Articles in Cooking

Dress up your New Year's feast with Beef Tenderloin en Croute With Mustard Sauce. Credit: Carole Murko

What does New Year’s Eve mean to you? Do you feel the need to party like it’s 1999? Or do you prefer an intimate gathering with friends? I have always looked at New Year’s Eve as amateur night. Somewhat of a forced party. I suppose that bias came from my parents’ attitude about New Year’s Eve. So, I seemed to avoid it like the plague.

But, admittedly, I always thought, maybe, just maybe I was missing out. Turns out the enjoyment quotient has less to do with the event and more to do with the people and your attitude. So with attitude adjustment in hand and a great group of friends, New Year’s Eve can be a splendid holiday to celebrate. What with the optimism of resolutions, or word of the year, or mapping out one’s desired feelings, it is indeed a time to embrace all that is new in 2015.

A New Year’s Eve get-together is a party or event that begins much later than most dinner parties. One of the things I learned from my mom was how to entertain simply and elegantly. For New Year’s Eve, a simple, yet sophisticated, do-ahead menu will allow you to enjoy your guests and ring in the new year with style. And in keeping with Heirloom Meals, I am sharing recipes that my mom, sister Jen and I have used, developed and refined over the years for various parties that we throw.

Easy Guac and Chips

Easy Guac and Chips
Picture 1 of 3

What's easier than Easy Guacamole, served with your choice of chips. Credit: Carole Murko

 Creative cheese platter — use several local cheeses, as well as olives, sliced fruit and nuts

Guacamole and chips

Beef Tenderloin en Croute With Mustard Sauce

Savory Sautéed Shrimp a la Jen

Arugula Salad With Mustard Vinaigrette

Mom’s Mystery Dessert

Prosecco

 

Easy Guacamole

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: none

Total time: 10 to 15 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6, as a snack

Ingredients

1/2 jar of your favorite or homemade salsa

2 avocados, smashed

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 or 2 drops of Tabasco sauce, optional

Directions

Mix ingredients together and enjoy with chips of your choice.

 

Beef Tenderloin en Croute With Mustard Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

For the beef:

4 to 5 pound whole beef tenderloin, trimmed

1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 500 F.

2. We like to oven sear our tenderloin, but you can also sear it on top of the stove. Rub tenderloin with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet and sear about 5 minutes per side, then reduce temperature to 350 F and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. This should produce a spectrum of doneness from medium-rare in the middle to well-done on the ends.

3. Remove from pan, tent with foil, and let rest for about 20 minutes. Keep in mind: The beef will continue to cook. Once the filet is rested, you can slice it to desired thickness, about 1/2-inch thick for the en croute.

For en croute:

Loaf of french bread, sliced 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Brush slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the middle of the oven for about 5 minutes until lightly toasted. Remove to a rack, cool and store until ready to use.

For the mustard sauce:

1/2 cup dry mustard

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons water

6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

3 tablespoons fresh chives

Directions

1. Mix the mustard, vinegar, sugar, salt and water until it forms a smooth paste. Cover and let stand for about 10 minutes.

2. Put mixture into a double-boiler over simmering water and whisk in the butter until combined and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the chives.

Note: Can be served warm or at room temperature. We put a small dollop on each beef en croute.

 

Savory Sautéed Shrimp a la Jen

Prep time: 30 to 35 minutes

Cook time: 5 to 10 minutes

Total time: 35 to 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 pounds shrimp, peeled, deveined, cleaned and dried

2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon rosemary, minced

1/4 cup parsley, minced

1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, to taste

1/4 cup capers

1/4 cup olive oil

Zest of one lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons butter

Juice of one lemon

1/4 cup parsley, for garnish

Directions

1. Toss the shrimp with the garlic, rosemary, parsley, crushed red pepper, capers, olive oil, lemon zest, and salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.

2. Heat butter until foaming in a large skillet, add the shrimp and saute until cooked, about five minutes. Pour into your serving bowl, toss with lemon juice and parsley for garnish, if you’re using it. Can be served hot off the stove or at room temperature.

 

Mustard Vinaigrette

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: none

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Whisk together the vinegar and mustard until smooth and then add the olive oil, pouring in a stream to incorporate slowly, whisk until smooth.

Note: This dressing goes particularly well with a baby arugula salad.

 

Mom’s Mystery Dessert

Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes, plus time to freeze (4+ hours)

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

2 cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2/3 cup of flour

1 cup chopped pecans

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons brandy

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil.

3. Mix together the brown sugar, eggs, flour, pecans and baking soda. Spoon the batter into the baking dish.

4. Bake for about 25 minute or until the tester comes out clean. Cool for about 2 hours.

5. Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form and fold in the brandy.

6. Break the cake into small pieces and fold into the cream. Spoon the mixture into a clean 9-by-13-inch pan and spread evenly. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, spoon into goblets and serve.

Main photo: Beef Tenderloin en Croute With Mustard Sauce. Credit: Carole Murko

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Alexander Smalls, the owner and executive chef at Harlem's The Cecil. Credit: Daniel Krieger

Alexander Smalls, the Harlem-based restaurateur known for his African diaspora-inspired menus, is a celebrity chef at the forefront of culture-blended cuisine.

His New Year’s menu is a tip-off to the breadth of the cuisine that his patrons encounter each day at The Cecil, which recently won Esquire magazine’s coveted Restaurant of the Year for 2014.

There’s Afro/Asian/American Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce. Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks. And Cinnamon-Scented Fried Guinea Hen.

“My ancestors left amazing food trails to follow,” said Smalls, a self-described “Southern boy” and globe-trotting former opera singer. “Our menu is a journey through Africa, India, South America, Europe, China, South Carolina, Native American villages and back, with lots of side tracks in France and England and beyond.”

An uncommon cuisine

High-end diners who enter his restaurant know they will encounter something unique. In New York, diners have their choice of fancy places that serve them foam, gel and tweezer foods.

“Then you find a place like The Cecil,” reported Esquire magazine, “and you wake up.”

Smalls is a native of the coastal South Carolina region known as Low Country, and he honed his culinary skills with classical training in Italy and France. How would someone with that varying background approach holiday fare? On New Year’s Eve, he will start the night off with champagne and oysters and then launch into another food realm based in Low Country. Traditional is his preference.

“Back home, my father made smothered shrimp in crab gravy over grits. That dish will always be synonymous with celebration to me,” said Smalls, often referred to as the father of Southern revival cooking as author of “Grace the Table: Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival.”

“Growing up, I lived for Sunday dinners and started thinking about it on Wednesday: Southern fried chicken, fried okra, creamed corn, gravy, pole beans cooked with ham hocks and Geechee rice,” said the restaurateur who, along with New York businessman Richard Parsons, owns both The Cecil and Minton’s on the same block in Harlem. He also was owner of the legendary, now-closed restaurants Café Beulah and Sweet Ophelia’s.

Food that makes you want to sing — from a singer

“I toured the world as an opera singer and learned world-class cuisine firsthand while on the road,” said Smalls, a chef to stars, including Wynton Marsalis, Spike Lee, Quincy Jones and Toni Morrison. “European food is very influenced by Africa — like American food — and only recently are we seeing recognition for our contribution to world cuisine.”

Smalls’ entire menu is a variation on the African diaspora theme. Those who love okra, yams, plantains, beans, rice and greens will be greeted with multiple choices.

His Piri Piri Prawns dish originated as a chicken stew. But he revised the flavor profile by using sautéed prawns instead. Piri-piri, a Bantu word for pepper, is a spicy dish with roots in both Africa and Portugal. It was created in Angola when Portuguese settlers arrived with chili peppers. This dish is also popular in South Africa, Smalls said.

His yassa turkey is a spin on a Senegalese dish, and his turkey stuffed with jollof rice is another example of a West African blend on an American theme.

His Southern roots remain strong

But his rolls are true Southern belles.

“I will only use White Lily flour for my rolls,” Smalls said of the powdery light flour milled from soft winter wheat produced by White Lily since 1883.

To help him achieve the global breadth of the African diaspora cuisine, Smalls enlisted the young, classically trained Chef de Cuisine Joseph “JJ” Johnson, whose first culinary instructors were his grandmother from Barbados and his Puerto Rican mother.

The expanse of their experiences appears in their holiday dishes, with recipes to some of them included below.

Said Smalls: “I’m happy to help celebrate our style of American cuisine as we ring in the New Year.”

Afro/Asian/American Oxtail Dumplings. Credit: Laylah A. Barrayn

Afro/Asian/American Oxtail Dumplings. Credit: Laylah A. Barrayn

Oxtail Dumplings With Green Apple Curry Sauce

Prep time: 1 1/2 hours

Cook time: 2 1/2 hours

Total time: 4 hours

Yield: 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

For the braised oxtails:   

10 (3-inch cut) oxtails

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons grape-seed oil

2 onions, rough chopped

3 carrots, rough chopped

1 bunch celery, rough chopped

4 quarts veal stock

2 quarts chicken stock

2 bay leaves

2 lemons

2 whole oranges, quartered

1 jalapeño with seeds

3 cinnamon sticks

6 sprigs of thyme

1/2 bunch parsley

For the oxtail dumplings:

2 tablespoons grape-seed oil

3 heads of cabbage, shredded

1 quart shallots, minced

5 to 6 Bird’s Eye chilies, finely chopped

1 cup ginger, minced

8 quarts oxtail meat, braised and shredded

4 scallions, chopped

4 tablespoons turmeric

2 tablespoons curry powder

Salt and pepper, to taste

Wonton wrappers

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the green apple curry sauce:

2 pounds of butter

3 tablespoons curry powder

3 tablespoons turmeric

12 shallots

10 heads of garlic

3 Granny Smith apples

1 stalk lemongrass

2 large pieces of ginger, unpeeled

6 cans coconut milk

Sachet of 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 piece star anise and 1 bay leaf

3 limes, juiced

Salt, to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Season oxtails with salt and pepper.

3. In a large Dutch oven, sear oxtails in grape-seed oil over medium heat until browned on both sides. Set aside.

4. Add onions, carrots and celery in the same pan and sauté vegetables for 10 minutes. Once vegetables are tender, add veal stock and chicken stock.

5. Bring to a hard simmer and add bay leaves, lemons, oranges, jalapeño, cinnamon sticks, thyme and parsley.

6. After simmering for 20 minutes, add in oxtails, making sure they are completely covered with liquid. If not, add water. Cover with aluminum foil and place into the oven and cook for 2 1/2 hours, or until tender. When fully cooked, remove braised oxtails from cooking liquid and allow to cool. When cooled, pull meat from oxtails. Skim fat off of cooking liquid, strain and set aside.

7. For the dumplings, in a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté cabbage, shallots and Bird’s eye chilies in the grape-seed oil. Add ginger, the shredded oxtail meat, scallions, turmeric and curry powder and cook for 5 minutes.

8. In a food processor, lightly pulse all ingredients until mix comes together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

9. Place wonton wrapper on a flat surface and brush the corners with egg. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper and fold edges together.

10. When ready to cook, gently place filled wonton wrapper in boiling water and cook for 3 minutes.

11. For the green apple curry sauce, sauté in the butter the curry powder, turmeric, shallots, garlic, apples, lemongrass and ginger. Cook until toasted and golden brown.

12. Add the coconut milk and the sachet. Reduce and finish with the lime juice.

13.  Salt, to taste.

14. To serve, spoon warm green apple curry sauce in the bottom of a serving bowl. Place 4 dumplings on top of sauce and serve hot.

Piri Piri Prawns. Credit: Lucy Schaefer

Piri Piri Prawns.
Credit: Lucy Schaefer

Piri Piri Prawns With Yam Flapjacks

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 1 1/2 hours

Total time: 2 1/2 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the sautéed prawns:

1 lemon

1 teaspoon chili flakes

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 cup blended oil (for example, 1/2 canola oil, 1/2 olive oil —  not extra virgin olive oil)

3 pounds of shrimp, cleaned and deveined

Kosher salt

For the yam flapjacks:

2 yams

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup packed dark palm sugar

1 tablespoon oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Piri Piri Sauce:

2 onions

6 Bird’s Eye Chilies

1 small piece of ginger

2 cloves of garlic

4 tablespoons canola oil

15 plum tomatoes

1 orange, zested

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

1. To prepare the sautéed prawns, zest one lemon in bowl.

2. Whisk together with chili flakes, chopped parsley and blended oil.

3. Add in 3 pounds of shrimp and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.

4. Once marinated, season prawns with kosher salt.

5. Place in hot pan and cook on each side for two minutes.

6. To prepare the flapjacks, preheat oven to 350 F.

7. Roast yams in the oven for one hour. Remove and mash.

8. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together.

9. Heat a non-stick pan on stove and spoon in mix to form medium-sized flapjacks.

10. Cook the flapjacks until they are golden brown on both sides.

11. For the Piri Piri Sauce, roughly chop onions, chilies, ginger and garlic.

12. Sweat the mixture over low heat in the canola oil.

13. Add roughly chopped tomatoes and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked down. Add orange zest and blend together, adding oil slowly to emulsify. After emulsified, season with salt and pepper to taste.

14. To serve, place a medium-size flapjack on the plate. Add four prawns and a tablespoon of the Piri Piri Sauce. Top it off with Apple Ginger Salad (recipe below).

Apple Ginger Salad

Ingredients

1/2 cup black currants

1/4 cup bourbon plus 2 tablespoons water

1/2 piece of fresh ginger,  julienned

2 green apples, julienned

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 bunch cilantro

Directions

1. In a small bowl, soak black currants in bourbon and water until plump.

2. In a medium bowl, toss all remaining ingredients together, except for cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Adjust sesame oil to your liking.

4. Place on top of prawns and garnish with cilantro leaves.

Main photo: Alexander Smalls, the owner and executive chef at Harlem’s The Cecil. Credit: Daniel Krieger

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Castagnaccio is made with chestnut flour, which is so naturally sweet it needs no added sweeteners. Credit: Aurelio Barattini

There are so many ways to enjoy chestnuts. A wonderful winter treat, chestnuts are delicious fresh, served either pan- or oven-roasted, or as an out-of-hand snack. They can also be dried, and when reconstituted, have a wonderful toothsome quality. The Italians in the northern region of Piedmont slow cook dried chestnuts in the oven in a mix of honey and wine. They then serve these smoky sweet delights with slices of lardo or salami.

Popular in northern Italy’s Piedmont region is a mound of chocolate-chestnut puree topped with spiked whipped cream — a melt-in-your-mouth delight. It’s called Monte Bianco, White Mountain, because the dessert looks like the snow-capped Alps. Many Italians elaborate on the theme and scatter candied violets and crushed candied chestnuts on the “mountain”to look like flowers and rocks.

Chestnut flour, made of ground dried chestnuts, makes wonderfully flavorful breads and desserts.

Leave it to the Italians to create a dessert that is not only gluten-free, but also sugar-free. Castagnaccio, a traditional dessert from Tuscany, is made with chestnut flour, which is so naturally sweet it needs no added sweeteners. Like so many traditional Italian recipes, it makes use of locally grown ingredients — chestnuts, olive oil, rosemary and nuts. Savory-sweet, with aromatic hints of rosemary, this cake is made with olive oil, not butter, so it’s ideal for vegans.

This cake is mentioned in a 1553 book by Ortensio Landi that notes it was created in Lucca, a province of Tuscany, so I asked my favorite chef from Lucca, Aurelio Barattini, for his recipe.

Tuscany’s Chestnut Cake (Castagnaccio)

Courtesy: Chef Aurelio Barattini of Antica Locanda di Sesto in Lucca, Italy

Prep time: 5 minutes

Bake time: 40 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Note: The cake stays moist for several days, and is terrific served with a glass of Vin Santo or muscato dessert wine.

Ingredients

1/3 cup raisins

5 1/2 ounces chestnut flour, about 2/3 cup

Pinch of salt

1 cup cold water

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

1/3 cup walnuts and/or pine nuts

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 390 F.

2. Put the raisins into a small bowl and moisten them with a few tablespoons of boiling water to plump them. Drain and reserve.

3. Sift the chestnut flour and salt into a large bowl. Slowly whisk in 1 cup of cold water and beat until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the reserved raisins, 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of rosemary leaves.

4. Grease a baking pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour the batter onto the pan. The batter should be less than a 1/2-inch high. Scatter the top with the walnuts and/or pine nuts, if using, remaining rosemary, and drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons of oil.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 F and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until firm and golden brown.

Monte Bianco

Courtesy: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound fresh chestnuts*

2 1/2 cups milk

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 ounces best-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon brandy or rum

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream

3 to 4 vanilla meringue cookies, coarsely chopped

2 to 3 candied chestnuts, marron glace, chopped, optional

Candied violets, optional

Directions

1. Pierce the skin of each chestnut with a knife. Boil them in a large pot with lots of water, until tender, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool only slightly. It’s much easier to peel them while they’re warm.

2. Combine the milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and fennel seeds in a medium saucepan and heat over a low flame to release the fennel’s flavor, about 5 minutes. Strain and return the liquid to the saucepan. Add the chestnuts and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Put the warm chestnut mixture into a food processor along with the chocolate, 1/4 cup of the brandy and vanilla extract. Pulse to blend and then process until very smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 2 days.

4. To assemble: Put a tall glass upside down into the center of a serving plate. Press the chestnut mixture through a potato ricer into a mountain-shaped cone around the glass. Remove the glass.

5. In a large bowl using an electric mixer whip the cream with 1/4 cup of the remaining sugar until peaks form. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of brandy.

6. Fill the hollow left by the glass with whipped cream and top the chestnut “mountain” with more whipped cream. Sprinkle with the meringues and candied chestnuts, if using. If you like, arrange a few candied violets around the base. Serve immediately.

* Note: You can also make this dessert with ready-roasted chestnuts, available in glass jars in most supermarkets.

Main photo: Castagnaccio, a traditional dessert from Tuscany, is made with chestnut flour, which is so naturally sweet it needs no added sweeteners. Credit: Aurelio Barattini

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Rosehips and cranberries in a bowl. Credit: Wendy Petty

Foraged rosehips are all it takes to transform an ordinary cranberry sauce into a gem for the holiday table. Rosehips really shine when combined with a bright and acidic ingredient, such as cranberries.

The cooked version of rosehip-cranberry sauce is just right with desserts such as cheesecake. When rosehips are stirred into raw chopped cranberries, the resulting relish is a delight with cheese or meats.

I will admit that by this time of year in the Rockies, there aren’t many other wild foods left to harvest. Rosehips, however, are special because they get better after a few strong frosts. These relatives of apples, with the kiss of winter, transform from simply mealy and tart into something richer and sticky-sweet, almost like wine-soaked dried strawberries.

Not only are rosehips one of the only wild edibles to forage in places that experience deep winter, they are easy enough to identify that even kids can help harvest them. Picking rosehips can be as simple as making a trip to your backyard if your garden is graced with roses. All true roses produce edible fruit. The only trick with garden roses is to be certain they have never been sprayed with any chemicals, which would render them inedible.

I prefer to get my rosehips from the wild, as it has been my experience that they have a stronger flavor. I also enjoy picking them during my winter walks, even in the snow. I take a container with me every day as I walk and pick rosehips just until my fingers get cold, sometimes not more than 1/4 cup at a time. Because they are essentially dried fruit on the plant, there’s not much of a rush to harvest. By the end of winter, the weather will have sapped out much of their flavor. But early in the season, a little snow and cold doesn’t degrade the taste of rosehips.

Rosehips in hand. Credit:Wendy Petty

Rosehips in hand. Credit:Wendy Petty

Harvesting rosehips is simple. Look for the reddest and plumpest fruit, and simply pluck them off with your fingers. I live in an arid climate, and rosehips can shrivel up hard as rocks. Those taste fine once they rehydrate, but I still seek out the ones that are like translucent rubies. When stripped from the plant, these rosehips reveal their sticky, gooey insides.

Once harvested, rosehips should be washed in a tub of water, simply to remove dirt and dust that may have been blown onto them as they aged. I then sort through them and discard any that seem damaged or discolored. As a final step, any remaining stems and dried bits of the flowering end can be cut away. But I will admit that I seldom do this, and find that it doesn’t detract from the flavor of the final product.

People with access to giant rosehips the size of marbles prepare them by cutting them in half and scooping out the innards before using the fruit. The fuzzy seeds inside of rosehips can be irritating to the digestive tract. The rosehips that grow in my area are so small that cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds would be a near-impossible task. Instead, I boil and mash the whole fruit, then press the mash through a strainer.

Rosehip-Cranberry Relish

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 24 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup rosehips, washed

3/4 cup water

1 cup whole cranberries

2 tablespoons honey, or to taste

Pinch of salt

Directions

1. In a small saucepan, combine the rosehips and water over medium heat. Let them simmer for 10 minutes.

2. Use a potato masher to crush the rosehips. This will release the fruit next to the skin and allow it to marry with the water. Continue to simmer the rosehips for another 5 minutes.

3. Pour the mashed rosehips through a strainer, and press the fruit with the back of a spoon. Fruity orange-red water should pass through the strainer, and the fuzzy seeds and skins will be left behind. Reserve the rosehips water.

4. Put the solids back into the pan, barely cover them with water, and allow them to come to a simmer. Pass the rosehips through the strainer a second time. Discard the solids left in the strainer.

5. Quickly rinse out your pan you used to heat the rosehips and return the fruity rosehip water to it. Place the pan over medium heat, and allow it to bubble until it reduces to the thickness of runny ketchup. Remove the pan from the heat, and allow the rosehip paste to cool to room temperature.

6. Meanwhile, use a food processor to grind the raw cranberries into a sandy texture.

7. Combine the reduced rosehips, the chopped raw cranberries, honey and salt. Add more honey if the relish tastes too tart.

8. Allow the rosehip-cranberry relish to sit, covered, in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using it. This will allow the cranberries to soften, and all the flavors to meld.

Rosehip-Cranberry Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup whole cranberries

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups water

Reduced rosehip paste

Directions

1. Follow steps 1-5 for Rosehip-Cranberry Relish to create a reduced rosehip paste, set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the whole cranberries, sugar, salt and water. Bring the heat up to medium, and cook the cranberries until they pop and slouch, about 10 minutes.

3. Mix together the cooked cranberries with the reduced rosehip paste. Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

Main photo: Rosehips and cranberries in a bowl. Credit: Wendy Petty

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Food wrapped for a potluck. Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

Making dishes for holiday potlucks is usually more pleasurable than transporting them to the occasion. There’s always the fear that things will tip over or spill in the trunk. Whenever you stop short at a light, you wonder whether your tart or cake will be intact when you get to the party or whether the top has flown off your casserole.

I have watched with wonder as chefs and pastry chefs wrap food for transport. Learning their tricks has been one of the bonuses of working with them on their books. Chefs such as Sherry Yard and Jacquy Pfeiffer must wrap delicate tarts, cakes and other pastries for catered events and deliver them intact and beautiful. When I worked with Mark Peel, I observed as he used yards of plastic wrap to wrap full hotel pans and containers filled with sloshing liquids in such a way that they would arrive at their destinations without losing a splash or a drip.

Plastic, plastic, plastic

Plastic wrap — yards of it — is the tool used by most chefs. There are other, more eco-friendly materials now on the market for covering food containers (read on), but plastic wrap is still the most efficient for protecting large sheet pans, casseroles and Dutch ovens.

If you can find a place to keep it, I recommend you buy restaurant-strength plastic in an 18-inch wide roll. You can find these in package stores. The plastic is much easier to handle than household plastic rolls and much more convenient for wrapping.

Watch out, it’s hot: stews, soups and casseroles

If you need to transport a dish straight from the oven that’s so hot it will melt plastic, insulate the dish with foil or a dish towel first. Don’t wrap from the top to the bottom; pull out a long sheet of foil and set your dish on top of it. Pull the foil up, over and around the dish. If your foil isn’t wide enough to cover the entire dish (a 12-inch roll won’t be), you will need to do this with a few staggered sheets. Crimp the foil against the sides and edges of the baking dish so that it’s tight on the dish. Now do the same with a really long piece of plastic, setting the dish on top of the plastic and bringing the plastic all the way around the dish and back to the bottom, so that the dish is tightly enclosed. If the dish isn’t too hot, there’s no need to insulate it first. To make a really tight seal, wrap crosswise as well with a few sheets of plastic. Your dish should be completely enclosed in the plastic and there should be no way for the plastic to slip off.

To insulate with a dishtowel, cover the top with foil, set the dish on the towel and bring the towel up around the dish. Then wrap in plastic as instructed above.

If you are transporting something like a heavy stew pot with a lid, wrap as above, remembering to set the casserole on top of the long sheet of plastic and to bring the plastic up, over and tightly around the top of the pot (you won’t need foil unless it is coming straight from the oven) in two directions to secure the lid. Sometimes I tape the lid down first. Pull out a long sheet of plastic that will go about 1 1/3 times around the circumference of the pot. Twist it into a rope and tie it around the sealed pot just below the lid.

Transporting liquids without spills

Liquids (including dips) can be particularly worrisome. Even when you have a Tupperware or plastic container with a lid that snaps into place, there is always the chance that it could fall over and open up. Peel always double wrapped containers tightly in plastic, setting the container on top of the plastic and wrapping it all the way around the container twice. Sometimes he would also seal with the twisted plastic “rope” described above.

Packing hot food in a basket or a box

Pati Jinich, host of “Pati’s Mexican Table” on PBS, describes the way taco vendors in Mexico City wrap baskets of tacos to keep them warm. This strikes me as a good way to keep all sorts of dishes warm if transporting in a basket or a box. Line the basket or box that you will set your dish in with several wide layers of plastic. The plastic should cover the bottom and come up the sides of the basket or box and be large enough to fold over your dish or platter once you set it inside. Arrange two kitchen towels on top of the plastic. Set your dish on top of the towels (taco vendors place parchment or brown paper on top of the towels and set their tacos directly on top of the parchment, then cover the tacos with another sheet of parchment or brown paper). Cover with another towel and bring the edges of the plastic around from the sides of the basket or box to wrap.

Desserts: some assembly required

Pfeiffer says that it is often better not to bring a completely assembled cake to a party. “Some assembly or last minute finishing touches will create a great conversation topic; people are always interested in knowing how things are done or assembled,” he notes. If you do need to bring a fully assembled cake or tart, put it into a cake or pie box so that the top won’t be exposed and it won’t slip around.

Securing the food in your car

Once a dish is well wrapped or boxed you don’t need to worry about its contents sloshing out. But you still need to secure it in your car. I like to set casseroles and pots into bus trays or on sheet pans. Pfeiffer lays a sheet of shelf liner on the floor of the car or trunk. “They make great anti-slip surfaces. We use them when we deliver wedding cakes.” In France, my French friends would take large dishtowels and tie them around the dishes in two directions, creating a sort of sling that also has a handle. These will also prevent the dishes from slipping around. I prefer to set dishes on the floor behind the driver’s seat, but if there isn’t room and you need to use the trunk, just be sure your dishes are wedged in or on a nonslip surface like the shelf paper so they won’t slide around.

An eco-friendly alternative to plastic

Today there is an alternative to plastic wrap, a material called Abeego made from cotton, hemp, beeswax and jojoba oil. The material comes in sheets that you can mold over food items or containers. It will stick to the sides of containers and seal them well, and it can be washed and reused. The product is sold in various sizes, the largest of which is 13 by 20 inches. This might not be big enough for the kind of ultra-tight wrapping I’ve described above, but you can cover smaller containers with it and get a good seal, and you don’t have to worry about all that plastic.

I wish I’d known these chefs’ tricks decades ago when I was a caterer. I had plenty of sturdy containers for transporting food, but I did have one disaster on the way to a nearby party I was catering that could have been avoided with some careful wrapping. In the trunk of my car were a number of sheet pans filled with quiches and a big pot of refried black beans for tostadas. As I was getting off the freeway, I rear-ended a truck. It wasn’t a bad accident, and I wasn’t hurt, but all of the quiches went flying and doubled over on themselves, and the lid came off the black beans, which splattered all over my trunk. In tears, I called the artist who was hosting the party. She wasn’t far away and sent some friends to pick up what could be salvaged. It was my great good fortune that the party was for a group of sculptors: When I arrived with the rest of the food a little later, they had put my quiches back together again!

Main photo: Food wrapped for a potluck.  Credit: Martha Rose Shulman

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Elephant Christmas tree. Credit: Eti Swinford-Dreamstime

All around the world trees are adorned with lights, candles and lamps are displayed in windows, strings of paper lanterns are cut into intricate patterns. Christmas is one of the many holidays that celebrate the return of light to the world at the time of the winter solstice.

Along the Silk Road, the largest number of Christians in any country is in predominantly Hindu India. There are around 35 million Christians in India, with those of Catholic faith comprising slightly less than half of that total number. That’s  a few million less than the population of California; and five times as many Christians live in India than in Christian Georgia and Armenia combined.

In a country of almost 1 billion Hindus and 140 million Muslims, Christians are still a minority in India. In some urban areas such as Chennai and Kerala, though, there are large Christian communities who have beautiful and distinct ways of celebrating the holiday that blend Christian religious practice and iconography with Indian material culture.

Celebrations often begin on Christmas Eve and continue through the New Year. Families gather on Christmas Eve for processions through the streets to churches decorated with the bold crimson foliage of poinsettias in bloom for a midnight Mass to begin the holiday season. People worship as choirs sing traditional religious and secular songs. In some parishes, fireworks are lit after services and people dance, feast and exchange presents well into one of the longest nights of the year.

Decorated trees

Other familiar traditions get a uniquely Indian twist on the subcontinent and Nativity scenes are displayed in Christian homes. Banana and mango trees are decorated with lights and oil lamps are placed on roofs and walls to declare the return of the light, as is also done for Hindu India’s Diwali festival.

Most startling and magical are the strings of star-shaped paper lanterns that are hung from rooftop to rooftop and in front of Christian-owned shops and restaurants, symbolically to light the way of all people. Caroling takes place in Christian communities and in most urban melting pots, as crowds of people gather to walk through the streets and make a joyous noise to celebrate their faith.

Christianity’s roots run deep in India. According to Indian Christian traditions, the apostle Thomas arrived in Kerala in the mid-first century A.D., and began preaching across the region and into Tamil Nadu. From this humble beginning, Christianity spread steadily across India, and by the time of the Sassanid Empire in A.D. 226, there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India, Afghanistan and Baluchistan. The first Catholic bishop of India was ordained in the early 14th century, and in the 15th century, as the Portuguese colonists along the Malabar Coast continued the spread of the faith.

Indian garland

Garland of stars. Credit: Nikhil Gangavane – Dreamstime

Christmas Day is a national holiday in India, and the day off from work and official duties often prompts people of other faiths to have large family dinners at this time as well. So, even if they make up a small portion of India’s population, Christians have freedom to worship and celebrate this season that is both known and in some secular ways shared by their brothers and sisters of other creeds.

Families prepare for weeks or sometimes months for the coming of Christmas and homes are cleaned, repaired and whitewashed. That ever-earlier harbinger of the Christmas season in the West — shopping — also takes place in India as people shop for new clothes to wear to festivities and buy presents for loved ones. For women and girls the holiday also includes preparing special foods — particularly desserts and cakes to share with  visitors and cooking can begin long in advance of the holiday.

Cookies and sweets

There are no dishes that are unique to the Christmas season in India, but the most elaborate and expensive dishes are usually prepared. Savory dishes include layered biryanis, especially Mughlai biryani, with its large complement of meat, nuts and spices. Other savory dishes include mutton or lamb curries and roasted and stuffed duck or other fowl.

Trays of cookies and sweets are present in every home and some sweets, such as naan khatai, kulkuls and various burfis are usually served. Traditional dishes vary a great deal by region; for example, the pork curry, sorpatel and the layered sweet with coconut milk, egg and sugar called bebinca are sure to be served in Goa, whereas in West Bengal, a prawn and coconut curry such as Bhapa Chingri is a likely savory dish. As for sweets in Kolkata and surrounding areas, one is likely to be served cheese balls in sweetened rosewater or rasgulla, or a rice pudding called a kheer.

 To partake in these sometimes week-long feasts, students return home for the holidays and adults living away from their place of birth often return to visit their parents to celebrate. Above all, it is a time for peace and well-being within families and communities. Christian or not, the solstice season is about the return of the sun and victory of light over darkness for us all.

Indian sweets

Indian sweets. Credit: Sunil Lal – Dreamstime

Cardamom and Pistachio Cookies (Naan Khatai)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina
1 cup butter or ghee (softened)
1/2 to 3/4 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Seeds from 10 cardamom pods, ground
Shelled, pistachios or almonds (halved or slivered for decoration)
2 to 4 tablespoons mixed ground pistachios mixed with a pinch or two more of ground cardamom.

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 F. Sift the flour and semolina together. Then whisk the butter or ghee in bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients until creamy. Add the sugar, salt and ground cardamom to the ghee and mix well till all the sugar is dissolved. Then add flour and semolina a bit at a time until the dough is smooth.

If it is hot and humid in your area, you may wish to let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes before shaping and decorating the cookies. Roll the dough into balls about 1-inch across. Flatten the balls, and place on a greased or sprayed cookie sheet, leaving space between the cookies for them to expand when they cook.

Place some pistachios or almonds on the center of each cookie and press lightly. Now take a pinch or two of ground nuts and cardamom and sprinkle over the cookies. (Don’t overdo this step, the flavor is supposed to be light.) Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they just start to color. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Note: There are many variations in recipes for naan khatai throughout the subcontinent and into western Asia. Some use a bit of nutmeg, others a dash of cinnamon. Some recipes substitute corn oil in the place of clarified butter or ghee. Also, if you don’t like or don’t have pistachios on hand, the recipe works well with almonds or hazelnuts or really any nut of your choice.

Main photo: Elephant Christmas tree. Credit: Eti Swinford-Dreamstime

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Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Perugia is the more important of the two provinces of Umbria and in culinary terms is most famous for its chocolates. Perugina, the chocolate firm founded in 1907, makes chocolate kisses (baci) famous throughout Italy and even in the United States. It’s also the historic home of a novel Christmas cake.

A variety of sweets are made around Christmas such as pinoccate, little diamond-shaped sweets made of sugar and pine nuts, hence their name. They usually are made “black” with chocolate or “white” with vanilla. Locals say that the small cakes were made by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th century and are served to end lavish Christmas feasts.

A simple syrup is made until rather dense and then the same weight of pine nuts as the sugar is added and poured onto a marble slab to be shaped as one makes peanut brittle. The diamonds are cut and cooled, with half of each piece being chocolate and half vanilla. They are then wrapped in black and white pairs in festive and colorful Christmas paper.

Another Christmas delight from Perugia that is a bit easier to make is the symbolic eel or snake-shaped torciglione (twisted spiral) Christmas cake. The Perugina say it is shaped like an eel to represent the eels of nearby Lake Trasimeno, while others attribute a more symbolic meaning rooted in pagan times. The Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals; the snake’s skin shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal, an appropriate symbol at the time of the birth of Christ.

Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake)

In most of Umbria, but in particular around Lake Trasimeno in the province of Perugia, torciglione is a Christmas and New Year’s Eve sweet. It is also sometimes called a serpentone or biscione and it’s made as a symbol of luck. It is claimed that this sweet was developed in the 19th century by a master pastry cook, Romualdo Nazzani, who opened a cake shop in Reggio Emilia and created some magnificent sweets, such as biscione, which means “snake.”

This Christmas cake is made with an almond base and meringue topping decorated with candied peel to represent the eyes of the snake. In Christian iconography, the snake can represent temptation as it was in the Garden of Eden. Eating the snake is thought to bring luck.

Torciglione

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Baking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

3/4 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Zest from 1 lemon

3 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 coffee beans

1 candied cherry

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar, rum, lemon zest and egg whites until a dense consistency.

3. On a buttered parchment paper-lined baking tray form the mixture into the shape of a snake. Place the pine nuts over its surface. Put the coffee beans in as eyes and the cherry as a tongue. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

 Main photo: Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

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Main photo: The La Loma tamale is made from scratch out of corn dough and filled with chicken, serrano chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Credit: Ben Bartenstein

Noelia Garcia grew up helping her mother make and sell tamales — those golden packages of cornmeal and spices steamed in cornhusks and tied like little presents. In Mexico, tamales are always made fresh, but Garcia figured her neighbors in her adopted state of Minnesota could use these steaming packages any time they wanted. And that is her gift to Minnesota: frozen tamales with the authentic taste of Mexico.

The Author


Ben Bartenstein

Ben Bartenstein reports for Round Earth Media out of St. Paul, Minn. His writing also appears on the websites for Minnesota Public Radio and Macalester College. Ben is active in the Asian American Journalists Association. Next year, he'll be reporting from Spain and Morocco.

Today, her Minneapolis tamale business, La Loma Tamales, produces Oaxaqueno tamales with spicy red sauce inside; tamales with a mole sauce of chilies, nuts and chocolate; and a dessert tamale filled with pineapple and raisins. That’s not to mention her signature chicken tamales with a green sauce of serrano chili peppers, onions, garlic and tomatillos. All are the flavors of Garcia’s childhood.

Growing up in Mexico

It’s a childhood Garcia remembers lovingly, even though it’s been 17 years since she last saw Quebrantadero, the tiny village where she grew up buying gorditas in the plaza, preparing for fiestas and sleeping in her family’s dirt-floor adobe house.

“We slept three or four kids in one bed, everybody in the same house, seven brothers and sisters, my mom, my dad, my grandma and grandpa,” says Garcia, 40. She and her friends loved to play on a little hill, la loma in Spanish, and that’s what she named her company.

“When you’re a child, you don’t care that you don’t have shoes. You’re just innocent and happy,” she says. “For me, it’s transporting myself to a place and bringing something from where I grew up to this place.”

Quebrantadero was her entire world until, at age 16, she met Enrique Garcia, age 17, and fell in love. What they did next surprises even Noelia. “We got married on Friday and we came to the United States on Sunday,” she says. “In a small village, there is nothing else to do.”

The Garcias long to revisit Quebrantadero, which they left nearly two decades ago. They can’t go back across the border until they resolve their immigration status, which they are working hard to do. In the intervening years, Enrique has lost his mother, grandmother and an uncle. He has had to miss all three funerals.

Shortly after coming to Minnesota, Enrique heard that a bakery in Minneapolis needed workers, so that’s where they headed. It was 30 below zero the day they arrived. “I remember we went to the bus and we kind of showed our hands with the coins, because we don’t know the value of the coins,” Noelia says.

Neither spoke English, but they got jobs and worked long hours. In the evenings, Noelia started cooking tamales to sell at a Mexican restaurant. Those tamales, based on her mother’s recipes, caused a sensation. Eventually, the demand proved too much for the small kitchen in the couple’s home.

Selling tamales … and coffee

In 1999, the Garcias quit their jobs and opened a tiny restaurant in Minneapolis’ busy Mercado Central marketplace. The landlord had one requirement for the renters of the 80-square-foot kitchen: They had to sell coffee. Although neither Noelia nor Enrique knew how, they agreed. “We bought a coffee machine and people trained us on how to use it,” Noelia says.

Today, they have one of the busiest spots in the Mercado, regularly selling 5,000 to 7,000 tamales during the holidays. A full-blown restaurant at Minneapolis’ Midtown Global Market followed.

Largely thanks to the Garcias, Minnesotans’ taste for tamales has expanded like luminarias on a winter sidewalk. The couple’s wholesale business sells frozen, handmade La Loma tamales to grocery stores and restaurants throughout Minnesota. It took a year to get the license for the tamale factory. The reason? “The health inspector didn’t know what a tamale is,” Noelia explains.

In recent years, the couple added downtown locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and a seasonal stand at TCF Bank Stadium. This past summer they debuted at three local farmers markets.

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Noelia and Enrique Garcia turned a family pastime of making tamales into a revered restaurant and frozen food business. The couple opened their first La Loma location in 1999. Credit: Ben Bartenstein

Noelia loved math as a child, but her parents didn’t have the money to send her beyond eighth grade. Once La Loma was established, she earned her GED and went to college to study business. Now she has started a scholarship fund so her employees’ children can attend college, too. For Noelia, La Loma is not just a business — it’s a community of family and friends who take care of one another, much like in the Mexican village of her childhood.

“This country has given us a lot, but we also suffer a lot,” Noelia says. “For 17 years, I didn’t see my mom, and I don’t know if someone can pay that. But my kids grew up here, we’ve got a really successful business, and I got to go to school. It’s kind of a balance. You cannot have everything.”

Although she has been separated from her mother for years, Noelia feels close to her in the kitchen. She based La Loma’s signature chicken tamales in green sauce on her mother’s recipe. It’s a taste of what her fans can get at her Twin Cities restaurants, wholesale store and the St. Paul Farmers’ Market.

La Loma’s Mexican Chicken Tamales in Green Sauce

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 2 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Yield: 30 servings

Chicken and green sauce preparation

Yield: About 36 ounces

Ingredients

3 pounds chicken, cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 pounds tomatillos

8 serrano chili peppers

1/2 onion

4 cloves garlic

4 cups of water

Chicken bouillon to taste

Directions

1. Add the chicken and salt to water and simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, shred and set aside.

2. Boil the tomatillos, serrano peppers, onion and garlic in water. Once the sauce ingredients are cooked, discard the water and process the sauce ingredients in a blender with the chicken bouillon until smooth.

3. Add 12 ounces of the sauce to the shredded chicken, and reserve the remaining sauce (about 24 ounces) to use in the dough mixture.

Tamale dough

Yield: About 30 portions

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds cornhusks for tamales

5 pounds tamale dough

About 24 ounces green sauce

1 pound lard or vegetable oil

Directions

1. Soak the cornhusks in water for 10 minutes. Wash the cornhusks and allow them to drain.

2. Mix the dough, green sauce and lard or oil together. Knead the dough until it obtains a uniform texture.

3. Press a small, 4-ounce ball of dough and spread evenly onto the cornhusk.

4. Add the desired amount of meat and sauce on top of the dough and wrap with the corn husk.

5. Once you have finished assembling the tamales, place them in a tamale steamer and steam for 2 hours.

6. Serve immediately.

Main photo: The La Loma tamale is made from scratch out of corn dough and filled with chicken, serrano chile peppers, tomatillos, onions and garlic. Credit: Ben Bartenstein

Ben Bartenstein, based in St. Paul, Minn., reported this story for Round Earth Media.

Portions of this story first appeared in Mpls. St.Paul Magazine.

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