I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. I'm back in Iowa with my computer, which appears to be working though I am somewhat sceptical. Rather than attempting to type out lots of recipes, I'm going to tell you the story of my past two weeks in photos, with a couple of recipes embedded therein. Enjoy!
Before leaving Iowa City for the holidays, I decided to take a 10% off coupon to Prairie Table gourmet food shop and do one last splurge before Christmas. Prairie Table is an excellent, if pricey, store that carries wine, cheeses, meats, gourmet foods and baking products of all kinds, and kitchen appliances. I came away with quite a lot, as well as a membership in their rewards program. I got some white wine vinegar with herbes de provence, Fig and Walnut Butter, Horseradish Mustard, Bourbon Molasses Mustard, and Blue Cheese Herb Mustard (this would be a bad time to point out that I don't even like mustard that much, right?) I also picked up these three mini Vosges bars. I love Vosges - they're very mild, and honestly I can't usually tell the difference between flavours, but the spices really bring out the flavour of the chocolate.
This wasn't much of an eating day, but it deserves an honourable mention for the adventure of it all. I had two cookies for breakfast and then got into a cab at seven am, bound for Cedar Rapids airport. At the airport, I found out that all flights were cancelled. All. They didn't think anything would be leaving due to fog before one pm, on any airline, going anywhere, and after that all seats were booked. They said they might be able to get me out on the 26th. What? No way! Of course, I was not the only one in this position, which is why I have this lovely photo of sunset at the Minneapolis airport. Myself and three other women on the flight rented a Rav-4 and I drove us to Minneapolis, despite extremely heavy fog and then, later in the trip, blowing snow. It was certainly an adventure. I managed to get a later flight, which meant I didn't get home till midnight, but hey, I got home. To console myself, at about four 'o clock I indulged in meal two of the day - my beloved portobello sandwich with roasted red pepper soup and fries with honey mustard at TGI Fridays. Mm, mm good. I even got Joe, my favourite waiter. Ask for him if you're ever there!
Since I knew mom would be cooking up a storm on Christmas Day, I decided to prepare one of my own contributions the night before. Mom had asked for a "cranberry or orange relish or something," and while flipping through a handy French desserts book at Daddy's house (the title is just Desserts, published by Marabout), I found a recipe for apricot compote. Actually, it's apricot cardamom compote, but there was only ground cardamom at the grocery store, so I improvised. The first step is to soak 300 grams of apricots in 750 mL of water for four hours, so I let the water do its work and then came back for the active part of the preparation.
The apricots along with their water get thrown in a saucepan and combined with 3 T powdered sugar, 3 T slivered almonds, a cube of ginger about a centimetre square, grated, four cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick. Since I was missing the cardamom, I used two cinnamon sticks and about eight cloves. Bring gently to the boil, stirring, and when the sugar dissolves lower the heat and simmer until the syrup has reduced by about half. Keep in mind that this will take a while. I also added a minibottle of E&J brandy to my concoction, because when cooked fruit is involved, I can't resist the alcohol.
To serve, you're supposed to chill and then spoon into bowls and top with edible silver flake. I find this absolutely ridiculous. The finished product is tasty, but quite thick and goopy, and it makes a lot. It's very sweet, so the majority of it we didn't manage to eat. I would recommend cutting the recipe by a third, which would be fairly easy to do.
Christmas morning! Which means, in my world, time to start making dessert. I started preparing for my planned sabayon (recipe from that same French book) by beating the heavy cream (250 mL) to soft peaks and chilling, sticking a big bowl of ice in the freezer, and eating some of this fantastic bread to keep my energy up. It's called Becky's Bread, and our neighbour Nancy always brings us a loaf of sourdough at Christmas time. Mmm, mm!
The preperation starts with the egg yolks. Six of them need to be warmed in the top of a double boiler over medium heat with 3 T powdered sugar... but the key is warmed. I killed half a dozen eggs with the first go because I let the water come to a bare simmer over medium and the bowl was too hot, so they started to scramble, even with constant whisking. Don't worry if your water isn't actually simmering. The eggs should only be warm to the touch at all times, and don't stop whisking or scraping down the sides. Once the mixture is smooth, a little foamy, and adheres to the spoon when you lift, you can add 125 mL of sweet Marsala. Keep whisking, constantly scraping the sides, until you have a nice thick, creamy mixture. This will take about five minutes. When you get there, take the double boiler off the heat and grab your bowl of ice. Set the bowl of the double boiler over the ice and whisk constantly while it cools. This will be another five minutes or so, or until it's just a little warm to the touch. At this point, it's safe to stop whisking and you can get out your whipped cream. Gradually add the custard to the cream, folding it in gently, until everything is incorporated, and chill three or four hours before serving.
I chose to go ahead and assemble my desserts before chilling, because I wanted it a wee bit fancier for our holiday meal. I used these great tall crystal goblets that my mom has, and plopped four or five fresh blackberries in the bottom of each. Then I spooned the sabyon over top and loosely covered the goblets with seran wrap before putting them in the fridge. The recipe is for four servings, but with the big goblets I managed to make it three. It's dense, but still light enough for this to be realistic.
After the desserts were in the fridge, my work was done, so I took a little break before Daddy arrived, ready to open presents. Incidentally, I did very well. I'm super excited about my Norton's Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and in food related news, I got a Student's Vegetarian Cookbook and a knife sharpening set. Also, a Pierre Herme book is backordered for me, and I used some Christmas money to get Chocolate & Zucchini and a book for hors d'oeuvres for my planned birthday tea party. Whoo! While we did presents, we ate cheese ball, which is a high fat but delicious family tradition, and cashews.
Once presents were taken care of, Mom started cooking. Though there was honey baked ham for the parentals, it was easy to ignore. This is the entree, a dish of baby potatoes and pearl onions, baked with butter and herbs. It's very tasty. White wine was also involved. I always approve of white wine. Mom also made some stuffed mushrooms, which are one of my favourites. She found some large white mushrooms and used Pepperidge Farm stuffing, which does not involve chicken broth (unlike Stovetop).
For our first course, we had this tasty salad. The greens were fresh from Mom's garden - even though it does get cold in North Carolina in the winter and they're at "exceptional" drout level, Mom's still able to grow a bit in her heated boxes in the backyard. Also featured in the salad are apples, walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette.
I was in charge of the hollandaise - that's a lot of butter! We made it out of a package, but I should point out that both of us can make hollandaise from scratch. We like to serve it over steamed asparagus, especially at Easter. I tried to take a picture of the asparagus but all I got was a lens full of steam.
Here is my plate - served on my Grandmother's china, which I love. We have asparagus with hollandaise, a lonely stuffed mushroom, a dinner roll, potatoes and onions, and the apricot compote. In the glass there is Chardonnay, which I don't normally like but this wasn't bad at all.
Finally, the desserts. I think everyone approved. I'm rather indifferent as to Marsala, but the taste was interesting and of course much diluted by the egg and the cream. The blackberries were also a nice touch. Health-wise, it's not great but not abysmal either. Each person gets two egg yolks, a tablespoon of sugar, about 40 mL of Marsala, and about 80 mL cream. That's not so bad... right?
For the New Year, I hopped on another plane and made my way to Baltimore to see a bunch of my friends who live in the area. I stayed with a couple of friends who we'll call B&N for privacy's sake. B is a freaking amazing cook, and always very accommodating of my vegetarianism. Before the festivities even got started I got to partake in some really awesome food, including my first ever taste of pomegranate and some really tasty gluten free cereal (N has a gluten allergy). Anyway, we started the evening out with a bevy of amazing appetisers. Pictured are miniature dill pancakes (gluten free!) and potato wedges with a really tasty yoghurt dip. There was also cranberry relish, roasted elephant garlic, and the ever-popular baked Brie.
For the actual dinner, B cooked up quite a feast, and most of it vegetarian. I've been crafty and taken all the pictures to avoid showing the great big pork loin, though I did find it rather amusing when B was trying to come up with a way to substitute Worcestershire to make the marinade vegetarian, and then realised this was unnecessary because she was marinating pork! Pictured here is the big tasty bowl of lentils, and behind the glasses, my little bowl of vegetarian stuffing, made with nuts, which was amazing. Also in the background is a big green salad.
Here we have a big bowl of mashed sweet potatoes, some more cranberries, and the applesauce, which was an interesting recipe that involved horseradish. The jury was mixed on this one, but I thought it provided an intriguing bite. Also a big plus for me was the vegetarian gravy. The 15-minute hunt in the grocery store for boullion cubes was well worth it, because stuffing just isn't stuffing without gravy, in my opinion.
For dessert, we had these fabulous little chocolate orange custard cups. For each serving, use an ounce of chocolate and half an egg. Separate the eggs and beat the whites to stiff peaks. Melt the chocolate, remove from heat, and cool slightly before whisking in the yolks (so as not to cook them). Combine chocolate mixture with the whites and a bit of orange oil. Serve in shot glasses. They taste just like a chocolate orange and are amazing.
This is Molly, modelling the potatoes. We consumed a lot of red wine that night, not to mention champagne and Irish coffees. Molly was therefore in a very good mood, and wanted to show you all our fabulous vegetarian food, as well as her fabulous dress. Molly's dog, Lester, is not a vegetarian, but he was hankering for those potatoes as well. For breakfast, Molly made the leftover potatoes into pancakes, with just a bit of salt and pepper and melted Cheddar cheese on top. They were fabulous. Another friend had the brilliant idea to make French toast out of Danish, and B made crepes which we had with lemon juice, butter and sugar. This is my new favourite way to have crepes. I highly recommend it.
Time to come home, and therefore time for some more airport food! I had to make a little stop at A&W, because I can't resist the rootbeer floats. This time I had a "Freeze" instead, which is a float mixed together and costs 30 cents more. For the labour of mixing, I guess. I also tried the genuine Wisconsin cheese curds. They may or may not be genuine, but how can you go wrong with fried cheese?
Everytime I go through RDU, I have to stop at A Southern Season's satellite store for some Southern treats. It's in the Southwest part of the terminal, and I was flying Northwest, but the hike was worth it. I picked up Key Lime Bark (too sweet and tastes like regular limes), pecan pralines (amazing!), Grits Bits (haven't tried them yet but I couldn't resist), peach and pumpkin butter, and (unpictured) Kudzu Blossom Jelly for my friend Rita who was picking me up at the airport here. Who knew Kudzu produced anything useable, let alone edible?
The final photo is of my breakfast. A family friend made this amazing spiced grape jelly and gave my mom and dad each a jar. Naturally, I stole Daddy's when I realised how good it is, and I'm going to write her for the recipe soon. I'd really like to start canning my own stuff, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The best way to enjoy this stuff is on a Thomas's Hearty Grains bagel, which is 100% whole wheat and much better than most healthy things, toasted with cream cheese. That's what I call breakfast!