Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gift Guide Number Two: Boozy, wintry picnic.

Does anything say "wintry coziness" better than a boozy, chocolate-filled picnic? The answer, my friends, is no. No, nothing does.

When I was thinking about gift guides for this year, it occurred to me that one of my very favorite things to do in winter is enjoy a chilly-as-you-can-stand outdoor meal, one spiked by bourbon, powered by vintage plaid and fueled by chocolate and cheese. You might want to bring a baguette along as well, but, let's face it - you need to buy that locally.

And don't forget to fill the thermos with the best homemade hot chocolate in the world. You won't regret it.

Without further ado, I present part two of 2011's giftiness, complete with blanket, booze and, well, cheese.

Clockwise from top left: Vintage wool blanket ($50), Churchill flask ($25), Vintage thermos ($12), Vosges caramel marshmallows ($27), Tuthilltown's Baby Bourbon whiskey ($50), Pierre Roger cheese ($30).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Now that's what I call breakfast.

Prune's butter-crumbed eggs with stewed chickpeas might just be the best breakfast I've had since my birthday migas in Austin. The crunchy coating on the runny egg adds a dash of textural contrast to the largely soft meal, and the preserved lemon on top of the Moroccan-spiced chickpeas is just...magic.

And if you're not veggie, you simply must have a side of the lamb sausage. No ifs, ands or buts allowed. No, sirree.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's tradition.

Last year, on the lookout for a way to bring brussels sprouts into the Thanksgiving meal (we've always been more of a green bean family), I stumbled across Zak Pelaccio's (he of Fatty Crab and Fatty 'Cue) recipe for the most obscene sprouts ever conceived. Bascially, you render the fat out of half a pound of bacon, then cook two pounds of sprouts in it - oh, and then you add heavy cream and good maple syrup, just in case you were worried that the recipe wasn't quite festive enough.

I know.

I tested the recipe first on a few willing victims at Thanksgiving, then pulled it out again for Christmas dinner at Nick & Louisa's in Austin. When this year's feast rolled around, I petitioned my Aunt Cathi, the hostess, for a spot on the menu for these little balls of goodness. Permission was granted, and the sprouts rode again.

I've tweaked the original a bit; Pelaccio added chestnuts to his, but since chestnuts aren't my most favorite nut - and are, in fact, a pain in the ass to roast and peel - I've left them out. As you all know, I like a bit of acid and heat with my rich flavors, so I've added a bit of red pepper for kick.

Need I say that they've been requested for the upcoming Christmas feast? I'll say it any case: these will be appearing on my table at least one more time in 2011, and I think you should give them a try as well.

Queenie's Holiday Sprouts
Adapted from Zak Pelaccio

1/2 pound applewood bacon, cut into 1/4 inch batons
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
Sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs thyme
1 tsp. dried red pepper
3/4 cup cream
Scant 1/4 cup good maple syrup
Juice of half a lemon

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, render the fat out of the bacon until it is nearly crispy. Remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towels, but leave the fat in the pan.

Add the sprouts to the pan, season with a generous amount of sea salt, and saute until they begin to get brown, about 4 minutes or so. Add the garlic, thyme and red pepper and saute until the garlic turns golden, another 2 to 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the cream. Cook gently until the cream has reduced by half; it will also turn a golden brown, thanks to the goodness on the bottom of the pan. Add the maple syrup and the reserved bacon to the pan, and cook for a few minutes. Squeeze the lemon over the sprouts. Taste for seasoning (add more salt and red pepper as needed) and serve.

Serves 8 as a side dish.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gift Guide Number One: Brights.

I'm kicking off this season's gift guide series with a bang: a collection of the most brightly colored bits and bobs on offer. See, in the dreary doldrums of winter in the Northeast (which follow hot on the heels of the holiday season), everyone needs a little cheering up. For some, this comes in the form of one of those vitamin D sun lamps; for me, it comes in a jazzy iPhone case and bright pink lamps.

People tend to think of bright colors as a girlie thing, but I happen to think that men could use a little neon in their life as well. Maybe help him start small, with a neon pen or two, or introduce a bright yellow Baggu into the grocery shopping rotation.

Up next, books galore!

The gifts, clockwise from top left: Neon enamel pens ($20 each), chevron iPhone case ($39.99), Baggu bag ($8), Dents suede gloves ($31.45), table lamp ($150.70), Swarovski beaded friendship bracelets ($65 each).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Queenie's Treasury, sort of.

Hey, cats and kittens! Just wanted to let you know that my gift guides for the 2011 holiday season will be coming your way this week. I've got three installments this time around - brights for those of you craving summer, books for those of you who want nothing more than to curl up with a good one, and the makings of the best boozy, cold-weather picnic ever.

Get ready, because here comes fun! (If, by fun, you mean holiday shopping ideas. Because that's what I mean.)

And, if you simply must have it, Oscar's blinky nose can be found here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On hand.

Sometimes I think there's nothing in the house for breakfast, and then I remember that I have eggs, scallions, a tomato and half an avocado. What's better than that?

Answer: the Sriracha I squirted all over it after I snapped this photo.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spicing it up.

I've always really wanted to love pumpkin bread. In theory, it should be an easy thing for me to do. I'm a big fan of the pound cake/quick bread genre, and I really love pumpkin-spiked baked goods, particularly scones and pie. It should be an easy sell. But, in my experience, most recipes for pumpkin bread result in overly-sweet, overly-oily, cloying messes of a loaf.

This year, I decided to take charge of the pumpkin loaf. No longer would I be a slave to such sub-par use of one of nature's most delicious ingredients. It was time for a revolution.

As a starting point, I used this recipe from Bon Appétit. I'd tried it before, and been pleased with the texture, but disappointed in the flavor. It was too sweet and not nearly spicy enough. After all, what is the point of baking with pumpkin if you're not going to exercise a moderately heavy hand with the ginger, cloves and cinnamon? What is autumn if not an excuse to clear out the spice cabinet?

And so I got to work. Out went one of the three cups of sugar, and, for good measure, I swapped one of the remaining two for half a cup each of dark and light brown sugar. After all, pumpkin and molasses (the "brown" in brown sugar) play pretty well together. In went extra cinnamon and cloves, freshly grated nutmeg stood in for the powdered stuff, and ginger was added to the mix.

The result is a pumpkin loaf that - I think - successfully bridges the gap between pumpkin bread and gingerbread. It's spicy and just a bit sweet, moist and fragrant. It made my apartment smell heavenly for days, and if you make it in these adorable little mini loaf pans, it just might be the best host or hostess gift the holiday season ever saw. Except for a bottle of bourbon.

Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Butter for greasing the pans
3 cups all purpose flour, plus a bit for flouring the pans
2 tsp. ground cloves
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can of pure, pureed pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour two standard, 9x5x3 inch size (or four mini) loaf pans. If using mini loaf pans, place them on a cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, spices, baking soda and baking powder. Stir the salt in with a fork. In another large bowl, mix together the sugars and oils, then add the eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. If you have any lumps from the brown sugars, use a large whisk to help dissolve them into the mixture.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in two additions, mixing well with a spatula or wooden spoon after each. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, then place in the oven and bake until a tester inserted into the cakes comes out clean - about an hour for mini loaves, and 70 minutes for the larger loaves. I'd also recommend rotating the loaves about halfway through baking - spinning them front to back and switching baking racks, if you're using two.

Cool in the pans for about 30 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edges of the loaves. Invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Eat immediately or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes two standard loaves or four mini loaves.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Making it work.

As a half-Jewish girl growing up in the greater New York City area, I ate a lot of Chinese food. Correction: still eat a lot of Chinese food. Some of this is the more authentic dishes to be found mostly in Flushing and Chinatown; most of it is the gleefully Americanized stuff available all over the city, able to summoned with the briefest of phone calls.

Among my lifelong favorites from the latter category are cold sesame noodles. The peanut-y sauce, the chewy noodles, the thinly sliced cucumber and scallions - I love it all. They make an especially great canvas for hot sauce, which only makes them better in my eyes.

But since even I can't justify ordering in Chinese every night, I needed to find a way to satisfy my sesame noodle cravings at a moment's notice. The result? An actually somewhat nutritious version that substitutes julienned squash for the noodles and has a bit of yogurt in the sauce to add heft (and, incidentally, protein). The classic hooks are still there, though - peanut butter, sesame oil, scallions and cucumber all make an appearance. And though it's not often found in Chinese food, I added some fish sauce for funk and awesomeness.

Authentic? No. Tasty? I sure think so. Easy? Empirically so.

Queenie's Sesame "Noodles"

1 large yellow squash or two medium zucchini
2 tbs. Greek yogurt
1 tbs. creamy peanut butter
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/4 tsp. Sriracha, plus extra for garnish
1/4 tsp. sesame oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 English cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 tsp. toasted sesame seeds

Using a mandoline or a julienne peeler, peel the squash (except for the seeds at the core) into long strips. Place in a mesh sieve and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Toss to distribute the salt evenly, then set aside while you prep the sauce.

Combine all remaining ingredients except the scallions, cucumber and sesame seeds in a small bowl. Whisk together with a fork until you have an even, light brown, creamy sauce with no lumps.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to the boil. Add the squash to the pot and cook for 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and place back in the sieve to drain a bit.

Place the drained squash into a large bowl. Add the cucumber and 2/3 of the scallions, followed by a couple spoonfuls of the sauce. Using tongs, toss the "noodles" with the sauce and vegetables until well-combined, adding more sauce until it's as saucy as you want it. Using the tongs, transfer to a small bowl for eating. (You'll want to use tongs, because you'll have a bit of watery sauce left over at the bottom of the mixing bowl.)

Garnish with the remaining scallions, sesame seeds and a bit of Sriracha. Eat immediately.

Serves one, generously.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Austin, Texas. Monday, October 3.

Go to Justine's. Order the salade de crevettes and the ratatouille. Thank me later.
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