Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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Confessions of a Macaron Hater

20 12 2012

Okay, it’s probably never been anything as strong as hate.  But “Confessions of a Macaron Ambivalent” isn’t as good a title, now is it?  My general reaction to the macaron-mania of the last few years has been a combination of eye-rolling and ignoring (not unlike what I went through with cupcakes around 2007, but that irritation has mellowed with time, and now I only roll my eyes at stupid cupcakes, by which I mean ones that are more about looking cute than tasting good, or ones that are clearly made just because they’re trendy – red velvet, I’m talking to you here, if people would just take a second to consider how much dye it takes to color a chocolate cake red they would just order a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing which is a million times better – but I digress, please pardon the run-on parenthetical but I really do hate red velvet cake which is another post entirely).  About the macarons, here’s why.  The grand majority of macarons are composed of the same four ingredients: egg whites, sugar, almond meal, and food coloring.  You whip the egg whites to a meringue, fold in the other stuff, pipe out a gajillion little circles, let them rest so they develop the proper “feet” and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Sorry, I fell asleep there.  Frankly, the things bore me silly.

Except.

my downfall

I don’t know how it happened.  I might have Heather to blame, a known macaron-lover at whose birthday party last year they were unavoidable.  Or maybe all those pictures on the internet finally wore me down.  Probably not, though.  No, I think the answer is simpler.  Pierre Hermé.  His book on the topic was so pretty I almost wanted to buy it.  Seeing them lined up in his shop, all shiny with luster dust (which I should be opposed to, but it’s just so pearly and delightful to look at… when it’s used correctly, that is), I couldn’t help but smile.  And then one day, hungry for a little sweet snack, I wandered in for a pastry and thought how gorgeous and interesting all his flavor combinations are and how it was a shame I couldn’t take them all home and it hit me that the macarons offered many of these same flavor combinations in bite-size format – I could try three flavors for the price of one individual cake!  So it began.  One of the flavors I chose that day was white truffle and hazelnut, and I admit I picked it because I thought it would be disgusting and therefore justify my dislike of the macaron in general.  Oh, how wrong I was.  The thing is marvelous – you start with a nose full of truffle and you think it’s going to be too turpentiney-strong, but then there’s a crunch of rich, buttery hazelnut and the whole thing is brought into balance.

So I could no longer justify my annoyance with the macaron based on its taste. (Which is not to say there aren’t hordes of really bad, too-dry or too-sweet or too electric blue examples out there.  There are.)  However, I learned something a couple of weeks ago that might just blow the top off this whole macaron charade.  You see, IT’S ALL A LIE!

According to L’Art Culinaire Français, a classic tome of French cookery published in 1950, macarons aren’t macarons at all.  While poring over said book with my good friend Jennifer, a fellow Macaron Eye-Roller, we discovered that the traditional macaron is a much more rustic affair – no meringue, so they’re denser, and the almonds less finely ground, so they have some texture.  There’s also no filling in this classic recipe.  Pictured next to the macaron in the accompanying photo was something called a “patricien” which was identical in looks and method to the little pastry we know as the macaron today.  It’s not really all that scandalous, I admit, but when and why did the name change?  Was “patricien” too snooty?  Did someone misread their pastry history book at some point and the whole misnomer spiraled out of control?  At any rate, I have a new reason to scoff at my secretly-not-hated macaron, and will continue to do so, even as I nip into Pierre Hermé for another fix.

On this day in 2009: Worthwhile French Beers: Ninkasi IPA

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

* In case you’re wondering about the flavors of the macarons pictured here, they are Quince & Rose (gorgeous), Chocolat Porcelana (yes, Hannah-who-also-buys-foods-she-thinks-she-won’t-like, you read that right, he made a macaron out of the Precious, and it was wonderful, with cocoa nibs pressed into the cream filling), and the afore-lauded White Truffle & Hazelnut.





Vin Chaud aux Oranges Brûlées & The 2013 McCormick Flavor Forecast

6 12 2012

Charred oranges.

Those two words were the first to jump out at me from this year’s McCormick Flavor Forecast.  In what sounds like one of the most fun jobs in the world, their team of chefs, food scientists, and market gurus work all year to identify trends in food.  Using those trends as a jumping-off point, they then seek out the flavor combinations that best exemplify each one.  After months of playing around in the kitchen work, they have distilled the cooking zeitgeist down to five Trends of Global Flavor, each with two sets of ingredients designed to evince the philosophy (I would almost call them Trends in Food Philosophy, but that might sound too poncy).

sugaredoranges

A side objective of these flavor pairings is to push the envelope a bit, maybe combining things in unusual ways or introducing lesser-known ingredients to a wider audience.  Like in Empowered Eating, where Dukkah (a delightful mix of spices, seeds, and nuts that hails from Egypt) livens up broccoli, or Global My Way, where cajeta (a Mexican goat milk caramel) is joined with anise.  As I look over the range of trends, a few things seem to repeat, or be representative of even broader trends.  I’m seeing:

  • Bitterness – on display in the smoked tomato, chocolate, molasses (don’t worry, those aren’t together), and the aforementioned charred oranges
  • Hazelnuts – (hooray!) used in the Dukkah and paired with artichoke and paprika in Hidden Potential
  • Tropical flavors – rum, passion fruit, plantains, chili peppers (again, not together, but why not?)

I’m telling you all of this because McCormick (in France, Ducros) has given me the opportunity to preview this year’s forecast, which brings me back to the charred oranges.  Paired with allspice and black rum under the category “No Apologies Necessary”, the allure of smoky, caramelized oranges was irresistible to me.  When I had a Skype interview with McCormick’s executive chef Kevan Vetter, I mentioned how that particular combination called to me, making me think of hot drinks by the fireplace, or warming up after being out in the snow.  Interestingly, he had nearly opposite associations with the mix, saying it had been conceived as a sort of “tropical getaway”.  But that’s what’s so much fun about working or playing around with ingredients.  You give ten people the same mystery box and you’ll probably get ten different takes on the best dish to make from it.  That could probably happen with just one person, too.  I mean, given these three, I’ve already jotted down at least four different recipes I’d like to experiment with.  Charred orange eggnog, anyone? How about an orange brûlée tart or charred orange and allspice ice cream with rum caramel sauce?

charredoranges

For now, though, I’m pretty content with this take on vin chaud, the hot spiced wine that is near-ubiquitous this time of year in France.

Vin Chaud aux Oranges Brûlées

Inspired by the McCormick Flavor Forecast for 2013, this is more more focused – and dare I say “tropical” – version of the classic winter beverage. Allspice alone takes the place of a blend of spices, the charred oranges add lovely smoky bitter notes, and a finish of dark rum warms you through and through.

2 large oranges
2 Tbsp. Turbinado sugar (also called cassonade or raw sugar)

1 bottle (750 ml) red wine – no need for anything fancy here
10 allspice berries
¼ c. Turbinado sugar
3 oz. (85 ml) dark rum

  1. Heat your broiler and line a baking sheet with foil. Halve the oranges pole-to-pole, then cut the halves into 4-5 thick slices each. Lay them on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the 2 Tbsp. Turbinado sugar. Broil, checking frequently, until charred, about 5 minutes.
  2. Place the charred orange slices into a medium saucepan with the wine, allspice, and remaining ¼ cup sugar. Bring to a simmer, then cover, remove from heat, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
  3. Add the rum and heat everything back up before ladling, steaming hot, into mugs.

Serves 4.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

This post was sponsored by McCormick, but the opinions are my own.








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