.

Fill the pocket with about 1 1/2 tbs on the mushroom duxelle and pull the skin back into place.

Season the hens inside and out with the remaining salt and the black pepper.  Wrap each hen with two strips of bacon.  I used a toothpick to hold the bacon together over the breasts.

Place the hens breast side up in a roasting pan and roast about 45 minutes, until the juices run clear and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180F.  Remove from the oven and serve.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: 2nd Day, Turtledoves

We're on day two!  Turtledoves.  Regrettably, butchershops around here don't sell doves.  And I thought setting traps in our front yard for the mourning doves that hang around might get me arrested or something.  So I made a "turtledove" recipe I found online.  Basically, turtle candy.  I'm not sure what the dove aspect is (besides perhaps a similarity to Dove chocolates?) but I'm not complaining.

These aren't quite what I expected.  The original recipe described these as being a gooey candy, but what I got is a hard caramel candy, more like a toffee than a caramel.  I think the last five minutes of boiling may need to be adjusted to not cross the line from soft ball to hard ball candy.  But still, good, and on the simpler side of recipes.  The hardest part was digging out the quickly hardening caramel to put on the chilled baking sheets.  If I hadn't run out of pecans, I would have tried the caramel part again with a different recipe.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... two turtledoves...

(makes approx. 4 doz candies)
adapted from Food and Wine

1 1/2 c. pecans (half a pound)
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. light corn syrup
2 tbs. unsalted butter
3 tbs. water
1 c. dried sour cherries, roughly chopped
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place in the freezer to chill.

Spread pecans on a third baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 7 minutes, until fragrant.

Combine cream, sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a medium saucepan (Err on the side of a larger size if you're not sure.  This will boil up a lot.).  Heat over medium low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.  Using a candy thermometer, let cook without stirring until the temperature reaches 240F (soft ball stage).  This can take up to 45 minutes.

Fill a medium bowl (big enough to hold the saucepan) with cold water.  Set aside.

When the caramel has reached 240F, add the 3 tbs water and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and dip pan into the bowl of cold water briefly to stop the cooking.  Let caramel cool to 200F.

Remove baking pans from freezer.

Stir pecans and cherries into the caramel, and spoon tablespoons of the mixture onto the chilled pans.  Let sit until completely cooled, about 1 hour.

Melt the chocolate carefully in the microwave or in a double boiler, stirring to make sure you don't overcook it.

Dip half the candies into the chocolate and return to the pans.  Chill in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set the chocolate.  Enjoy.

...and a partridge in a pear tree.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

12 Days of Christmas: 1st Day of Christmas, Chocolate Dipped Pears with Almonds

Last year, on my former blog, I attempted to cook the 12 Days of Christmas.  Unfortunately, I got a horrendous stomach flu on day 10 and didn't quite complete it (due to fever, vomiting, and other unpleasantness that made me less than eager to cook--or eat.), but I did enjoy the first 10 days.  And so, here we are again on Christmas Day, the official 1st Day of Christmas.  And I find myself beginning the challenge anew (Minus frog legs.  Once you see those in reverse, you just can't go back for a while.).

Technically, there are books of the twelve days of Christmas.  Not that I've read any of them.  But as it's a long-term oral tradition, I think we can count it as being somewhat literary.  The twelve days of Christmas are the twelve days leading up to Epiphany (Twelfth Night), most commonly starting with Christmas Day itself.

Everyone knows the song.  There are a lot of rumors about what each day's gift stands for, but none of them can be truly verified.  The song is most likely French in origin, but is more common as an English carol.  For my purposes, the song serves as an excellent challenge for cooking.

And so we begin, with the most simple and elegant recipe I've made lately.  I'm known for extravagant concoctions (pig's feet, anyone?), but this very simple recipe is stunning in its ease and subtlety.  The lightness of the pear with the salty sweetness of the dark chocolate and almonds is just... perfect.  This would be the perfect opening for any holiday party, or as a simple but satisfying dessert.

Merry Christmas to all!

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a partridge in a pear tree.

Chocolate Dipped Pears with Almonds
(serves 5)
adapted (ever so slightly) from Bakers Royale

5 Red Bartlett pears, ripe
6 oz. dark chocolate
3 oz. finely chopped almonds (or nut of choice)
sea salt, to taste

Melt chocolate in one bowl and mix the almonds and sea salt in a separate bowl.

Holding each pear by the stem, dip in melted chocolate to desired coverage.  Let excess chocolate drip off.

Dip in the chopped almonds.

Let dry on cooling rack.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Waiting for the Hogfather: English Pork Pies

After a night spent drinking my homemade (and very alcoholic) eggnog and wrapping Christmas presents, it only seems appropriate that the first official Christmas post go up.  And by Christmas, I mean Hogswatch.

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld, along with the plethora of food mentioned throughout the Discworld series.  And so when I began my Christmas reading earlier this month, I knew I had to reread Hogfather, Pratchett's wonderful satire of Christmas.  Instead of Christmas, the children of Ankh-Morpork celebrate Hogswatch, when the Hogfather rides his sleigh around the Disc, delivering children to all the good boys and girls.  This Hogswatch, though, the Hogfather has been targeted for elimination by the Discworld's craziest Assassin, and so Death himself takes up the red robe, the beard, and the "HO HO HO" to save the Hogfather and the belief of children everywhere.

I'd say it was one of my favorite Discworld books (and it is), but I could say that about so many Discworld books that it would grow repetitive.  Quickly.  It was the third book I read, and the first that featured Death (one of my favorite characters) and his granddaughter Susan.  Susan aptly sums up this spirit of Hogswatch thusly: "This is Hogswatch!  It's supposed to be jolly, with mistletoe and holly, and--and other things ending in olly!  It's a time when people want to feel good about things and eat until they explode!"

Like our Christmas, Hogswatch is a time of traditional foods.  And while I left out milk and cookies for Santa, well... things on the Discworld are different.  On Hogswatchnight, it is tradition to leave out a pork pie and a glass of sherry for the Hogfather, and turnips for the boars that pull his sleigh (Gouger and Tusker and Rooter and Snouter).

Meat pies are something I can get behind.  I've been making meat pies since I bought the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook several years ago.  They're both extremely delicious and work excellently as a bargaining chip (i.e. "if you do this for me, Alec, I'll make meat pies.").  Works every time.

So it was clear what I was going to be making for Christmas.  Hogswatch.  Whatever.

Pork pies.

Meat pies are a classically British thing.  Think Sweeny Todd, minus the cannibalism.  I don't know why they haven't worked their way more into American cuisine.  They're amazing.  They're meat made portable in a golden, flaky pastry.  Nothing can go wrong with meat pies, well, with the exception of Sweeny Todd.

This recipe is a bit complex, and involves pig's feet.

But never fear! You don't actually eat the feet (this time!  But I do have 3 still in the fridge that I'm intrigued by...).  Instead, you boil them to make a jellied stock that goes into the pies after baking.  One of the recipes I read said that instead you could use a combination of powdered gelatin and pork bouillon, but where's the fun in that?

These meat pies are delicious.  And, as Albert says in Hogfather, "They're a treat with mustard."  Use English mustard if you have it, but I found spicy brown worked well.  And, if Gouger and Tusker and Rooter and Snouter don't eat all the turnips you leave out, you can make mashed turnips to go with your leftover pork pies.  Though there may not be any.

English Pork Pies
(serves 4-8, depending on appetite and size of pies)
adapted from Saveur and Really Nice Recipes

For the Stock
1 lb pig's feet
8 oz pork bones (can use neck bones or the bone from pork shoulder)
6 whole black peppercorns
1 yellow onion
1 large carrot
1 rib celery
1 bunch parsley
3 qt water

For the Filling
2 lb pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1/4" cubes
8 oz pork belly, cut into 1/4" cubes
8 oz bacon, cut into 1/4" cubes
1 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground white pepper

For the Hot Water Pastry
6 oz lard
2/3 c. water
3 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg

Chop the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley.

Place all the ingredients for the stock in a 6 qt. saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower temperature and simmer for about 4 hours.  Strain into a large bowl.  Return stock to saucepan and boil until reduced to approximately 2 cups.  Remove from heat and let cool.

For the filling, toss all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Pork pies require a hot water pastry dough.  You could go with a normal pastry crust, but this crust is so good that I wouldn't if I were you.  Go find some lard and make this dough.  I'm going to switch to using this recipe for my other meat pies from now on.  It's just worth it.  With a hot water pastry dough, you can hand shape pies and they will hold their shape as they cool.  I used springform pans for this recipe, but will try handforming next time.  After baking the pies, the crust becomes fairly water-resistant, which allows them to be filled with the jellied stock.

Note: I found lard at one of the Schnucks nearby, though it's not at all of them.

Whisk together the flour and salt, and make a well in the center.  Crack the egg into the well, and then use a spoon to cover the egg with some of the flour mixture.

Cut the lard into pieces and put in a medium saucepan with the water.  Heat over medium until the lard has melted and has almost reached the boiling point.

Pour the lard mixture around the outside of the flour mixture, then cut it into the flour with a knife until combined.  If it looks very wet, add a little more flour.  It will be a wetter dough.

Cover with a damp towel or clingwrap and let sit for 10 minutes to rehydrate.

Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.

As I said, I used 4.5" springform pans for these pies.  You can also make them in large muffin tins.

Use the bottom of the springform pan to cut out the bottom of the dough.  Press into the pan.

Cut out a strip for the sides of the pan, and press into the pan and seal along the bottom.

Fill with the pork filling.  Really press it in there.

Briefly beat together 1 egg mixed with 1 tbs of water.  Brush the tops of the dough with the egg mixture.  Cut out the top circle of dough, place over filling, and crimp to seal together

Using a funnel, make a hole in the middle of the crust.  This will allow you to fill it with the jellied stock after baking.

If desired, you can decorate the top with the traditional triangles of scrap dough.  Glue them on with the egg wash, then brush the wash over the entire crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 325F, and bake for another two hours.  Let pies cool, then gradually pour the jellied stock into the hole on the top of each pastry, waiting as it distributes through the pie.  If it starts to leak out, just wipe it off and stop filling.  Chill pies in the refridgerator to set the jelly.  Serve cold, with mustard if desired.

Happy Hogswatch!