Because we'd already purchased what we needed to make the dessert, we used a friend's coming over for dinner as an excuse (as if we needed one) to make this festive-looking dessert.
Food & Wine (December 2008)
Well, maybe you're still not finished with your holiday shopping, and you need more last minute gift ideas.
Or maybe you're all finished, and ready to kick back and enjoy the holiday, laughing maniacally as your fellow citizens frantically run to the mall.
Either way, these Cherry-Nut Mudslides are just want you need: a rich and delicious holiday cookie that's great to have on hand at home and can even serve as a nice homemade gift for those people on your list who have a sweet tooth.
Confession time: We're nowhere near finished with our shopping for this holiday season. We like to think that we're gearing up to it, but in truth we've just been lazy about it.
If you're in a similar position, here are a few quick and low-cost gift ideas for you.
Order a subscription online, purchase a copy at the news stand to wrap up, and give one to the cook in your life.
Our all-time favorite food books are Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl's biographical trilogy, in which she shares her the story of her life with food. Many have read Garlic and Sapphires, about her travails as the New York Times restaurant critic. But more should read the first two books. The three as a set will make a nice gift for the readers on your list.
If you're looking to give cookbooks, here are a few suggestions:
Spices: For Zach's birthday, his aunt and uncle gave him a fantastic gift -- a catalog and gift certificate to Penzeys Spices. We ordered some crazy stuff, including Juniper Berries from Albania, Rogan Josh seasoning, Fenugreek Seed, Vindaloo Seasoning, Turkish Seasoning and Hot Curry powder. Cooks will love leafing through their vast assortment of spices and making selections.
A knife: One really great knife can be more useful than a whole set of mediocre ones. Last Christmas, we gave Zach's Granny a paring knife from Cutco, a great company that makes fantastic knives that aren't too pricey.
And speaking of knives, ever heard of a universal knife block? It's a great solution to a problem that we find ourselves facing: Some of the knives we've bought on their own don't fit in the slots of the block we have on our counter. With a universal block, every knife fits, no matter its size.
Okay, here's an item that's neither last-minute nor inexpensive, but we're really hoping to get one this Christmas. It's an electric food composter. The idea of it is great: no-mess composting that doesn't require worms or hand-turning the waste every day.
(Unfortunately, it might be a little too good to be true. We just came across this not-so-stellar review of one in the LA Times. Still, we really want to try it out. We create so much waste in our kitchen, and right now it's all just getting thrown away.)
Anyway, that's it for our list. Happy shopping!
Our salad consumption has dropped like the NASDAQ since the weather turned colder and our CSA season ended.
This summer and fall, we were eating a salad with most of our meals, mostly to try to use up our greens, which were plentiful and seemed to multiply once placed in our crisper drawer.
So we've been on a bit of a salad hiatus.
But when our friend EJ came over for dinner last week, we saw it as an opportunity to experiment with a winter salad, and we kicked off the meal with this Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Salad.
Similar to our spontaneous purchase of cardoons at the farmers market, we also recently picked up a rabbit. We'd never cooked with rabbit before, but we sometimes order it out in restaurants, especially at a French bistro here in DC -- Bistro du Coin -- which serves a lovely rabbit stew.
That stew -- filled with cream, vegetables and a bit of mustard -- is wonderful during winter, and we wanted to create something similar at home.
A quick run through some recent food magazines and a scan of the indexes of our favorite cookbooks didn't turn up a recipe that sounded good, so we decided to largely wing it, using a recipe for a Rabbit Cacciatore as inspiration.
We browned the rabbit, sauteed some carrots, garlic and pearl onions (which we always keep on hand in our freezer), simmered the rabbit and vegetables in white wine and then finished the dish with an addition of mustard and cream.
And you know what?
Last weekend, while wandering through our Sunday morning farmers market, we happened upon a vendor selling an unusual, prickly stalk.
A sign, labeled "Cardoons," described the vegetable as a cross between celery and an artichoke. The farmer told us they were "the ultimate slow food," requiring lengthy cooking times.
Up for a challenge, we gladly purchased a few stalks.
Back home and unsure of what to do with the cardoons, we went to our favorite magazine websites for recipe ideas. We only turned up two that looked appealing -- one from Gourmet and another from Food & WIne. Both were recipes for frying cardoons.
So what's a fried cardoon taste like?
Bon Appétit (October 2008)
The beginning of winter doesn't exactly conjure the desire for icy treats, but over Thanksgiving weekend, with guests in town, we decided to make these Apple Cider and Rosemary Ice Pops.
Well, first, we cleaned out the closet that holds many of our kitchen appliances as well as all the seldom-used kitchen stuff -- think pastry mats, a pasta machine, an ice cream maker, etc. They're items that come in handy on occasion, but for the most part they live a lonely life tucked away in the closet.
Our little winter cleaning revealed a few items that have never made it out of the closet. One of these was a set of Popsicle molds we had received as a gift a few years ago. We've always meant to use them, but then again we've also always meant to become experts at making our own fresh pasta, and that also has yet to come to fruition. So it was high time to use the molds. (If you don't own a set of molds, the recipe has a note about how to improvise them.)
Also, all summer we grew herbs in our window boxes -- mostly basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Our herb bounty wasn't as large as last summer, mostly due to our own poor maintenance of the plants (sorry, basil). All the herbs are gone now, except for rosemary, which we still have in abundance. As the weather continues to get colder, we're feeling the pressure to use the rosemary before it (literally) freezes to death.
Lastly, we had assumed that apple cider was needed for these pops, and when the this issue of Bon Appétit arrived in September, cider hadn't yet made it to our farmer's market.
Come to find out, we didn't need apple cider at all.
Triple-Chocolate Pumpkin Pie (Martha Stewart Living November 2008)
Zach's sister Cassidy was in charge of desserts for our Thanksgiving dinner. We didn't give her any direction other than "BRING US PIE!" Turns out, she knocked it out of the park!
We had initially planned on making an additional dessert -- a spiced cranberry bread pudding. But when Cassidy showed up with these two decadent pies, we tossed our plans our the window.
We had actually considered making this Triple Chocolate Pumpkin Pie ourselves after seeing it in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living. But Zach was a little unsure about the combination of chocolate and pumpkin -- might it be too weird?
Suffice it to say, we've all seen the light. This pie is a smooth, creamy treat. And the chocolate and flavors actually play off each other extremely well. The pumpkin taste doesn't compete, really. It just adds an amazing depth to the chocolate flavor -- almost an earthy, husky, semisweet taste that balances the chocolate and keeps it from being too sweet.
Ritz Mock Apple Pie (from the Kraft website via Pete Bakes)
The other pie that Cassidy brought also happened to be one we'd been curious to try. Earlier this year, our fellow DC food blogger Pete Bakes did a blind taste test of his mom's apple pie recipe vs. a "mock" apple pie that doesn't actually contain any apples. (Pete's blog is great, by the way, although we feel like we gain weight just by reading about all his delicious baked goods.)
Anyway, when Pete failed his own taste test and picked the mock pie as the real deal, our curiosity was piqued: How in the world could this recipe transform Ritz crackers, butter, lemon and cinnamon into a convincing apple pie?
Well, we still don't know how, but we can tell you it's true. This dish tastes exactly like a classic apple pie. Eating it is like experimenting with culinary illusion -- you know it shouldn't taste anything like apples, and yet it does. It's almost disconcerting.
Truth be told, in the
future we'd probably rather just make a pie with actual apples (this
mock pie may have the taste down, but there's something to be said for
the texture of a traditional apple pie).
But if you're in a pinch for time, this recipe could be Heaven-sent -- you can crush a stack of Ritz crackers a heckuva lot faster than you can peel, core and chop a half-dozen apples.
Keep reading for the recipes for these pies.
Roasted Potatoes with Figs (New York Times)
With the Roasted Cranberry Sauce, this was one of the recipes we did this year that was a little bit of a wild card. We were really drawn to this dish because of the non-traditional pairing of the potatoes with figs -- two tastes we love but had never thought of combining. We also really liked the idea of the dried figs soaked in black tea -- yum.
Well, consider this one a bust.
We're glad we tried it -- it was too interesting to pass up. But it really just ended up tasting like...potatoes and figs. And kind of bland ones, at that. Turns out there's a reason we'd never thought of combining these two foods: They just don't taste that great in tandem.
Dried black mission figs -- by the way -- were very difficult for us to find in our nation's capital. We ended up finally finding dried mission figs, but they were not black. If you're interested in giving this one a go, hopefully you'll be able to find them.
Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots (Bon Appétit November 2007)
These Brussels sprouts were delicious and, aside from the labor-intensive chopping, very easy. Zach's mom said this was her favorite dish on the table.
We just love Brussels sprouts, and we'll definitely cook this recipe again. But we may cook the shallots a little less next time. They were delicious, but they got a little lost in the Brussels sprouts and just melted into the dish.
Peas with Roasted Onions and Mint (Bon Appétit November 2006)
We made these peas for Thanksgiving last year, and they were at the top of our list when we started compiling this year's menu, too. They're super simple to make, and the peas and onions play well off each other. But it's the addition of mint that really makes this dish special. It's not enough to taste minty, just enough to give the whole thing an unexpected jolt. Really, really good!
Spiced Whipped Potatoes with Brown Sugar (Bon Appétit November 2002)
Here's another side dish making a repeat appearance on our Thanksgiving table. It's your basic spiced sweet potatoes, whipped to a fluffy, light finish. Maybe you like nuts or marshmallows on top, but we're big fans of these simple, relatively unadorned sweet potatoes. Tasty and perfect!
The sweet potatoes we used were from our CSA -- we'd been saving them for Thanksgiving. We're not sure if it's the organic potatoes or what, but we were surprised the color of this dish. Last year, it was bright orange. Don't be dismayed by the color -- it's a fantastic recipe.
Recipes for these dishes after the jump!