Christmas in your Mouth!

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Okay, weird title, but there’s no other way to describe this after-dinner drink. It just tastes like Christmas, which I happen to love.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times over the years that I’m no mixologist. I’ve made some good margaritas, but it seems like when I try to make something creative, it’s terrible.

Actually, it’s not that my skills are completely lacking because I’m typically following recipes, but I don’t enjoy a lot of cocktails, especially if they’re terribly strong. Like martinis. So whatever I might make and dislike, which seems to happen often, I pass on to my willing husband.

Typically when the weather turns cold, I stock up on seasonal liqueurs. I love Amarula, Eggnog, Bailey’s, various chocolate liqueurs, and so forth. Some I will put in coffee or hot chocolate, or some over ice in lieu of dessert.

One night I got super creative (sarcasm) and combined all of two different liqueurs together for my husband and myself. We both thought that this drink was so good that we haven’t been able to stop drinking it!!!

It’s good, it’s pretty, and it’s Christmas in your mouth. You’re welcome.

Christmas in your Mouth
Makes 2 drinks

2 – 8 ounce cocktail glasses
Small ice cubes
4 ounces Buttershots
4 ounces Rumchata

Fill the glasses with ice.


Divide the buttershots and Rumchata evenly in both glasses.


Stir and serve.

You can add some freshly grated nutmeg if you’d like.


And, it’s Christmas!

Mulled Wine

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When I think of mulled wine, I think of my daughter and I visiting my other daughter in December of 2010 in London. Everything was Christmassy, and it was cold, as expected. The first thing she did when we met up at her flat was to prepare mulled wine. It was so charming and thoughtful.

But I had no idea that mulled wine is so popular in London, at least during the cold months I presume. In fact, every single pub we visited, which was daily, served mulled wine.

Here is a special photo of us three gals at The Marylebone, after warming our spirits with mulled wine.

Those memories, of the beautiful quaint pubs, the Christmas markets, the mulled wine, fabulous meals, but mostly of being with my two daughters at a special time of year, were so important to me, that once home, I haven’t wanted to make mulled wine. I needed to preserve those memories some how. Until now.

Out of curiosity, I sought out recipes for mulled wine online, and they’re basically all straight forward. In fact, you can simply mull wine with purchased mulling spices! If you don’t know, the act of mulling is simmering or steeping the wine or cider.

I found a recipe on Epicurious along with a blurb written by Katherine Sachs that offered a bit more information when proceeding with mulled wine, with more options.

Katherine writes that “In Germany it’s called Glühwein and it’s occasionally made with with fruit wine; it’s Glögg in Scandinavia, and usually served with a spiced cookie or cake; in Quebec they mix in maple syrup and hard liquor and call it Caribou.”

I need to look into a Caribou. But on to mulled wine…

For a stronger pot, add some liquor, such as brandy or spiced rum. Mulled wine can also be made with white wine, such as a Riesling or Grüner Veltliner, if you prefer that style.

Mulled Wine
Serves 2, 3, 4…

1 bottle of good red wine, like a pinot noir
2 cups apple cider
1 cup ruby port
A couple slices of orange rind
4 cinnamon sticks
20 whole cloves
2 crushed allspice
Star anise and cinnamon sticks and orange slices for serving

Pour the wine, cider, and port into an enamel pot. Add the orange rinds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice.

Start heating slowly on a low-to-medium setting. You want to steep the wine, not boil or reduce it.

After about 30-40 minutes it will be done. Sieve the mixture if you don’t want the little spice bits.

Serve in cups with a cinnamon stick, star anise, and slices of orange.

I purposely didn’t shake the bottle of apple cider. I didn’t want the mulled wine to look murky.

This is especially important if you chose to serve the mulled wine in a glass cup. You want it pretty and burgundy, not brown and murky.

The mulled wine would work well in a carafe, so you don’t have to keep it on the stove. Just serve!

Hope you enjoy this recipe.


I have prepared mulled port before and that is slightly sweeter than mulled wine, but definitely still warming and flavorful. It was mulled with clementines.

Cabbage Rolls, Deconstructed

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I am completely aware that the term “deconstructed” is overused these days, but that’s exactly what innocently came to mind when I first thought about this recipe.

Cabbage rolls have always been a favorite of mine – mostly because of all the varieties of stuffings potentially hiding inside. Ground pork with rice and raisins, reminiscent of dolma, or sausage rolled in cabbage, smothered in red sauce – all delicious, comforting, and reliable.

There’s nothing tedious or challenging about making cabbage rolls, but it’s easy to run out of the nice big cabbage leaves.

So I was staring at a cabbage the other day, and thought I could simply parboil the cabbage, and create a layered “casserole” of cabbage and sausage. But I also needed a white sauce and cheese.

I not only was thinking of traditional cabbage rolls, but also a recipe I made which was bacon and mushrooms in béchamel and wrapped in cabbage leaves – more of a side dish than a meal, and deliciously rich.

So here’s what I did, combining the components of both recipes.

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls
printable recipe below

1 large head of white cabbage, about 3 pounds
1-2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat
2 pounds Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Approximately 4 cups of bechamel, double this recipe
Grated Gruyère, about 16 ounces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Have a large pot of slightly salted water heating on the stove. Slice the cabbage in half and remove the core.


When the water comes to a boil, add the cabbage halves and keep them submerged. I used a plate with a weighted lid.

Cook the cabbage for about 6-7 minutes, or until the leaves soften a bit. Place the cabbage in a colander to drain and cool. When you can handle the leaves, separate them slightly and let them drip dry on a dish towel or paper towels.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage, pork and onion over medium-high heat, along with some oil, until barely any pink shows; don’t overcook.


Add the fennel seeds and white pepper. Taste for salt.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13″ baking dish.

Begin with adding cabbage leaves to the bottom of the dish.

Next add one-fourth of the sausage mixture, topped by one cup of bechamel, and sprinkle with about 4 ounces of grated cheese.


Repeat these layers three times or, if your baking dish is shallower, form only three layers, using thirds of the sausage mixture, bechamel, and cheese.

Bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.


Serve with some buttered potatoes for a really hearty meal!


One could certainly add celery, carrots, and parsley to the meat mixture.

Or, go a different direction with seasoning the meat component to make it Italian-inspired. There are so many options.

note: This deconstructed cabbage roll casserole would be just as good with a red sauce instead of a cheesy white one, and definitely less caloric, if you worry about that sort of thing.

 

 

 

Greek Pork and Beans

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We had quite the cold spell a while back, so I during it I felt the need to make a one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew. And what better cuisine from which to choose than Greek. It’s often the direction I take for satisfying and comforting dishes, like pastitsio and moussaka.

For these times, I refer to an old cookbook, called Flavors of Greece, published in 1991, and authored by Rosemary Barron. And in it I found exactly what I was looking for – a Greek version of pork and beans.

The beans in this dish are giant white Lima beans, and the meat includes pork shoulder, bacon, and sausage.

The bean and pork components are layered, then topped with a thick bread crumb and Parmesan crust. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a giant cassoulet!

Here’s the recipe.

Traditional Pork and Bean Casserole
Khirino´ Khoria´tiko

1 1/2 pounds dried butter beans, soaked overnight
3 pounds boneless lean pork shoulder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pastourma´s ham or bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, diced, juices reserved
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground coriander
5 whole cloves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 cups meat stock
1/2 country sausages
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup kasse´ri cheese or Parmesan

Cook and drain the soaked beans. I cooked mine in chicken stock. Set aside.

Cut the pork into 1” cubes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet and lightly brown half the meat over medium heat. Repeat with the remaining meat.



Add the bacon and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook 1 minute longer, and add the red wine. Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, honey, oregano, coriander, cloves, juniper berries, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Add the meat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes longer; add stock if there appears to be less than 2 cups of sauce. Season to taste. The sauce should be highly flavored.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice the sausages into 1/2” thick slices and combine with the beans.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of a heavy casserole and cover with one third of the sausages and beans. Cover with a layer of half the meat mixture, then half the remaining beans, then the remaining meat. Top with a layer of the remaining beans.

With the back of a wooden spoon, gently press down on the beans so some of the sauce rises to the surface.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, cover, and bake 45 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, until a golden crust has formed.

Remove the casserole lid and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown.

I let the casserole sit for at least 45 minutes, without the lid, before serving.

Even though I used a large/wide Le Creuset for this casserole, it was so thick I wasn’t sure how to serve it up!


For the sake of this post, I cut out a square so the layers would show.

The casserole is quite stunning. And the flavors are just what you’d expect. Tomatoes, herbs, meat – a lovely, rustic meal.

And the meat is extremely tender.

Note: The recipe also included dried marjoram and winter savory — neither of which I had.

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey

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For Christmas of 2017, a dear friend who lives in Texas sent me a fabulous gift pack. In it was a jar of lavender honey.

The gifts came from Los Poblanos Farm Foods in New Mexico. The honey is “derived from bees that pollinate a unique blend of regional plants, including our very own Grosso variety of lavender.”

As soon as you open the honey jar, you smell lavender. It is utterly fragrant and delightful.

So how better to showcase this floral honey than to top it on a roasted log of goat cheese?!!

Which is what I did to start off a special meal for my one and only.

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey
Slightly adapted NYT Cooking recipe by Sara Dickerman

1 – 8-12 ounce log or slab of a firm goat cheese, chilled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons lavender honey, or honey of choice
Bread, toasts, crackers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Select a small oven-to-table earthenware dish or a small ovenproof sauté pan lined with aluminum foil to help transfer the cheese to a plate after roasting.

Place the log in the dish and cover with the olive oil.

Bake until the cheese is soft and springy to the touch but not melted, about 8 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

Heat the honey in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water until it is fluid enough to be spread with a pastry brush.

Paint the surface of the feta with it. Broil until the top of the cheese browns and just starts to bubble. (As you can tell I opted to dropper the warm honey onto the soft cheese.)

Serve immediately with breads, toasts, or crackers.

You can also include pickled or roasted vegetables, according to the recipe author.

Alternately, add fresh fruits like strawberries and peaches, or dried fruits like dates and figs.

I might do this in the future, but this time, just the crackers with the roasted goat cheese, and the sweetness of the floral honey were just a perfect combination, topped with edible flowers for some prettiness!

note: A pretty oven-to-table gratin dish would have been a better choice than messing with a piece of foil, which did not help with sliding/moving the molten log of goat cheese to the serving platter!

Mushroom Toast

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My readers know that, maybe because of my advanced age, or perhaps because I’ve always been on the stubborn side, food trends turn me off. But I do know that stubbornness can get in the way of experiencing good food.

Case in point – avocado toast. Perhaps avocado toast didn’t excite me much because avocados are my biggest source of protein, not being a huge meat eater. I didn’t need to serve them on grilled bread to appreciate the wonderful food that they are.

Until I did have avocado toast, that is, and I have to say that they were thoroughly enjoyable!

Recently online I saw a headline for the “new” avocado toast – mushrooms on toast. I immediately envisioned sautéed mushrooms that I top my husband’s steaks with occasionally.

So that’s what I did to make my version of jump-on-the-bandwagon mushroom toast.

Mushroom Toast

Bread slices, like sourdough or French
Olive oil
Mushrooms, sliced, about 1 pound
Butter, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cognac or brandy, optional
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
Pepper
8 ounces Crème fraiche

Brush some olive oil on the bread slices and toast them, either over fire, in a skillet, or in the oven. They should be crispy. Set them aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over fairly high heat until bubbling, then add the mushrooms.

Keep the heat high, and stir only occasionally while getting some color on the mushrooms. If they stick at all, add a bit more butter, but keep the heat high. This keeps the mushrooms from requiring an inordinate amount of fat.


Once there is good caramelization on the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Stir well for a few seconds.

Immediately add a splash or two of cognac and let it ignite. Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, if there is any.

At that point, season the mushrooms to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat, let it cool a bit, then stir in the crème fraiche. Heat through.

Place some mushrooms on the toasts using a small, slotted spoon, then pour a spoonful of cream over the top. Serve immediately.


If you want decadence, sprinkle a little finely grated Gruyere, Fontina, or Parmesan on top of the toasts.

Top the toasts with some fresh thyme, parsley, or chives, if available.

If you’re serving these for company, don’t put too many out; they must be warm. There’s nothing much worse than cold mushrooms.

Not only would these be good for hors d’oeuvres, they would be wonderful served with soup. So much better than plain bread!

Verdict: These toasts are fabulous, and any mushroom lover will love these. The toasts would work with finer chopped mushrooms, or even a duxelles.

Fondant Potatoes

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Never, have I ever, seen fondant potatoes on a restaurant menu. But on cooking shows they seem quite common.

So much so that after watching children make fondant potatoes on my favorite show, Masterchef Junior, I knew I finally had to make them.

So what are they exactly? They are a russet potato cut into a barrel shape, browned in butter and oil, then cooked in broth.

So nothing fancy, really, but they’re crispy on the outside, rich and luxurious on the inside, and look good on a plate.

So here’s what I did, based on this recipe, from The Hairy Bikers.


Fondant Potatoes

3 large Russet potatoes
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 ounces grapeseed oil
Salt
Black Pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
Fresh or dried thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the ends of the potatoes off. Stand the potato upright and, using a flexible paring knife, cut off the peels, forming multiple ridges around the potato.


Lay the potato on the cutting board and slice crosswise in half. Continue with the remaining 2 potatoes; you will have 6 barrels.

Place the barrels in cold water for 5 minutes to get rid of some starchiness. Dry them well with paper towels.


Heat the butter and oil over high heat in a heavy skillet. Using tongs, add the barrel potatoes to the butter and oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Turn down the flame to medium-high, and let the potato ends brown.

Meanwhile, have the chicken stock simmering on the stove, or somehow heated.

When the ends of the potatoes have browned, turn them over and repeat the browning, adding a little more salt and pepper, adjusting the heat as necessary.

When the ends of the potatoes are browned, pour in the hot chicken stock – carefully.

Place the skillet in the preheated oven and let the potatoes cook for about 45 minutes.

When done, the potatoes should be nice and crispy on the outside but tender and fully cooked on the inside.

Place the potato barrels on a serving plate, and drizzle on the remaining butter-oil mixture, if you don’t mind that sort of thing. Sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Often a few sprigs of fresh thyme are in the butter while the potatoes are browning, but I opted for dried thyme.

Sneak a taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

I made these potatoes for a steak dinner, and I now know that I will be making them again – with or without the steak.

Note: The ends of my potatoes burnt a little, as you can tell in the photos, and the burning occurred in the oven. I didn’t mind the flavor but I don’t think they’re supposed to brown that much. I went through a lot of recipes to get an idea of how to make fondant potatoes, and some required the oven to be heated to 425 degrees F. I lowered the temp to 400 degrees F, but when I make these again, I’ll use a 375 degree oven.

Potato Halloumi Pancakes

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I’ve always enjoyed making savory vegetable pancakes. Thankfully my husband enjoys eating them, often right off the plate as I cook them.

My typical potato pancakes involve LOTS of potatoes, and very little flour. These are not pancakes with a little bit of potato. These are raw, grated potatoes with just enough flour to hold them together.

The other day I was shopping out-of-town and I happened upon goat Halloumi. So I had the idea to grate the Halloumi along with potatoes and make potato pancakes. I figured the Halloumi wouldn’t melt easily so the pancakes would have that lovely salty cheese flavor, but without the mess.

Here’s what I did.

Potato Halloumi Pancakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk or milk substitute
3 medium-sized white potatoes, scrubbed
6 ounces goat Halloumi
3 shallots, finely chopped
1/3 cup loosely packed chopped parsley
1 teaspoon black pepper
Flour, white or whole-wheat, about 3/4 cup
Butter, for frying

First place the eggs and milk in a large bowl. Whisk them together and set aside.


Grate the potatoes and add to the egg-milk mixture.


Grate the Halloumi and add to the potatoes.

Add the shallots, parsley, and black pepper, and stir well.

Add just enough flour to bind the ingredients. You are not making a dough, although it will not feel like traditional pancake batter either. Mostly it should not be runny.


Heat a large skillet or flat griddle over medium-high heat. Add a couple tabs of butter and let it melt. A little browning is good also.

Add a blob of the pancake batter to the skillet and spread it out slightly. It won’t be thin, but it can’t be too thick either. Continue with however many pancakes will cook in your skillet.

After about a minute or two, turn over the pancakes, and reduce the heat. This will allow the pancakes to brown on the other side as well, but also allow time to cook through. The total cooking time is about 6-7 minutes.

You must be patient; the potatoes can’t be served raw.

Continue cooking in batches.

Because I don’t require meat at a meal, I served the pancakes with a simple cherry tomato salad.

But of course, these would be fabulous with sausages!

The experiment with using Halloumi worked well. The slight melting of the cheese in the skillet was not problematic, and as a result it didn’t burn, which was my hope.

You could definitely taste the goatiness!

Potato pancakes like this are definitely best crispy on the outside, just out of the skillet. But it’s also fun to cook a big batch like this and reheat as needed.

This recipe makes about 14 – 3 1/2″ pancakes

Lamb Burger

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Recently I re-read the cookbook, “How to Roast a Lamb, by Michael Psilakis. I read it originally when I first bought it, in 2009 according to Amazon.

My modus operandi is to read a new cookbook, then put on the shelf. When I have more time, I re-read it, with my little sticky notes on hand to mark recipes, even if 8 years have passed. I might own too many cookbooks when I can “lose” a cookbook that easily.

What I hadn’t remembered about “How to Roast a Lamb,” is that it is one of the best written cookbooks ever, in my humble opinion. Not the recipes; they’re kind of a mess.

Michael Psilakis is Greek-American, who although born in the United States, didn’t speak English until entering first grade. Just like the family in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” his was large and sometimes loud, but there was love, and there was food.

In the introduction, Michael tells the fascinating story of how his rise to chef and restaurant owner began, with fateful events allowing major opportunities in his life.

In spite of some rebellious years during his teens, Michael always made it home for dinner.

“It was clear to me that missing one night of family dinner would not make my mother angry, but, far worse, it would wound her in a way that would cause her pain in the depths of her soul. To miss one of those dinners would signify to her that whoever else I was doing was more important than she was, more important than my family, and more important than her singular wish to keep us together.”

Michael Psilakis’s stories that precede each chapter beautifully describe the love and respect he had for his family growing up, and his mother’s passion for food and cooking that he inherited.

Lamb Burger
Bifteki Arniou
Makes 2 burgers (I doubled the recipe)

2 – 1/4″ thick slices sweet onion
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
7 ounces ground lamb
3 ounces ground pork
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (I omitted dill)
1 scallion, green part only, finely chopped (I used chives)
1 tablespoon garlic purée (I used 1/2 roasted head of garlic)
About 2 ounces pork caul fat
2 slices onion, grilled, to top the burgers
2 kaiser rolls

Brush the onion slices with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. On a hot grill pan, grill until tender. Separate the onion into rings and chop fine.

In a bowl, combine the chopped grilled onion, lamb, pork, mustard, coriander, parsley, dill, scallion, and garlic purée.

Season liberally with salt and pepper. With clean hands, combine the mixture evenly and divide in half. (I made four burgers.)

Place a 4-5″ ring mold on a clean work surface. Lay a piece of caul fat over the top with a few inches overhanging all around. Place half the lamb mixture in the center and press down to form a thick, flattened disk.

I simply did the same thing without using a ring mold.

Wrap the overhanging caul fat up and over the top, overlapping a bit but trimming off extra bits and pieces. Smooth the caul fat so that it is flat to the surface. Repeat to make the second burger, and place them on a piece of parchment. (Remember I made four burgers!)

Preheat a cast-iron skillet until hot. Brush the burgers lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the side with the caul fat down first, grill, and turn over untl firm and char-marked on both sides, to your desired doneness.

My burgers were cooked to medium-rare, although you can’t tell from this photo, but of course they can be cooked longer.

And being an American, I had ketchup on hand.

Don’t roll your eyes, I actually ate the burger with only a little Dijon mustard. It was way too good to smother with ketchup of course!

These lamb burgers were really incredible. I can’t imagine them tasting any more delicious. The roasted garlic addition was probably not too far off of the chef’s garlic purée, which is a purée of garlic confit.

There was one mistake, where cumin and fennel are supposed to be included in the lamb mixture, I’m assuming, because they were listed in the ingredient list, but omitted in the directions.

If you’re wondering how I got my hands on pork fat caul, it is because of a website I’d recently discovered, called Heritage Foods USA. It’s also where I got my ground lamb; my local store’s situation with lamb is hit-and-miss, but mostly miss.

It is a unique experience working with the lacy caul. It looks so delicate but don’t let its dainty looks fool you!