Malted Hot Chocolate Mix

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For my sister and I, Christmas and New Year’s, were pretty close to being the best time of the year when we were growing up. Much of how we celebrated was similar to how people celebrate in the U.S. We had a tree (always a fake one; nobody had a real tree) that we decorated with ornaments. But our favorite part was always hanging the dangling, silver tinsel. Or more like throwing it on the tree, in an attempt to make it look “natural,” with the result always resembling clumps of shiny hair stuck on the plastic green branches. We had a nativity scene that we put under the tree, surrounded always by cotton balls, to simulate snow, because we all know how much snow falls in the winter in Bethlehem.

And then there were the gifts. Our tradition for those deviated slightly from the American version. Santa Claus (the same one, with the white beard and red uniform) didn’t come on Christmas eve but on New Year’s eve. On that night, we’d always be at a party of some friends of my parents and right at midnight, at the end of the countdown, an adult who had sneaked away secretly, would pull down the main circuit board so that all the lights in the house would go out. As soon as the year turned, he or she would turn them back on. The reason, we were told in all seriousness by our parents, was so that Santa could come in without being seen. Never mind that the presents never showed up under the tree until the next day. So I would keep my eyes wide open, trying to catch a glimpse of this elusive, jolly gift-bearer. But alas, the dark would always hide him well.

So, the next day, the first day of the new year, my sister and I would wake up and jump out of bed. We knew the routine. Behind our headboards there was one wrapped gift for each of us. This was the gift from our parents. We’d open it and then run to the Christmas tree, where right next to the snowy nativity scene there were two more wrapped gifts, one for each of us. These were from Santa. Minutes later, we’d be sitting at the table, sipping the hot cocoa my mom made for us, talking excitedly about what we got. “How did Santa come into our house if we don’t have a chimney?” I asked my dad one year. My dad must have panicked, because his immediate answer was “he comes through the keyhole.” It was a statement that puzzled my young brain for years, until I learned the truth about Santa.
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 Malted Hot Chocolate Mix – Slightly adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

Note: This makes a thick, rich, and dark hot chocolate. It’s not very sweet at all. If you want it sweeter, you can add sugar to each mug to taste.

Ingredients

1 cup (7 oz) sugar
6 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (3 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1.5 oz) malted milk powder (substitute nonfat dry milk for a non-malted version)
5 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Process all ingredients in a food processor until ground to powder, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer to airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 2 months (longer in the freezer).

To make a cup of malted hot chocolate, heat 1 cup of milk in a small saucepan over medium heat just until small bubbles start to appear at the edge of the saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of the hot chocolate mix and continue to heat, whisking constantly, for about 2-3 minutes longer, until the mixture just starts to simmer. Pour in a mug and serve.

Chestnut and Apple Soup

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When I was a kid, I remember my mom telling me that as she got older, she started remembering things from her childhood that she had thought she had completely forgotten. It seemed that some memories were like fermented foods, stored away and left to mature over time by themselves until the time was right to unveil them again.

As a kid, this didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. But now that I am doing my own older-getting, I understand what she meant. Flashes of memory will pop into my head unexpectedly. They are often little things. Unremarkable events and ordinary days from many years ago. And sometimes these memories carry their own smells.
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Like the smell of charred corn on the cob, for example. It’s always tied to my memories of trips we took to see my aunt’s family, who lived closer to the sea. As we drove back in the evening with our windows rolled down, the car would fill with the smoky, sweet smell of corn cooking on coals. There were always vendors selling it on the sidewalks and sometimes, my dad would stop the car and buy some for us. I burned my tongue many times on that corn. It was impossible to wait for it to cool down.

Roasting chestnuts is another one. I grew up without central heating. We had one portable gas heater that we huddled around in the evenings as we watched TV in the living room. Sometimes, my parents would buy fresh chestnuts and bring them home. I remember my dad would score the tops with an X and then put them on the top of the heater. Their smell as they roasted would fill the room and my sister and I would wait breathlessly for my parents to take them off the heater, blow on them to cool them down, and peel them for us. The sweet and nutty flesh was as good as candy.
DSC03551Chestnut and Apple Soup – Slightly adapted from Epicurious.com

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 small Golden Delicious (or other sweet variety) apple, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 7.41-oz jar vacuum-packed chestnuts
1 large celery stalk, chopped
3 small fresh thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons brandy
3 cups (or more) chicken broth (use vegetable broth for vegetarian version)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
pumpkin seed oil, for garnish (you can also use hazelnut oil, or simply olive oil)

Directions:

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, apple, chestnuts, celery, and thyme sprigs. Sauté until onion is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add brandy; stir until liquid is absorbed, about 1-2 minutes. Add 3 cups broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chestnuts are soft, about 15 minutes; cool slightly. Remove and discard thyme sprigs.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender until very smooth. Return soup to pan and cook until heated through, adding more chicken broth by tablespoonfuls to thin as needed and stirring often, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide soup among bowls. Top with dollop of crème fraîche and drizzle with pumpkin seed oil. Serve immediately.

Vegan Pear Caramel Ice Cream

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When my friend Lisa told me a few years ago that she had decided to go vegan, I was devastated. She was someone that enjoyed food, all food, just as much as I did. She ate everything and really savored new food experiences. I remember one night when she and I were having dinner with another friend at Le Villaret in Paris. It was a tasting menu and we were probably on our third or fourth course. The food was exquisite, the wine superb. The three of us took a bite of what was impossibly even better than the courses that preceded it and we looked up at each other amazed. Lisa had tears in her eyes. So did I.

So you get the idea. Lisa has always been one of my most precious food buddies. An indomitable eater. A loyal gustatory companion.DSC03418

I reacted to her news of going vegan much like some parents react to their kids coming out to them. “Why?” was the first thing I asked. “Are you sure this is what you want?” Followed by “What about me?” and inevitably “I don’t understand this but I love you and I will support you, no matter what.”

Ok, maybe it wasn’t so dramatic. She did make this decision for valid reasons. She no longer trusted the food supply system (watching “Food Inc.” had done a number on her) and cutting out all meat products was a way for her to regain some control over what she ate. So, I took it in stride and accepted it as a new challenge: every time she visits me, I strive to “veganize” a recipe I like. Sometimes it works well (like with the pain d’épices that comes out great). Sometimes it’s tougher.

For her last visit, I wanted to make some pear ice cream, since pears were in season. I adapted my favorite pear ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz and the result was actually pretty good. Personally, I’d much rather have it made with heavy cream, but the vegan version is still creamy, with a strong pear flavor and a slight burn from the caramel. And it made Lisa happy, which made losing the heavy cream worth it.

DSC03424Vegan Pear Caramel Ice Cream – Adapted from Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments

Note: The trick to this is to separate the cream from the water in the coconut milk. I used the Thai Kitchen brand of coconut milk. The cream had already separated to the top of the can. Whatever brand you use, make sure not to shake the can before opening it, other wise the cream will mix with the water. Some people refrigerate the cans first for the cream to separate. I didn’t have to but it may work for you.

Ingredients:

2 14 oz cans of coconut milk (unsweetened, not the lite version; do not shake the cans)
3 medium-sized ripe pears, peeled and cored
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
heavy pinch of salt
a few drops of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon pear-flavored eau de vie or kirsch (optional)

Directions:

Using a can opener, remove the top of the two cans completely. The coconut cream should be at the top. Using a spoon remove the cream until you reach the coconut water at the bottom of the can (discard it or use it for something else, like smoothies). You should have about 2 cups of coconut cream from the two cans.

Dice the pears into 1/4-inch pieces.

Spread the sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, carefully watching and stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula until melted. When the sugar is a deep amber, stir in the pears. The caramel will seize, but continue cooking and stirring occasionally (again with a heat-proof spatula) for about ten minutes, until the pears have cooked through and the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the coconut cream, then mix in the rest of the cream, salt, lemon juice, and eau de vie/kirsch (if using).

Cool to room temp, and then puree in a blender until smooth. If you want, you can press it through a strainer. I prefer that it has a little bit of the pear texture.

Chill in the refrigerator and churn in ice-cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Brad’s Apple Pie

DSC03515Ask anyone who’s been in the kitchen with me and they’ll tell you I can get a little bossy. I have control issues, I admit it. I’ve actually gotten better over the years. I can now watch someone else cook something and not say a word about how they are not chopping things correctly or not browning the meat enough or how their food would taste so much better with a pinch of this or that. Granted, I am sitting there having a tortured, internal dialogue with them, but at least I have learned how to shut up. Most of the time.

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Many years ago, my friend Brad was visiting from California. We were walking in the West Village when we came across a small farmers market. Since it was early fall, there were apples everywhere. “Let’s make an apple pie,” I said. Brad’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I can make my grandmother’s apple pie recipe,” he said as he started to move towards the Granny Smith apples that were piled up on a table in front of us.

“What if we used Jonagold?” I suggested. “No, my grandmother always used Granny Smiths,” Brad said. A few seconds passed. “Oohh, you know what we can do? We can add raisins and pecans,” I tried again. “No, my grandma never did that,” Brad replied, as he gave the apples to the seller to weigh. “No problem,” I said. Not a minute passed by and I said “Let’s make it a lattice pie.” “That’s not my grandmother’s recipe,” Brad said, this time sounding a little more intense. “Maple syrup?” “No.” “Cardamom?” “No!” “Pears?” “Listen, I am going to make my grandma’s recipe exactly how she always made it,” Brad finally said. It took a while but I finally got the message. I was being bossy. So, I stopped and let Brad make the apple pie exactly the way he wanted to.
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And after it cooled down and we sliced it up and I took my first bite, I was so happy that Brad didn’t let me elbow myself into his recipe. The pie was just about perfect. No fancy ingredients, no special techniques. Just apples, sugar, a little cinnamon and a crumb topping. But there is one key difference from most apple pie recipes out there. The apples aren’t sliced but they are diced. It seems to make all the difference in the world. The apples cook better, their liquid evaporates, so at the end the apple pie can be divided into slices that stay together. No messy juices filling the pie plate and no big chunks of apple to wrestle with your fork.

So, here it is. Unadulterated and not adapted: Brad’s (grandma’s) apple pie.

Ok, just a tiny bit enhanced. Brad didn’t have a recipe for a crust (we used a pre-made one) so I give you one here.

And I recently bought a bottle of boiled apple cider from King Arthur Flour, so I added a tablespoon to the apples, which you can totally omit.

What? I told you I was bossy in the kitchen. Now go make this apple pie.

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Brad’s Apple Pie

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1 ¼ cups (150 g) all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 tablespoons chilled water
2 tablespoons chilled vodka

For the filling:

6-7 apples (preferably Granny Smith)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon boiled apple cider (optional)
1 1/2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces

For the topping:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour

Directions:

Make the crust:
In a large bowl, whisk flour and salt. Using the large teardrop holes of a box grater, grate the butter into the flour. Using a fork, toss butter into flour. Pour chilled water and vodka over the flour mixture and toss again with fork. Test the tough. It should come together when pressed between your fingers but it will still be shaggy. If needed, add another tablespoon of chilled water.

Immediately dump dough on countertop and shape into small disk, about 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and put in refrigerator. Let it rest at least 2 hours, preferably 24 hours, up to 3 days.

Roll out the crust:

Take chilled dough out of fridge. Dust countertop with flour and place dough disk on top. Dust disk with more flour and start rolling. Roll 3-4 times and turn dough 45 degrees. Roll 3-4 times and turn another 45 degrees. Roll 3-4 times and turn dough upside down. Continue this way until you’ve rolled it out to about 12 inches diameter. Work quickly and keep flouring the countertop and the dough to prevent sticking.

Place rolled out dough in a 9-inch pie plate and flute the edges. Put the pie plate in the fridge while you work on the filling.

Make the pie:

Preheat oven to 425º F. Place a large baking sheet in the oven.

Core and peel apples. Dice them into 1/4-inch pieces. In a large bowl, toss diced apples with cinnamon, sugar, and boiled cider (if using). Take pie plate out of the fridge and fill it with diced apples. There will be a lot but they cook down. Mount them in the middle. Dot with 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter.

In a medium bowl, use a pastry cutter or two forks to combine butter, brown sugar, and flour, until the mixture is combined and the butter is cut into pea sized pieces. Top the apples with the butter/sugar/flour mixture. It will be messy but make sure the apples are covered.

Bake pie on top of the baking sheet (to catch bubbling juices) for about 50-60 minutes until the topping is deep golden brown.

Let pie cool completely on wire rack before slicing and serving.

Steve’s Vegetable Chili

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Steve has always talked about the vegetable chili he used to make in college. He has talked about how other students would appear in the kitchen when they smelled the zucchini sautéing in olive oil. Everyone loved it, he has always claimed.

I was not convinced. An all-vegetable chili just didn’t sound that appetizing to me. So we never made it.
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Steve insisted. “My mom sent me to college with this recipe,” he always liked to remind me. Every now and then, he’d go through the folder with printouts of old recipes that he’s had for a couple of decades and he’d show me the xeroxed page from Parade magazine in 1986, with his mom’s handwritten changes and additions to the original recipe for “Red Hot Vegetable Chili.”

I was still not convinced. The recipe went back in the folder and we moved on to something else.

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Then a week ago, we were hosting some friends, one of whom is vegan. As we were trying to plan a menu for the dinner we would cook for them, the vegetable chili came up again. This time I relented. We bought everything we needed and spent Saturday afternoon making it together.

I began to suspect that he had been right all along, that the chili would be good, when I put together the spices that went into it. That was a lot of spices. But it wasn’t until we sat down and I took a first bite that I really understood. This chili was exceptional, managing to explode with flavor without even a hint of meat. Every bite offered texture, a little heat, gentle sweetness, and sultry smokiness. I couldn’t stop eating it.

I was finally convinced.
DSC03447Steve’s Vegetable Chili – Adapted from Parade magazine

Ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil
4 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 medium yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large red bell peppers, cored and chopped
2 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 14.5 oz can red kidney beans, drained
1 14.5 oz can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add zucchini and sauté until just tender. Remove zucchini from pot. Add onions, garlic and red pepper to the pot and sauté until just wilted, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to medium low.

Using kitchen sheers or two knives, roughly cut up tomatoes in their cans. Pour tomatoes with their juices in pot with onions. Add chili, cumin, oregano, pepper, salt, fennel and parsley. Stir to combine. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in kidney beans, chickpeas, basil, dill, and lemon juice. Cook for 15 minutes more. Stir well and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve over plain white rice or polenta.

Brown Sugar Clafoutis with Pears and Cranberries

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My evolution as a cook and a baker has mirrored my life. At first (in my early twenties), much like a baby, I took small hesitant steps in the kitchen and I was amazed by just about everything I cooked (instant ramen noodles!). I soon grew more daring, and, like a hyperactive toddler, started to experiment wildly with my newfound hobby, most of the time falling flat on my face (undercooked chicken; burned veggies; I guess eggs will cook when you pour hot milk in them). A few years of cooking under my belt and I started to get serious. Just like a precocious teenager or a self-involved young adult, I developed strong opinions (I only use European style butter!) and became decidedly preoccupied with appearances. I wanted everything I cooked to look amazing. Flavor was important but presentation was king.

I guess I’ve now reached the middle age stage of my life as a cook (conveniently at the same time as the middle age stage of my actual life). Much of the time my cooking is about simplicity, convenience, and strong flavor. I favor recipes that make intuitive sense and result in deeply satisfying food without too much fuss.

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This recipe fulfills those criteria perfectly. It’s a clafoutis, a classic French dessert, but not the fancy kind. It’s basically a baked custard, made in a blender and baked with fruit. The original recipe appeared on Orangette, Molly Wizenberg’s extraordinary food blog. I adapted it slightly, to incorporate some left over cranberries and to add a hint of almond flavor. The result is a dessert that may lack in the looks department, but makes up for it in flavor and texture. And it comes together in minutes. You can eat it for dessert or you can do what we did and have it for breakfast. Because when you reach middle age, you can do whatever the hell you want.

DSC03457Brown Sugar Clafoutis with Pears and Cranberries – Adapted from Orangette

Ingredients:

Butter, for greasing the pan
4 teaspoons white, granulated sugar
1 ripe pear
½ cup cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 ¼ cups (295 ml) whole milk
1 cup (155 g) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
pinch of salt
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9 ½-inch pie plate and dust it lightly with 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar. Shake out any excess.

Peel and core the pear, and slice it thinly in 14-16 slices. Arrange them on the bottom of the prepared pan. Sprinkle chopped cranberries over the pears and top with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar.

In the jar of a blender, combine the milk, brown sugar, eggs, extracts, salt, and flour. Blend on high speed for about 30 seconds. Pour the batter over the pears and cranberries.

Bake until the custard is puffed and golden brown and the center is almost completely set, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Chorizo and Chocolate Toasts

DSC03401It’s not often that Steve and I are surprised by a totally new flavor or combination of flavors. It’s one of the downsides of being an adventurous omnivore. The more things you try, the fewer things surprise you. So when it does happen, when we try something really new and unexpected and we love it (because sometimes “new and unexpected” can also be terrible), we always try and recreate it at home. Sometimes, it proves impossible. Like the time when we were exploring Brittany in France and we stopped in a small seaside town for lunch. Steve ordered a seafood soup that was so unusual in its flavor profile, while also so satisfying – in a ‘feeding your soul’ kind of way – that we’ve spent the last five years trying to recreate it, never even coming close.

But sometimes, we get lucky. Several years ago we visited for the first time an amazing Spanish tapas restaurant in New York called Tia Pol. We have since returned many times but on that night, we discovered for the first time the deep intensity of smoked paprika and the excitement of fried shishito peppers with sea salt. But it was this dish that surprised us the most: little slices of bread topped with thinly sliced chorizo and topped with melted dark chocolate. It was unexpected, new, and utterly addictive.

There’s really no recipe for this but if you need one here it is.

Chorizo and Chocolate Toasts

Ingredients:

1 baguette
Spanish chorizo (not the Mexican kind)
Dark chocolate, finely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Cut the baguette crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Arrange slices on a cookie sheet or baking pan. Top each slice with one slice of chorizo. Sprinkle chocolate on top of chorizo.

Place in oven until the chocolate melts (this could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 3-4 minutes; keep an eye on them so they don’t burn). Serve immediately.