Holiday Reflections

Ah, holiday-time with the family!

Thank God we got that crap over with, huh?

Now that Passive-AgressionFest 2010 is behind us, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief and reflect upon the precious few things that went smoothly this holiday season.

If you ask me, the holidays are the perfect time for two things – 1. Hiding liquor in the garage so Mother won’t find out how much we are secretly drinking; and 2. Developing new recipes to delight and amaze our loved ones!

This year I wanted a new and exciting starter for our Christmas dinner, so I dreamed up this soup. It’s got flavors of old and new, a little comforting and a little exotic all at once.

Parsnip-Ginger Soup with Pomegranate Molasses
Serves 4

Preheat oven to 350. Arrange on a baking sheet:

  • ¾ pound parsnips (about 4), peeled and cut into uniform pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled

Toss with:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Kosher Salt
  • Ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp white sugar

Roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until soft.
Meanwhile, saute over medium heat:

  • 1 small, chopped shallot, in
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Add parsnip-garlic mixture, along with

  • 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

Saute for a few minutes, then add:

  • 2 Cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 Cup half and half
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup

Simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes and puree with a hand blender. Thin with additional stock or cream if necessary to reach desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add salt and white pepper if necessary. Garnish each serving with 1-2 teaspoons of:

  • Pomegranate molasses*

*Pomegranate molasses is available at international markets, or you can easily make it yourself by boiling down pomegranate juice – such as Pom brand – until it becomes a thick, sweet syrup.

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Year after year, the holidays have been marked by two consistent things – 1. The disappointing realization that your brother is probably never going to divorce that fat bitch; and 2. Equally disappointing cranberry sauce.

We hate the stuff that slops out of a can, but the homemade stuff, though better, still leaves something to be desired. It’s either too sweet or too tart, too chunky or too smooth… The additional spices are too much, too little, or just wrong. At long last, I am thrilled to announce that I have found the perfect recipe, at least according to me. I am even more thrilled to say it only calls for 3 ingredients. I can’t exactly tell you where it came from, except to say my sister’s girlfriend Cat found it online somewhere. Here it is:

Baked Cranberry Sauce with Apple Brandy
Serves a crowd as a condiment. Must be made the day before serving.

4 Cups Cranberries
2 Cups White Sugar
1/3 Cup Applejack (Apple Brandy)

Preheat oven to 300⁰. Mix all ingredients in a baking dish. Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (stirring occasionally after the first half hour) until cooked through and the cranberries look jewel-like. Let cool completely, then refrigerate overnight before serving.At first, the texture is slightly gummy, but don’t be concerned. After chilling overnight, the texture mellows and the cranberries transform into perfectly tender little sparkly bites of magic, and their true flavor really shines through.

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If you’re looking for a festive appetizer when you’re surrounded by hordes of family members, why not wrap a small wheel of brie with some delightful accompaniments? If, that is, you’re not too busy wrapping yourself up with feelings of self-pity and isolation.

You’ll need a half cup of the above cranberry sauce for this recipe:

Baked Brie with Caramel Pears and Cranberries

Preheat oven to 425⁰. Thaw according to package directions:

  • 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry

Simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat:

  • 1 Bartlett pear, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • Salt
  • black pepper
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Simmer until pears are slightly soft and butter and sugar have melted into caramel. Set aside the pear mixture to cool.

On a small wheel of brie, spread:

  • 1/2 Cup whole-berry cranberry sauce (see recipe above)

Top cranberry sauce with the caramel pears. Wrap the brie with the sheet of puff pastry, sealing pastry underneath. Seal the pastry with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water), cutting off any extra pastry. Use any extra pastry to cut out festive shapes to decorate the top of the brie if you like, as pictured. Brush the top with egg was and bake at 425⁰ until golden, about 20 – 30 minutes. (Note: The photo is the brie before baking).

~

So until next year, here we are, with a handful of holiday memories, a few new resentments, a couple of new recipes for the ‘ol recipe box, some crappy gifts, a couple of store credits, a new blog post, and about five pounds to lose.

What can one say? It’s tradition.

SpiceBoy’s Take 5: Hot Stuff

Hey, Hot Stuff! This “Take 5” is all about the five spicy foods I can’t live without. Boy, it wasn’t easy to list just five, so just take this list as a sampler of the first few things that came to mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Tabasco sauce

Everybody’s favorite, it’s the mother of all hot sauces – what list of spicy foods would be complete without old school Tabasco sauce? Produced by the McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana since 1868, Tabasco sauce is made from the tabasco pepper and aged in oak barrels for three long years before it’s ready for your scrambled eggs or Bloody Mary. You’ve seen that familiar little bottle your whole life on every other restaurant table, but did you know that Tabasco sauce is now available in a PERSONALIZED GALLON JUG ($44.95) at the online Tabasco country store?

http://countrystore.tabasco.com/prodinfo.asp?number=00061

A GALLON of tabasco sauce?? Come on, can you imagine a cooler gift for the chile-head in your life? I for one would be just THRILLED to find a big ‘ol jug of the Chipotle flavor under my Christmas tree this year (hint!). The chipotle variety Tabasco sauce is smoky and complex, and just perfect in Texas chili or atop huevos rancheros. In addition to the Chipotle and Traditional varieties, Tabasco is now available in even more exciting flavors: Asian Sweet and Spicy, Habanero, Green, and Garlic.

While your taste buds are all atwitter, why not click here to print a 50-cent coupon for Tabasco sauce:

http://www.tabasco.com/specialoffers/

2. Fresh Poblano Peppers

Lately, I’m very excited to see that poblano peppers are becoming a staple in more and more grocery stores and farmers markets all over the place. With their gorgeous, dark emerald skin and moderately spicy flesh, they deserve a place in your kitchen. Poblanos have a mild heat, with a rating of 1,000 – 2,000 on the Scoville Heat Index (as compared to a jalapeño’s 3,5000 – 8,000). They are great on the grill, and I use them in place of green bell peppers on meat skewers or to accompany a London broil. Once you get a sense of their flavor, you’ll love experimenting with them. Try poblanos in this simple, ultra-creamy and spicy soup recipe, one of SpiceBoy’s favorites. As the recipe’s originator says, you can use up to three poblanos in this soup – use one for a “slight kick,” three for a “rowdy taste.”

Creamy Roasted Poblano Soup

Serves 4 – 6

1 large onion, chopped

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into chunks

Up to 3 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped

1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt (Fage brand yogurt works well)

Salt and pepper

Over medium heat, cook onion in the butter in a saucepan until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the stock and cream cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted; do not let the soup boil. Cool slightly and add the roasted poblanos; puree the mixture (I use a hand-blender). Add the sour cream or yogurt and heat through but do not boil. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with a lime wedge, pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds), and grated manchego cheese.

(From The Best American Recipes 2004 – 2005, adapted slightly by SpiceBoy)

3. Trader Joe’s Sweet Chili Sauce

Ok, something this bright orange and viscous can’t possibly be good for you, but look at it this way – you’re not drinking the stuff. (At least I hope you’re not!) In a 10.1-ounce bottle for only $1.25, this super sweet and spicy chili sauce is one of the deals of the century, and I find it to be superior to the sauce you get in restaurants. With tiny flakes of red chile pepper suspended in the sweet, vibrant-orange sauce, it packs a real punch of heat – and it’s really fun to look at, too. This chili sauce is fantastic with dumplings, and a tiny dollop is really nice on a cracker with some goat cheese, too!

4. Maesri Curry Paste

In convenient 4-ounce cans, these indispensable curry pastes will have you whipping up dishes that trump your favorite take-out place in no time at all. Available in over ten varieties, I’ve tried a the basics over and over: red (my favorite), green, yellow, panang, and masaman. Touting themselves and “The True Taste of Thailand,” all I can say is these spicy and savory curry pastes impress me as pretty darn authentic. Here’s my recipe for a super-simple red curry that you can have on the table in a flash with just a few ingredients – even leftovers. I use leftover chicken and whatever fresh and frozen vegetables I happen to have on hand:

SpiceBoy’s Easy Red Curry with Chicken

Serves 4

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and cubed

2 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice

2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

1 small onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 – 2 Tbsp Maesri red curry paste (depending on desired heat)

1 14-ounce can coconut Milk

2 Tbsp brown Sugar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

2 Tbsp fish sauce

1 Kaffir lime leaf (optional)

3 cups assorted fresh and/or frozen vegetables (I like frozen peas and green beans, fresh red bell pepper, spinach, carrot and/or zucchini)

Fresh cilantro or basil leaves, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the onion and fresh vegetables until slightly cooked. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a minute. Stir in the curry paste and toast it up for another minute or so. Stir in the coconut milk, brown sugar, soy sauce, lime leaf and fish sauce, and mix it all together and bring it to a simmer. Simmer for a bit to allow the flavors to blend and the sauce to thicken slightly. At this point, I add any frozen veggies I am using. (NOTE: I always add frozen peas and fresh spinach at the very end, since they only take a minute to cook). Before serving, add in your cooked chicken just to warm through, and taste the sauce for seasoning. Add more soy sauce, fish sauce, or sugar as desired. Remove lime leaf and serve over rice, garnished with basil or cilantro.

Helpful hint: After using a tablespoon or two of the curry paste, you’ll have some leftover. I freeze it in a snack-size ziplock bag. If you’re going to do this, be sure to remove all the air and label it with a marker – the red and yellow look very similar, and can also be confused with leftover chipotle peppers in adobo, which I also freeze this way – welcome to SpiceBoy’s world!

Check out Maesri brand on the web, with tons of products and lots of cool recipes:

www.maesribrand.com

5. Sriracha

Also known as “rooster sauce” (and sometimes “cock sauce” – for the rooster on its label),  Sriracha is a Thai hot sauce named for Si Racha, the central Thailand town in which it is produced. It is sweet, pungent and spicy, made with hot chile peppers, sugar, salt, vinegar, and lots or garlic. You can often see it served as a condiment alongside phở, the Vietnamese soup, as well as Japanese teriyaki, though it is Thai in origin. I find it truly addictive; I love it with Asian style soups (including Chinese won ton soup) and all manner of noodle dishes. Stateside, it has been consistently gaining popularity, appearing in more and more Asian restaurants. It’s versatility knows no bounds. You can find it at the hot sauce bar at the DC-area Mexican franchise California Tortilla, and I once saw it in a pizza parlor. It even has its own fan page on Facebook!