Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Last Supper

This book was one of my Christmas presents. I had asked for it because the concept sounded fascinating and the chefs interviewed are among my favorite. I cannot tell you how delightful it was to discover that I have eaten at the restaurants owned by over 50% of the chefs featured in this book. I liked the photographs, but didn't love them. What I loved were the questions posed and the various answers. So, I decided to take the questions posed in the book and answer them myself. Cheers!

I. What would be your last meal on earth?

I would start off with an array of Armenian appetizers. I would want lahmanjoon: Armenian pizza. It is ground lamb with peppers and onions and tomato paste and spices on top of a thin crust. You usually squeeze a little lemon and then roll them up when they are nice and hot and eat this delectable blend of meat and dough. I would want my great aunt Nevart's beurek; she made thick mounds of philo dough and inside was a mixture of cheeses, feta being the prominent one. I would want a small plate of manti: lamb dumplings with yogurt and a sprinkle of cumin served on top.

For the main course, I would switch to Italian fare. I would want a timable...a huge blend of meats and pasta shapes encrusted in a huge mold of pasta. This dish was featured in the film Big Night and recreated by my best friend's parents one New Year's Eve. I would want gnocci with three sauces: pesto, alfredo, and bolognese. I would love some chicken marsala on top of linguine. There would be freshly shredded percorino romano cheese to go with all of this in addition to some boccocini marinated in olive oil and basil.

Dessert is en francais: I would love profiteroles with coffee, pistachio, and chocolate ice creams. I would love a vanilla bean creme brulet. Chocolate ganache would be aplenty all over the table in addition to bottomless cups of cafe au lait.

II. What would you drink with the meal?
Argentinian Malbecs, Smokey Shirazes, and Fruity Merlots.

III. What would be the setting of the meal?
I would want to eat at the dinner table of my best friend's grandmother's old home in Sag Harbor, New York. It had large bay windows with a view of the water where spotting cranes was sometimes a daily occurrence. I miss that house, I miss that table, and I miss its owner. Every meal I had at that table was divine, so this would be no exception.

IV. Would there be music?
Oh yes. I would want George Gershwin playing some upbeat piano rolls, especially a long rendition of Stairway to Paradise.

V. Who would be your dining companions?
All of my family, friends, and loved ones. It would be a big celebration. Jack, my nephew, would have to sit to the right of me.

VI. Who would prepare the meal?
I would take care of the Armenian appetizers and the gnocci. My best friend's parents would do the rest of the Italian fare, and I would get the ganache from Maison du Chocolat and the French pastries from Payard Patisserie in NYC.

You Say Potato

I never met a potato I didn't like, and these potatoes are no exception! This Thanksgiving I had wanted to do a scalloped potato and found a great recipe on the Whole Foods website. There are some wonderfully healthy recipes listed...of course this isn't exactly one of them! I used a mandolin to slice the potatoes on Thanksgiving but was too tired to do it on Christmas and quartered them. I will use the mandolin from now on...the cheese melted better in the thin layers of potato. And, it looked prettier, too!
Sometimes Gruyere can be expensive, so shop around. I went to two markets and found a price difference of over $6 a pound, so be careful where you purchase it. I found mine at Pathmark.
Gruyere Potato Gratin (courtesy of Whole Foods)
The Gruyere is the key to this dish because it melts and incorporates the cream better than cheddar ever could.
Serves 8
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3/4 pound cave-aged Gruyere, shredded
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
sea salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.Boil whole potatoes for 10 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. In the meantime, sauté onions and garlic in butter until they are soft and translucent. Layer potato slices and onions in a 9 x 9 baking dish. Pour cream over the potatoes. Season to taste and sprinkle Gruyere over the whole shebang. Bake 40–50 minutes or until golden.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cookin' Cookies

We wanted to make Christmas cookies together. The grandfather was a huge fan of pignoli cookies. Choosing a recipe was a challenge, because we didn't want the cookies to be crunchy. Rather, they should be "al dente": chewy to the tooth. This recipe is the perfect texture for a pignoli cookie. He meticulously placed the pignoli nuts in the cookie (such as in the photo), whearas I clustered mine all over. Both balances of nuts were delicious! I recommend this recipe anytime when you have leftover pignoli nuts after making pesto (he made an arugala pesto a week earlier).

PIGNOLI COOKIES (courtesy of

1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
1/4 c. unsifted all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 can (8 oz.) almond paste
2 egg whites
1 jar (3 oz.) pignoli nuts
Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease two large cookie sheets. Sift together granulated sugar and 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar with flour and salt; set aside.
In a medium bowl, break up almond paste into small pieces using a fork. Add egg whites and beat with electric mixer at medium speed until well blended and smooth.
With a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until well blended. Using slightly rounded teaspoonfuls, roll dough between hands into balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Place balls 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Lightly press into rounds, 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Press nuts into tops. Bake at 300 F. 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are golden. Remove to wire rack and cool. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Store several days in tightly covered container to mellow. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

I saw the peanut butter and jelly thumbprint cookies in December's Cooking Light and really wanted to bake them for Christmas! My best friend did a cookie exchange with her supper club a week ago and someone made these cookies. I liked them, but didn't love them. The person didn't use chunky peanut butter, which is a must for this recipe. I also didn't like the way the raspberry jam tasted; I wanted an authentic flavor. So, I picked up Polaner Grape fruit spread and wow...what an amazing difference! These tasted like a peanut butter sandwich in cookie form! Just make sure you have lots of milk on hand when you eat these.

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter *do not use creamy - it will ruin the flavor*
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray
7 tablespoons seedless raspberry preserves **I used Polaner Grape Fruit Spread**
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Preparation: Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and salt, stirring well with a whisk; set aside.
Place sugars, peanut butter, and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture, beating on low speed just until combined.
Lightly coat hands with cooking spray. Shape dough into 36 balls (about 2 1/2 teaspoons each). Place balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Press thumb into center of each dough ball, leaving an indentation. Cover and chill 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 350° for 14 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove cookies from pans, and cool on a wire rack.
Place preserves in a small microwave-safe bowl, and microwave at HIGH 20 seconds, stirring once. Add juice, stirring until smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon preserves mixture into the center of each cookie.
Yield 3 dozen (serving size: 1 cookie)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The House that Jack Built

This, my friends, is the (ginger)bread house that Jack built (with help from is Aunt Maimy).
Last Monday I arrived at his house with a big gift bag filled with icing, graham crackers, red icing, green icing, twizzlers, gummi bears, peppermint disks, jelly circles, white sprinkles, and a flap book about a gingerbread house for my nephew.
I am very proud of his interest and skills in this gingerbread house project since he is only two! He has an interest in cooking and food, so he enjoyed himself as much as I did.
Once I colored some of the frosting green, we used a spatula to spread it over a flat piece of cardboard. Once I showed him how to spread, he pushed my hand away and said "Maimy no," which means he wanted to do it himself. :) As he spread the frosting, I was able to construct a quick house. We placed it down and then spread white sprinkles to make snow. This turned into The Great Sprinkle Debacle. While most made it on the green frosting, some ended up all over the floor. Thank God for mini vacs. After that, we started decorating and he took a huge wad of gummi bears and stuck them in one section. I was tempted to leave it, because it was so cute, but I was able to show him how to spread them out. Once I gave him the green icing (see photo),there was no going back. I was constantly shoving candy pieces on front of him to stack together or to place on the house! The Great Peppermint Pandemic occurred after we took turns liking the spatula filled with vanilla frosting. The unwrapped disks started flying everywhere at Jack's hand - we made a game of throwing them up in the air and screaming. My sister said she found another one just yesterday under the cabinets. :)
It is my true hope that this will begin a new tradition for me and Jack and we shall build a gingerbread house each year!