December 2009 Archives

amuse-bouche.jpgNew Year's Eve started with a prosecco. The amuse bouche was ready - Castelvetrano olives with Terra chips. And the champagne was sitting with a thermometer reading 50°F on the back porch. The oysters would need opening. The ravioli needed making, but Martha had done a trial run, and she estimated ½ hour for prep and a short cooking time. Her beurre blanc was in a thermos. Graham's bread had been formed in loaves and was rising. Steuart's Boeuf Bourguignon had been chilling since yesterday along with my crème brûlée, and our friends with the hors d'œuvres had yet to arrive.

oyster-shucking.jpgThe rest of us watched as Gordon and Martha started into the dish that would be our fabulous entrée, or starter as they say in England, a first dish before the main plate. We passed judgment on every oyster as it was opened making sure it was glossy and wet looking and still smelling like the sea.
ravioli.jpgMartha kneaded the pasta dough she'd made with a little more semolina flour then rolled it through the pasta maker making long wide strips. Pat and Dave arrived and I realized we hadn't spent a second in the living room with the olives Steuart had beautifully arranged, so I brought them into the kitchen and we went onto a Henri Bouillot champagne. It was dry and airy and went great with these big, green olives. We had bought 10 or so at Whole Foods, and another dozen from our local deli Fisher Clark. Dave felt the deli olives came away from the pit more easily and we all decided they tasted fresher.
newyears_09.jpgMartha assembled the oyster ravioli, per her recipe that had won her the London Times cookery competition for alternative Christmas dinners, then set them aside covered while the water boiled, and Pat and Dave assembled the small rolls of salmon with cream sauce and pumpernickel bread. salmon-rosettes.jpgSeveral bottles of Australian (Marlborough) Sauvignon Blanc went with the sit-down appetizer, that gracefully led into the next course.

beurre-blanc.jpgMartha poured the beurre blanc on the cooked ravioli and it held together in brilliant fashion. She felt she'd survived the final hurdle. And her creation looked beautiful with the chopped chives and Meyer lemon zest on the plate.

Steuart's beef stew had never been better. He'd used a Beaujolais-Village, about a $9 bottle, to cook the beef and a cube of the precious stock he'd made when we first got our cow from Wyoming. The wine had been opened earlier, but it seemed to need a little more air so we decanted it. This was a bottle of wine we'd carried back from France in 2005. It was complex and a whole different animal from grape juice. The tannins were mellow and the dark fruit ghosts went with the beef. Graham thought there might be a bit of cork in the wine, and we feared it had suffered more than we knew from jet lag. I imagined the aroma more as earthy, and for me, the taste was deep and paralleled the very rich, day-old beef stew. If my description doesn't make you believe it was wonderful, I'll mention that the very noisy room went hush, and none of us noticed that Steuart had forgotten the shark's tooth crouton he'd read about in Jacques & Julia, a cookbook of home cooking with Jacques Pepin and Julia Child.  

boeuf_bourgonion.jpgHe had added the mushrooms at the last minute along with the smallest onions he could find. They had a hearty freshness that is different from the long-cooked onion or mushroom smell and taste that is so wonderful in sauces.

Graham's 1/2 whole wheat / 1/2 white baguettes had come out of the oven minutes before and were a serious distraction.
The salad was another level of freshness, with orange sections and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Simple. Clean. Then the group opted for dessert before cheese. We used a pencil thin blow torch and melted the turbinado sugar that had been resting in a jar with a vanilla bean. The texture was sublime. The long cooking had paid off.
Blue cheese with Pat's wonderful fruit and nut loaf, a hard raw-milk Manchego and a soft French sheep and cow cheese were out as we drank the California sparkling wine at midnight.

Later, Pat showed me how to feign death, so that my guest would go home.

Menu for New Years

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When our kids were teenagers and they wanted to go out on New Years Eve, and we wanted to stay home and be available for them in case they needed us to ... call them a cab, we started making a very special year end dinner for ourselves. One of us would make the first course and choose a wine to go with it, and the other would make the next, and back to the first one to make the third, and so on until the New Year.

We were going to do the same thing when 2006 was becoming 2007, but we had company and we decided to included them in these plans, then another group of friends from the mountains were stranded by snow that closed I-70, and they came to our house for New Year's Eve. Each person made one of the great many small courses we had that night. It was so much fun, we missed the fireworks downtown at midnight. We've made this a traditional event on the last day of the year ever since.
ramekins.jpgI've liked custards ever since I learned to make them in 7th grade in mandatory Home Ec. There are very easy, especially if baked. I used a variation of Alton Brown's recipe for the crème brûlée I choose to make for our communal New Year's Eve dinner. Julia Child's recipe is for a stirred custard. She cooks it on the stove top until set, and then chills it. scald-milk.jpgegg-yolk-ribbon.jpgcustard-crucial.jpgcustard-second.jpg
  • 3 ½ cups cream
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ½ cup turbinado sugar
In my modification of this recipe, I scalded the miilk/cream mixture with the vanilla bean. I use what I have too much of following the big Christmas holiday. While warm and pliable, I slit the vanilla bean and scraped out the insides with the end of my whisk and added all of it to the milk, then left it to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I beat the egg yolks and gradually added the sugar. According to Julia and Harold McGee it isn't really important that they are beaten until they form the ribbon, as Julia always says, or how gradually you add the sugar. The ribbon is fun to make and tells you that the sugar is dissolved and that the texture of the finished custard could be very fine (if all else goes well).

The crucial step is easy. Add a very small amount of the hot milk to the yolks while stirring them, so the yolks don't scramble. We want a fine texture after all, not curds. Add the rest of the milk. Julia cooks this on the stove until it's thick, and then strains it to remove any lumpy bits. Alton Brown puts the mixture into oven-going ramekins or one large casserole, or soufflé dish and bakes the custard at 325° F for about an hour until set.

The custards are properly baked when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The middle can still jiggle a bit. Mine, baked in Denver at 5280 feet above sea level, took an hour and ten minutes.

To insure this custard is cooked slowly, as Harold McGee suggests in On Food and Cooking, the ramekins (or single large dish) should bake in a bain marie, which means that they are placed in another oven-going vessel with about 1/2 to 1 inch of water. McGee says a thin steel vessel will loose heat more quickly than cast iron or glass and will not get to the required 185° F necessary to set the custard. A glass dish can only get to this temperature, but cast iron can go beyond it and make the texture less fine than possible. After an hour, I turned the custard up to 350° F, and watched it very carefully for the next ten minutes. It was as fine as I've ever tasted the texture. Chill the custard for at least an hour and up to four days.

bain-marie.jpgI dried the vanilla bean husk that I'd pulled out of the scaled milk at the beginning at put it in a glass jar with ½ cup of turbinado sugar. When I was ready to serve the dessert, I put an even layer of this vanilla sugar over the top of each custard and browned it with a small torch until it was crusty and dark golden brown. This sugar, turbinado, makes a thicker crust than fine sugar; more like shaved ice than that stuff that makes a puddle.

Christmas Pudding Presents Dessert

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Every since I've been spending Christmas with my husband's British family, the option for Christmas dinner dessert has been a Christmas pudding. Having grown up on Jello as pudding, I thought this spice bread in the shape of a bowl was a bit of a joke on the idea of pudding, and even more of a joke on when I learned that many English people think the the word 'pudding' means dessert. (When I learned to make a custard, I realized what Jello was really supposed to taste like. Good, creamy and fresh.)

Christmas pudding tastes, to me, like a dense, moist, spice cake with a lot of raisins and other unidentifiable dried fruit. The best part is the whiskey butter that goes on top. Butter, thickened with powdered sugar and flavored with a dram of whiskey (Scotch whiskey in this family.)

So maybe I'm not the best person in the family to be making Christmas pudding, but it was supposed to sit for a least a week and more if possible, and I was the one who had the time available before Christmas.

On Christmas the pudding is inverted onto a plate, doused with whiskey, lit on fire and carred into the dining room. After its picture is taken, my pudding was cut and it turned out to be crumbly. Too dry. And not enough people found a coin in a slice -- odds were diminished because few took seconds. I had placed several coins wrapped in wax paper inside the pudding, but I'd forgotten a key ingredient to keeping the pudding moist -- grated carrot.

I used the Christmas Pudding recipe from Saveur Magazine, but made some compromises for what I had on hand.  I didn't have any Guiness, and had a lot more than 1/4 cup of Brandy left over from macerating the raisins, so I used that instead.

  • 2 cups quality assorted raisins
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 1 1⁄2 oz. quality assorted candied fruits, such as pitted apricots, cherries, melon, and citrus peel, cut into thin strips
  • 5 tbsp. cold beef suet or butter, diced
  • 1 3⁄4 cups fine day-old bread crumbs
  • 1 cup blanched almond meal
  • 1⁄4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated peeled carrot
  • 1⁄2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • 1⁄4 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • Pinch ground cinnamon
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dark treacle or molasses
  • 1⁄3 cup Guinness stout
  • 2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
  • 3⁄4 tsp. fresh lemon juice
All the ingredients are mixed thoroughly, then pressed into a pudding bowl. The bowl is covered with waxed paper and a clean cloth or aluminum foil, then set in a big pan with water three quarters up the side of the bowl for four or five hours. Saveur suggested it be done in the oven, but set on the stove top works, too. Water should be replenished as it evaporates. Afterward the covering should be replaced, the pudding stored, and then boiled in the same fashion for an hour or so before it's served.

This was not the traditional family recipe, and that called for grated apple as well, no Guinness, but not the minced dried bing cherries I used. Also the pinch of spices were supposed to be much bigger. I was supposed to taste the batter and add more until you could really taste them, said my mother-in-law.

My Christmas pudding actually tastes good. I just think it's unfair to make it compete in the world of dessert -- with competition with French stuff like Crème Brûle, Apple Pie or Tiramisu.
macaron-french.jpgEver since my friend Michele asked us to go by Ladurée in Paris, I've been trying to make macarons that look as good as the trees full of cookies that fill their windows. Our first macaron attempts back in Colorado tasted great but never had all I desired: the perfect shine, shape, texture and trademark 'foot.'

Red and green for Christmas. After the egg whites and superfine sugar were whipped to stiff peaks and the almond flour and powdered sugar where folded in and mixed thoroughly, I added some new cinnamon from Savory, our local spice shop, and ground red Chimayo chili. About a teaspoon of each. The frosting is a butter cream made with Savory's Black Onyx cocoa powder.

Black Onyx Buttercream:
1/2 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar.
3 tablespoons Black Onyx Cocoa
3 tablespoons Dutch Cocoa
Cream the butter with 1/2  cup of sugar, add the cocoas, add more sugar until the frosting is a good spreading consistency.

Everytime I try to make these cookies there is some part failure, but some redeeming quality that makes me think I might be able to do better next time. So if I keep a record of every attempt maybe we'll all learn something about making macarons in Denver (5280 miles abouve sea level; average humidity: 35%).

What I did, and what I may have learned:
First I compared recipes, see
macarons.xls. Mine is from a French Macaron cookbook. The others are from Serious Eats and another from MyTartelette. Today, although it was a very humid day for Denver,maybe 60% with a little snow falling, the cookies were hollow. And the surface cracked. For just about all of them, I finally got the illusive foot. Michele bought Rehill Farms Almond flour and I tried it, and am guessing the consistently ground almond flour is responsible for the successful foot.

I think the cookies might need more dry ingredients at this altitude. They are rising too quickly. And then falling. The reason I think this is that the cocoa ones that have added cocoa powder were my most successful. The RedHots next, and both of these had tablespoons of extra dry stuff because of the flavoring. But in comparing these three recipes, there is no real difference in ratio of ingredients, but MyTartelette bakes them lower and longer. That will be the next attempt before I start rewritting recipes.

Cookie baking traditions

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cane-cookies.jpgmartha2.jpgChristmas cooking baking was a tradition in my house when I was growing up, so I continued it when my kids were little. I'd invite over another mom and her kids and we'd spend the whole day baking recipes my mother had given me. Then an aunt gave me Rose's Christmas Cookies. The author is Rose Levy Beranbaum who also wrote The Cake Bible. Our aunt took authors around Dallas when they were on book tours, so the book was signed in red and green ink. For years we baked frantically out of this book, and always thought that we were just to busy and challenged to find the chapter on cookies to make with kids, but a few years into this book we discovered that the chapter was missing and that there were two of a previous one.

This year, Martha and I, baked together. She made oatmeal candy cane cookies and I started in on a long list I had and then got sidetracked and made the crazy French macarons that drive me crazy. Martha meticulously shaped and frosted her cookies and then I tried to get her interested in making one of Rose's Christmas cookies. "Do you want to make some Scottish shortbread cathedrals?"  "You're not going to drag me into your complicated world," was her very wise answer.

Order the Duck Meatballs

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The atmosphere at Olivea Saturday night was happening, vibrant, hip. We were lucky to get a table -- it's a very small restaurant. Not cozy -- so much going on -- but hip was what we wanted. The service was excellent. The hostess who greeted us was very helpful; she was offering the three of us a place at the bar, but saw a table open up and let us snag it. The waitress was charming and pretty darn close to perfect on a scale of hovering to attentive.


I ordered the last steak with patatas bravas -- one of the nightly specials -- and I'm a little disappointed because it was something I could have had at any restaurant. My bad ordering. Another got the skirt steak. He was thrilled to be able to order this because it is rare in a nice restaurant. The portion was smaller than he expected, but very good. The best entree we ordered was the duck meatballs on creamy polenta with shaved pecorino. They had a really great flavor. Duck can be kind of fatty, but these were not. The polenta was as creamy as they boasted and went well with the smooth marinara sauce served with it.

Another ordering mistake was the salad. It was a good-sized plate of mizuna with Gorgonzola, figs, hazelnuts and a delicious pancetta sage dressing. This was a perfect salad for winter, and we all loved it, and each of us could have had ONE OF OUR OWN instead of sharing just one. There were a lot of extras like bread and nice water crackers, so we had plenty of food.

And the drinks were awesome. The sangria had fresh fruit: pineapple and strawberries, and was not served to ice cold. Remember this is December. I had gin with lavender and rosemary water. It was exceptional, and I don't usually pick gin out of the crowd.

I like mussels spicy hot, so Olivea's called to me because they were served with fennel, which I love, chorizo and garlic. The quality of the mussel itself was excellent, but the chorizo seemed to fight, flavor-wise, with the rest of the bit in the sauce. Overall, not very spicy. We were all wishing we'd tried the fried chick peas with harissa aioli. Everyone around us had it and they looked very happy with their choices.

The price of the meal was reasonable for the quality, and I'd recommend Olivea and will return. Maybe order the Duck Meatballs. Try the chick peas, get a whole salad of my own.

cookie_chocolate_banner.jpgMy sister doesn't bake much because she is trying to stay on a heart healthy diet. Christmas, and our family tradition of cookie making, leads her into temptation. My answer is to bake with much-better-than-average ingredients and eat half as much.

Since I was born, there was not a Christmas that my mother didn't  bake a dozen different Christmas cookies. The chocolate cookie with creamy chocolate frosting was my favorite one, but I think my mother said mine was divinity.  My sister would probably argue that this cookie was my brother's favorite. He's older, so they were already taken. If my mother had not pre-labeled my even older sister with a crummy favorite -- date bars --  because my mother wanted an excuse to make them, I think my sister might say that these chocolate cookie were her favorites, too.

At least these are the one's that she chose to make when, after a long break, she decided to make Christmas cookies. They turned out terrible and so we checked my recipe against the one on the scrap of paper that she has from mother.

This is the recipe that I use from the New High Altitude Cookbook by Beverly M. Anderson and Donna M. Hamilton.
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 oz. chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Creamy Chocolate Frosting
The recipe also calls for 1/2 tsp. of baking soda to be dissolved in the milk. I don't think that is necessary unless you substitute buttermilk or yogurt. So I usually skip it, and it's not on my mother's recipe. Otherwise they are the same. My sister wondered if the baking soda and powder she used was too old to rise this cookies that should look rounded like a big water drop and taste like a little cake.

I think the egg will do more to rise these cookies than the powders, so that wasn't the major problem. My sister substitutes something low-fat for butter, and used OLEO (her term) instead of the butter. I don't think anyone should make anything with a manufactured fat. How much less fat it has than butter can be made up for by just eating fewer cookies and enjoying them more. Why not use a really fine expensive European butter. It doesn't have more fat per gram just more flavor.

Use a really wonderful and  expensive type of chocolate: Scharffenberger or Valhrona. This way you are forced by budget to make less and value them more.

For this cookie, I cut the amount of melted chocolate by half because I like it to be much more subtle than the frosting, which is very chocolaty, but each baker can make that decision for themselves, and for me, it varies with the chocolate. Most importantly cut down the butter to 6 tablespoon instead of the 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup or one stick equals 8 tbls).

Preheat oven to 350F. Melt butter and chocolate gently, add to brown sugar, add beaten egg, milk and vanilla. Sift flour, or stir with a fork if you don't have a sifter. Then measure it. Add the salt and baking powder to it. Gradually add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and mix until very creamy. Drop by teaspoons onto cookie sheet. It should be between a dough and a batter and ease slightly onto the cookie sheet, which should be lightly greased. If you are not careful to make them round on the sheet they will have a more organic look like mine. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Frost warm.

Here's the frosting recipe we used. I modified this from 6 tbs of butter to 3, and use about 1/2 cup less powdered sugar. I'm still playing with this.

Creamy Chocolate Frosting
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbs water
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 egg yolks
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
Melt chocolate, water and butter together over water in a double boiler or heat carefully in a good pan on a very, very low gas flame. Don't let it burn. Cool, and beat in the egg yolk and salt. Reheat, then blend in powdered sugar.

These should have the consistency of a good chocolate chip cookie, so they must be stored in an airtight container after the chocolate frosting is allowed to cool.

This recipe makes 48 cookies that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  tablespoons of butter, 1/6 of a tablespoon of fat.

Eat just one. Taste and imagine the best chocolate in the world. Hopefully, it's in this cookie.

Winter Food in Downtown Denver

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Winter requires a certain kind of food. A friend calls and wonders where she should eat out in Denver, downtown, on this December night. Here are some recommendations:

For casual, burgers, whiskey -- Blake Street Vault. 1526 Blake, its new, but in a refurbished, historic building. Burgers work as winter food, go with red wine, and they have whiskey tasting from 5-7 every Friday and Saturday night.

Locally owned since it was founded in the 80s, Marlowe's says it has some of the best seafood in the city, and it doesn't seem too expensive. Located at 16th and Glenarm, its on the side of downtown closed to Capitol Hill, if walking is the mode of transport.

If you want to go on the other end of downtown 15th and Platte near REI for example: burgers at My Brother's Bar, or Sushi at Sushi Sasha, although you might have a long, long wait on a Saturday night. This is possibly the best sushi in town. A new place on Platte (at the foot of the pedestrian bridge, north of Paris on the P.) says they specialize in food, from burgers to lobsters. Colt & Gray is one of the new best restaurant in 5280 magazine this month.

If you want to run into another friend of ours from Vail, meet her and her new boyfriend at Cuba Cuba. She's going to do some investigating about what one eats and drinks in the winter at a Cuban restaurant. Mojitos?

Houston Fine Dining

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We learned about Little Big's on the food blog, Serious Eats. It's a drive-in type place that sells sliders -- little hamburgers the size of a clementine, three for $6 -- in Houston. We were skeptical that this place was all the nouvelle vague of food in Houston as the website indicated because they're recommendations for Denver were so old school, but here we were in Houston, driving down Montrose Boulevard and there was Little Big's.

little-bigs_burgers.jpgIt's December so no one is sitting on the outdoor picnic tables, and the inside was a little close, but maybe I'm just not used to the humidity. The beef is ground on premise and the potatoes cut into beefy sticks there as well. Caramelized onions on the little burgers make them very delicious on their house-backed buns. There were several nice wines to chose from and beer on tap.

If this is the new trend in fast food, then that's better news than free wi-fi at French McDonalds.

Christmas Cookies Viennese

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From 9 am until 4 in the afternoon, I watched my friends make kipferl after kipferl, and more Viennese cookies that their mother always made. And gave to the neighbors. These grown women love to make these cookies now because they can either eat them or given them to neighbor instead of watching them go out of the house while they cleaned up. And we drank wine (a dry rose from Vielle Ferme) while processing butter and sugar -- transforming this paste into a vehicle for flavor: vanilla almond, chocolate hazelnut, and the Hussar cookie that carries its extra flavor in a dimple in the center filled with raspberry or mint jam for Christmas.

My friends work from a cookbook their Viennese mother gave them that translated Austrian cooking for an American audience. The author lived in Vienna, but apparently was no Julia Child. The family cooks openly correct the authors measurements and methods. 'We're not certain she every tried the recipes," one sister said. So their matching cookbooks are stained with notes, and they pass these onto their kids since they all have the same book.

Thumbnail image for Cookies1.jpg

The food processor works great to blend butter and sugar for cookies. My old cookie cookbook suggested beginners use shortening instead of butter as a failsafe, but with a food processor, a beginner can take the butter straight from the fridge and the dough is perfect. The recipe suggests that the dough rest in the fridge for 20 minutes, but we skipped this step with no ill effects.

For the Red and Green Hussars (thumbprint-style) Cookie: generic style

  • 2 parts unsalted butter
  • 1 part granulated vanilla sugar
  • 2-3 egg yolks
  • 3 parts flour
  • pinch of salt
  • red jam (seedless raspberry)
  • green jam (jalapeno is probably too much, mint was our choice)
  • finely chopped blanched almonds, for garnish

Incorporate the sugar and butter until fluffy, either by hand, with a mixer or food processor. Add yolk one at a time, then gradually incorporate flour (with salt tossed on) until it is a dough that hangs together, like a soft playdough, not crumbly. When the balls are placed on the cookie sheet they shouldn't look like they are melting. One of the baking sisters rolled the dough into balls smaller in diameter than a quarter, and then made the dimple with the end of wooden spoon instead of a thumb. Then, her sister painted the cookies with beaten egg white, while the other dusted them with finely chopped (minced, not pulverized) almonds.

Bake these at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes but check after 15. They should be just barely gold. When they are cooled fill the small dimple with jam.

Their Vanilla Crescent or Vanilla Kipferl is made with a similar combination of butter and sugar and assembled the same way as above into a similar dough. If this dough gets too soft, chill it while working on other things, but not longer than an hour. We rolled these out into a rope about an inch in diameter, then cut 1/2 inch slices that we formed into crescents.

cloister-crescent-cookie.jpg vanilla-crescemt-cookie.jpg

Vanille Kipferl Recipe:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup almonds, grated*
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup vanilla sugar

Bake crescents at 275°F because they should stay delicately white. While hot, roll each one in the vanilla sugar.

You can mix these cookies with a spoon if the dough is soft enough, but the secret to the perfect texture of these crescents, the sisters tell me, is the nut grater.


It looks like a meat grinder and neither one of them has been able to find it in the U.S. The nut grater turns nuts and chocolate to the texture of fine sugar without releasing the oils and making a clumpy paste.

By the third of these cookies, I started to see the Viennese thinking here. While we've got the nut grater out, lets keep going. Here's the chocolate hazelnut variety.

Cloister Crescents: Klosterkipferl

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 Tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 Tablespoons grated chocolate
  • 1 cup grated hazelnuts
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 Tb. pistachios, chopped fine
    Chocolate Icing:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 1/2 oz chocolate
  • 1 Tbs butter

Work butter, sugar, flour, chocolate, nuts and yolk together into a smooth dough. Roll into a rope (1-inch diameter) and cut slices (1/2 inch) and form that slice into a crescent. On a non-greased cookie sheet, bake at 325° F for 10 to 20 minutes.
While they are baking, cook sugar and water until it is 217°F. While it's getting hot, melt the butter and non sweetened chocolate gently (in a double boiler or in a good pan on the lowest of gas flames, most electric stove settings will burn the chocolate). Add the hot sugar syrup to the chocolate and beat it slightly until its shiny. Add a few drops of water if the icing becomes grainy. Keep it hot so it flows well. While the cookies are still warm, frost them with a dash of the chocolate icing and sprinkle the icing with chopped pistachios. Optimally, you can use a fine tip and pipe this frosting. It should set up shiny, and hopefully, you'll have friends over who can get the chopped pistachios on top before the icing dries.


About this time, you need to start drinking wine, if you haven't already.

I just signed up for a year's subscription to the on-line version of Cooks Illustrated and wanted to take advantage of my $17.95 investment, so I read their opinion of the ideal cooking equipment.

I have it. The perfect pot and pan collection. With one exception.

I own a big stainless-steel pot, 4 qt., with a mixed metal bottom, a 2 qt. a saute pan, and two skillets all of similar materials.

Cooks Illustrated recommended a non-stick fry pan instead of the steel pans, and I disagree. For one thing, non-stick makes the pan disposable -- not sustainable -- because you must throw it away once the coating starts is no good. Unless you like eating plastic, you must discontinue use when the disintegration begins, and that's the hard part. When do you know it has started? When I think about it, I do not want to spend any time looking at my Teflon, and eventually going out to buy new pans.

The drawback to a steel fry pan is that something might stick to it. To avoid this, just use a little more oil. Just don't use bad oil and there will be no harm to your diet. Saute or fry at the correct temperature and food will not absorb oil after the surface has been cooked. Let's think about the cooking of eggs because it's one of the stickies fry jobs.

I used plenty of good olive oil to cook the eggs pictured (and cut, unfortunately, before the camera arrived) in an 8-inch stainless steel All-Clad fry pan. The oil coated the bottom and I could see a small wave as I rotated it around the pan. This is still an almost unmeasurable depth, maybe a millimeter. By liquid measure it was one tablespoon. And I added about 1 teaspoon more for the second pair of eggs. Olive oil isn't a high temperature oil so it won't make a crisp crust on the bottom of the egg, and that's perfect for me. I like them softer.
I crack the eggs into a bowl so they are easy to add to the pan. I slid the pair into the pan that had been warmed on a medium gas flame, and as soon as they stopped spreading, I ran a dinner knife around the edge so the oil stayed under them and didn't come over the top. Flipped them when the whites were mostly set up, made sure there was oil underneath. If a bit sticks, the spatula will take this off after you've put the eggs on the plate. If you waste a little oil, this expense will easily be made up in the money you won't have to shell out for a new non-stick pan. If you get the oil and temperature right, very little will be absorbed and the eggs will just ride on the surface.

Making Beef Stock

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From the previous entry about our cow purchase, you can tell why we are making beef stock. We've got a packed freezer and pulling out the bones and a packet labeled 'soup meat' made enough room so that we could close the door. Having not really made a batch of stock that we'd be happy to keep around for several months, we decided to consult Harold McGee's book On Cooking, and Escoffier. It was recommended by both that bones be roasted to impart flavor. And because the main thing bones offer to a stock is substance in the form of gelatin. Roasting will help the bone release what they have. We roasted them in the oven until that just started to turn brown. Then poured off the grease (and saved it just in case we ever needed it.)

In order to get most of the gelatin out of the bones they should be simmered in water for 8 to 24 hours. (McGee)

We covered them with water and added an inch more water to a big stock pot. For the first 1/2 hour it should be check and skimmed when scum comes to the surface. See the photo for the cheesecloth and slotted spoon system we used for skimming. Soon scum becomes insignificant. We let the pot cook on the lowest setting all day. We had a pitcher of water nearby in case the liquid was too hot. It should never boil. We kept it looking like a cute, tiny animal was under the surface constantly releasing a few air bubbles. 

Aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot and celery can also be added to the bones. Never add salt.(Escoffier) When anything new is added, there will be scum to skim, but we added both at the same time and skimmed once. We use the tough outside skins of onions that we save for this purpose. Any leftover veggie bits will impart flavor but those from the cabbage family may add some that are too strong. Only add what you're sure you'll want in 6 months when you are using this beef stock in a sensitive recipe.The normal veggies Escoffier mentions will mellow the flavor that will come from any meat that is stuck to the bones. We also threw in some unassertive dried herbs and a bay leaf because -- it just doesn't hurt. Salt will concentrate in the finished product, so don't add any now. By evening when we were tired of thinking about the stock, we strained it and divided it in half.

One half was cooked down while we watched a movie. To the other we added the cubed soup meat, and a few more pieces of aromatic vegetable. This is what Harold McGee calls double stock. After the film, the already strained first half was put in a clean container to cool. The one with the soup meat was strained, and also set to cool. Neither one should be covered until the contents are at room temperature, so go brush your teeth or something and come back. We made the stock in Denver, in December, so we were able to set it on our enclosed back porch uncovered (lid half on) until morning.

Stock making had kept the house warm all day and night, even though it was an odd, very-cold spell. The high temperature that day was only 20 degrees F.

The next morning the efforts of our huge volume of liquid, bones and time had made only a cup of gelatinous glace (first half) and a quart of the double stock. We froze both in ice cube trays and thought of the special occasions when we could use these special morsels. It seem liked a lot of work for such a small amount. But there is a silver lining.

The stuff tastes great.

I added 2 Tablespoons of the double stock to 2 quarts of a white bean soup and it was awesome but not overpowering. That's right - I used one ice cube of stock. Powerful.

One-quarter cup was added to a 1/2 bottle of red wine that surrounded a pot roast and it was a delicious sauce all on its own. We just took the meat out, cut it and poured the sauce into a server. You could thickened it, add milk or other liquids if you want the look of normal gravy, but this sauce was like getting lucky it was so good.

The small concentrated amount was what we were hoping for - since our freezer is so jammed - but in a normal situation, the process could have been stopped sooner. Less flavor would have adorned the December Denver air if a larger container of stock could have been stored.

Stock will last for a year in the freezer. The same is true of the concentrated bone stock, which is technically a glace. Somewhere between full- and demi- and truly incredible.

A full freezer

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freezer.pngWe picked up an entire cow from the processor in Pierce, Colorado yesterday. We are 1/8th owners of this cow and most of it is right here. A very red freezer.

The cow was raised on John and Jane Francis' ranch near Cheyenne Wyoming. At Pure Wyoming Beef, they sell 1/4, 1/2 or whole cows, it's best to go in with friends. Our beef, now no longer on the hoof, is an average price of less than $3/lb. after the processing. So for natural beef it's a very good deal even for hamburger. The standing rib roast is beyond Smoking Deal.