Tuesday, December 27, 2011

10, 11 and 12..

You knew it was going to happen.  As holiday merriment ensues and last minute errands multiply, entire days disappear.  In my case, nearly a week.

We have a couple of culinary traditions at Christmas that I just can't imagine living without.  Christmas Eve is celebrated at my Grandmother's.  We never do a sit down dinner, instead it's an array of appetizers and munchies.  We are a grazing family and can often be found standing around the turkey at Thanksgiving fighting over skin well before it's time to sit down (at which point we are all full), so we fully embrace this characteristic for Christmas.

It's always a challenge to save room for dessert when you can just pick at cheese, shrimp, meatballs and other goodies all night, but it's imperative.  We always have a cheesecake from the nuns of New Skete and Cranberry Ice Cream from Dobert's Dairy in Glens Falls.  I'm typically forcing myself to eat dessert, but how do you NOT have cheesecake made by nuns on Christmas?  It's just disrespectful.  And the cranberry ice cream is such a once-a-year thing that you also can't pass it up.

My other Christmas weakness is my Mom's bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.  They're super easy - wrap water chestnuts in bacon, skewer with a toothpick, and cook until the bacon is cooked. (I'd say... at 350, and you can do this in advance)  The sauce is 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup cocktail or chili sauce and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  Mix it up, dump over water chestnuts and toss in the microwave until everything is warm again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

9th day of GP

Give and ye shall receive.

A good friend, and recipient of a cell phone photo text message of the Joy of Cooking's tenderloin guidance, passed this along.  I can't wait to try this...

"Saratoga olive oil.  In addition to just being super, super nice, their selection is fantastic.  You can taste everything (they get rock hill bakery bread) and they have really interesting stuff.  Regional olive oils as well as flavored, plus flavored balsamics and other specialty oils (grape seed, etc… they have this butternut squash oil that is OUTSTANDING.  I had a little on just plain pasta last night.)  They do gift baskets and they have recipes on their website and in store for using all their product.  Really great and local!"

There is a lot about this I love - good service, local, highly recommended by a friend I trust, and since I love the idea of a super quick meal, something as cool as butternut squash oil on pasta is very appealing to me.  Even I can't pretend I don't have time for that!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

8th day of GP Christmas

Have a friend or family member that is just starting to really embrace cooking?  Someone moving out on his or her own for the first time?  Here's a gift idea that you still have time to take advantage of and it is such an essential part of my kitchen that I almost didn't even think to point it out as something special.  I thought it might be the same for some of you.

The Joy of Cooking.

I'd been cooking for years before I received the Joy of Cooking as a gift and I don't know how I lived without it before.  Sometimes I will just flip to a section and begin reading.  I have a wall of cookbooks that I rarely use because I'm not really a recipie kind of girl, but I do love the pictures and inspiration.  I will flip through for ideas and then run off on my own.  It's almost the exact opposite with the Joy of Cooking for me (although there are plenty of ideas to be found there!).  Typically I will want to make something new and have technical questions, or I just need a refresher.  I take the idea and go to the book for the know how.

Yesterday, a friend asked if I have a good tenderloin recipie.  It's been ages since I've made beef tenderloin and I responded that I'm typically a fan of simple when it comes to a good cut of meat.  Still, knowing she was asking for a holiday dinner, I consulted my never-fail resource.  In addition to confirming my preferred seasoning approach (salt, pepper, olive oil or softened butter), the roast tenderloin entry had critical temperatures handy, reminded you which portion of the cut to use if you're not cooking a full tenderloin, and other practical tips.

My copy is only a few years old and yet it shows love.  I can see it getting more stained with fingerprints and dog-eared, and I can't wait.  It's the kind of volume I hope to pass along someday.  If you don't have it, by all means run out right now. 

But, I know my readers are savvy in this area ... Any other indispensible references or cookbooks you'd recommend?

Monday, December 19, 2011

7th day of GP Christmas

You know how there are a bunch of new restaurants you've been dying to try, but when put on the spot to choose one, you can't seem to recall a single one? Or how you have so much to tell an old friend, most of which you remember thirty seconds after you hang up the phone?  Or twelve loops around the grocery store to complete your shopping, only to get home and discover you forgot something?  Story of my life.  Is it just me???

I'm the kind of person who absolutely should keep lists and yet I am notoriously bad at it.  I should have made a list for this, um, twelve day list.  I know I have tons to tell you about, but when the pressure to post is on, I find myself blanking.  I quite literally almost bought a six dollar chocolate bar at the Fresh Market today, hoping it was fantastic, so I could come home and tell you about it.  I resisted.

As I seem to group my little tips together, I suppose this one is similar to yesterday's in that I've bragged about Penzey's before and I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with the mid-western spice purveyor.  But, I did introduce foodie friend to Penzey's one birthday, so this totally counts.  Instead of just saying "hey, these guys have good spices" I thought I'd share a couple of their blends that are in current rotation in my house.

The "Trinidad" spice mix is awesome, it's all citrusy and clovey and bright.  I've used it as a marinade for chicken with a bit of apple cider vinegar (drumsticks on the grill - they came out awesome) and most recently I used it for a super easy pork dish.  I'd picked up very thin pork cutlets and I added a healthy dose of Trinidad to some flour, dredged the cutlets and gave them a quick pan sear.  Served with egg noodles, it was a super tasty, cheap and ridiculously quick dinner.

I'm also currently obsessed with the Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.  I've mentioned my new affinity for Portland Pie Company Beer pizza dough and I have discovered that the dough, with some Brady St. Cheese on top, makes great breadsticks for dipping in pizza sauce.  It's my go to snack lately, although I'll tell you, the breadsticks don't cool all that great, they are best eaten right out of the oven.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

6th day of GP Christmas

This might be a bit of a cop-out tip because I've sung the praises of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream for ages now, but a list such as this would simply not be complete without it and I have both sent and received this spectacular treat as a gift, so it fits the theme.  And, full disclosure, I had my big Christmas party with my girls last night and I'm sitting here by the fire with a glass of red wine (little hair of the dog...) in a food coma induced by a yummy pot roast I made for dinner (it was a comfort food kind of day)... I've been saving the "obvious post" for a day when my brain was not in full gear and this, my friends, is it.

Still, if I have said it once, I've said it a million times - don't let an opportunity to taste this little scoop of heaven pass you by should it ever present itself.  Something sweet would really round out what is otherwise a very lovely evening and I would just about give anything to have a bowl of salty caramel handy right now!

I do have Jeni's cookbook here (another great gift from foodie friend...) but I think looking at it right now would just make me sad.  Will have to wait until I splurge on a new shipment...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

5th day of GP Christmas

I discovered the topic of my last post, Bourbon Barrel Foods, and many other fun finds in Imbibe Magazine.  So, a tip in which to find tips.  If you haven't had a chance to peruse an issue of Imbibe, you're missing out.  Great articles, recipes and photos.  It's exactly what the title implies - all things liquid ... wine, beer, booze, coffee, tea, etc.  It's a totally fun read for foodies who love to drink.  Drinkies? Hmmm, there's gotta be a better word.

Speaking of foodies who love to drink ... nap time before a rocking Christmas party! Happy Saturday everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

4th day of GP Christmas

I had a couple days of cheese, now a couple days of Southern-inspired treats...

When my friend's birthday rolled around this past March, she was pregnant.  I'd been down to visit in February and she did lament how she missed wine and her beloved bourbon.  Flipping through a magazine, I  discovered Bourbon Barrel Foods.  They do smoked salt and sugars using old bourbon barrels.  I thought "What a neat way to get great flavor."  I was able to give my friend something she missed, you know, without that pesky fetal alcohol syndrome issue.

In fairness, I have yet to sample these goodies myself, but my friend raved.  She also sent me a blog post (I want to say it was a cookie recipe) by Ruth Reichl herself that mentioned "If you are lucky enough to have a friend that sends you bourbon sugar, you are lucky indeed."  I'm that friend!!  Since the stuff has received glowing reviews from two women whose opinions I value, I felt it safe to pass along to you all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

3rd day of GP Christmas

My foodie friend, who hails from Kentucky and is now settled in North Carolina, often accused me of being afraid of the South while we spent time together living in the Mid-West.  Not true!  I'll admit I dug into my Northeastern persona when I suddenly found myself no longer surrounded by fellow Northeasterners.  And Deliverance scared the crap out of everyone.  (Kidding, of course, I don't think the film is representative of an entire region.  Still, it was scary...)

But in my defense, it's soda, not pop and the appropriate answer to my missive that "I miss the coast" is not "Just head up to Cleveland, the Lake is there."  Still, foodie friend took a lot of pride in teaching the Yankee to drink bourbon and worked hard to get me to appreciate grits.  She openly laughed at me when I saw biscuits and gravy on a breakfast buffet for the first time (And we were in Indy, NOT the South).  Again, I really don't think being surprised by GRAVY for BREAKFAST is all that crazy.


So, for one birthday, she sent me a North Carolina staple - Moravian Cookies and Cheese Straws from Salem Baking Company, a gift I openly bragged about here.  The nice thing about this tip, at least for you Capital District folks, is you can just march your butt over to the Fresh Market and pick up the cookies.  I'm not sure if they carry Salem Baking brand cheese straws, but they do have their own which aren't too bad.  The Gingerbread variety is fantastic, as is the Myer Lemon.  My favorite were a special edition wafer with caramel, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with fluer de sal.  If anyone sees those, you know where to find me!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2nd day of GP Christmas

Sticking with the cheese theme for a bit, I have to share this amazing discovery I happened upon while spending New Year's in Bodega Bay, CA last year.  I quite literally just grabbed Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam on a whim while picking up groceries.  I liked that it was local.  I liked that it was triple creme.  Other than that, I had no special insight.  When a vacation housemate with more experience in the area showed up with groceries saying "You MUST try this cheese" and took Mt. Tam out of the bag, I knew there had been some divine intervention in my impulse buy.  I think we all know the frequency with which I pray to the cheese gods, so I'm not surprised they looked out for me.

So we had a lot of very rich cheese between 6 adults and I can honestly tell you not a bit went to waste.  The best was having it for breakfast spread over fresh sourdough toast instead of butter.  Heart attack waiting to happen, but so very worth it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days of Xmas, GP style

I know, I know.  The 12 days of Christmas are technically after Christmas, and twelve days starting now will just get us to Christmas Eve.  But I said this was GP style and I do things my own way.  Plus, I've taken a real hiatus and this is going to get me back into the swing of things.  You know you missed me!

I think I've mentioned my dear friend with whom I have a great foodie birthday tradition.  It started years ago and we always hunt down some fun, new treat to share with the other for her birthday.  I keep my eyes peeled all year and I've been turned on to some great treats from her.  So, for the next twelve days (I'm going to try really, really hard to stay on schedule!) I'm going to share some of my fantastic finds.  Granted, it may be a little late to have some of these shipped for Christmas gifts so instead you should think of the tips as my gift to you.   A big thanks for sticking with me through postings, prolific and sparse.

So, without further ado... The first day of Christmas, GP style:

Breakfast Cheese from Belle Chevre.

Holy good God.  This is GOAT CHEESE you spread on breakfast items.  Yummy, flavored, whipped goat cheese.  This was my birthday present this year and I'm still savoring it.  When it arrived, I didn't have bagels in the house (it's billed as a cream cheese substitute) but I did have wheat english muffins.  Perfect.  I've also tried it on multi-grain toast.  Also perfect.

I received the Fig, Honey and Coffee varieties.  Fig is gone.  Long gone.  I just opened Coffee this week.  It's good. I mean it's goat cheese.  But the coffee flavor is pretty subtle, which is a departure from the very figgy Fig variety.  Maybe that's ok though.  I'll be sure to let you know about Honey in the future.