Archive for December 2011

Iron Chef Crock Pot

December 30th, 2011 — 7:49am

december-2011-155Brodie and Lauren hosted the December Iron Chef dinner a week before Christmas. The theme was “Crock Pot,” meaning everyone had to bring a dish prepared using a Crock Pot. Usually each couple brings anywhere from one to three dishes to our monthly events, but this time we had just four dishes total, due in large part to equipment limitations—because who owns more than one Crock Pot? The whole Crock Pot concept was a bit tricky, Jill pointed out. It was as if you really only had one attempt to get it right. If the dish didn’t turn out, you’d have lost anywhere between two and 24 hours. Game over.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for the meal, but gambled that at least one person would bring something entree-ish. And I remembered Julie previously talking about a fabulous Crock Pot dessert recipe. I figured a side dish would be a safe bet and hopefully compliment the other dishes. After a quick online search, I found a recipe for Parmesan Risotto, which was featured on an episode of the Today Show and is included in Slow Cooker Revolution, a compilation of Crock Pot recipes from Chris Kimball and chefs at America’s Test Kitchen. It sounded tasty and relatively quick and easy to prepare—which was the primary criterion this month, especially with the dinner being a week before Christmas and all. december-2011-157

Lauren and Brodie set up a long table in their living room, on which we set up our line of Crock Pot creations. Contributions included Italian beef sandwiches (Brodie apparently roasted the beef in a Crock Pot for more than 24 hours), two chocolate desserts, and the risotto. I can’t say it was one of our best efforts in Iron Chef history, but it was a nice array of warm comfort foods. Following is the recipe for Parmesan Risotto, which I couldn’t get enough of—fantastic flavor and texture.

Parmesan Risotto (recipe from Chris Kimball; serves 6-8)

Vegetable oil spray
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Risotto usually demands the cook’s attention from start to finish which is why this hands-off slow-cooker version is so appealing. Finished with butter, nutty Parmesan, a dash of lemon juice, and fresh chives, this risotto is so creamy that no one would suspect you didn’t spend time at the stovetop laboriously stirring it.

Coat slow cooker with vegetable oil spray. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 12_inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in rice and cook, stirring often, until ends of rice kernels are transparent, about 3 minutes. Stir in wine and cook until fully absorbed, about 1 minute; transfer to slow cooker.

Bring broth and water to boil in saucepan. Stir 3 cups hot broth mixture into slow cooker. Cover and cook until rice is tender, about 2 hours on high.

Return reserved broth mixture to boil. Slowly stream 2 cups more hot broth mixture into slow cooker, stirring gently, until liquid is absorbed and risotto is creamy, about 1 minute.

Gently stir in Parmesan, chives, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and lemon juice. (Adjust risotto consistency with additional hot broth mixture as needed.) Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. (This dish does not hold well on warm setting.)

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Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs

December 28th, 2011 — 7:41am

december-2011-012I was inspired by a recent Smitten Kitchen blog post to make my very first batch of deviled eggs. But not just any deviled eggs—Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs—a great twist on an old classic. I figured Deb (the writer/cook/photographer extraordinaire behind Smitten Kitchen) had a point when she argued that a party is not actually a party without deviled eggs. And since the whole white Christmas thing didn’t work out this year, I figured it was the least I could contribute to my family’s Christmas day get together.

These were fun to make and quite tasty, too. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of deviled eggs, but these made me a believer. I rigged up a pastry decorating tip and plastic bag to pipe the cream filling into the hard boiled egg white shells, which definitely upped the presentation points. Larry also had a great suggestion to use an egg carton to transport the finished hard boiled eggs. The only thing I’d do different next time would be to cut the eggs lengthwise instead of widthwise. I realized my mistake when one of my uncles observed, I’ve never seen deviled eggs cut this way. Ah, that would help them stand up much easier, I realized. Clearly, this deviled egg amateur still has a lot to learn.

Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs (from Smitten Kitchen; adapted from Good Food to Share; Serves 6 to 12)

To make these and bring them to a party, Sarah-Kate suggests that you can prepare the filling and crumbs separately and assemble them when you get there. This will ensure that the yolks don’t dry out and the crumbs stay crisp and light.

6 large eggs
12 small romaine lettuce leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons mayo (2 is suggested but 3 will make a creamier filling)
2 teaspoons smooth Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cups (30 grams) panko bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese or more to taste

Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once water begins to boil, reduce it to medium-low and simmer eggs for exactly 10 minutes. Drain eggs and cover with cold water. Sitting them in ice water will help the eggs chill more quickly.

Do ahead: As I discovered giving your eggs two to four days to rest in the fridge ensures that they peel more easily. If you’ve got time, do this now.

Arrange 12 small lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Carefully peel the eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place them in a small bowl. Arrange the whites on leaves. Mash the yolks with the mayo, Dijon, Worcestershire (if using), lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the parsley until smooth. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set the filling aside.

In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the anchovy and garlic and cook, stirring, until the anchovy begins to dissolve into the oil, about 1 minute. Add the lemon zest and bread crumbs and saute them until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in Parmesan and set crumbs aside.

When you’re ready to serve the eggs, spoon the yolk mixture back into the cavities of the egg whites, mounding it slightly in the center. (To make extra-cute eggs, you can pipe the filling with a star tip.) Sprinkle each egg with some of the crumb mixture (about 1 teaspoon), allowing some to spill onto the lettuce cups. Garnish with remaining chopped parsley and serve.december-2011-007


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DIY Decorative Clothespins

December 26th, 2011 — 6:03pm

december-2011-113Another craft project I worked on recently are these DIY decorative clothespins. I had seen similar ones at local craft fairs and decided it was the type of project I could easily recreate. The materials are simple: scrapbook paper (I have a “value pack paper pad” with 180 sheets I’ve used on various projects the last few years), wooden clothespins (I bought a 24 pack at Michaels), polyurethane gloss varnish, a glue stick, and a small paint brush.

First, using a pencil, I traced the front of a clothespin on decorative paper and cut out the thin strip. I then checked to make sure the paper fit nicely on the clothepin, trimmed as needed, and attached the paper to the front of the clothespin using a glue stick. I then poured a small amount of varnish on a covered work surface and used a paint brush to coat the paper with a thin layer of varnish. I repeated the varnish step every 10 minutes or so until achieving a nice glossy sheen (probably about five coats total). december-2011-151

The finished clothespins can used in a variety of ways—as chip clips, refrigerator magnets (just attach adhesive craft magnets to the back), dinner place card holders, etc. You could also paint the clothespins first (metal parts and all) for a slightly different look. Or decorate with most anything—glitter, sequins, ribbon, etc. I ended up giving some of the finished clothespins to friends for the holidays—I attached 3 or 4 clothespins to a small piece of cardstock for a simple presentation. It’s a great craft project that doesn’t require much time, skill, or money. And paired with personalized note cards and bottlecap magnets, they’d sure make for a nice stationary set.

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Serbian Christmas Bread

December 26th, 2011 — 11:34am

december-2011-002Just a few days before Christmas, a recipe for Cesnica, or Serbian Christmas Bread, caught my eyes. The recipe was included in a New York Times feature devoted to showcasing readers’ favorite holiday recipes. Among recipes for Pepparkakor (Swedish thin ginger cookies), Lemon-Mint Zucchini Latkes, and Peppermint Meringues, the Cesnica stood out with it’s bulbous shape, golden finish, and decorative braid.

Cesnica is a very important part of Christmas dinner in Serbian tradition. Oftentimes a coin is kneeded into the dough before baking and the person who ends up with the coin will supposedly have very good luck in the new year. I went back and forth deciding whether or not to include the coin. But ultimately, being responsible for a broken tooth at my first Christmas with future in-laws didn’t seem like the best idea. But even without the coin, the bread was a unique and tasty treat.

Cesnica or Serbian Christmas Bread (from New York Times reader Ivana Lalicki; makes one loaf)

4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup warm milk
1 cup warm water
1/2 ounce active yeast
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
9 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs

Stir together flour, salt, sugar, yeast, melted butter and one beaten egg in a mixing bowl. Pour warm milk and water into the flour mixture. Mix everything with the spoon.

Transfer the dough to the counter and knead for about 10 minutes. Add more flour if needed.

Form dough in the round shape (boule) and put in the lightly oiled large bowl to rise for 1 hour, to double its original size. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in two pieces, smaller should be for braiding.

Make boule (round shape loaf) from the larger piece and transfer it to slightly oiled baking pan. Although the size of boule is smaller than the pan, don’t worry, it will rise and fill up the pan.

Divide smaller piece of dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out the pieces into strands and braid them using 3-braid method. It is easier than you think.

Transfer braid to the top of boule to fit baking pan.

Brush the bread with egg wash (beaten egg with a little bit of water) and cover with plastic wrap for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread for 35 to 40 minutes. The bread should be golden brown on the top. When it is done, transfer the bread to a rack to cool down. And, pray to get the piece with the coin.

1 comment » | Kristin's Kitchen

Sustainable Holiday Side Dishes

December 23rd, 2011 — 8:18am

december-2011-162Following are two great recipes that work particularly well as side dishes for the holidays. Larry made the first recipe, a simple kale salad with olives, for Thanksgiving. The recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s cookbook “Food Matters: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living” and was featured in a NYT article last November dedicated to hosting a “Sustainable Thanksgiving.” It was the tastiest kale dish I’ve ever had, and was quite popular at our Thanksgiving feast. I found the second recipe for braised Brussels sprouts on the popular cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen. It made a tasty side dish for a dinner I whipped up last night. Both are nice options for using healthy and locally-sourced ingredients in your holiday menu.

Black Kale and Black Olive Salad (from Mark Bittman; serves 4)

1 large bunch black kale (about 1 pound), cut into thin ribbons
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or other hard cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Black pepper

Combine the kale, olives and cheese in a large bowl. Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt (not too much) and lots of pepper, and toss.

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to an hour.

Dijon-Braised Brussels Sprouts (from Smitten Kitchen; serves 4)

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 to 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon smooth dijon mustard (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Trim sprouts and halve lengthwise. In a large, heavy 12-inch skillet heat butter and oil over moderate heat. Arrange halved sprouts in skillet, cut sides down, in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook sprouts, without turning until undersides are golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the shallots, wine and stock and bring to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low (for a gentle simmer), cover the pot with a lid and cook the sprouts until they are tender can be pierced easily with the tip of a paring knife, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, and scoop out brussels. Add cream and simmer for two to three minutes, until slightly thickened. Whisk in mustard. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary with more salt, pepper or Dijon. Pour sauce over brussels, sprinkle with parsley, if using, and serve immediately.



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Curried Chicken Stew

December 21st, 2011 — 5:50pm

december-2011-123A Crock-Pot is a wonderful thing. I’m always amazed by the simplicity of slow cooker meals and how a random assortment of ingredients is transformed over the course of several hours into a piping hot dinner ready the moment you walk in the door. I don’t break out my Crock-Pot nearly often enough. But slow cooker meals sure do become more appealing this time of year. Here’s a recipe I tried last week. I liked the warm curry flavors and tender meat. The recommended toppings—pistachios, golden raisins, cilantro, and crushed red pepper—are a must, adding a lot of great flavor, color, and texture. I served the stew over a bed of long grain white rice. It was a great weekday meal. There’s nothing quite like coming home from a long day at work to an apartment flooded with appetizing aromas and a hot, delicious meal ready to sit down to enjoy.

Curried Chicken Stew (From Better Homes and Gardens, makes 4 servings)

8 bone-in chicken thighs (2 1/2 to 3 lb.)
2 tsp. olive oil
6 carrots, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 medium sweet onion, cut in narrow wedges
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup mild (or hot) curry paste
Chopped pistachios, golden raisins, cilantro, and/or crushed red pepper (optional)

Trim excess skin and fat from chicken. In 12-inch skillet cook chicken, skin side down, in hot olive oil for 8 minutes, or until browned. (Do not turn thighs.) Remove from heat; drain and discard fat.

In 3 1/2 or 4-quart slow cooker combine carrots and onion. In a bowl whisk together half the coconut milk and the curry paste; pour over carrots and onion (refrigerate remaining coconut milk). Please chicken, skin side up, on vegetables. Cover. Cook on high for 3 1/2 to 4 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. Remove chicken. Skim off excess fat, then stir in remaining coconut milk. Top servings with pistachios, raisins, cilantro, and crushed red pepper. Serve with a crusty baguette pieces or biscuits. Or serve the stew over a bed of rice or noodles.

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Adult Swim at MCM

December 16th, 2011 — 7:38am

december-2011-103Last Friday night several friends and I attended Madison Children’s Museum’s Adult Swim,” an event during which hundreds of adults take over the museum “to be kids for the night.”  The popular events are held bi-monthly on Fridays from 6-10 p.m. In addition to offering adults free reign over all of the museum’s activities and exhibits, the events also feature special themes, costume contests, craft projects and more. The cost of the event is $12, and beer, wine, and Roman Candle pizza are also conveniently available for purchase.

Last Friday’s event was a great time. My friends and I met at the museum shortly after 6 p.m. to provide ample time to enjoy the activities. December’s event featured an ugly sweater contest, gingerbread ornament-making, tie-dyed silk scarf-making, card- and ornament-making, and Holiday Gomeroke (live karaoke with the Gomers). We played, discovered, drank beer, and ate pizza. By 8:30 p.m., the place was packed and like a museum turned house party with hundreds of mostly twenty-somethings with cups of beer in tow. That’s also about the time we wrapped up our visit. december-2011-097

As someone who works in non-profit development, I have to say that whoever came up with these events is genius—the concept is smart in so many ways. It’s also worth nothing that the Madison Children’s Museum was recently awarded a 2011 National Medal for Museum Service, a “once in a lifetime” honor given to only five museums nationwide each year. It’s actually the first time a Wisconsin museum has received the award.

The Madison Children’s Museum is a cool place, for kids and adults alike. When I was a kid, I hated having to get out of the pool for Adult Swim. But I have to say, now that I am an adult, I appreciate the opportunity for free reign every now and then.





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Goat Cheese with Pistachios & Cranberries

December 14th, 2011 — 1:43pm

december-2011-006I love this simple, yet festive hor d’oeuvre recipe. It was a hit at my most recent holiday gathering, and seriously took all of two minutes to make. I found the recipe in the Nov. 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine. And it is quite simple. The recipe  involves a log of goat cheese and pistachios and dried cranberries. I served the cheese with a sliced baguette. You could also reinvent the recipe and roll the goat cheese log in most anything—pecans, hazelnuts, raisins, apricots, rosemary, etc. The possibilities are endless!

Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries (from Real Simple; serves 8 )

2 tablespoons roasted pistachios, chopped
2 tablespoons fried cranberries, chopped
1 8- to 10-ounce log fresh goat cheese
Crackers or bread, for serving

On a large plate, combine the pistachios and cranberries. (I then chopped these into smaller pieces.)

Roll the goat cheese in the fruit-and-nut mixture to coat. Serve with the crackers or bread.

To make ahead: the cheese can be coated up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate covered. (I made ahead, but then warmed to room temperature before serving.)

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Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies

December 13th, 2011 — 12:14pm

december-2011-117With inspiration from a recent blog post from Smitten Kitchen, I made Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies over the weekend. I brought the cookies to work and they went like hot cakes. Even received a few requests for the recipe. The key to these cookies is the addition of nutmeg and maple syrup (grade B is a  must—which is darker and has a much richer maple flavor than the more standard grade A). I used a few different cookie cutters—a circle, star, and a few “fall forest piecrust cutters” I had received as a gift from a friend last Christmas. These cookies are quite fabulous. They’re simple, but pack a unique sweetness. No frosting necessary.

Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies (recipe from Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup (2 sticks or 226 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 ml) maple syrup (Grade B is ideal here, but the original recipe suggested that Grade A with a few drops of maple extract would also work)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (because it packs more tightly)
1 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. With mixer running, add yolk and slowly drizzle in maple syrup. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg and salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until just combined. The dough will be in loose clumps. Gather them together into a tight packet with a large piece of plastic wrap and chill dough for at least two hours (and up to four days) until firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. I like to roll out a quarter to half the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge. On a floured counter, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Arrange cookies on baking sheets and bake for 8 to 11 minutes each, or until lightly golden at the edges. Transfer to racks to cool. Cookies keep in airtight containers for a week, or in the freezer until their dance number is up.

1 comment » | Kristin's Kitchen

Spiced Brandy Wine Hot Toddy

December 13th, 2011 — 8:31am

december-2011-023It’s been my experience that a good hot toddy recipe is hard to come by. Luckily, I stumbled upon the following recipe for Spiced Brandy Wine last winter in Martha Stewart Living. I used the recipe to make hot toddies for the Dailymile Holiday Lights Run social both this year and last. It’s the perfect way to warm up after a chilly winter run or other outdoor activity.

This year I made a few changes to the original recipe—first, and most importantly, I quadrupled the recipe. I hadn’t paid particular attention to the serving size last year, and as it turned out, four servings wasn’t nearly enough for the Dailymile crew. This year’s batch was enough for ten thirsty runners and a few leftover cups for me to enjoy later in the week. I also simmered the ingredients for much longer this time—probably an hour on the stove at a low temperature, and then steeped for a few additional hours. And since I mixed it all together the night before the party, the flavors had more time to meld together in the refrigerator. At some point I took out the cloves and star anise, but left in the cinnamon and lemon peels until just before serving. I really liked the intensity of the flavors this time. And the final change I made was to serve each drink with a fresh cinnamon stick, as opposed to a lemon-zest strip. It’s the perfect Apres-run treat.

Spiced Brandy Wine (recipe from Martha Stewart Living; makes 4)

1 bottle (750 mL) light-bodied red wine (such as Beaujolais)
3 ounces brandy
1/2 cup sugar
6 whole cloves
4 strips lemon zest (3 inches each)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise

Bring red wine, brandy, sugar, cloves, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, and star anise to a simmer in a saucepan, covered, over high heat.

Remove from heat; steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve. Ladle into 4 mugs; garnish with fresh lemon-zest strips.

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