champagne jello with pomegranate seeds

Image

Perfect holiday. Perfect morning. Perfect family. 

I had so much fun bringing out these jello shots at my family holiday party – they are light and and sweet and taste exactly of champagne, still bubbling slightly on your tongue. 

Tomorrow – tomorrow, I will take up running again. Today, though, I’m crashing out on champagne jello shots.

Image

champagne jello with pomegranate seeds

4 packets of unflavored gelatin
2 cups cold water
3 cups chilled champagne
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Sprinkle gelatin evenly over cold water in a saucepan. Allow to absorb for two minutes, then bring to a boil over high heat. Pour into a large bowl or mold and add sugar and chilled champagne. Cool in refrigerator for approximately 1 hour, mix pomegranate seeds in with a chilled metal spoon. Allow to set overnight.

 

Image

rolled holiday cookies

Image

 

rolled sugar cookies

1 1/2 c. butter, room temperature
2 c. sugar
5 c. flour
4 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, mix baking powder, salt, and flour until evenly mixed. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture until evenly combined. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and place in freezer for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and roll out and cut cookies into desired shapes. Bake in oven 8-10 minutes on a light-colored cookie sheet with a Silpat or on parchment paper. Cool completely. Decorate as desired.

ImageImage

lentil soup

Image

 

I’ve been craving lentils for days. I want them everywhere – in wraps and patties, in Ethiopian takeout from my favorite restaurant in Grand Rapids, Little Africa, and now – in a straightforward, hearty soup that carries you through a Michigan December day.

The December issue of Food & Wine magazine has an interview with the owner/executive chef of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, René Redzepi (the top entry on my Restaurant Bucket List) talking about how we should eat our vegetables not because they’re good for us, but because they are delicious. That’s been echoing in my head as I made this soup – sure, it may have plenty of health benefits and the lentil may be a fantastic source of protein – but let’s call it the way it really is and just admit that lentils just taste fantastic.

 

lentil soup

1 lb. lentils, washed
1/2 c. finely diced carrot
1/2 c. finely diced celery
1 medium onion, finely diced.
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt.
2 qts. vegetable broth
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large pot/dutch oven over medium high heat. Add celery, onion, and carrot and cook 6-7 minutes, until vegetables begin to sweat and are translucent. Add broth, lentils, tomatoes, and spices. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then immediately reduce to low and simmer, covered, for 35-40 minutes.

Add red wine vinegar to taste.

 

Image

mushroom & barley soup

I love winter. Each morning, I check the weather reports to see if someone will promise me snow in the next week or two. I have a ghost of a promise on Wednesday morning, but subsequent 50+ days over the following forecast leaves me with little hope.

So, instead of being covered in powder, it’s a different sort of beautiful out there. Desolate, the faded greens and dying browns of late autumn. Grey skies. Long bare branches reaching. Not quite fall, not quite winter. All red in your cheeks and nose.

From November through April, cooking is a pantry game. Instead of relying on the outpouring of fresh produce from the farmers’ markets, I rely more heavily on grains and staples, like farro, millet, and barley. This soup is exactly that winter soup we crave, the steam curls up and through your fingers. The mushrooms are firm and rich, the barley filling, settling like a hot stone in your core to keep you warm.

mushroom & barley soup

1 1/2 cups pearled barley, prepared to directions.
1 lb. mushrooms of various kinds, cut into 1/4 chunks and small slices.
1 medium onion, finely diced.
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 tbsp. thyme
1/2 tbsp. rosemary
1 bay leaf
Salt & cracked black pepper.
Parmesan cheese rind.

In a large stockpot heat half of the olive oil over high to medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring regularly, about 8-9 minutes until mushrooms have browned and released most of their liquid. Pour mushrooms and liquid into a large bowl and set aside.

Add remaining oil to pot and return to medium heat. Add diced onions and cook slowly, until onions have browned and begun to caramelize. Add thyme, rosemary, parmesan rind, and bay leaf and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add barley, vegetable stock, and wine and bring to a simmer. Lower heat.

Return mushrooms and liquid to stockpot. Continue to cook for an additional 8-10 minutes over low heat, until mushrooms have softened and flavors blended.

This will make about 6-8 servings.

beet & smoked herring potato salad

Part of why I began cooking was to explore my Scandinavian heritage. I’m fourth-generation, where enough time has passed that the stories of my great-grandmother’s plättars (Swedish pancakes) and fruktsoppa (fruit soup) are still vibrant, yet no one knows how to make them. The recipe cards lost to a cardboard box or a move, to too much time. It was really when I pulled the old plättar pan out of my mother’s basement that I realized – food is the quickest way to the heart of a culture.

Since the winter holidays are on us, we’ll start with something often found on the Scandinavian holiday table, sillsallad. Sillsallad is a traditional dish of smoked herring, red beets, potatoes, apples, onion, and pickled cucumber. It’s bright and cheery,the beets turning the entire dish a vibrant shade of red. Traditionally, it also involves a bit of cream, however I prefer the sharper taste of the mustard in the dish.

Careful who you let around it, I found half of the dish gone before I could even photograph it.

sillsallad
beet & smoked herring potato salad

1 medium russet potato, peeled and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
1 apple, preferably a Granny Smith, finely diced.
3 beets, ends cut off
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. chopped dill
1 medium white onion, finely diced
6 oz. smoked herring (if you can only locate sprats, they will work as well), ground into a pate
1/4 cup diced sweet gherkin

Fill a large pot halfway with salted water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and beets and cook approximately 15-20 minutes, until both are tender and easily penetrated with a knife. Remove from heat and drain. The beet skins should now be loose and able to be slid off. Remove skins and cut beets into a large dice. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix until potatoes and beets are broken down and mixture has turned a deep red and is completely combined.

salted caramel apple pie

Image

I’m in Colorado for the holiday, visiting my dad’s side of the family who absconded about three years ago, trading lakeside for mountainside. Not a bad deal, as it looks a little something like this -

But first, Thanksgiving, where after arriving and settling in, I volunteered to produce a pumpkin brulee pie, traditional herbed stuffing, and a nice, solid apple pie to round out the deal.

It was the apple pie that made everyone a true believer.

I know it’s supposed to be a pumpkin pie that steals the Thanksgiving spotlight and not the standard, All-American cousin, but this apple pie can’t help itself. It is everything an apple pie should pie, rich and warm, with crisp apple slices for the center and a rush of delicious salted and buttery caramel rushing along the sides.

Tomorrow, to walk off some of our food-induced comas, we’re headed up to Breckinridge to explore the town and experience Breckinridge Brewery. That’s the way to handle Thanksgiving overindulgence – go climb a mountain.

salted caramel apple pie

for the crust
I’ve used my standby of Cook’s Illustrated’s Foolproof Pie Dough, which you can find here.

for the filling

3 lbs. peeled and cored granny smith apples, sliced very thin.
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice and zest of 1/2 lemon.
1/4 cup maple syrup.
1 tsp. cinnamon.
1/2 tsp. nutmeg.
1/4 tsp. allspice.
1/4 tsp. arrowroot.
1/8 tsp. cloves.

for the sauce

2 cups sugar
1 stick of butter, room temperature.
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tbsp fleur de sel

Roll prepared dough out and drape over a greased 9 inch pie pan. Reserve part of the dough for the lattice top. Press into pan to form a crust, brush with egg white, and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from oven, set aside.

Mix sliced apples together with lemon juice, zest, and spices. Layer mixture in parbaked crust. Roll out remainder of dough and slice in pieces approximately 1/2 in. wide. Layer pieces of dough across top of pie in lattice-fashion (very similar to those construction paper placemats we made in elementary school). Take care that your lattice pieces extend about 1/4 inch beyond the pie crust, as it will pull back during baking. Brush with egg wash.

Bake at 425 degrees for approximately 20 minutes until crust is nicely browned.

In a medium heavy saucepan, heat the sugar over medium high heat until it has formed a thick syrup and has browned. Once mixture hits 350 degrees, add the butter and whisk until it is fully incorporated. Remove from heat and very slowly add heavy cream while whisking until mixture is combined. Stir in fleur de sel.

Serve hot over apple pie.

jameson soaked bread pudding

Image

It’s nearly Thanksgiving – for me, it’s a herald of the true start of the holidays and my gauntlet of holiday baking (pancreas be damned). I have, for the sake of my family, held off on subjecting them to holiday music – and Thanksgiving is the end of my self-denial.

I always seem to date those who have a serious aversion to winter holidays. My last serious relationship (and still best friend) has PTSD-style symptoms at the mere mention of eggnog and cinnamon-scented pine cones. He’ll cower into his seat, fists clenched tightly at his side.

This year, I intend to win him over. Baked goods and plenty of liquor seems to be the way to do it. Like bread pudding. This bread pudding.

Bread pudding is deliciously rustic – and so often failed by an overly sugary treatment and weak, soppy bread.

Do yourself a favor and bake up the remarkably easy bread (a variation on Jim Lahey’s famous no-knead bread) but if quickness and ease are your bywords, any firm, hard-crusted bakery bread will do just fine.

jameson soaked bread pudding

for the bread 

3 cups flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups tepid water
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon

for the pudding

2 eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup Jameson (or any Irish whiskey)
2 tbsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 cups sugar
A handful of dried raisins (or cherries).
A handful of crushed pecans.

For the bread, I’ve adapted Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread from Sullivan Street Bakery. Combine all ingredients, except the water, for the bread together. Mix evenly. Slowly add the water while mixing until dough is sticky and shaggy, adding more flour or water as necessary. Place in a greased bowl and leave, covered with plastic wrap, for 12-18 hours. Dough should have doubled in size and formed bubbles. Punch dough down and shape, allow to rise for 1 hour, covered, until doubled in size. During this time, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place a greased 6-8 quart dutch oven (or any heavy, covered pot) in the oven while it heats. Once oven has reached temperature, turn dough into heated pot and allow to bake for 40 minutes covered and 10 minutes uncovered, until crust is crackled and golden brown.  Remove from oven, allow to cool.

Cut bread into 1 inch cubes. Arrange these somewhat evenly over the base of your baking dish. (I used a 9 inch round). Whisk eggs, sugar, melted butter, vanilla, whiskey, and milk together until sugar is dissolved. Pour most of it evenly over bread cubes, reserve about 1/4 cup. Sprinkle crushed pecans and raisins over top.

Bake at 350 degrees, covered in foil, for about 40 minutes. Before serving, drizzle with reserved sauce.

autumn in michigan.

a few weeks late, but better than never.

rapini and portobello lasagna

Image

It’s autumn, full of a thick carpet of leaves on the ground, whipping past my legs as I walk down the street. I love autumn and the onset of winter like no other season. Michigan does winter well (except last year, it was oddly mild) and it brings cold, icicles and deep frosts, thick snowflakes that stick to everything, and a hush over the world. I like to drive to the lakeshore in the winter, when it is quiet and dark.

In these winters, you need something warm and rich to come home to – something that is the equivalent of looking through a well-lit window into a family sitting down to dinner. In this recipe, the bitterness of the rapini is bright and fresh and the creamy cheese and bechamel sauce curls around your bones like a late-night hug.

Just promise me you’ll have a glass of wine with this and curl up to a movie after.

rapini and portobello lasagna

1 package lasagna noodles, prepared to directions (or fresh!)
2 bunches rapini (about 1.5 to 2 lbs), with hard stems removed
3 shallots, sliced thin
1/2 lb. Gruyere cheese, grated.
1 cup Parmesan, grated.
1 lb. portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 tbsp. minced fresh sage
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

bechamel sauce

3 1/4 cups milk
1 cup onion, sliced
3 tbsp. flour
1 bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp. butter

For the filling: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the rapini and cook for a quick 2-3 minutes. Remove from pot and blanch in cold water to stop the cooking process. Meanwhile, heat  olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and allow to become fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add mushrooms, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook approximately 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and combine rapini, mushrooms, sage, and most of the gruyere. Mix until even.

Prepare the bechamel. Combine milk, onion, bay leaf, and butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat, and allow to stand for 10 minutes. Strain bay leaf and onion from milk. Melt butter in saucepan over medium-high heat and mix in flour, stirring constantly. Now begin slowly adding the milk, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes until mixture thickened.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a baking dish (I used a 13x9x2) layer bechamel sauce first, then noodles, then mixture, repeating until reaching the top with a layer of noodles at the end. Finish with reserved gruyere and parmesan. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until top layer browns and is bubbly.