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Practice and Patience: (Award-Winning!) Pecan Pie

16 Aug

One of the things I don’t mention enough on this blog is how many iterations recipes go through before I post them here. I want to make all of the mistakes and find better, more efficient ways to do things so that you don’t have to go through that process. There is so much clumsy struggle behind pretty results sometimes.

And that is the case with the pecan pie we’re going to make today. I have had it all happen. Melted crust, over-browned crust, greasy crust, soggy bottom crust, soupy filling, over-set filling, sunken top…you name it, I’ve been visited by it at some point. Every time I’d make this pie, there would be a dozen notes added to whatever caramel and butter stained piece of paper the recipe was printed on. One day, it came out just so. It sliced so beautifully, the filling set, but not too firm. The crust was delicate, but sturdy enough to accommodate the weight of the filling, and the whole crust was golden with not a burnt spot in sight. Immediately I made sure that the recipe was written down, complete with method notes. Obsessive? Maybe.

But it turns out a beautiful, delectable pecan pie every time. I’ve streamlined the process a lot, and though there’s a bit of time spent with the crust, it’s mostly just patiently waiting for it to chill between steps.

Let’s bake!

Pecan Pie

Crust  

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter (very cold)
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water

Filling

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 eggs (well beaten)
  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups toasted pecan halves (chop 2 cups of these)

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add butter and pulse until the pieces are pea sized and smaller.

Sprinkle on 2 tbsp. of the ice water and pulse the dough just until it adheres together when pinched between fingers.

If too dry, sprinkle on more water and pulse again. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disc, and chill for 30 min.

Roll dough out between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 12” circle and then move to a baking sheet and chill for 10 min.

Peel back the top piece of parchment and gently fold the pie dough over a rolling pin. This will help you lay it in the pan without stretching.

Fit the dough into 9 in. pan and trim edges, flute or crimp as desired. Freeze the crust for 15 minutes to firm it thoroughly.

Line the pan with a piece of parchment and pour in a bag of dried beans to use as weights. Bake with weights for 15 minutes, then remove weights and parchment and bake for another 10 min. Move crust to a wire rack while you prepare the filling.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Melt the butter over medium-low heat and then cook, stirring, until it is lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, salt and cinnamon, then add eggs and whisk until smooth.

Slowly pour butter into the sugar mixture, and whisk to combine.

Stir the chopped pecans.

Pour the filling into pie crust.

Line the top of the filling with the remaining pecan halves in concentric circles. Cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil or a pie shield to prevent over-browning.

Bake for about 50-60 min., or until the filling is just set. Start checking for doneness right at 50 minutes. The filling will jiggle a little bit but should not be sloshy. Cool completely before cutting.

Why no slice here? Well, this one was headed to the county fair, but I’ll try to get a picture of it cut when I go to the fair this weekend.

Update: This pie made me the GRAND CHAMPION of the baking competition at the 2018 Arlington County Fair!

The way I see it, all of this is play and creativity. And if you approach cooking that way, you’ll never stress over the messes, accidents, or mishaps. You’ll just write yourself a note and fix it next time. Just wait for it and always, always keep learning. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon that perfect bite. And it will be so worth it.

Ciao for now,

Neen

One Night in NOLA: Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

10 Aug

I don’t eat ice cream very often. I’ve made vanilla and cookies and cream versions for Joe, but usually I have a spoonful and leave it at that. I’m more of a pie and pastry person when it comes to sweets. When I think back to many birthday parties over the years, I’ve never wanted a scoop of ice cream with my cake.

But I have my moments. The craving hits every once in a while and always for the same flavor: butter pecan. And the way I see it, if you are going to treat yourself to ice cream, you should go all the way and make it everything you want. As many of my recipes are, this one is born from a memory.

Seven Junes ago, Joe proposed to me a few days before a trip to New Orleans with my family. When we arrived in NOLA, we surprised everyone with the news, and what was already set to be a fun vacation became even more celebratory and special.

The first night there was, as expected, hot and muggy. We made our way through the French Quarter to a tiny restaurant called Green Goddess. We had an excellent meal, but for one time in my whole life, it was an ice cream dessert I ordered there that embedded itself in my brain. It was a sundae consisting of butter pecan ice cream, a caramel sauce, candied bacon, and whipped cream. And it was unreal. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and packed with buttery toasted pecans, the caramel sauce was dark and rich, and the candied bacon was smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet. The cloud of homemade, not-too-sweet whipped cream on top was the perfect finish.

So when I got my annual(?) ice cream craving, I thought about just making butter pecan, but then I thought back to that sundae and decided it needed a caramel swirl right through the ice cream along with some crispy, salty pecans. Go all the way, right?

The best part about this ice cream is that it’s really not fussy (no egg tempering!), and all of the components can be made in advance. For me, that’s really excellent. My energy level since being diagnosed with RA has been erratic at best, so recipes that allow me to do things at my own pace are especially valuable to me.

Obviously, you will need an ice cream maker of some kind to make this recipe. Whether you roll a ball or use a electric countertop model, you’ll turn out some great ice cream. Let’s get churning!

Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

Ice Cream Base

  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or 1/3 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Salted Buttered Pecans

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Caramel Swirl

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt

Method

To make the ice cream base, whisk together milk and brown sugar until brown sugar is dissolved.

Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean pulp. I also throw the empty vanilla pod in.

Pour into a lidded container (or cover the bowl) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, though I usually let it go overnight.

To make the buttered pecans, melt the butter in a skillet. Add pecans and salt to the pan, and cook over medium low heat until pecans are browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, strain off the excess butter (and save that pecan butter! It’s so good on pancakes), and spread the pecans on a foil lined baking sheet to cool.

Cool completely before use.

To make the caramel, using a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.

Then boil mixture, without stirring, but gently swirling pan, until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful, it goes from golden to burnt quickly. I like to swirl on and off the heat to keep the syrup nice and even in color.

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the cream and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and harden a bit. Return it to the heat and simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is smooth.

Remove pan from heat, stir in the salt and cool caramel to room temperature.

If you make this on the same day you are making your ice cream, leave it at room temperature. If you make it in advance, store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Warm to room temperature before use. You may need to heat it slightly to loosen it up.

Now let’s put it all together. Have ready the container you want to use, a large spoon for the ice cream, a spoon for the caramel, and a butter knife. Have your buttered pecans and caramel ready to go.

If you used one, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream base.

Pour the chilled ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. In my ice cream maker, this takes about 24 minutes.

Pour in the pecans during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Take 1/3 of the ice cream and spread it in the container. Quickly drizzle a layer of caramel on top.

Repeat this 2 more times, and then use the butter knife to swirl the caramel through the ice cream. I ended up using about 2/3 of the caramel I made, but it did not go to waste!

Cover the ice cream and quickly move to the freezer to harden. In my freezer, it took about four hours to reach a nice hard scoop consistency. Serve as-is, or if you’re feeling special, drizzle on some extra caramel sauce, sprinkle a few chopped salted toasted pecans, and top with some maple sweetened softly whipped cream.

While no pigs were harmed in the making of this sundae, the savory, crunchy toasted pecans and deep, rich caramel swirl running through the fluffy, soft ice cream with that little pillow of whipped cream on top instantly took me back to that wonderful summer night. Music spilling into the restaurant from the streets, my new fiancé by my side, and my family surrounding me. My heart was full. What a profound testament to the power of foods as vessels for memory.

With Joe at Green Goddess

Recipes are little time capsules we can open at any moment, and I know this is one I will surely return to on many occasions.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Reimagining Ribbon Cake

4 Aug

My grandmother turned 90 years old last week! For her birthday cake, we turned to an old recipe that my dad said she used to make frequently. It was a cake I’d never heard of that definitely doesn’t turn up in a basic or reverse Google Image Search, called Ribbon Cake. It’s a two layer white almond cake with white frosting, topped with piped ribbons of cherry and pineapple fillings, sprinkled with a layer of finely chopped walnuts, and finished with a final lattice of frosting to top it all off. It turned out pretty well, though I wasn’t crazy about the all-shortening frosting. And while I liked the fruit fillings, they were more sweet than fruity and were just a touch runny for easy cake topping.

Tradition is great, but I thought the recipe could benefit from an update. I really believe that recipes are live documents that morph over time as trends, ingredient availability, and food tech change. So for this version, let’s frost that fluffy white almond cake with an equally luxurious vanilla-almond buttercream. And while we’re at it, let’s make the fruit fillings from scratch too, for fruitier flavor and to help control the thickness for piping and standing at room temperature. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to make them completely fresh. My dad, mom, and I also learned a few lessons while frosting and decorating the cake that definitely helped make the second go at it a smoother process.

Reimagined Ribbon Cake

White Almond Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided into two 1 ¼ cup portions
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract

Cherry Topping

  • 7 oz. cherries, pitted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 heaping tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water

Pineapple Topping

  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1(20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, packed in its own juice or 2 cups mashed pineapple and 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Walnut Topping

  • ½ cup walnuts, finely chopped

I made this cake over the course of two days, so I’ll describe that process here.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 in. square pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper and then greasing and flouring the pans. Alternatively you can use a baking release spray, but I would still recommend lining the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts.

Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk, until everything is combined. Transfer back to the large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand mixer bowl thoroughly. Use the whip attachment for this next step.

Add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to the stand mixer bowl. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy, and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.

Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest just until evenly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among the two prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 33-37 minutes, or until pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Next, make the fruit toppings.

To make the cherry topping, combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Mash the cherries while the mixture heats up.

Stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. It should be shiny and thickly coat a spoon. Cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

To make the pineapple topping, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

Continue stirring until the mixture is thick and loses its milky look.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter.

Let cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

At this point I wrapped the cakes tightly and stopped for the day. The next morning I began by making the buttercream.

Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar. Once it is all combined, add the salt and extracts and beat on high speed until thick and fluffy.

To assemble the cake, frost the first layer and stack the second on top.

Frost the cake with the buttercream, and then pipe a border around the top and the bottom of the cake. The top border is important as it acts as your frame for the fruit toppings. It can be as simple as a straight line if you prefer. I piped kisses using an open star tip.

Get out the fruit toppings and give them both a good stir. Transfer to piping bags with just couplers attached (no tips). Alternatively, use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off. Pipe the first filling in diagonal lines about ½ in. apart.

Using the second filling, pipe lines in the spaces left between the first.

Sprinkle the walnuts over top of the fruit fillings.

Create the final layer by piping a lattice with lines spaced about 1 in. apart.

There you have it! My variation of grandma’s Ribbon Cake. The cake is moist and light, the buttercream silky smooth, and the fruit fillings are nice and bright. Saving most of this one for a visit from my parents. Maybe it will be a new tradition!

Ciao for now,

Neen

My Favorite Oatmeal Cookies

20 Jul

I love oatmeal cookies. They pair well with lots of different additions, but are also delicious left perfectly plain with a hint of spice. You can do fun things with the texture too. Make them thin and lacy, thick and cake-y, crunchy, or chewy and soft. But my favorite oatmeal cookies, combine lots of textures and have deep dark spice and caramel flavors. The recipe has gone through many iterations as I tried to find the combination of ingredients that gave me the nutty, chewy, crunchy, spicy-sweet cookie I was seeking. I really like where it’s at now, but you know I’d never promise not to play around with the recipe in the future. My imagination is already running off…

I digress. Back to the treats at hand. These are a really special little bite despite their innocent appearance. Let’s fill up the cookie jar!

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan, and Coconut Cookies

  • ¾ cups rolled oats, toasted until fragrant*
  • ¾ cups quick cooking oats, toasted until fragrant
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup (sweetened or unsweetened) shredded coconut, toasted until golden
  • ½ tsp. baking powder**
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp.  cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg

*To toast the dry ingredients, just turn the oven to 350 degrees F and spread them out on separate baking sheets. The oats and nuts usually take 7-10 minutes and the coconut takes about 2-4 minutes.

** This weird thing happened when I started taking my medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I was finding that some of my baked goods tasted…off. There was this funny aftertaste that I could not get rid of and I had no idea what it was. I realized one day when I accidentally left some baking soda out of a recipe that OH, that’s that funny taste. This particular recipe can absolutely be made with ½ tsp. of baking soda or baking powder. Use what you have on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Combine the butter, shortening, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and beat until smooth and creamy.

Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and baking powder and beat until incorporated.

Finally, stir in the oats, pecans, and coconut and beat until well distributed.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is 2 tsp.) or spoon to drop the dough onto the sheets. I got three dozen this way and placed 18 per sheet. Gently press the cookies down with fingertips to flatten.


Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden at the edges and lightly brown on the bottoms. Cool on a wire rack or eat them warm because YES.

So yes, I’ll admit there are some extra steps to this recipe, but they really are worth it to achieve all the crispy, chewy, crunchy goodness here. The warm spices make them a super comforting accompaniment to any cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea. Definitely a good evening porch-sitting cookie for summer.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Back in the Saddle: Nutty Blondes

30 Oct

One of the concepts that I think is the most difficult for me and my ego to accept is the idea that just because I have done something well once does not mean that I will do it well every time I attempt it. At a point, we like to thing we have a particular task mastered, right? Sure, I can reliably get into halasana (plough pose) 99% of the time, but there are some days where my back just says, “NO.” I’m getting better at listening to the mental cues, but they are always humbling. In a way, they are the messengers I dislike the most, and probably the ones I need the most at the same time.

It’s been that way with baking a lot lately. For a long time, baking was just that thing for me that I was reliably “good at.” But with going gluten-free, I’ve spent a lot of time lately feeling like a complete amateur. Every batter and dough is foreign, and every attempt is hopeful scientific experimentation mixed with prayers to the divine forces. This has been frustrating because for the first time in years, I haven’t been able to just wander into the kitchen and start throwing things together. I’ve had to measure and think about it all.

I felt so much resistance to it, because it felt like my sanctuary had been stolen. My ego kept throwing internal temper tantrums, wanting to stray from every recipe and make it my own. But just like learning to cook and bake the first time around, I kept reminding myself that you have to create the solid foundation before you can start playing with the details.

And though my ego still pouted in the corner, I began to feel the joy and excitement of the unknown return to my kitchen endeavors. In letting go of needing to maintain the identity of “a good baker,” I afforded myself the opportunity to really learn from the gluten-free cooking resources I’d gathered. I discovered that (at least so far), I don’t care much for sorghum flour in cookies, millet flour adds the perfect crunch to pizza dough, brown rice pasta dough needs more xanthan gum and some tapioca to give it the right tackiness for rolling, bean flour gives things an odd smell, and that at the end of the day…it’s still all about ratios (Thanks, Michael Ruhlman!).

Last night, I really felt like I was home again. Back in the saddle, just doing what I do. I took a moment and said I brief “thank-you” to the universe, because I know that I have a long way to go. This recipe is a special victory, because it’s the first gluten-free cookie recipe I’ve developed on my own. It’s also the first one I’ve taken a bite of and said, “I could open a bakery tomorrow and sell these.”

Yeah, they’re that good. For those of you reading from the Folger or who donated to me for Warrior Dash, these might sound familiar. The version I made then was full of pecans, coconut, and M&M candies. This version nixes the M&Ms, but only because I didn’t have any on hand and (gasp) wasn’t in the mood for chocolate. I have no doubt they’d be a welcome addition.

Brown Butter Pecan, and Coconut Cookies, aka “Nutty Blondes”

makes 2 dozen cookies

  • 1 ¼ cups Neen’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend for Cookies (recipe below)
  • ½ tsp. xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 90 grams unsalted butter (about 7 tbsp.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Neen’s Gluten-Free Flour Blend for Cookies

Makes 9 cups

  • 2 ½ cups finely ground brown rice flour
  • 2 ½ cups super-fine sweet rice flour
  • 2 cups tapioca flour
  • 2 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 1 tbsp. xanthan gum

Combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, sugar, pecans, and coconut in the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside.

20131029_185542Brown the butter by placing it in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring frequently, cook the butter until it is amber in color. Then move it to a small bowl and put in the freezer or refrigerator until it is still liquefied, but no longer hot to the touch.

20130906_233809With the mixer running, slowly add the egg, butter, and vanilla extract to the dry ingredients and mix until the batter is clumpy. If it feels dry, you can add a few drops of milk, water or egg white to get the dough to come together.

20131029_190424Scoop the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper and form into a log. Wrap in parchment paper and freeze or refrigerate until firm. I usually freeze the dough for 30 minutes to an hour. If you aren’t feeling particularly patient, you can make these as drop cookies, but the dough freezes exceptionally well. I like to make a bunch of dough logs, freeze them, and have them ready for holiday cookie baking and gift-giving.

20131029_19084920131029_191419Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the chilled dough into ½ in. thick discs and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet with 1-2 in. of space in between them (they will spread slightly). Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Cool on a wire rack, eat, and share with friends for maximum enjoyment.

20131029_202026SNICKERDOODLES, too???

I thought that this dough would also make for excellent snickerdoodles, and since I was so determined to play, I approached it as I try to approach difficult arm or single-leg balances: If you fall and it’s ugly, at least you learned where the edge is! Fortunately, there was no such disaster and my intuition was right on in this case. To make these into sweet cinnamon-sugar delights, omit the pecans and coconut. In a small bowl, combine 3 tbsp. of sugar with 1 tsp. cinnamon. After freezing and slicing the dough log, toss the discs in the cinnamon sugar mixture and then bake on parchment-lined sheets. Voila! Now you have two distinctly different cookies from one simple method. Oh, the possibilities!

snickerdoodlesAnd suddenly, there it is. That inspiration and charge that sparks through me when I realize that there is something new and delicious to share with the world around me. The stress of “figuring it out” melts away and I remember why I love cooking: it’s a dare and a challenge, it’s a learning experience, it’s a love, and oh yes…

…it’s a joy.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.

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Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
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Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.

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Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

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Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.

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Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

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Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.

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Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.

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Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.

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Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.

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In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.

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The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.

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Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

Giardiniera
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.

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Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange

Filling:

  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.

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Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.

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To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.

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Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.

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Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.

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Pour the filling into the tart shell.

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Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

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Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?

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And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:

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Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,
Neen