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Archive for December, 2010

Ruth D. Silverman, a longtime editor and writer for IronMan magazine and author of the WordPress blog Ruth in Hollywood, makes a wonderful shrimp mousse for her annual Oscar party and can occasionally be persuaded to make it for other gatherings. I was lucky enough to talk her into making it for my solstice party this year.

She says the mother of her lifelong best friend, Phyllis, used to make it for special occasions, including the party that followed Ruth and Phyllis’s high school graduation. It has all the hallmarks of a 1950s or early 1960s recipe, so it’s been around for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from the back of a package at some point, but I know it only by the name Ruth gives it:

Mrs. Wanetick’s Famous Shrimp Mousse

3/4 pound shrimp
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 can tomato soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 package unflavored gelatin
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 onion
1/4 c or so celery
dash tabasco

Chop the shrimp, celery and onions fine. Squeeze the lemon juice over all and let stand in a mixing bowl while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
Dissolve the gelatin in the cold tomato soup in a saucepan, then bring it to a boil. Mix the cream cheese into the soup. Pour the soup mixture over the shrimp mixture, add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into a mold or molds and chill. It makes about four cups of mousse–enough for your party and leftovers for breakfast.

Ruth feels very passionately that shrimp ought to taste like shrimp (can’t disagree with that!) and will spend quite some time searching for the right shrimp for this mousse. Perhaps she will devote space on her own blog to that search as her Oscar party nears.

Happy New Year!

Laurie

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I first heard of champagne cocktails when I saw Casablanca on TV. Victor Laszlo ordered one at Rick’s Cafe Americaine. I was a teenager. I thought Paul Henreid (the sensitive freedom fighter Laszlo) was wonderfully sophisticated (though of course my adolescent heart belonged to Humphrey Bogart) and therefore champagne cocktails must also be wonderfully sophisticated.

Cheers!


It was years, however, before I actually tasted one, and in fact I had forgotten all about them until I saw Anthony Andrews being instructed in the proper way to entertain a nice girl at the Savoy in Danger UXB. My friend Shannon Donnelly and I immediately decided we had to try them.

I have since discovered that there are dozens, even hundreds, of variants. They’re made with gin, with vodka, with Chambord, with…virtually anything. Bellinis, with peach nectar and peach liqueur, and mimosas, with orange juice, are standard brunch champagne cocktails.

Here’s the basic version:
Champagne Cocktail
1 sugar cube
3 or 4 dashes of Angostura bitters
4 ounces chilled champagne
1 twist of lemon peel

Place the sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute and douse it with the bitters. Top it–carefully!–with the sparkling wine. Twist the lemon peel over it and serve.

During and after World War I, American servicemen in France apparently thought champagne was a bit too low in alcohol, so they fortified it with gin. I love gin, but I am not sure that the French 75 is the ideal champagne cocktail. However, here’s a version:

French 75
1 1/2 ounces gin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce lemon juice
4 ounces chilled champagne

Mix the gin, sugar and lemon juice with ice in a cocktail shaker. Strain into a flute and top with sparkling wine.

One of my favorites is also one of the simplest and prettiest:

Kir Royale
1 ounce creme de cassis
4 ounces champagne

Some swear that you should only use the very finest champagne for a good champagne cocktail. I say that if you’re spending a hundred bucks on a bottle of champagne, you should drink it straight–not that I can afford a hundred-dollar bottle of champagne! The whole point of a champagne cocktail is to make less-than-stellar sparkling wine drinkable.

We’ll be pouring ten-dollar bottles of sparkling wine for our champagne cocktails on New Year’s Eve. And we’ll enjoy it just as much, I suspect, as we would if we were drinking Cristal. Actually, I think we’ll enjoy it more. (A bottle of vintage Roederer Cristal is $900. I’d probably have a heart attack if I thought somebody was spending that much money on a bottle of wine.) After all, the Party Know-It-Alls love a good bargain as much as we love a good cocktail.

Laurie

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No Mushy Heads

While we’re on the subject–sort of–of cranberries, Mel has this to contribute:

The other day I overheard Laurie and Hazel discussing cranberries and cranberry sauce. I heard only one side of the telephone conversation, but it seemed to me that Laurie was surprised that Hazel wanted to purchase cranberry sauce when the real super-making stuff was so easy to make at home. (As it turns out, this was a misunderstanding arising from a bluetooth that had fallen in a rain puddle once too often.)

Being no expert on the making of cranberry sauce, I have no opinion on its difficulty, but I do have vast experience eating the stuff. And thinking about it dredges up many happy memories.

I must have been very young when my mother made her own cranberry sauce. It looked and tasted too weird for me to eat at the age of five or six, as I was then, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t interested. Mom would bring home a few plastic bags full of cranberries and begin to do whatever one does to make sauce. The good part was that she let my brothers and me pick out the unacceptable mushy berries to stick together using toothpicks. We constructed animals and people and Martians and space ships.

But the really good part was that Mom would part with a very few firm cranberries so that each sculpture would have a good cranberry for the head. To this day I am not sure why that was important, but it was. Maybe it has something to do with the observation that many public figures would be a little better off if only they had a firmer head. I’d be better off myself.

Apparently Mom eventually gave up making her own cranberry sauce because I also remember the jellied canned variety. I remember opening the can and shaking it upside down over a bowl, trying to get the dark red cylinder to fall out. Frequently I had to punch a hole on the bottom of the can, allowing air to get in behind the cylinder, thus making the whole process simpler. I suppose I could have spooned the sauce into the bowl, but where would be the sport in that?

Once it was lying in the bowl, the shimmering log could easily be cut into slices. I loved the consistency of it, and I even got to like the flavor.

These days Laurie sneers at commercial cranberry sauce, so I haven’t had the need lately to open a can. Laurie’s sauce may taste better, but I still miss the whole jellied cranberry sauce experience. Some day I will tell you why I miss iceberg lettuce.

Mel

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With the last and first holidays of 2010 and 2011 fast approaching, Mary Wallgren has these words of wisdom to offer about weekend entertaining.

While the day after a party is usually a time to kick back and relax, wash the linens, and put away all the glasses and serving dishes, the holidays often bring out-of-town guests and the “opportunity” to entertain the morning after.

This year, our son and his friend drove up from soggy Southern California to enjoy a white Christmas and a few days away from the rain. While traditional breakfasts of bacon and eggs, omelets, hash browns, and/or pancakes are always welcome, I like to serve something special at least one morning during my company’s stay. My favorite recipe is Dutch Baby with Apple & Cranberry Compote.

Dutch baby, a baked pancake, is a simple but special holiday weekend breakfast dish.


Since this recipe takes a little more time to prepare than the traditional fare, it is ideal to serve for a late breakfast or brunch and looks pretty as well. I got this recipe a couple of years ago out of a Williams-Sonoma catalogue and have made a few changes. It does require a large (about 11-inch) oven-proof skillet. I use the old cast-iron skillet I got from my mother years ago, which is perfectly seasoned. There are some lovely new oven-proof skillets on the market today, but, as far as I know, they look prettier but don’t work any better. If you don’t have an oven-proof skillet, might I suggest the thrift stores or garage sales as a place to look?

Two other tips – the recipe calls for ¾ cup of cranberries. I like to buy them now while they are in season and often on sale and freeze ¾ cup portions in zippered freezer bags. The dry ingredients can also be measured out in advance to minimize work in the morning. It is easy to measure those ingredients a day or two in advance while I’m baking desert for the party since the ingredients are often similar.

Dutch baby is so popular that I never have any left over when serving four people. Fried ham is a delicious accompaniment. Enjoy the rave reviews!

Dutch Baby with Apple & Cranberry Compote
Filling

2 Pink Lady or other tart pie apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 2 to 2-1/2 cups)
3/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1/2 cup water

Batter

3 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
Zest of 1/2 an orange
3/4 cup milk

3 Tbs. Unsalted butter

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Maple syrup for serving

Directions

In a bowl, stir together the apples, cranberries, the 1/4 cup granulated sugar, the cinnamon and nutmeg. In a skillet (NOT your oven-proof one) over medium heat, melt 2 Tbs. of the butter. Add the apple mixture and sauté until the apples are tender and the cranberries have broken down, about 12 minutes, adding the water halfway through cooking. Remove from the heat.

Put an 11-inch French skillet or other ovenproof sauté pan, such as a cast iron frying pan, in a COLD oven. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a blender and blend on medium speed until very frothy, about 1 minute. (If your blender is as noisy as mine, this will probably wake your guests, if they are still sleeping.) Add the flour, salt, zest, the 1 Tbs. granulated sugar and the milk and blend on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping the blender early on to scrape down the sides. Note – this needs to be done at least once.

When the oven reaches 400 degrees, put the remaining 3 Tbs. butter in the hot skillet and return it to the oven until the butter melts; do not let it brown. Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet, then distribute the apple-cranberry mixture evenly on top, including any remaining liquid. Bake until the Dutch baby is lightly browned and the sides have risen, about 25 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven, dust the Dutch baby with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately with maple syrup.

Serves 4 to 6.

Mary Wallgren

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Our sister Margaret, in Northern California, has what she calls fend-for-yourself night on Fridays. And even though she calls it that, Margy spends more time assembling a dazzling array of appetizers than she would cooking a complete family meal. But it’s fun – and there are usually cocktails involved, even better! She does a combination of re-created leftovers, cheese and crackers, and new stuff. It almost always includes carrots and Ranch dip, as that was all her daughter would eat for a period in her life. (But that’s a different tale.) We posted Margaret’s Kahlua-Pecan-Topped Brie a couple of weeks ago, in case you’d like to check out one of her recipes.

Her birthday happens to be today (Happy Birthday, Margaret!), and she will be celebrating it with her family (that’s a hint, Marty). But then she’s heading down to Southern California, and this Friday, which just happens to be New Year’s Eve, she’ll be having appetizers and champagne cocktails with her sisters. So we’re thinking about some especially festive appetizers.

One of my favorites (and I have the scars to prove it) is an unlikely combination of bacon and prunes. Yes, prunes. Here’s what you do: Warm some mediocre port and macerate pitted prunes in it for a couple of hours, until they’re plump and soft. Stuff a pecan half in each prune.

Cook bacon slices about halfway. Drain the slices and let them cool enough to handle, then wrap a slice around each prune. Fasten with a toothpick. At this point you can stick them in the fridge for a couple of hours, until you want them.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the bacon-wrapped prunes on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan and bake until the bacon crisps up, about ten minutes. Serve warm. There are no amounts given here because it’s really up to you: Make as many or as few as you like. However many you make, it won’t be enough.

Hint: don’t slop boiling bacon grease over your hand. That’s what I did one Christmas Day about 15 years ago. I spent the afternoon in the emergency room. Second worst Christmas of my life. I was so hungry! And my family ate all of my bacon-wrapped prunes while I was waiting there in the emergency room with my hand wrapped in ice.

Laurie

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Some years ago we had the brioche pudding at McCormick & Schmick’s. We loved it. We tried ordering it the next time we were there–oops, they weren’t making it anymore at that branch of the restaurant chain. Oh, no! We had to have it. I began to experiment, trying to re-create the restaurant’s version. I’ve made it each Christmas for the past four years, and it’s been good every time, but not perfect.

This search led me to learn to make brioche because I couldn’t find it at local bakeries (an Internet search will deliver many recipes for brioche. I read a lot of them. I made several of them. Here’s what I concluded: Use the one in Nick Malgieri’s How to Bake. It’s easy.) Brioche fresh out of the oven is sooo good. In fact, you’ll see that the recipe that follows calls for seven-eighths of a loaf. That’s because we ate the rest of the loaf; we couldn’t stop ourselves. And kitchen passers-by snatched cubes out of the pan. You could doubtless use the whole loaf for the pudding, but you probably won’t get the chance. Try to make sure at least three-fourths of it goes into the pudding, though.

At last, the perfect brioche pudding recipe

Brioche Chocolate Chunk Pudding

7/8 loaf brioche
8 ounces 72 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13-inch pan. Thickly slice the brioche and then cut the slices into rough cubes and spread out in the pan. Break the chocolate into bite-size chunks and add to the bread cubes, making sure that the chunks are well distributed.
Heat the cream and sugar to a simmer, stirring often. Temper the egg yolks, then stir the cream and eggs together. Add the vanilla and salt. Pour over the bread and chocolate. Stick the pan in the fridge until you’re ready to bake it.

I put it in the oven when we sit down to dinner, so it will be fresh out of the oven about 45 minutes later. Serve warm with whipped cream or just pass a pitcher of heavy cream. Yum.

Laurie

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Emergency Appetizer

Need one in a hurry? You’re going somewhere and you’re supposed to bring one–and you were busy shopping, wrapping and drinking eggnog (ugh!–but that’s just me) and didn’t get to it?
Okay, here it is, the world’s easiest but really good appetizer:

Simple and delicious

Three ingredients: spicy jam, cream cheese and crackers. Slap the cream cheese on a plate (you can see that I like mascarpone, but I got a good deal at Costco, so I have it in the fridge), dump half a jar of a peppery jam over it and serve it with crackers. You’re all set.

Laurie

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