Posts Tagged ‘Holiday’

Hello readers! Our Fourth of July week was a whirlwind of fun, resulting in 4 parties, 2-3 house guests, and minimal blogging. We kicked off the week with a dinner party for some new friends, capped it off with a celebration at Caseus, and filled the rest of the week with baking and cooking galore!

Our Fourth of July menu included the following:

  • Lechon roasted on the grill
  • Thai-inspired summer slaw
  • Grilled bread
  • Corn on the cob
  • Strawberry-blueberry pie
Lechon is a traditional pork dish in Spain and in former Spanish colonial possessions (including Venezuela). It’s typically a whole suckling pig roasted over charcoal for several hours, until it’s deliciously tender and smoky. Somehow, we couldn’t find a whole pig to buy (darn you, New Haven!) so we settled for a shoulder instead.
10-lb. pork shoulder, lean (for 15 people, with leftovers)
1 jalapeno, sliced thinly
2 onions, sliced thinly
dry rub, enough to cover surface of pork
Advance preparation: 24 hours before cooking, rub the pork liberally with your favorite dry rub. Ours was a homemade concoction of paprika, crushed red pepper, oregano, garlic powder, cracked black pepper, salt, and coffee. Wrap tightly and refrigerate. (If you fail to wrap tightly, your refrigerator may smell like pork for days!)
Day of: Light up the grill by placing hot coals on one side only of the grill. Place pork, onions, jalapeno in a grill-safe container. We used a disposable aluminum foil tray. Cover pork with two sheets of foil, leaving a bit of a crack at the top. The foil ensures that the pork will not dry out in its 8-hour sauna session, and the crack at the top ensures a wonderfully smoky flavor to circulate.  Place the pork on the other side of the grill where there are no coals. This ensures that the pork will cook with indirect heat. Do something else for the next eight hours and you might need to add more coals after 4 hours. Return, and remove pork from grill. Let it sit for one hour before serving. Pull apart gently with two forks.

Thai-Inspired Summer Slaw

Half head of red cabbage, shredded finely (on mandoline preferred)
Half head of green cabbage, shredded finely
6 scallions, diced
Fish sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
Habanero pepper, chopped

Advance preparation: Once the cabbage has been shredded, place in a large bowl and salt heavily. Refrigerate for 24 hours at least. This steps breaks down the toughness and bitterness of the cabbage.

Day of: Squeeze the excess water out of the shredded cabbage. There should be a pool of salted water sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Discard water. The cabbage should be nicely tender and slightly salty. Add scallions and habenero pepper, and mix well. Add fish sauce and sesame oil to taste, and mix well. Let sit for at least 1 hour before serving.

Strawberry-Blueberry Pie with Mark Bittman’s Crust

1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t sugar
1/2 c butter, cold
3 T ice water, plus more as needed
3 c berries
1 T cornstarch
2 T sugar

Advance preparation: The pie crust can be prepared up to two days before baking. Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in the container of a food processor; pulse once or twice. Add the butter and turn on the machine; process until the butter and flour are blended and the mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds.

Place the mixture in a bowl and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of water over it. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula to gradually gather the mixture into a ball; if the mixture seems dry, add another ½ tablespoon ice water. When you can make the mixture into a ball with your hands, do so. Wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a small disk, and freeze the dough for 10 minutes (or refrigerate for 30 minutes); this will ease rolling. (You can also refrigerate the dough for a day or two, or freeze it almost indefinitely.)

Day of:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Ensconce the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap. Roll with light pressure, from the center out. (If the dough seems very sticky at first, add flour liberally; but if it becomes sticky only after you roll it for a few minutes, return it to the refrigerator for 10 minutes before proceeding.) Continue to roll, adding small amounts of flour as necessary, rotating the dough occasionally, and turning it over once or twice during the process. (Use ragged edges of dough to repair any tears, adding a drop of water while you press the patch into place.) When the dough is about 10 inches in diameter (it will be less than ¼-inch thick), place your pie plate upside down over it to check the size.

Move the dough into the pie pan by removing the first sheet of plastic wrap. Place the pie pan upside down on the uncovered side of the dough. Slide your hand underneath the pie crust, then flip both the pan and the dough right side up. Remove the second sheet of plastic wrap. When the dough is in the plate, press it firmly into the bottom and sides.. Trim the excess dough to about ½ inch all around, then tuck it under itself around the edge of the plate. Freeze the dough for 10 minutes.

Toss berries in cornstarch and sugar until well mixed. Fill pie with berries. Bake for 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.


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We wouldn’t have guessed it until this weekend, but Labor Day marks the completion of quite a year.  Okay, I suppose it’s a little bit arbitrary where we start counting (like, maybe our wedding day is slightly more appropriate) but Labor Day coincides well, too.

One year ago this weekend we had our first housewarming party as a couple, in our very own apartment, our very own home together.  It was somewhat of an eclectic soiree, combining a number of our old New York, yuppy (“young urban professional”–with no judgment attached) friends and a number of our new New Haven friends (decidedly less yuppy).  We made black beans and arepas (back in the pre-grill days) and four (or five?) desserts (can’t blame this one on not having a grill).

It was also the first time all of us met Andy.  In this last year, Andy and his now wife Marcella have been featured guests at many meals; they also received a homemade wedding cake from us in May.  Then, he was a stranger from a foreign land–Mozambique to be exact.  Now, he’s off to England for studies, leaving a gaping hole stateside.  New Haven has suffered quite a bit this summer: First an earthquake, then a hurricane, and now Andy leaving.

Well, enough maudlin rehashing of developments in our relationship and our friends’.  What says summer better than a backyard barbecue with potato salad?  We had grilled burgers with fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, and goat cheese (and the burgers were so thick they nearly passed for meatballs), a grilled corn salad with red pepper, celery, and sun dried tomatoes, and a bit of a twist on a potato salad.  Enjoy the recipes, and the extra day of rest (we sure did).

Grilled Burgers

Use 1/4 lb of meat for each burger, but do not make them as thin as you get them at the store.  Sprinkle with spices–Montreal Steak seasoning is a good mix–then roll into a ball, indent dimples in the center on both sides and maybe flatten just slightly.  The reason to keep them thick is so that you can have burgers that are medium (or more, or less) on the inside while also developing a good sear on the outside.  Too thin, and there will be no char by the time the burgers are cooked all the way through–or worse, you’ll get the char and dried out hockey pucks for burgers.

Cook over a high flame, flipping only once.  5 minutes per side should do it.  Do not fiddle around!  Fiddling keeps the burgers from developing a nice crust, which ensures an easy flip and a sturdy burger.  Top to your delight.

Mostly Green Potato Salad

2 lb potatoes (red-skinned fingerlings would be beautiful, though we used Idahos)
1 heaping T of capers
2 scallions, pickled (soaked in vinegar, salt, sugar)
1/2 cup peas
feta cheese, crumbled/chopped to taste

Cube potatoes and boil until tender (a fork should go in and out easily).  Drain.  Combine all ingredients with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Enjoy. And don’t use mayo.

Grilled Corn Salad

6 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper, diced
10 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3 stalks diced celery
1 T ground cumin
lemon juice, salt, and olive oil to taste

As has been stated, there are a million ways to grill corn.  The easies and quickest: husk the corn and grill directly over the fire, flipping every few minutes.  Cut kernels off of corn.  Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix.  Of course, you could do this sans grill using frozen corn or oven roasted corn.  And a microwave is a great way to cook corn–one of us thinks so.

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This summer has been one of the most exhausting, least restful summers on record.  I realized this morning that I wanted summer to end so that I can relax–among the most ridiculous things a person (in school, no less) could feel.  Though we’re halfway through summer at this point, it still didn’t feel quite summery to me. We decided that some serious therapy was in order, and we picked up a package of chicken thighs, ten ears of corn (in-husk), and lit up the grill.

Yes, the grill!  The newest addition to our family, a beautiful fat-bellied 22.5 inch Weber charcoal grill.  We inaugurated the grill last week with a full rack of spare ribs, rubbed heavily, cooked slowly for three hours, and finished with a cranberry-habanero sauce.  But today was impromptu, so chicken, which cooks in half the time, would do perfectly.

Luckily, Stop & Shop is selling corn 10 ears for $2.  This price, of course, is irresistible.  The only thing better than grilled corn is cheap grilled corn.  Several summers Joann was very excited to make corn chowder, but corn was too expensive for my taste–“It’ll get down to 10 for $2, you’ll see, and then we’ll buy.”  Turned out that summer there was a serious crop failure in the Midwest — the price of corn never fell and this former hedge fund trader missed the trade.  And then never heard the end of it.

For added fun, we’ve started grilling bread.  It’s easier than bread-bread.  Okay, I know some people will say that bread-bread is far from easy–trust me, this is easy.  Standard bread recipe, a single rise for an hour, cut into 8 pieces, roll out or stretch by hand, grill for 2, 3 minutes per side.  And one last experiment: grilled escarole.

Three hours later, we’ve grilled twice as much food as we could possibly (or, had planned to?) eat, and it finally felt like summer.  I needed an evening with iced tea in hand, a smokey grill smoldering away, and piles of smokey corn, chicken, bread, and escarole.   It feels like summer, but we’ve decided to keep up this habit well through the winter.

We’ll have many grilling posts coming your way.

Grilled Corn: You can’t do this wrong, and my family has cooked them all of these right ways.  Leave them in the husks; take them out of the husks; dunk them in water, or don’t; smother them in butter and spices, or don’t.  My favorite just happens to be the easiest.  Shuck the corn, place over a hot fire, don’t do anything else to it.  Flip every few minutes until the corn is cooked all around and (if you desire) lightly charred.  Do not overcook or the corn will dry out; in fact, in peak season corn is good enough that you can eat it raw, so err on that side.

Grilled escarole: Maybe even easier than the corn (at least, by design; this might not be the best way to do it, but it worked for us today).  Cut a head of escarole in half, rinse with water, dry, drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Place over hot grill, flip after a few minutes; escarole should be lightly wilted, lightly charred.  You can use any sturdy “green” (radicchio would be great, but it’s more of a “red” than a “green”).  We topped with another drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese; a light vinaigrette, or an anchovy-infused oil would work delightfully, too.

Grilled bread: 3 cups flour (recommended: 2 whole wheat, 1 all purpose), 1 cup water, 1 T yeast, 1 T sugar, 1 T salt.  Mix, knead, etc., let rise for one hour.  Turn out on a floured surface and cut into 8 pieces.  At this point you can either roll out with a pin or gently stretch with your hands.  Lightly oil each side of the loaves.  Thicker loaves will give you chewier (read: preferred) final product.  Throw over hot grill; they’ll be ready to flip after 2, 3 minutes when they feel ready to flip (try too early and the dough won’t be set yet).

Barbecue chicken: Whatever you do, use low, direct heat, skin side up for the first hour, flip and cook for another 30 minutes, then apply sauce (if you want) at the very end.  Starting with the skin up will allow the fat in the skin to render and to drip through the meat and it will also keep the fire from flaring up.  Keep the fire low by covering and closing all the vents more or less (each grill holds heat differently, so for some grills you can get away with closing everything, while for others you’ll need to keep at least some–top or bottom–open).  A low, smokey grill will do all the work for you.  But if you want to do a little more work you can marinate (see future posts), or rub the chicken before hand.  See previous rib post for an example of sauce and rub.

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Good Friday

Over the years, we’ve both separately developed a number of traditions and practices around the Easter season. Starting in college, Joann adopted the tradition of very competitive easter egg hunts — these have sometimes involved pinatas, Central Park strangers, and raw eggs, and one year resulted a very badly twisted ankle.  Similarly (or not very similarly at all, actually!), a few years ago, Greg began the practice of fasting on Good Friday. Through our dating and marriage, we’ve come to influence each other’s traditions quite a bit: Joann now wears an ankle brace during easter egg hunts and joins Greg in fasting, and we both break fast with lamb.

Good Friday commemorates the day that Jesus, the Lamb of God, died as substitution for our sins, so what a better day to remember his atonement than to hunger for Him as we hunger for food, and to satisfy our longing by partaking of that which truly satisfies us, which truly nourishes us, the Lamb of God?

Why fast on Good Friday?  Well, for the same reason the Israelites were commanded to fast for the Day of Atonement (although, Christians are not commanded to fast on Good Friday).  There is a lot of misunderstanding about why Israel would fast on that day.  Most people think that the act of fasting was the act of atoning for their sins, that their forgiveness came because they were fasting, because they humbled themselves and repented.  But that’s not true: the Day of Atonement was the day that the sins of Israel were symbolically “placed” on a goat that was sent out of the city (hence, “scapegoat”) and a lamb was sacrificed for the sins of Israel.  These were the things that “atoned” for the sins of Israel.  Sort of.

On the one hand, the sacrificial lamb harkened back to the Passover in Egypt when the God’s judgement passed over those houses who took shelter under the blood of the lamb (painted on their doorposts).  But more importantly, the sacrifice of a lamb (all the ritual sacrifices, in fact) pointed forward to what God would ultimately do.  Israel trusted in the atonement of the sacrifices not because the death of a goat or lamb or a bull would calm an angry god, but they trusted in the hope it represented, the hope that God would one day provide the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  That was why Abraham named the mountain “The LORD will provide.”  That was the lesson when he went to sacrifice Isaac on the mountain: we don’t provide the sacrifice, the LORD does.  The LORD provides, and that’s the background to the entire sacrificial system.

All well and good: so why fast?  When fasting we remember viscerally that we cannot live without “bread” (food, generally), that we cannot live without nourishment.  On the Day of Atonement we remember that we cannot live unless God provides the sacrifice, we cannot live unless we partake of Him.  We hunger for bread, because ultimately we hunger for the Bread of Life.

One important passage about fasting in the Bible is Isaiah 58.  It begins with Israel complaining, “Why have we fasted, why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?”  What follows is marvelous–but a little surprising:

6“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ “

The day of fasting is not a day to humble yourself that God may notice, it’s a day to act justly, to give generously, to feed the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed.  But this is the Day of Atonement–why should this day especially be a day to do these things?

Because it is the day that we remember that the LORD provided the sacrifice that spared us His justice; the day He generously gave us eternal life; the day he fed those who hungered for righteousness, for pardon; the day He made us His children, to live in His house forever; the day He set us free from the anger, hate, greed, envy, insecurity, and guilt that oppress and enslave us.  It is the day we remember the LORD provides.  Who are we then to withhold justice?  Who are we then to ignore the needy and quarrel and fight?  This is the day we remember that God saved us because He saved us.  He saved us because He saved us.

So on Good Friday, we celebrate with joy the food that God bids us to take and eat free of charge; we celebrate God’s covenant love for his covenant community; we celebrate that on the cross God is just and the justifier of many.  Perfect love, perfect justice.  And so we fast this day and satisfy our hunger with roasted lamb.

Broiled Leg of Lamb

Boneless leg of lamb, about 5 pounds
olive oil, rosemary, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper

Butterfly the lamb and smother it in the oil and spices.  Let sit for about an hour.  Broil for about 20 minutes, flip and 20 minutes more.  Let sit 10 minutes before slicing.  Delicious with red wine; bread is good, too.

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From time to time I feel a little like Julie Powell of Julie & Julia. Just kidding, I hope I’m a little more endearing than she is. We watched this movie a few weeks ago and found her to be a little loopy and self-absorbed. I think she would agree. That said, from time to time, I do find myself fully engrossed in my blog, reading comments and brainstorming future posts while I should be hard at work at the very important work that my non-profit does. Now if only I worked at a dronish government agency, then I’d really get my blogging on…

But until then, enjoy these cookies! (As you know, I’m just a bit insecure about continuing to post cookie recipes well into the new year, but conveniently and rightly,  my last church fully celebrated all twelve days of Christmas.) That said, these are decidedly Christmas cookies, gooey rich chocolate treats with chewy little flecks of peppermint candy cane. They do expand quite a bit so keep that in mind when spacing them out on cookie sheets.

Chocolate Peppermint Puddle Cookies

4 oz unsweetened chocolate
3 T butter
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
6 T cocoa powder
2 t baking powder
1/3 c milk
2 candy canes, crushed

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a saucepan over simmering water or a double boiler, melt together chocolate and 3 T of butter. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, cocoa powder, and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix in cooled chocolate mixture. On low speed, add half of flour mixture. Slowly pour in milk. Fold remaining flour mixture and crushed candy canes in. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes. (This step hardens the dough to make it easier for shaping and to prevent excessive spreading while baking.)

Remove batter from refrigerator. Using a teaspoon and hands, roll dough into 1/2″ balls. (Caution: this may be messy!) Place on cookie sheets with 2″ between cookies and bake for 12 minutes. Cookies should still be a bit moist in the center so they retain softness. Place cookies on a rack to cool.

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Happy New Year’s Eve, readers! I hear there’s a rule about not sharing cookie recipes immediately after Christmas. Something about the world being cookie-d out and cookie recipes getting tossed aside with glazed eyes and full bellies. Good thing it’s almost new year’s — you can think of these as being inaugural 2011 cookies instead of Christmas 2010 cookies!

See below (and above) for an incredible batch of ginger molasses cookies. These cookies come out really soft and chewy with an amicable sweetness and bite of spice. They don’t have the usual heavy, dark molasses flavor, and if you’re a big ginger fan, you may want to increase the amount of ginger just a bit to get a really nice kick. (Of course, I’m one who loves ginger in all of my desserts married to one who doesn’t love ginger in any of his desserts — what are we to do?! Minimize the ginger, I suppose, and call it an act of love. Or sneak it in when he’s not looking!)

If I had cookie cutters, I would definitely make these into fun shapes like little gingerbread boys and girls, maybe a gingerbread family with a gingerbread Christmas tree and gingerbread letters that spell out something fun and festive. Without cookie cutters, I think these cookies are a little more adult, but who needs adult cookies anyway?

Ginger Molasses Cookies

1 1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c all-purpose flour
2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t cloves
1/2 c salted butter, room temperature
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1/4 c unsulfured molasses

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth. Add in the egg and molasses and mix until well-blended and an even brown color. Slowly add in the flour mixture, mixing just enough to incorporate.

Roll heaping teaspoons full of dough in the palm of your hands to form a ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and space about 2 inches apart.

Bake the cookies until they are soft in the center and there are several large cracks on top, about 10 minutes. Do not overbake. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

* I dusted these with a bit of confectioners’ sugar after baking. I also tried rolling them in confectioners’ sugar before baking, but the sugar melted and glazed over in a sort of listless gray way.

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Joy to the world!

We had a whirlwind of a Christmas weekend — frenzies of food, friends, and family followed by blustery blizzards and snow angels. In the days to come we’ll upload pictures and recipes from our church party Christmas Eve and family gathering Christmas Day. In the meantime, have a wonderful, joyous Christmas season and a very happy new year!

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