Archive | December, 2011

Christmas Dinner: Dad’s Cream of Chestnut Soup

30 Dec

Cream of Chestnut Soup

Since I can remember, my dad has been making cream of chestnut soup for Christmas (and sometimes Thanksgiving!) dinner.  This recipe comes from the Blueberry Hill Menu Cookbook, which was written by Elise Masterson who used to own the Blueberry Hill Inn in Vermont with her family.  Unfortunately, the Blueberry Hill cookbooks are out of print, but you can buy them used on Amazon here.  This recipe calls for fresh chestnuts.  However, shelling and preparing fresh chestnuts is a huge undertaking so if you are short on time, you can easily substitute bottled chestnuts instead.  My dad has made the recipe both ways and you seriously can’t taste the difference.  I will admit that this soup isn’t the prettiest of to bunch, but it is SO delicious that its taste makes up for its appearance in spades.

Dad’s Chestnut Soup
Adapted from Blueberry Hill Menu Cookbook

Ingredients
2 pounds chestnuts (or 1 large 1 lb. jar of bottled chestnuts – we use Minerve Whole Roasted French Chestnuts)
1 large sweet onion, diced
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 large carrots, diced
1 quart chicken or turkey broth
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup pale dry sherry
Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions
1.  If you are using fresh chestnuts: Slit each chestnut with a sharp knife – two slits each, crossed.  Cover them with boiling water and boil for 15 minutes.  They will NOT be completely tender when you pull them out and that’s OK.  Remove them one at a time from the water (this is the trick here – they must stay in hot water, each one, until you’re ready for it) and let cold water run on each chestnut in turn.  The skins will come off very quickly, and the membrane as well.  Set aside.  Repeat until you have removed the skins/membrane for each chestnut.
2. In a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan, saute onion and butter until the onions are lightly browned.  Add the whole peeled chestnuts, carrots and chicken broth to the saucepan.
3. Simmer until the chestnuts are quite soft, about 15 more minutes, then pour liquid through a colander into a pot.  Put the chestnuts, onions and carrots that didn’t drain through the colander in a food processor of Foley food mill to blend.  Blend to desired consistency – I prefer to blend until just small pieces and no lumps remain.  If you blend to a puree, you will lose the extra “oomph” of color that the carrot pieces provide and be left with a light brown soup.
4.  Return chestnut mixture to broth and bring it all back to a boil.  Then remove it from heat, add cream, sugar, sherry, salt and pepper.
5. Serve without boiling again.  If you cool it and reheat it, don’t boil it when warming up.  (Note: We always prepare this the day before serving since it does so well reheated.)

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Christmas Dinner: Christmas Crostini

28 Dec

Brie Crostini with Cranberries & Pistachios

I pulled together these super easy appetizer to snack on before we sat down for our big meal.  The dried cranberries and pistachios bring festive colors to the dish and taste great together too!

Christmas Crostini
(Brie Crostini with Cranberries & Pistachios)

Ingredients
1 crusty baguette, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 round of brie cheese
Handful of raw, unsalted pistachios
Handful of dried cranberries (Craisins)
Orange marmalade or butter

Directions
1. Turn on your broiler to high and put rack on second to lowest rack.  Any higher and the cheese might burn!  (Note: If you don’t have a broiler setting on your oven, preheat oven to 400 degrees instead.)
2. Place sliced baguette on a cookie sheet and spread a thin layer of orange marmalade or butter on one side of each slice.  (Use orange marmalade if you want a sweeter crostini and use butter if you want a more savory crostini.)
3. Place a thin slice of brie on each the buttered side of each baguette.
4. Put the cookie tray in the oven and broil for about 4 minutes.  Check around the two minute mark to make sure the cheese isn’t burning.
5. Remove from oven and put on a serving platter.  Add a few dried cranberries and pistachios on top of each crostini.  Serve immediately.  Simple and festive!

Christmas Dinner

26 Dec

Christmas Hearth

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope you had a happy holiday and Santa was good to you and your families!  My family decided to do something different from turkey this Christmas and make a standing rib roast instead.  Serving red meat versus poultry required a total overhaul of our menu from Thanksgiving.  Listed below are the dishes that we made today for Christmas dinner.  Over the course of the next two weeks, I will post each of these recipes.

Hot Toddies
Christmas Crostini
Dad’s Cream of Chestnut Soup
Mom’s Standing Rib Roast
Asparagus Wrapped in Bacon
Potato & Celery Root Mash
Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Creme Anglaise

To round out our meal, we served Sister Shubert’s Wheat Dinner Yeast Rolls and a bottle of Illumination Sauvignon Blanc from Quintessa Winery (see Napa Travelogue post for more info on CA wineries!).  Red wine probably would have gone better with this meal, but my mom generally only drinks white and I had just given my parents a case of this wine for Christmas so we had to try it!

Christmas Dinner Plate

Christmas Treat: Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons

24 Dec How to Make French Macarons

How to Make French MacaronsIn 2007, I visited my good friend Kristen who was living in Paris at the time (lucky girl!).  One of my favorite parts of the visit was spending afternoons recharging at La Duree, a tea and pastry shop, after spending the mornings sightseeing, shopping and walking around Paris.  La Duree is most well known for their delectable macarons (not to be confused with coconut macaroons).  “Le macaron” is a French sweet consisting of two cookies that are hard on the outside but soft when you bite into them that are sandwiched between a layer of ganache or fruit preserves.  If you are interested in learning more about the history of “le macaron,” check out this website.  Until a few months ago, La Duree only had stores in Europe (Paris, London, etc.) and the Middle East (Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, etc.), so to get my macaron fix, I had to stock up when I visited Kristen or when I am in London for work.  However, La Duree recently opened up a NYC-branch of their famous Parisian tea shop at 864 Madison Ave. on the Upper East Side so now I can get macarons whenever the craving strikes (which is quite often!).  I always wondered how to make macarons until a few weeks ago I found a recipe for macarons from Allison Eats blog on the Word Press dashboard.  You can find my adaptation of her recipe below.  While I won’t be giving up La Duree macarons anytime soon, I can’t wait to serve these at Christmas dinner tomorrow with coffee or hot chocolate after dessert!  If you are new to making macarons like I was, the following sites provide a useful primer on preparing macarons and how to beat egg whites.  It took me two tries to get the egg  white perfect.  I would not recommend using an electric mixer; a copper bowl and whisk worked MUCH better.  Also, as a warning, this took me the better part of a day to create these treats.  Be sure you have set aside at least 3-4 hours when you tackle this recipe.  For more information on French Cooking and Culture, check out this great blog – A Woman’s Paris.  The watercolor iPhone cases are to die for!

Peppermint White Chocolate French Macarons
(Makes 30-40)

Ingredients (for the macarons)
1 1/3 cup almond flour (fine meal)
3 cups powdered sugar
6 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
Red food coloring (optional)

Directions (for the macarons)
1. Get out 5 baking sheets and line each with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw 1.5″ circles approximately 1″ apart on the papers.  I felt silly doing this, but it really helped me get the hang of things for my first tray, so maybe only do this for a couple of trays if you are short on time.  In the picture below, the right tray has 1″ circles and the left tray has 1.5″ circles.  I found that the larger 1.5″ macarons cooked better and were simliar to La Duree’s mini macarons in size.
How to Make French Macarons

2.  In a food processor, blend the almond flour and powdered sugar until well incorporated and no lumps remain.
3. In a copper bowl, beat egg whites using a whisk until they are foamy.  When they are foamy, add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue beating.  Gradually add in the granulated sugar about a tablespoon at a time.  Once the egg whites have formed “soft peaks,” add the peppermint extract and 30 drops of red food coloring.  (I added 20 drops of food coloring to my mix and I think it could have used a little more.)  Note: It is important that the egg whites are room temperature as this helps the “peaks” form in the egg whites.  The cream of tartar also helps this so don’t forget this step!

Egg White Foam

Egg Whites @ "Foamy" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

Egg White Peaks

Egg Whites @ "Peak" Stage (Photo Courtesy of bakingbites.com)

4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the flour/sugar mixture into the egg white mixture in a few additions.  Blend each time until well incorporated.
5. Fill pastry bag (or big ziploc bag with approximately 1/2″ cut off on a diagonal) with the batter and carefully dispense into your drawn circles.  Once the tray is filled, rap the baking sheet on the counter to help settle the batter.  Let trays sit out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that a slight crust forms on each shell.  Note: Letting the shells sit at room temperature before baking is a crucial step.  This is how you obtain the crunchy on the outside/chewy on the inside French macaron texture.
How to Make French Macarons
6. While the shells are sitting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake ONE tray at a time for 9-12 minutes, until the shells are slightly crisp on top.  Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from trays.  (To me, they look the the image from the Scrubbing Bubbles ads when they are finished.)  Repeat process one tray at a time until all trays are cooked.
How to Make French Macarons
7.  Once the macarons have cooled, pair each shell with one of similar size and shape.  For each pair, flip one over so they are ready to be filled with the ganache.
How to Make French Macarons
Ingredients (for the ganache)
2/3 cup heavy cream
10 oz. good quality white chocolate, finely chopped (I used two 4-oz. Ghiradelli white chocolate bars and 2 oz. Tollhouse white chocolate chips)
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 3 pieces

Directions (for the ganache)
1. Put the white chocolate in a heat proof mixing bowl.
2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate.
3. Using a whisk or rubber spatula, stir ingredients together until smooth.  Then stir in the butter.
4. Place the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice water, stirring constantly until ganache is thick and won’t run.
5. Place ganache into pastry bag (or Ziploc bag with 1/2″ opening cut on diagonal at one end).  Work quickly so the ganache doesn’t harden.  Carefully pipe filling onto flat side of one shell, leaving space around the edges.  Pick up the filled shell’s empty pair and place it on top of the filled shell, gently twisting as you press them together.  Once all macarons have been filled, store in the refrigerator.  They are best enjoyed the following day when brought to room temperature.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Best wishes for a happy holiday and a blessed new year!

Travelogue: CA Wine Tasting

14 Dec
Poetry Inn Napa

View from the Poetry Inn

This past August, D and I went on a relaxing, wine-filled vacation to Napa.  Below is a travelogue of our favorite vineyards, restaurants and other points of interest during our trip.  We pulled together this itinerary through polling a handful of friends who are Napa experts and took the best-of-the-best from each.  These are all spots that we would go back to again despite there being nearly 200 wineries and tons of great restaurant options in the region.

Wine
Cliff Lede
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599
This vineyard names all of its plots of land after the owner’s favorite classic rock songs.  The two signature cabs this vineyard produces every year are called the “Poetry” and a special cab blended from the best two plots of grapes that season.  Each year the name of the latter wine changes based on the names of the plots from which the grapes are harvested.  For example, last year’s vintage was called Imagine Rhapsody after plots “Imagine” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The year before that was called Lonely Wizard named after “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Pinball Wizard.”  Totally gimmicky and kitschy, but we love it and we LOVED the wines too.  If you’re a modern art fan, there is also a small modern art and sculpture gallery on the property which was a nice touch to our visit.  Reservations are not required, but if you want to taste their signature “Poetry” cab, you will need to reserve a private tasting in advance.  Also, if you are in Napa for a really special occasion, be sure to book a room at their sister property, the Poetry Inn, a five-bedroom inn which is located up the hill overlooking the vineyards.  Each of the rooms is named after a poet (Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, etc.) and are spacious and beautifully decorated with heated floors, private patios and an indoor/outdoor shower.  The hotel has stunning views of the wineries below and mountains across the valleys like the one of the sunset below.  The best treat of our stay was a three-course breakfast (included) that we had on our terrace watching the fog rise off the vineyards below.  Simply stunning!

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Pride Mountain
4026 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
A hidden gem in St. Helena. This was D’s favorite vineyard of our vacation. It is about a 15-20 minute drive away from most other vineyards in the area, but it was SO worth the drive.  Pride Mountain is located at the top of, well, a mountain and has stunning panoramic views of the hills and valleys below. Advanced reservations are required so make sure to connect with them before you trek up the mountain to their winery!  We signed up for what we thought was a $10 tasting, but ended up getting a private tour of Pride Mountain’s property, caves and tasting rooms.  Our guide let us do a barrel tasting and comparison with the finished bottle which was a unique experience.  After our visit, we were encouraged to drive around the property and have a picnic lunch with our sandwiches from Oakville Grocery in the vineyards overlooking the valley.  We bought a half bottle of wine and had the most relaxing afternoon in the shaded picnic area enjoying the scenery.

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Pride Mountain Vineyards

Quintessa
1601 Silverado Trail
Rutherford, CA 94573
My coworker recommended this vineyard to us, describing the vineyard and tour as “magical”.  She could not have been more right.  Advanced reservations are required for this tour and while this was the most expensive tasting ($45), it was worth every penny.  We had a private guide who started our tour with a hike up from the estate to the vineyards where we were greeted with the stunning view in the picture above.  At this spot, our guide poured us Quintessa’s Illumination-brand Sauvignon Blanc while explaining biodynamic winemaking and Quintessa’s history.  Biodynamic winemaking can sound a little bit weird/hippy if you’ve never heard of it before (i.e., burying a cow skull full of manure at a certain place in the vineyard dictated by lunar patterns), but our guide was so knowledgeable and passionate about it, that we were totally on board with the craziness.  After this history lesson, we returned to the estate and went on a tour of the building, caves and manufacturing areas.  The tour culminated with a private tasting (accompanied by three cheeses and homemade crackers) of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Quintessa red wine blends.  This vineyard is unique in that they only make one varietal per season and the blend changes depending on what are the best grapes produced that year; the rest of their harvest is then sold to other wine makers.  It was so interesting to taste the differences between the three vintages, especially after learning about the crops, weather and grapes used for each vintages.  All three tasted great and if I had unlimited funds, I would have bought a case of each home!  Instead, we settled on one bottle of the 2007 which was my favorite.

Quintessa Winery

Quintessa Winery

Schramsberg
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga, CA 94515
If you like sparkling wine, this is your spot!  Reservations are required and the cost is $45 per person.  This vineyard was our first stop one day (10 am tasting!).  It was a great way to start our day of wine tasting since most wineries in Napa specialize in heavy reds.  Schramsberg became famous in 1972 when President Nixon served one of their sparkling wines at the “Toast to Peace” in Beijing.  Since then, every U.S. President has served Schramsberg at the White House.  Our tasting began with a tour of the property, caves and manufacturing facilities.  In the caves, our guide taught us how to riddle, which is how champagne is produced.  We were then led into a tasting room where we tried EIGHT different sparkling wines!  It was almost too much, but in my opinion, there can never be too much champagne/prosecco/cava/sparkling wine! 🙂  The highlight of this vineyard for D was when our guide took out outside and taught us how to remove the cork from a champagne bottle using a saber.  Here’s a primer if you want to try this at home (which I don’t recommend since D had a bottle explode in his hand when he did…)

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine

Champagne Saber at Schramsberg

Schramsberg

Schramsberg Sparkling Wine Tasting

Kuleto Estate
2470 Sage Canyon Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
This vineyard isn’t one for the tour buses!  Like Pride Mountain, Kuleto Estate is at the top of a mountain; the last few miles of the drive are on windy dirt roads which keeps large groups away and builds anticipation leading up to the arrival.  Kuleto Estate is not just a winery, but is also Pat Kuleto (San Francisco restaurateur’s home).  The visit began with a generous pour of rose to accompany a tour of the property, herb garden, vegetable garden and flower garden surrounding Pat’s home.  We then returned to the main building and had a formal tasting with complimentary cheese and crackers.  I don’t remember the wines being anything remarkable, but the scenery and atmosphere were breathtaking.  Our tour guide told us the next tour was closed for a private proposal.  With the stunning panoramic views and intimate, homey feel of the winery, it’s no surprise someone picked this as a spot to get engaged.  What a lucky girl – I hope she said yes!!  Side note – reservations are required and the cost is $35 per person for a tour and tasting.

Kuleto Estate

Kuleto Estate

In addition to the vineyards above which I would highly recommend, we also visited the following wineries.  Let me know if you are curious about a particular one on this list.  It’s not to say we had a bad experience at any of these, but relative to the five wineries listed above, they couldn’t compare.

Siduri – Makers of the wine Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) drinks when he’s performing.  We did not get to taste this wine which was the whole purpose of our trip to this vineyard which was disappointing.  Also, the tasting is located in a warehouse since Siduri does not actually own any vineyards from which they produce their wines.
Martinelli’s 
Wilson – Makers of the Vineman cabernet which they must sell out of every year the Vineman triathlon (no affiliation) comes through town.  Very nice patio to enjoy a bottle (or two) of their rose.
Gloria Ferrer – Sparkling wines.  Gorgeous views.  Does not do tastings so you must purchase a whole bottle.
Beringer
Viader – stunning views (on top of a mountain); owned and operated by a female Argentinan which I though was cool
Failla – Winemaker Ehren Jordan’s private label.  Specializes in pinot noir.  Very relaxed/intimate tasting on the porch of a house.
Regusci
Cline – stays open until 6 (most vineyards close at 4 or 5) so the crowd can get rowdy later in the day.

Restaurants
Barn Diva
231 Center Street
Healdsburg, CA 95448
The menu is 100% local – everything in the restaurant (food, wine, decor) comes from the region.  Healdsburg is about a 30 minute drive from Napa and Sonoma so it’s going to be out of the way unless you are doing tastings in Healdsburg/Wilson.  The desserts were particularly superb and they have a great wine selection.

Bottega
V Marketplace
6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Italian cooking by Michael Chiarello of Top Chef fame.  This place was superb.  Be sure to request a seat in the covered outdoor patio by the fireplace.  The polenta appetizer and roasted duck entree were my favorites.

Auberge du Soleil, Napa

View from Auberge du Soleil

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Road
Rutherford, CA 94573
We only had time to get drinks at this restaurant and luxury hotel, but hopefully we’ll be able to return for a full meal someday as I wanted to snatch plates right off the waiters’ trays as they delivered to our surrounding tables.  The outdoor patio is gorgeous place to watch the sunset after a long day of tastings.

Quintessa Winery Caves

Quintessa Winery Caves

Sunday Supper: Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla Soup

11 Dec

Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla SoupThis past summer, my friend Sarah told me about a blog called Sodium Girl that specializes in low sodium/salt free recipes that still taste great.  As someone who is health conscious and also trying to watch my sodium intake, I was immediately hooked on this site!  Last month, SG posted a recipe for Salt Free Chicken Tortilla Soup which you can find here.  I was waiting for the perfect lazy Sunday evening to test it out.  This recipe was so easy to make after a long weekend and really hit the spot now that it’s chilly in NYC.  My adapted recipe is listed below.  I found all of the ingredients no problem at the neighborhood Whole Foods.

Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla Soup
(Adapted from Sodium Girl)
Serves 4

Ingredients
For Soup:
1 tsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
4 ripe hot house tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp no-salt added tomato paste
3 cups water
1 Whole Foods rotisserie chicken (Note: SG’s recipe provides directions if you want to cook the chicken from scratch.  I was too hungry/tired/lazy to go through this process.)

For Toppings:
4 green onions, sliced
1 small red onion, diced
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 lime, quartered
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced (Note: For less heat, remove the seeds.)
Greek yogurt (0%) or sour cream (Note: Use Greek yogurt if you’re watching calories/fat intake.  You seriously can’t taste the difference)
Tortilla chips, broken into pieces

Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla Soup Toppings

Directions 
1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped garlic and corn, stir continuously for five minutes.  Don’t stop stirring or you will burn the garlic.  This happened to me on my first try and I had to start over…
2.  Next add the four spices, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and water to the pot.  Stir occasionally and bring to a boil.  Then cover with a lid, lower heat and let simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
3.  While the soup is simmering, shred the rotisserie chicken into pieces and set aside.  Be sure to remove the skin.
4. Add the shredded chicken to the pot and increase heat to medium-high again.  Bring to a rolling boil then lower heat a bit until it is just bubbling and continue to reduce without a lid for 15 to 20 minutes.  (Note: Don’t skip this step!  If you do, the soup will be watery and not as flavorful.  Letting the soup bubble during this time helps intensify the flavor and thicken the broth.)
5. While the soup is cooking, prep your green onions, red onions, avocado, lime, jalapeno peppers, Greek yogurt/sour cream and tortilla chips that you will have as a garnish.
6. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with garnishes as desired.

Here’s what the soup looked like before I added the garnishes:
Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla Soup

This meal was met with raving reviews by D.  He didn’t even notice the lack of salt which really speaks to the flavor of the soup!  He likes extra spicy food and suggested using Habanero peppers next time and adding them to the pot during the reducing period to add extra spice to the dish.  Since my mouth is still burning from the few jalapenos I added to my bowl, I probably won’t try that,  but it’s a great suggestion for those who do like it extra hot!

Thanksgiving Dinner: Cranberry Ginger Fizz

8 Dec

I LOVE Canada Dry Cranberry Ginger Ale, but it is the hardest thing to find!  The recipe below is my own cranberry ginger ale concoction that I make when I can’t find the original in stores.  Since ginger is a natural ingredient to help queasy stomachs, this drink is also a good one to make after a few too many pear bellinis the night before. 🙂

Cranberry Ginger Fizz

Ingredients
Ginger Ale (preferably Canada Dry)
Cranberry Juice (no sugar added, not from concentrate)
Lemonade
Limes

Directions (per serving)
1. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.  Fill glass 3/4 of the way with ginger ale.  Fill glass remaining 1/4 with cranberry juice.  Top with a splash of lemonade.
2. Garnish with lime wedge.
Note: If you want to prevent this drink from getting watered down, fill an ice tray with cranberry juice the night before and use cranberry juice ice cubes!