Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Crannies Unite! It's time to relax, ya'all.

I've made cinnamon rolls from scratch, and let me tell you: it is truly an act of love.

Dough is mixed, dough rises, dough is rolled just so, then coated with a buttery, sugary, cinnamon-heavy concoction that oozes when you try to (crookedly) roll it all up into a log.

Then you slice, place in pan, coat with more sticky, sugary glaze, and finally — FINALLY! — if your family hasn't already gnawed off their own arms in hunger, after only 30 minutes more, they are ready to eat.
(Like all good sticky buns, the tops become the crustily delicious bottoms.)

Undoubtedly, it will be worth the wait, as everyone erupts into gasps and murmurs of delight and awe between warm, delicious mouthfuls. And if you, covered in congealing spatters of sugar and dough, have managed to shake yourself out of baking shock, then you too shall taste and know the special joy that is homemade cinnamon rolls.

I'm not Martha Stewart. Baking anything more complicated than drop cookies or pound cakes tends to send me into a quaking mass of self-doubt and paranoia. Also, like most folks, I don't have half a day to spend in the kitchen, especially first thing in the morning.

Does this mean that I should be consigned to a life without sticky goodness? In a word, no!

In three words: Bridgford Parkerhouse Rolls. Yes, it's a frozen convenience product, and I'm so happy it exists! My sister-in-law turned me on to them when I was begrudgingly thinking of making cinnamon rolls for the holidays, dreading the inevitable five-hour baking marathon.

As a mom with two high-energy children, she had a whole slew of tricks up her sleeve, one of which was her sticky buns recipe.

Frozen Bridgford rolls, available in almost any grocery, are a quality product that easily adapt to any number of uses. Her recipe called for pudding mix, which isn't something I normally keep in the pantry, so I simply substituted in the filling from my original recipe.

It was so refreshingly easy. I'd already toasted and chopped my pistachios (which you can find shelled at Trader Joe's), so it was a simple matter of assembly. While the butter melted in the microwave, I coated a pan with a touch of butter, nuts and cranberries, then topped that with the still-frozen rolls.

The melted butter was mixed with cinnamon, sugar and orange zest, and then poured generously over the rolls. The few remaining nuts and cranberries went on top, then covered with a damp towel.

Popped into a cold oven, it slowly thaws overnight.

In the morning, whip off the towel; turn on the oven, and in a blushingly easy 30 minutes time — sweet, cinnamon-tinged sticky buns are at your disposal.

Easy Overnight Cranberry Sticky Buns

  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 1 25-ounce package frozen Bridgford Parkerhouse Rolls
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (divided)
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped shelled pistachios (divided)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted
  • 3/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, omit)
  • 2 teaspoons minced orange zest

Coat bottom of 9-by-13 pan with butter, then sprinkle with cranberries and pistachios. Save about 1/4 cup of each.

Place package of frozen Bridgford Parkerhouse Rolls on top of nuts and cranberries.
elt 1 stick of butter and combine with 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons minced orange zest.

Pour over rolls. Strew remaining cranberries and pistachios on top, then cover pan with a damp towel. Place in a cold oven overnight.

Remove towel and turn oven on to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, until tops are browned and juices are bubbling.
Invert (carefully!) onto serving tray, scooping out any remaining glaze and drizzling over top.
Serve immediately.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

This creamy dip featuring sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and garlic tastes great on EVERYTHING!

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

1/4 cu p(s) oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
8 ounce(s) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup(s) sour cream
1/4 cup(s) mayonnaise
2 clove(s) garlic, minced
3/4 teaspoon(s) salt
3/4 teaspoon(s) freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup(s) fresh basil
hot pepper sauce to taste

In a food processor, mix the sun-dried tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic, hot pepper sauce, salt, and pepper. Process until well-blended. Add basil, and continue processing until smooth. Chill at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before serving.

Yield: 12 servings

from Paige Healy

(original posting here)

Bittersweet Decadence Cookies

Bittersweet Decadence Cookies

1/4 cup AP flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups walnuts or pecans, broken or chopped into large pieces
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped into chunks, or store-bought chocolate chunks

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment or wax paper.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together thoroughly; set aside.

Place the 8-ounces of chocolate and the butter in a large heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir frequently just until melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the skillet and set it aside. Leave the heat on under the skillet.

In a large heatproff bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together thoroughly. Set the bowl in the skillet and stir until the mixture is lukewarm to the touch. Stir the eggs into the warm (not hot) chocolate. Stir in the flour mixture, then the nuts and chocolate chunks.

Scoop slightly rounded tablespoons of 1 1/2-inches apart onto the cookie sheets. Bake until the surface of the cookies looks dry and set but the center is still gooey, 12-14 minutes. If you used parchment (or waxed paper), carefully slide the cookies, still on the parchment, onto racks, or set the pans on the racks. Otherwise, let the cookies firm up on the pans for a minute, then transfer them to the racks with a metal pancake turner. Let cool completely. Store in a tightly sealed container.

Note: These cookies will have the best flavour and texture if they are baked on sheets lined with parchmnet paper, or even waxed paper, which insulates them just enough but still allows the cookies to be a little crusty on the outside and soft within. Cushioned pans and silicone liners make the texture of the cookies too uniform for my taste. Pans with dark surfaces tend to scorch rich chocolate cookie bottoms before the centers are cooked.

Chocolate notes: I used a 70% bittersweet chocolate, rather than standard bittersweet. The change was to use 5 1/2 ounces of chocolate, increase the butter to 3 tablespoons, and the sugar to 3/4 cup.

Also, I completely forgot to add the nuts or chunked chocolate. These were like rich little chocolate brownie cookies.

from Alice Medrich's Bittersweet

(see original post here)

Burnt Orange Ice Cream

Burnt Orange Ice Cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest (from 3 large navel oranges)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup strained fresh orange juice
6 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine milk, cream and zest in 2-3 quart heavy saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

Combine 1/2 cup sugar and orange juice in another 2-3 quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally, until syrup becomes a deep golden caramel.

Remove pan from heat, carefully add 1/2 cup cream mixture (mixture will bubble and steam), and whisk until smooth. Add remaining cream mixture in a steady stream, whisking. Cook caramel mixture over very low heat, whisking, until caramel has dissolved and mixture is hot. Remove from heat.

Whisk together yolks, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Add hot caramel mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard is thick enough to coat back of spoon and registers 170-degrees on thermometer; do not let boil.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into cleaned metal bowl and stir in vanilla. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours.

Freeze custard in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Notes: custard may be refrigerated for up to 24 hours; ice cream can be made up to 1 week ahead.

from The Gourmet Cookbook

(see original post here)

Italian Cheese Terrine

Italian Cheese Terrine

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pesto sauce
9 slices muenster cheese or mozzarella cheese, divided (1-ounce)

Basil-Tomato Sauce
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1 (7 ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped

For sauce: Drain whole tomatoes, reserving 1/4 cup juice.
Cook onion and garlic in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until tender.
Stir in chopped tomato, 1/4 cup reserved juice, bay leaves, sugar and basil; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 3-5 minutes or until thickened; remove from heat.
Remove and discard bay leaves; stir in sun-dried tomatoes.
Cover and chill at least 2 hours.

For terrine: Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with mixer until creamy.
Add parmesan and pesto; beat until smooth.
Set mixture aside.
Line a 3-cup bowl or mold with plastic wrap, allowing edges to overhang 6-7 inches.
Diagonally cut 5 slices Muenster cheese in half; arrange cheese triangles in bowl, slightly overlapping to line bowl.
Spread half of cream cheese mixture over cheese; top with half of basil-tomato sauce.
Cut 2 slices Muenster cheese in half crosswise; arrange cheese rectangles over tomato mixture.
Repeat with remaining cream cheese mixture, basil-tomato sauce and 2 slices Muenster cheese Fold plastic wrap over layers, sealing securely; place a heavy object on top to compact layers.
Chill at least 8 hours or up to 3 days.

To serve: Invert terrine onto a serving platter, peel off plastic wrap.

recipe from Susan Stein

Notes: Be sure to drain the sun-dried tomatoes well... you can see in the photo where I didn't, and the terrine is slightly red. Also, it looks quite lovely to place fresh herbs and edible flowers into the bottom, before everything goes in. In this photo, I used pansies, basil and chives.

(see original posting here)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Of Thanks and Thankfullness-

I am late, of course, but I'm still going to talk about November.

Or, more specifically, the wonderful feast that was Thanksgiving.

Dave & I went up to Richmond, joined the whole family for a spectacularly joyous meal. Folks, kids, extended family, cats and even a dog bustled and rustled and laughed around.

Business got down around noon. As people arrived at my sister-in-law's (Paige's) house, the turkey had been cooking for sometime: all the guests brought a little something.

I took an Italian cheese terrine. My friend Sue served this appetizer at a holiday a couple of years ago... the pretty colours and festive flavours seemed a perfect fit.
The terrine is pretty simple to make, but extraordinarily beautiful... and quite rich and tasty, to boot. I pressed a pansy and some basil into the bottom, but any sort of herbage or flowers would be just as pretty.

Once cut, it reveals its layers of pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and glorious cheeses.

This wasn't the only sun-dried tomato conglomeration on the block. Paige had also stepped up with a sun-dried tomato dip that was bursting with addictively delicious flavours.

Of course, there was indeed wine in plenty.

We started with champagne, then some more champagne, then moved on to Dave's Fife.

It was, natch, Fife'n good. :)

Along with great food & wine, there were plenty of great folk... mostly human, but there were also feline and canine representatives roaming about.
Who can resist such sweetness? There was much petting and patting going 'round.

Soon, the bird was cooked to golden perfection, oozing glistening, turkey-juice soaked stuffing.
It was time to eat.

We sat down... family far-flung and close, elbow to elbow. It was 70+degrees outside.

We laughed, ate well, drank well, and had a smashing great feast.

One would think that this would be enough.

But, hey- it's the holidays, right?

There was triple chocolate cheesecake. Folk moaned, swooned, then resolutely (and joyously) dug in. Seriously, how can you resist an endorsement like this?
I thought not. We were in such a state that I completely forgot to photograph my own dessert contributions... a thick, luxurious burned orange ice cream, buttressed by equally rich, bittersweet chocolate cookies. It was gorgeous, and together, incendiary.

The night ended colder than it began, and with such bursting full bellies, we quickly nodded out. It was a fabulous holiday.


Italian-Cheese Terrine
Sun-Dried Tomato Dip
Triple-Chocolate Cheesecake (forthcoming)
Burnt Orange Ice Cream
Bittersweet Decadence Cookies

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Comforting comfort food... in Portsmouth!

Everyone needs it, and every culture has it: comfort food.

Jason Alley and Chris Chandler paid homage to that basic necessity in Richmond at Comfort: traditional Southern cookery with a side of panache. Now Portsmouth is home to a second Comfort — same name, same game.

The painted sign out front isn't lit, and my husband and I almost drove right past it. We parked and headed into the warmly-hued and extremely spacious dining area.

A bar, peopled with relaxing after-fivers, ran along the wall to the left. Free-standing tables, in varying clusters, filled the front, while high-backed wooden booths dominated the rear.

Our waiter tucked us into a booth, leaving us to look over one of the simplest menus I've seen in some time.

Appetizers, entrees and sides are listed in unembellished terms: tomato salad ($4), grilled pork chop ($17, two sides; $19, three sides) and fried okra (a “side” included with some entrees) are astonishingly back to basics.

Then our server returned, not only to tell us the evening specials, but of the preparation of almost every single menu item.

It was at first amusing, then confusing, to listen to the litany of 15-plus items described in detail. By the time he'd returned with the wine, we needed him to repeat several of our choices.

The 2004 Fosco Dolcetto Diano D'Alba ($35) was a familiar wine to us, chosen for its laid-back, easy drinking attitude.

It won't blow your mind, but it will go nicely with a variety of foods, including Comfort's house-made bread.

Hint: the corn bread is singularly spectacular, with a perfectly pebbled texture, and a toasty, nutty flavor.

After seeing so many spinach salads ($6) carried out from the kitchen, Dave and I decided to split one.

It was served divided into two portions, a nice touch that we appreciated. The spinach was dressed in a light vinaigrette featuring fat, lovely chunks of delicious bacon. Thinly sliced red onions, cold flavorless tomatoes and a hard-boiled egg rounded out the plate.

Dave took the theme and ran with it, ordering the meatloaf entrée ($16, two sides). The presentation is classic meat-'n'-threes (although he only got two sides), no fancy plating required.

Two fat slices of succulent meatloaf were a perfectly textured monument to mama's finest, complete with highly-flavored mushroom gravy. Steamed string beans made for a fine green, while the mac and cheese was a dense, creamy delight.

I had the grilled mahi mahi ($18, two sides), finished in a chile-orange glaze. The filet had a lovely light texture, and the slightly sweet, slightly spicy sauce did everything right to enhance the mild white meat.

I had a side of tender braised greens, rich with chunks of bacon. The grits were all right, but as I'd just sampled The World's Best Grits, Ever (see my review of Center Street Grill at just a few nights before, my objectivity may have been slightly compromised.

It was quite a meal, and we ordered dessert to go. The dining room was quite busy at this point, and the banana pudding ($6) arrived before the receipt. It looked like a tart gone wild, with a crunchy crème brulee top, and an interior so creamy and opulent we dug in, laughing like little children with their first ice cream cone.

Sated and happy, we sped off into the night. The only thing missing was that Southern farewell: y'all come back now, y'hear?

725 High Street, Portsmouth
Phone: 393-3322
Specialties: Southern style comfort food
Price range: appetizers: $3-$8; entrees: $10-$20
Hours: lunch served 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner served 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: no
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit cards
Noise level: somewhat noisy
Atmosphere: tattered casual elegance
Additional Information: daily specials, catering, large parties welcome
Star rating: food 4, atmosphere 3 1/2, service 3 1/2
(out of five stars)

1 star- terrible
2 stars - mostly unpleasing
3 stars - pleasant & satisfactory
4 stars - very, very nice
5 stars - ultimate epicurean meal