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Potluck dinner…kind of

Happy new year’s eve, darlings! How are you spending the last day of 2011?

Over here in Verbier, my friends and I are spending the bulk of the day doing my favorite activity…cooking (obvi).  We’re putting together a fun potluck dinner of sorts before we go out to party and welcome 2012 into the world. Strictly speaking it’s not quite a traditional potluck because we’re all staying in the same chalet, but we’ve tried to simulate one by dividing up the meal and assigning two people to each course. To spice things up we’ve also made a competition out of it to see who can produce the best dish. So it is something of an “internal” potluck crossed with a cooking competition crossed with a festive hello-2012 pre-party.

After a 3-hour battle against the elements earlier this morning (it has been snowing non-stop all day!) to grocery shop for everyone’s ingredients, we are finally back in the warmth of the house and preparations are already underway as Team Dessert prepares the sweet finale to tonight’s meal. My boyfriend and I are making the main course, and while I can’t yet reveal what it is (all the courses are something of a surprise.. or as much of a surprise as possible when we’re all sharing a kitchen) suffice it to say that our meat of choice is currently marinating happily in the fridge. It will be going into the oven soon to roast nice and slowly over the course of several hours. I will keep you posted!

In the meantime.. here’s some trivia about potlucks that I thought was interesting enough to share. Did you know that the origins of the word “potluck” date back to 16th-century England? The term pot-luck appears in work of Elizabethan English writer Thomas Nashe, but he used it to mean “food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot.” The definition as we know it today, referring to a communal meal, where guests bring their own food, appears to have originated in the late 19th century or early 20th century US, particularly in the Western United States. Others believe the term comes from Ireland, where groups of Irish women would gather to cook dinner using whatever ingredients they happened to have that day in a single pot. Who knew?! Learning something new every day!

In good health,

F

* Potluck trivia credits- wikipedia

 

Ultimate comfort food: Swiss cheese fondue

Fondue is definitely a staple when you’re in the Alps, particularly at Swiss or French resorts. There’s something about this warm, cheesy dish that is so satisfying, warming, and decadent. It feels like the ultimate comfort food.

I will be ringing in the New Year in Verbier, Switzerland with my friends, and last night we paid a visit to Chez Dany high up in the mountains for dinner. It was quite an adventure to get there; in fact the trek is complicated enough that the restaurant provides a “snow taxi” service to shuttle guests up to the restaurant…the easier way to get there for sure! Some people in our group decided to brave the freezing cold and trek to the restaurant by foot, but sadly got hampered by their car getting stuck in a ditch before their journey even began. In any case…over an hour and a half later the last few soldiers made it up in one piece and our group was finally complete (and in varying states of inebriation).

Viande séchée

Anyway, I digress. The food. I was part of the snow taxi crew that made it to the restaurant very early in the night, and while we waited for everyone else to arrive we ordered a plate of viande séchée to keep us going. This consisted of a platter of local air-dried beef served with some butter and bread..definitely a delicious amuse-bouche. For my main course I opted for -of course- the signature cheese fondue (“fondue nature”) and boy oh boy was that yummy! Skewers of bread dipped in melted, cheesey, gooey, boozey, fatty goodness – what’s not to love?! The overload of calories was definitely worth it, even given the knot of cheesey bread that is definitely still sitting in my stomach this morning. After a little bit of research, I believe I have pieced together the recipe for a basic cheese fondue. Swiss fondue is typically done moitiémoitié, or half-and-half, using two different types of cheeses. Here’s how:

Swiss mountain cheese fondue at Chez Dany in Verbier

You will need

  • 1/2 lb shredded Vacherin cheese
  • 1/2 lb shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly smashed
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp cherry brandy (kirsc), optional
  • Day-old baguette, cut into 1″ cubes
  • Ceramic fondue pot and fondue forks, for serving

In a small bowl, toss the shredded cheeses with cornstarch to coat, and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic, then combine wine and lemon juice in pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Be patient with this, as melting the cheese gradually rather than all at once results in a much smoother fondue. Once smooth, stir in the kirsch, mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Using the fondue forks, spear bread, dip in the hot cheese and swirl…bon appétit!

You can also make variations of this basic recipe, such as adding mushrooms or a hint of chilli flakes to the fondue. You can also use other dippers, such as vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, carrots and cauliflower work well).

We paired the meal with some white Swiss Fendent wine, and ended with a very Swiss raspberry tart (you can find a great recipe here).

Talk about a food hangover! I feel like I need to fast for a week now to counterbalance the calorie intake from last night…but it was worth every bite!

In good health,

F

I’ve got my vin chaud to keep me warm

I am currently curled up at my friend’s chalet in Verbier, Switzerland watching little snowflakes fall outside and all I can think about is, I can’t wait for it to be an acceptable hour to start drinking so I can make some vin chaud. Also known as mulled wine or hot wine in the English-speaking world, or glühwein in Germany, this warming winter drink is a great way to (literally) spice up any cheap wine you may have lying around. It also makes for a very popular party drink and is so easy to make. Here’s how:

You will need:

  • 10 cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, plus more for garnish if desired
  • 1 whole nutmeg, zested a little bit on all sides to erode the outside
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1tbsp orange zest
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar (depends how sweet you like it)
  • 1/2 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice (don’t discard the orange rind)
  • cheese cloth, for wrapping spices
  • 1 bottle any red wine

Place cloves, cinnamon sticks, whole nutmeg, star anise pods, grated ginger and orange zest into a the center of a cheese cloth and tie the corners together with kitchen twine (think bouquet garni). You can add the vanilla pod into this bouquet but it may be too big and awkwardly-shaped, so you can just add it directly to the pot.

In a large pot, combine the red wine, sugar, vanilla pod, orange juice, orange rind and spice bouquet over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to keep the liquid bubbling gently, and let simmer for at least 15-20 minutes. You can also add any fruit you like to this mixture (such as lemons, apples, peaches or winter berries). The soak up the wine and give you something good to bite into.

Ladle hot wine into heat-proof mugs and place cinnamon stick into each mug for garnish. If serving at a party, avoid plastic cups as they may melt and could release carcinogenic chemicals into your drink.

In good health,

F

* Photo credits Modern Rosies

Forget Christmas dinner, I’m all about Christmas breakfast

Ok… maybe I’m exaggerating. I do love me a good Christmas dinner. It’s always good to have an excuse for Thanksgiving 2.0: turkey, stuffing, and all the other usual trimmings. For you it may have been a pork roast, beef, lamb, or even a yummy vegetarian option. Whatever the case, there is no denying that Christmas dinner is delicious.

However, I must admit that possibly my favorite part of the holiday was the fabulous Christmas breakfast we had bright and early in the day. Nothing like a festive breakfast to put you in just the right mood for the rest of the day. My boyfriend’s dad makes this Christmas brioche wreath filled with gooey caramelized maple-pecan sauce, paired with some tart winter citrus (orange and grapefruit), a cappuccino, and – because why not – a breakfast bellini. Perfect breakfast if you ask me!

How was your xmas breakfast this year?

In good health,

F

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wishing you a fabulous Christmas! I hope you all have happily full bellies and a nice relaxing day of rest and family time.

In good health,

F

* Image compliments of skinnytaste.com

a little hint of ginger…

We just made these chewy ginger cookies and let me tell you…they are DELICIOUS. A triple hit of ginger and yet, they don’t taste overly gingery, or overly sweet. Just…chewy gooey perfection. You definitely want these on your table this Christmas!!

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses (treacle)
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crystallized (stem) ginger, finely chopped
  • Granulated light brown sugar, for rolling dough

Preheat oven to 170C/ 350F

Pulse dark brown sugar, butter and shortening in a cake mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg, molasses, freshly grated ginger and vanilla and pulse until blended. Add flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and black pepper and blend well. Mix in crystallized ginger by hand. At this point, the batter will be quite sticky and not very dough-like but that’s exactly how you want it. You will now roll it around in granulated sugar, which will help hold it together….just be prepared for things to get a bit messy :) It’s a big part of the fun!

Place granulated light brown sugar into a bowl. Spoon batter using large tablespoons or ice-cream scoop, and drop into bowl of sugar. Toss around in the sugar to coat, until the sugar forms a “shell” that holds the cookie together. Place onto a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and flatten with your fingers.

Bake cookies in the oven for 10-15 minutes. The cookies are done when the centers look firm and the cookies start to crack a bit. Let cool on wire racks.

YUMYUMYUM.

Currently in the oven: sugar cookies with hint of vanilla-lemon. Stay tuned for the recipe!

In good health,

F

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Happy Christmas eve darlings!!!

I have been totally MIA over the past few days in the lead-up to this lovely holiday due to a busy busy schedule at work (pre-holiday wrap-up) and then a long flight over to London to spend Christmas with my boyfriend and his wonderful family. But I am back in full force now and to compensate for my untimely disappearance, I will be making not just one but a series of posts today about last-minute Christmassy fixes.

I hope that by now all of your prezzies are bought and wrapped, you are all cozied up at home, and your pre-Christmas bakefest is in full swing. But just in case you still have a gift or two to buy, here is a very cool cookbook gift guide from this month’s Bon Appetit for your last-minute shopping needs. Everyone can use a good cookbook, whether they have never set foot in a kitchen before or they’re already seasoned chefs, so this may just be the perfect-for-all kind of gift. So go on, pop into the nearest bookstore! My favorite book on this list is the Eleven Madison Park cookbook from the fabulous New York restaurant.

You can also check out my extended gift guide from a last week here.

Stay tuned for my last-minute baking guide…in the meantime, happy shopping and wrapping!

In good health,

F

Photo credit: Bon Appetit December issue

Craving me some tabbouleh….

Over the last few weeks, I have had an unexplained craving for tabbouleh, so I thought I would share my recipe for it with all of you. Although it is very simple to make, my (not so secret) secret ingredient –sumaq– ensures that this salad is anything but dull. It is not a particularly wintery salad, but I think the beauty of this Middle Eastern classic is that it is quite timeless. And the best part is that tabbouleh is super healthy.One serving of the main ingredient, parsley, is packed with vitamins A and C, as well as some calcium and iron. It is also recognized by nutritionists as a great way to fill up while keeping your calorie intake low (for the full nutritional profile, visit Self Nutrition Data). Growing up in Jordan, we had tabbouleh in our household very regularly, and I have so many fond childhood memories of helping my dear aunt make it. Meemi, this one is for you!

I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I do!

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup fine bulgur wheat
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cups finely chopped parsley (flat-leaf, not curly)
  • 1-2 tomatoes, small dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, small dice
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp sumaq powder
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Iceberg lettuce cups, for serving

Wash bulgur wheat and drain well. Place in a large bowl and pour in the lemon juice. Allow bulgur to soak for at least 1 hour.

Once bulgur wheat is tender, add parsley, mint, tomatoes and onion to the bowl. Toss with olive oil, then season with sumaq powder and add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate salad; the longer it sits, the better as this allows more time for the flavors to blend.

When ready to serve, spoon tabbouleh into lettuce cups and dig in!

Note – I personally prefer my tabbouleh the classic Lebanese way with lots of parsely, but you can certainly play with the proportions of the ingredients in this salad according to your preferences. Some people prefer less parsely while others add more bulgur, tomatoes, or even other ingredients like cucumbers, so feel free to experiment.

In good health,

F

Guilty pleasures: chocolate truffles

There is something so luxurious about chocolate truffles. Little balls of chocolatey, buttery, creamy, soft perfection. And yet, they could not be simpler to make. This holiday season, why not treat the people you love to some truffled goodness? They make great nibbles to keep around the house (just be careful not to eat the whole lot in one go!), but you could also make little goodie bags to give out as presents…and nobody needs to know how easy it was!

The other great thing about this recipe is that it is very versatile; there are endless possibilities for how you can adapt the basic chocolate truffle. Roll your truffles in powdered sugar, cocoa powder, shredded coconut, or any kind of nut (such as crushed hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, or peanuts). Make flavored truffles by adding a few drops of peppermint extract, a dash of orange liquer, or a hint of wintery spice like cinnamon and nutmeg to your chocolate mixture. Or serve them dipped in chocolate ganache (think white chocolate truffles dipped in dark chocolate or vice versa), drizzled in fruit syrup or caramel, or alongside a fresh platter of tart fruit (I find that pineapple is great with chocolate).

You will need:

  • 1 pound of good-quality chocolate (you can use any combination you like, such as half semisweet and half bittersweet, half milk and half dark, a quarter of each, or just one kind…whatever floats your boat)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp brewed coffee
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Flavorings, if desired (e.g., peppermint extract, orange liquer or spices)
  • Powdered sugar, cocoa powder, shredded coconut, or crushed nuts, if desired

Finely chop chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl.

Heat cream in a small saucepan until it starts to simmer. Remove from heat and allow cream to sit for 20 seconds, then pour through a fine sieve into the bowl with chocolate. Using a whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolate together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the coffee, vanilla and any other flavorings you are using, and set mixture aside at room temperature for one hour.

Spoon 1-tsp of chocolate mixture, gently roll between your palms to create round balls, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder or chopped nuts, if using, or drizzle with chocolate or caramel sauce as desired. Keep refrigerated, but serve at room temperature. Bon appetit!

In good health,

F

* Photo compliments of foodnetwork.com; recipe adapted from Ina Garten

Wedding Wednesday: Walking in a Winter Wonderland

It’s that time of year again when layers are a requirement for staying warm, Starbucks sells peppermint mochas in red cups, and it is perfectly acceptable to listen to Christmas jingles all day long. And while the weather in Dubai does not exactly fit the toasty image painted in said jingles, there is as much holiday cheer around here as anywhere. I’ve been feeling so festive lately and that got me thinking…there is so much inspirational cheer in the air that if anyone is planning a winter wedding, why not take advantage of the unique themes of the winter/holiday season?! Obviously, this is probably not a useful thought-starter if your wedding is coming up soon as you’ve probably long finalized your wedding details, but if you’re thinking of getting married next winter, think about making winter your theme! Here are some pretty wintery wedding food-related ideas…

In good health,

F

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* Photo credits: Martha Stewart Weddings, theknot.com, stylemepretty.com, ruffledblog.com

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