Saturday, October 31, 2009

Candy Alternative

The next few weeks will be marked by furtive rustlings of wrappers, chocolate stained fingers and lips, and the general sugar induced mayhem that is the aftermath of Halloween. Once you've finished your binge, you may want something more homey and old-fashioned to serve as your dessert to tide you over 'til Thankgiving. Giant oatmeal cookies studded with walnuts, apples and raisins will definitely help you recover. They're the sort of thing just longing for a good cookie jar.


2 sticks butter
1 C brown sugar
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs (or equivalent amount of egg substitute)
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
3 C oats
1 C raisins
1 C chopped nuts (I use walnuts)
1 apple cored and diced (I peel mine too).

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and mix until blended. Add the vanilla. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Add the oats and blend until incorporated. Then add the chopped nuts and raisins and mix. Finally add the apple and mix gently. I've made these regular cookie size before, but I'm kind of loving the giant cookie jar filling size. To make regular cookies, use rounded tablespoons. To make giant cookies, form smallish patties, like you were making burgers, but a bit littler. You can use a greased cookie sheet, but parchment or a silpat is even better. Bake 10-12 for the little ones 12-13 for the big ones. Cool on the pan for a minute or so, don't try to transfer right away or they will fall apart on you. Then cool on a rack until completely cool.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beginner's Duck

I did manage to rally last night, and pull together a nice dinner. Certainly not worthy of Julia, but a bit fancier than the usual - Pan roasted duck breast with green beans, polenta and mushrooms in a balsamic red wine glaze. This duck recipe is absolutely the most simple one I've seen and it turns out perfectly every time. The duck is juicy and flavorful and the skin is crispy, salty and delicious. If you like duck it's a wonderful preparation for guests or a special occasion because it takes less than twenty minutes and almost no fuss. You'll feel like Julia without having to struggle with deboning your own bird, use a chinois to strain sauce or deprive the tri-state area of its butter supply.

courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

duck breasts
  • the number you cook will depend on how hearty your eaters and are the number of sides you are making. With my husband I assume he gets his own, but my parents would probably split one between the two of them.
  • duck breasts are available in some grocery stores now and many specialty stores. D'Artagnan is a good brand. We usually get the Magret breasts, which should be a bit over $10.00 a pound. Online they sell the breasts in four packs for around $50.
essence of emeril - you can find the recipe on the food network link or here.
1 scant tablespoon olive oil.

Preheat your oven to 400 F. First rinse the duck and pat it dry. Then coat both sides in essence. Your ducks will look like this:

On the left is the underside of the duck, on the right, the delicious layer of fat. Mmm. Duck fat. In an ovenproof skillet, warm the oil. You really don't need a lot of oil because the duck will give off tons of fat. Have the pan on medium heat and when the oil is hot, place the ducks in the pan skin side down. Cook them for 6 minutes. At the end of six minutes flip them over. The skin will be browned and shiny and crisp. Pour off some of the duck fat*. Emeril doesn't mention this, but I'd rather not have any oven fires, so I drain probably three-quarters of what's in the pan. I drain into a metal mixing bowl just because it's so darn hot and I'm afraid glass would crack and plastic would melt. Once you've flipped the ducks and poured off some fat, place the pan in the hot oven for an additional 8-10 minutes. You can use a meat thermometer to check for doneness if you worry about that sort of thing, the final temperature you want is 120 F. Remember the duck will come up a few degrees while it rests so you can pull it around 110 F. When you remove the duck from the oven, cover it and let it sit for 2-3 minutes. Mine was still giving off quite a bit of juice after that time, so it really does need to sit. Slice it on the bias into quarter inch slices. Feel very gourmet and impressive indeed.

*Duck fat is great to freeze and use later to make Coq au Vin or other chicken dishes richer and more flavorful. Use duck fat as you would butter.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


It is completely vile out today. Also, we are much in need of a dessert here, having consumed the last of a batch of rugelach pinwheels. I had in mind an apple oatmeal cookie recipe that I make every year around this time, and have a devil of a time locating each time. I thought I'd do us both a favor and bake some up. You'd have more fall goodness, and I'd know exactly where to find the recipe the next time I needed it. But I don't want to. I am cold and damp and it is so very grey out that I simply cannot bring myself to do it. Not even just having finishedMy Life in France is enough to motivate me. And if the great Julia Child isn't enough to get you cooking, you're probably a lost cause. So I apologize for the lack of apple cookies, and hope to be back tomorrow, perhaps with a duck recipe, the apple cookies or perhaps just a list of books to make you drool slightly when you are unable to leave the couch for the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fig Jam

Not so very long ago, I had a delicious sandwich at a local restaurant, which I refuse to link to for many reasons, but mainly because they keep removing things I love from their menu and then charging more for the crap they still serve that I don't want. They've already done away with nachos and mac and cheese, so I shouldn't have been shocked when I realized they also scrapped my new favorite sandwich ever. Yes, I know I have a new favorite sandwich ever each month. Let's move on. Anyway. I'm loathe to give those people my money anyway, so it's just as well. My latest greatest sandwich is so very good, and its star ingredient is fig jam. It's also very versatile, I've had it three different ways, all heavenly. The only bad news, is there's not so much a recipe as a set of instructions. You need fig jam (obviously), crusty french bread (although not a baguette, the kind that gives you sandwich size slices), fresh mozzarella (yes, it must be fresh), balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Those are the key ingredients. The ones you can rotate in and out include cooked slices of chicken, prosciutto, spinach and arugula. The bread will absorb the delicious butter from your pan, the mozzarella will be creamy, the fig jam will be sweet and the balsamic will balance that sweetness with a hint of acid. You can choose to add other ingredients, or omit them depending on what you have in the house, or what you're in the mood for.

So here's my not-actually-a-recipe:
bread (2 slices crusty bread per person)
fresh mozzarella cheese - this is paler in color than regular mozzarella, you'll need a fist sized ball for two sandwiches.
1 T balsamic vinegar (per 2 sandwiches)
1-2 t olive oil (per 2 sandwiches)
salt and pepper
enough fig jam to cover one side of each sandwich (maybe a tablespoon or two per sandwich?)
one or more of the following:
leftover pieces of chicken
spinach or arugula

Cut 2 slices of bread per person. Smear one side of each sandwich with fig jam. Slice the mozzarella thin and layer on the sandwiches. Mix together the balsamic, olive oil and salt and pepper. If using leftover chicken (such as off a roast chicken), warm them slightly and toss with the balsamic mixture. If you're using the spinach or arugula, toss the greens in a pan with the mixtures for just about 30 seconds to a minute, just enough to warm very slightly. To the fig jam and mozzarella add either the chicken, or the chicken and greens or just greens or greens and prosciutto. Then cook as you would a grilled cheese. I suppose if you had a fancy panini press you could use that, but I'm not so fancy. I toss it in a pan with some butter and put a heavier pot on top to smoosh it down so it all gets cooked and melty and wonderful and then when the first side is golden brown, I flip adding a bit more butter until the other side is also golden and delicious.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Baby Shower Ducktacular!

A dear friend of mine is having a baby. Actually, a lot of friends of mine are having babies, but the friend in question has been telling me for years that she wants a ducky theme to her shower. And of course, when the time came for the actual shower, there were no ducky themed paper products to be had within a 40 mile radius. Rather than go duckless, I hatched (get it? hatched? I'm so hilarious...) a plan. I hunted down (hunted...down...I can't stop!) a duck cookie cutter. I engaged the services of a plucky friend (plucky!!) and baked up a flock (flock!!!) of ducky sugar cookies. I dipped them in pale yellow royal icing while my friend dabbed on their adorable blue eyes. Aside from a few duck-capitations, it all went swimmingly. The ducks were a huge hit at the shower, my friend was thrilled and my baking partner and I spent the evening high on sugar and cracking each other up. It was just ducky!

courtesy of Martha. Who else?

2 C flour
1/4 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 C butter (this is one stick)
1 C sugar
1 egg lightly beaten
2 T milk
1/2 t vanilla extract

1 recipe Royal Icing - Please feel free to use Martha's. I used meringue powder, and so followed the directions on the package. Real Royal Icing requires raw egg whites and raw egg whites and pregnant women are not a good combination.

In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the lightly beaten egg, the milk and the vanilla and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the butter/sugar/egg mixture.

Form into two disks, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. I chilled mine overnight to make less work for the night before the shower.

Roll out on a floured surface until 1/8" thick. Cut into whatever shapes your heart desires. Place on a baking sheet - I highly recommend using a silpat mat or parchment paper. Leave about an inch between items on the baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes. My oven runs hot and 8-9 was more like it, so watch carefully, especially if you're icing them, you don't want them to brown, just be barely golden.

When they're done, leave on the pan for a minute or so then transfer to a cooling rack. A woman much wiser than me just pours her royal icing over the cookies once they're cool. She leaves them on the rack and places a pan lined with wax paper or foil underneath to catch the excess. Then once the icing has hardened (leave hours for this, seriously), you can trim off extra with a knife. I applied my royal icing by knife until I decide to dip them. Dipping works reasonably well. The blue eyes were applied after the yellow icing had set a bit. You can use the tip of a toothpick, a skewer or if you're like me and own neither of those, the pointy part of a corn holder.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

All Pumpkin, All the Time

Last weekend, just like clockwork, my annual fall pumpkin craving began. Ever since I was in college, and discovered the delicious pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins at Lyman Orchards I have found myself wanting, needing, pumpkin products. I've been reduced to checking restaurant menus, stopping in Dunkin' Donuts to determine if the pumpkin muffins are back yet, but now, I am master of my own fate. I have a recipe for a delicious pumpkin cake. Which could be made into muffins or loaves if you like, but I do love a bundt. In fact, in the past week, I have baked not one, but two of these pumpkin spice bundt cakes. They're that good. Special bonus? They use up a whole can of pumpkin. Seriously, this is a big deal. So many pumpkin product recipes use a cup. What the heck am I supposed to do with the rest of the can, people?

recipe slightly altered from the one J posted in the comments of last year's pumpkin disaster, Pumpkin Dreams Smashed

2 c. sugar
1 c. veg oil
3 eggs
1 16 oz can pumpkin
3 c. flour
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp bking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. bk powder
(1 c chopped walnuts if you want but why would you?)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix together the sugar and oil. Add the eggs and pumpkin and mix well. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add half the dry ingredients to the wet, mix until incorporated, then add the other half. Pour into a well greased bundt pan, bake at 350 for about 55 minutes or until a knife in the middle comes out clean. If you like, sprinkle with powdered sugar.


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