Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Cards

Do you send out Christmas cards?  I do and I love to get started early in the season.  I'm always so excited when I get cards in the mail and love catching up with family this way (even if we're pretty up-to-date because of the Facebook these days...).

This year, I'm hoping to wrangle my husband for a Christmas photo in our backyard - my first time doing a photo card.  I'll post later on if and how this works out, but here are the cards I'm going to fall back on if I don't get my act together on making our own card...

1) Christmas Piggies - I've mentioned my love for Linda & Harriet (I have both the perpetual calendar and the 2011 calendar, as well as a bunch of notecards) and I think this is the cutest Christmas card out there.  Plus, at $10 for 10 letterpress cards, they're a total steal.

2)  Holiday Octopus - How cute is this octopus?  I love that the main colors are teal and navy, not traditional Christmas colors, but that this is so festive and cheery.

3) Polar Bear Cards - Anybody notice an animal theme going on here?  These are blank on the inside which leaves you lots of space for a long note to share all of your holiday cheer!

4) Honk if you love Christmas - This is sort of cheating, since I was sent this exact card by our pals Tom & Jess last year.  I loved it so much that it stayed on our fridge until June.  Puns and Christmas... does it get any better?

5)  Christmas Penguin - Though the card below is available from Kate's online, it's made by my old neighbors in Brooklyn, Fusion Designs.  I've sent out their cards for the last few years and they're always funky and colorful.  Their shop, if you're wondering, is at 140 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

So there are a few ideas...what will you do for Christmas cards this year?  While you're at it, don't forget to get your holiday stamps!  Tis the season... stay homey!

Tuscan Bolognese

This recipe is why I'm proud to be Italian.  And why my husband married me.  And why I'm consistently "just ten pounds or so" (ok, 15) from my ideal weight.  Ever since learning how to make this I can basically french kiss that dream goodbye.  I'll just have to shove my skinny jeans a little further in the back.  It's fine. I'm not crying.  I swear. 

I learned how to make this dish in a cooking class in Tuscany, in Lucca to be exact.  Total life changing experience for me.  I learned to a) use lots of olive oil b) use more olive oil c) buy extra olive oil because chances are you are going to run out and you'll need to add more olive oil and d) not to forget the butter.  

How every single resident of Italy isn't rolling around like Violet Beauregarde is straight up mind boggling to me.  Yeah yeah I know, it's all about moderation. That's bologna.  Do they eat their food through an eye dropper?

So let me warn you:  this is a high maintenance, need to be in the kitchen for at least 2-3 hours to do this right, kinda recipe.  If you don't have the patience, and I certainly don't blame you, sure - you can take lots of short cuts.  Today, however, I'm going to show you what it means to be a total loco Italian.  Start with this rather long list of ingredients:

Bay Leaf
Red Wine
Chicken Base
Chicken Stock
Tomato Paste
Freshly Grated Parmesan

Start with chopping your veggies.  Chop them fine.  Fine fine FINE.  Once you think they are fine enough, chop them again. And then five more times after that.  You want the veggies to melt into the sauce. 

Do the same with the carrots, and the onions. 

You can cut onions really easily by cutting them down the middle, length wise. Then, cut the little top off, not the butt.   The butt will hold everything together.  Cut slices in towards the butt and then make cross sections.  Then cut across like the picture above.  If you understood what I just said you deserve the biggest gold medal in the history of medals.  

This is what you should end up with.  Two parts onion, one part carrot, one part celery.  500 parts can't wait to eat this. See all of these yummy veggies?  This is actually a really healthy meal.  Oh, I'm also lying. 

Add lots and lots of oil and heat up over medium. Probably the most oil you have ever added to anything.  Ever.   STOP JUDGING. I know you are.  Stop it right this instant.  I'm a good person.  Really. 

Dump in all your veggies and a big bay leaf.  See how fine the veggies are?  This is what you want.  Don't skip the bay leaf.  I'm still not totally sure what flavor bay leaf adds.  All I knew is that it gives this really awesome depth of flavor and I miss it when it's not there.  Try it. 

Ask your deli counter to cut the pancetta EXTRA thick. 

Chop it up like this.  I feel like this is a picture I've posted before.  Hmmm....maybe?. 

After the veggies have cooked down for 20 - 30 minutes or so, add the pancetta.  Cook the pancetta in the veggies for another 20 or so minutes. 

Throw in your beef and pork. 

Ok so this is important.  Stir the meat into the veggies over and over.  You want the meat to become one with the veggies and oil. You want to do this quickly before it starts cooking so you don't have large pieces of meat.  You want this to be super fine. 

This is what you want to see.  This is why we cut our veggies so fine.   Meat is our star, you don't want to bite into a big piece of celery or carrot. Cook the meat and stir often for another 30-40 minutes.  Add a glass of good red wine.  I used pinot noir.  So, I consider a $12 bottle of wine, good.  Use whatever you like to drink. Just make it red. 

Don't worry, this is chicken stock, not all oil.  I have't COMPLETELY lost it.  Let the wine cook down and then add low sodium chicken stock until it's about half way up the meat like this.

Keep stirring and cook for another 30 minutes or until the liquid has reduced .  This is what it should look like. 

So grab a scoop of tomato paste and whisk in some chicken stock.  The reason you do this is so the tomato paste melts into the meat sauce.  This is the only tomato in a traditional bolognese - crazy right?  If you want to have it more of a tomato based sauce, don't add more paste.  I would add regular, plain tomato sauce. Try it this way first though.  

Stir rigorously and let the tomato paste cook into the meat for about 15 minutes.  Hang in there, we're almost there. 

Now, grab a GOOD chicken base.  This one doesn't have MSG, etc etc but I'm sure whatever one you have on hand would be fine.  Start with a little at a time, 1/2 teaspoon or so until it's at your desired taste.  You can never take salt out only put more in, so just go slow here.  You don't want to f this up so close to the end. 

Add your milk.  Milk binds everything together and gives this really nice, unexpected velvety texture to the bolognese.  Niagra Falls in my mouth right now.  No joke.  DROOLING. 

Now just in case you were concerned that the bath of olive oil we've been cooking in wasn't enough, let's just throw some butter in at the end.  Why the hell not. 

YES!!! Look at this.  It's perfect.  See how the meat is SAUCY?  That's what you want.  It's a meat - sauce, which I never really totally grasped.  I always thought bolognese was tomato sauce with meat in it, which I guess it is sometimes.  That is WRONG.  I flew back from Lucca just to tell you that.  Or we ran out of money.  Same thing. 

Now grate a Swiss Alp of fresh parm.   Please don't use preshredded.  Not here.  Not now.  

Fresh pasta is always better, but I'm human and was also cooking like 90 other things this day.  So, I just went to my local Italian grocery store and picked out a really good pasta - tagliatelle made with eggs.  Boil it in liberally salted water until it's al dente.  Please don't over cook your pasta.  I usually try it 2-3 minutes BEFORE the time given on the box and it's usually done then.  If you do happen to turn your pasta into mush, you could always serve the bolognese over ice cream. 

Okay, lay your pasta out in a large bowl.  This was a wedding gift from my mom.  Sigh.  Love. 

Now, dump the entire pan of sauce onto the pasta.  Don't be bashful. 

So this was a good tip by our instructor.  So instead of putting the cheese INTO the sauce, do it when you are tossing the pasta.  That way, the warmth from the pasta and sauce with make the cheese all creamy.  If you do it in the super hot pan it will melt funny and get sorta chunky.  Creamy.  Velvety.  Smooth.  You get the idea. 

I mean.  Come on.  Make this and you will have friends for life.  Stay hungry!!

Tuscan Bolognese Recipe 
1 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Carrots, Finely Chopped
1 Cup Celery, Finely Chopped
2 Cups Onion, Finely Chopped
1 Bay Leaf
1 Pound Pork, Ground
1 Pound Beef, Ground
1/4 Pound Pancetta, Chopped
1 Glass Red Wine
1-1/2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1 Teaspoon Chicken Base 
2 Tbs Tomato Paste
3/4 Cup Milk
1 Tbs Butter 
3/4 Cup Parmigiano Reggiano 

Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add veggies to the oil and add bay leaf.  Melt veggies for 20-30 minutes.  Add chopped pancetta.  Cook for another 20-30 minutes.  Add ground pork and beef.  Cook another 20-30 minutes.  Add glass of red wine.  Cook down.  Add chicken stock.  Cook down again for another 40 minutes.   Melt tomato paste into a splash of chicken stock to thin it out.  Add and stir really well into meat.  Cook down again.  Add chicken base a little at a time until desired seasoning is reached.  Add milk, stir.  Finish with butter.  Pour sauce over al dente pasta and finish with freshly grated parm.  WOWZA. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Carly's Cookies

One of my college friends is famous for her delicious cookies. She used to make us gift boxes and care packages full of these treats and my friends and I could never get enough. As soon as I moved into my first apartment and had access to a non-dorm kitchen, these became my go-to cookies.

I make them for parties and send them to friends and even included them in the gift bags for guests at my wedding. Before Christmas cookie season starts in full effect, here's a cookie recipe that you can use year-round. According to the Internet, their official name is Pudding Cookies but my friends and I just call them Carly's Cookies...

You'll need:

2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 package instant vanilla pudding
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
12 ounces of chocolate chips
1 cup of walnuts
1 cup of m&ms

Preheat your oven to 350 and then blend the butter, eggs, sugars, and vanilla until creamy...

In a separate bowl, sift the salt, baking soda, and flour together. Add the flour mixture slowly to the sugar/egg/butter bowl and mix.

Add your pudding mix, walnuts, m&m candies, and chocolate chips...

...and mix until everything is combined. Drop onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.

Let them cool and enjoy! Make a double batch if you don't want them to all disappear right away. Stay hungry!

Lemon Chicken Paillard with Pancetta and Spinach

So, like most Americans, I overdid it this Thanksgiving.  This morning, I just looked at a pair of pants and the button popped off and damn near blinded me. 

I don't understand people who watch what they eat during the holidays.  I can diet when I'm dead.  With that said, I don't like it when my pants are tight so I try to balance over the top indulgence with some lighter dinners during the week. 

Okayyyy okay, you caught me.  Lighter doesn't usually include butter, olive oil, and heavy whipping cream but because we are using a little more fat here, I left out the starchy carbs and replaced them with sauteed spinach.   Also, the fat is used sparingly (ahem "sparingly") so it isn't THAT bad.  Oh and there is pancetta.  Shhhhh, it's fine.

Here are our ingredients for today:

Skinless Chicken Breast
Unsalted Butter
Olive Oil
White Wine
Fresh Baby Spinach
Milk/Greek Yogurt/Sour Cream (Optional)

For some reason I had the term chicken paillard stuck in my head.  I have absolutely no idea why or how, but I looked it up to see what it was.  Sometimes I make things up that don't even exist.  Luckily today, this was not the case.  All paillard refers to is quick cooking, thinly sliced or pounded meat.  Sounded like a good plan to me.  I grabbed the last freezer bag I had left and my trusty mallet. 

Pound your chicken out so it's thin, but not paper thin.  Maybe like 1/2 inch thick or so.

So my pans are NEVER this clean.  Please don't let me fool you.  This seriously must have been brand new and jammed in the back.  Anyway, heat up a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes so the oil is super hot and slides quickly and easily all over the pan.

While the pan is heating up, season one side of the chicken.

Place the chicken season side DOWN, and then season the other side as well.  Crank the heat to just under high.  As you'll see, I went a little sprinkle happy with the course sea salt.  I didn't really realize how much I put on until it was in the pan, so I just compensated by not adding salt to the other components to the dish.  Not really what you're supposed to do, but since I used the same pan for everything it worked in this case.

Cook each side of the chicken for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown.  If you don't want your chicken to stick - don't touch it.  Put the chicken down in a super hot pan then LEAVE it until it starts looking opaque around the edges.  Then you can take a peek.

While the chicken is sizzlin, finely chop your shallots.  I don't really cook with shallots a lot but I think I'm going to start.  Shallots are part of the onion family, but they form like garlic cloves.  I sort of think of them as a hybrid of sorts.  They are milder than an onion and just give a hint of savory flavor. 

Garlic makes everything taste good.

I was feeling lazy so I just rubbed the garlic cloves on a micro plane.  This is also a good way to make a paste so you avoid big chunks o' garlic.  The worst thing EVER is biting down a huge piece of raw garlic.  OMG the thought alone is enough to give me heartburn.

Ok, remove your cooked chicken and set aside.  Now we have this, crispy little brown bits we want to revive.

Pour in some white wine to deglaze.

Add about half of the garlic we pastified.

Let is simmer and reduce a bit to cook off that raw wine flavor.  Add a pat of butter.  Helllooooo friennnnnnnnnnnnd.

See! I promised.  HEALTH.  Greens.  Something besides butter and bacon!  Add an entire bag of baby spinach once the butter has melted.

Let it cook for a few minutes until all the leaves wilt.

Throw the spinach into a bowl and set aside with the chicken.

I'm so into pancetta nowadays.  I might never cook with bacon again.  HAAAAAAAAAA I'm so funny.

In the same pan that was cooking the spinach, add your pancetta.

 Let it get nice and brown and pretty.


Okie doke, now throw in your chopped shallots and add in the rest of the garlic into the crispy brown bits left over from the pancetta.  I suppose I should have drained the pancetta fat, but there really wasn't that much. 

Let the shallots lightly caramelize but not burn.  You just want them very soft and transparent looking and just the lightest shade of golden brown.

When life hands you chicken paillard, squeeze a lemon. 

Deglaze the pan again with some more white wine.

Then add the lemon juice.

Let it simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until it's reduced by about 50%.

You can see how much the sauce tightened up here.

Add a splash of heavy cream.  Now, do not ask me why the cream doesn't curdle when you add it to the lemon juice that's been cooking.  Does anyone know why it doesn't curdle?  Alton Brown, where are you when I need you.

Throw in a pat of butter.  So it was still SUPER tart when I tried this, so I also threw in a splash of whole milk.  You could also add some sour cream or some Greek yogurt as well.  You can also throw in more cream, which is what I wanted to do, but I'm trying to be good here.  The sauce is supposed to be very lemony and bright but you just want to make sure you balance it until it's at the tartness level you like.

I think that throwing a piece of meat on a plate with a side looks sloppy and uninspired.  In the same amount of time you can make something look special.  Start by placing some of the spinach in the middle of the plate.  Lay a piece of the chicken on top.

Now, get some of our creamy lemony sauce and drizzle it on top.  Now get whatever pancetta you didn't eat and sprinkle on top.

I thought it need a little color so I added some roasted cherry tomatoes to the side. So easy.  Put them on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until they start to burst.  Finish with a little basil and voila - a side dish with flavor and color.  Stay semi healthy once in awhile and for goodness sake, always stay hungry!

Chicken Paillard with Pancetta and Spinach
2 Skinless Chicken Breast
2 Tbs Unsalted Butter
2 Tbs Olive Oil
1 Cup White Wine
1 Lemon, Juiced
3 Cloves Garlic
2 Large Shallots
1 Package Fresh Baby Spinach
4 Slices Pancetta
2 Tbs Cream
Optional:  1/4 Cup Whole Milk

Pound out chicken to 1/2 inch thickness.  Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  Season both sides of chicken with salt and pepper.  Cook on each side for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside.  Deglaze pan with 1/4 cup of white wine and had half of garlic that has been turned into a paste with micro planer.  Simmer and return heat to medium.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter.   Add baby spinach to skillet and let it wilt into sauce, about 3 minutes.  Remove and set aside.  Add second tablespoon of olive oil.  Add chopped panchetta.  Cook until golden brown and remove onto plate with paper towel to drain.  Add chopped shallots and remaining garlic paste.  Stir.  Add rest of wine and juice from 1 lemon.  reduce down about 50% over medium heat.  Add cream and taste.  If it's too tart, add some milk, Greek yogurt, or even sour cream.  Add second tablespoon of butter.  Take spinach and pile on plate.  Drape piece of chicken over.  Pour a few tablespoons of the lemon sauce on top and sprinkle with pancetta.  YUM.