Five Things About Me: 86 87 88 89 90.

86. I love love love getting into a bed made with freshly-laundered sheets.  It just might be the best feeling in the world.

87. Part of the reason why I haven’t hopped on the whole Twitter bandwagon is because I know my tweets would mostly be links to cute animals or say things like “Practicing sitting” and “I want a sandwich.”

88. I don’t drive that often, but I do drive often enough to have a list of driving peeves, such as drivers who neglect to use their turn indicators, tailgaters and driver who park so close to me that I can’t even get into my car, let alone move it.  The turn indicator things irritates me the most though.

89. My dream date would include walking a dog, getting my back scratched and a bottle of Saracco Moscato d’Asti.

90. I have four binders in my cookbook cabinet, one for each season of the year.  Inside, I store the recipes I’ve torn out of magazines, newspapers and similar under tabs labeled by month.  It might be the most organized aspect of my life, along with our bookshelves (which are alphabetical) and my section of the closet (which is sorted by category, i.e. “layering pieces,” “camisoles,” “lightweight cottons,” and “sweaters”).  Everything else that I own is in shambles.

These Might Just Be The Best Meatballs Ever.

Is that kind of a bold statement?  I don’t care.  I’m not going to take it back or apologize for it, because these meatballs are It. It being delicious, lush and better than any other meatball I’ve ever had.

So there.

My dear dear friend Monique gave me the Ottolenghi cookbook for my last birthday, and I’d been dying to dive into it for a while.  Monique and I have several things in common, one of which is our absolute fervor for food, and another one being having Lebanese fathers*, so when she told me I was going to love the London restaurant’s gorgeous book of recipes, I didn’t doubt it for a second.  I’ve Post-It-ed exactly sixty-five recipes to try, and the following was my maiden voyage.

The reason I chose the beef and lamb meatballs as my first Ottolenghi recipe to try was simple: I thought Keith would like it.  I of course cook for myself, but when there’s someone else who’s going to be eating for your food, I think it’s only polite to take their tastes into consideration.  Besides, I happen to love Keith very much, so I try to avoid presenting him with foods he dislikes, no matter how much I enjoy them, like olives, fish and mushroom-heavy dishes.  The only time I don’t think about for whom I am cooking is when I’m feeding more than six people.  Then I focus more on pleasing myself, because it’s sometimes too stressful to account for so-and-so’s aversion to onions and such-and-such’s fennel-phobia.  I do, however, accomodate vegetarians and those with food allergies.  I just don’t have patience for picky eaters at my dinner table.

Jeez, I’m totally off-topic.

What’s interesting about this is how beautifully the tahini sauce in which the meatballs are baked adds an intense richness to the already-luscious lamb.  It’s not even remotely overwhelming, but completely complimentary instead.

Also complimentary is the lemon zest and parsley garnish, which I forgot to sprinkle on until after I had snapped this photograph, so I’ll leave you to imagine cheerful specks of bright yellow and green dotting the dish.

One last thing before I get to the recipe: these meatballs smell amaaaaazing, and not even just at the baking stage.  I made both Keith and Melissa stick their noses into the bowl of raw meat and inhale before I shoved them out of the way so that I could do the same.  Then when they come out of the oven… mm mm mm.

Beef + Lamb Meatballs Baked in Tahini, from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Makes four to six portions, though four of us devoured these without any leftovers.

for the meatballs:
¼ cup stale white bread, crusts removed
¾ pound ground beef
¾ pound ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, crushed **
¼ cup flat-leafed parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 ½ teaspoon ground all-spice
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg
2 tablespoons olive oil

for the tahini sauce:
2/3 cup tahini paste
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup white wine vinegar (I had only champagne vinegar, so that’s what I used)
1 garlic clove, crushed
A pinch of salt

for the garnish:
grated zest of ½ a lemon (I love lemon, so used a whole one)
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

  1. First make the tahini sauce.  In a bowl, mix together the tahini paste, water, vinegar, garlic and salt.  Whisk well until it turns smooth and creamy, with a thick sauce-like consistency.  You may need to add more water.  Set aside while you make the meatballs.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°.  Soak the bread in cold water for 2 – 3 minutes until it goes soft.  Squeeze out most of the water and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl.  Add the meats, garlic, parsley, salt, spices and egg; mix well with your hands.
  3. Shape the meat mixture into balls, each roughly the size of a golf ball.  Pour olive oil into a large frying pan and heat it up, being careful that it doesn’t get too hot or it will spit all over while frying.  Fry the meatballs in small batches for about 2 minutes, turning them around as you go until they are uniformly brown on the outside.
  4. Put the meatballs on a paper-towel-lined plate to soak up the excess oil, then arrange them on a single layer in an ovenproof baking dish.  Place in the oven for 5 minutes, then carefully remove to pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.  The tahini sauce will take on a bit of color and thicken up, and the meatballs should be just cooked through.  Transfer to individual plates (or a serving dish) and garnish liberally with lemon zest and parsley.  Serve at once.

Note: The Ottolenghi cookbook is published with Metric measurements.  I own a digital scale and so didn’t have any problems, but converted the measurements as closely as possible for an American cook.  If you would like the original measurements, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll reply there.

* I suppose mine is technically Lebanese-Armenian, or Armenian-Lebanese.  No matter.
** I always put twice as many cloves of garlic than suggested, but then type up ingredients exactly as they were originally printed.  It’s a preference.

On Caramels.

Okay, I’ve been teasing you about these for far too long.  I’m ready to share now.

I’m not one for holiday traditions — I don’t even know what’s served at a traditional Christmas dinner aside from goose, and that’s only because I’ve read A Christmas Carol — but I do buy into the whole cookie-making frenzy that seems to monopolize every food magazine and newspaper column at that time of year.  I always get started on my cookie-baking a little bit too late and end up paying a ridiculous amount of postage to express my packages to my friends, and this year was no different.  Well, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, since I decided to try my hand at making caramels… which can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge.

Making caramels is easy.  I can’t stress this enough.  It’s easy easy easy.  The thing to be aware of, however, is that they are as sticky to make as they are easy to make.  I didn’t know that going into this whole procedure, so I feel duty-bound to inform you.  Don’t let stickiness prevent you from getting your hands, well, sticky, because your taste buds will never forgive you for it.

Here’s the step where things start to get sticky: cutting and wrapping.  See, the recipes below both ask that you basically make a huge slab of caramel, and unless you’re lucky enough to have an old-fashioned metal ice cube tray to use as a mold, you’re going to have to cut your caramel slab into smaller mouth-friendly pieces.  (And yes, it must be a metal ice cube tray.  If you try to pour a 250° substance, candy or otherwise, into a plastic container, I promise you’ll have a mess on your hands.)  I can’t do anything about caramels’ stickiness, but I can tell you what I did to try to control it a bit: I rolled each cut caramel in sugar, or a sugar-and-salt mixture for the fleur de sels.  It adds a nice little crunch, along with cutting back on the stickiness.

Wrapping the caramels isn’t necessary, of course, but it is fun to have a little package to peel open.  I used parchment paper, but I bet waxed paper would work just fine too.  If you want to be a little fancy, glassine paper would do the trick.

Fleur de Sel Caramels, from Ina Garten
Makes 16 caramels

Vegetable oil
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Line the bottom of an 8-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, then brush the paper lightly with oil, allowing the paper to drape over two sides.  In a deep saucepan (89 diameter by 4 ½” deep), stir together ¼ cup water with the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown color. Don’t stir — just swirl the pan to mix. Watch carefully, as it will burn quickly at the end!
  2. In the meantime, in a small pan, bring the cream, butter, and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat and set aside.
  3. When the sugar mixture is a warm golden color, turn off the heat and slowly add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Be careful! It will bubble up violently. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248° (firm ball) on a candy thermometer. Very carefully (because it’s hot!) pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate until firm.
  4. When the caramels are cold, use the parchment paper to pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board. Cut the sheet in half. Starting with the long end, roll the caramel up tightly into a log, then roll out to 12 inches in length. Repeat with the second piece. Sprinkle both logs lightly with fleur de sel, trim the ends, and cut each log in 8 pieces. Cut parchment papers into squares and wrap each caramel in a paper, twisting the ends. Store in the refrigerator and serve the caramels chilled.

Cinnamon-Ginger Caramels, barely adapted from the kitchn
Makes a boatload of caramels

2 cups heavy cream
3 ½ cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 teaspoons fresh-ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces candied ginger, finely chopped

  1. Line a 9 x 13 baking sheet with heavy-duty foil and butter generously. Put the cream in a small saucepan and let it warm over low heat.
  2. Put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat and stir vigorously until the sugar melts and dissolves. Stop stirring and turn the heat to high. Cook until the sugar turns dark amber. Take off the heat.
  3. Whisk in the butter. Carefully pour in the cream and whisk it. The caramel will bubble up furiously and steam. Whisk until well-combined and return to high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring, then turn the heat to medium-low. Clip on the candy thermometer and let the caramel cook until the temperature hits 250°. Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in cinnamon and salt. Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle candied ginger evenly across the surface; let cool.  Once cooled completely, put it in the fridge to harden overnight. The next day, cut into small pieces and wrap.

This Might Be Why I Am Fat.

I know that after the holidays you’re supposed to feel the need to diet, eat healthily, work out and abstain from things like carbs and bacon and cheese, but I woke up yesterday morning craving pasta, which is why I decided to make spaghetti carbonara for dinner in spite of my leftover-laden fridge.  For the record, I did eat the remaining Brussels sprouts from Christmas Eve dinner for lunch, along with some of my dad’s herb-marinated olives and a clementine, so I didn’t feel as guilty as I could’ve for giving in to the demands of my stomach.

Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t feel guilty at all, which may be why I am fat.

Anyway.

Spaghetti carbonara has a tyrannical iron grip on my heart, and I’m rendered as helpless as a baby bunny when faced with a bowl of it.  The first time I ever ate carbonara was when I was fourteen, at a restaurant in, of all places, my mother’s hometown of Cagayan de Oro, and I loved the creamy thick sauce coating each strand of pasta so much that I convinced my mother to take me back the next day for another mound of it.  Both days I resolutely put my head down and didn’t come back up for air until I was finished, barely restraining myself from swiping my tongue across my empty plate.  My mother’s evil eye might have had something to do with that though.

Ruth Reichl‘s recipe is just as good as the carbonara of my memory, and dead simple.  Something interesting to note is that there’s no cream in the ingredients list; the eggs do all the work, magically transforming themselves into a rich and smooth sauce.

Spaghetti Carbonara, from Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Makes three portions

1 pound spaghetti
¼ to ½ pound thickly-sliced bacon
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 large eggs
Black pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When it is boiling, throw the spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook, and you can make the sauce in that time.
  2. Cut the bacon crosswise into, pieces about ½ inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render.  Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not overcook; if they get too crisp, the bacon won’t meld with the pasta.
  3. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.
  4. Remove the garlic from the bacon pan.  If it looks like too much fat to you, discard some, but you’re going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the pasta.
  5. When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.

A Post-Christmas Post.

Well, I survived Christmas Eve, you might be happy to hear.  Making dinner for eleven (plus one toddler, one newborn and one dog) wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be — and I promise you I’m not saying this in some sort of sad attempt to show you how cool and “together” I am, because had you seen me that morning, shrilly demanding that Keith vacuum and sweep*, you would know exactly how uncool and not “together” I am.

I’ll discuss what we served in a bit, but first I just want to say that a big part of why dinner was so successful is because Stephanie suggested I borrow a crockpot and because Marcella reminded me of an excellent baked fish recipe.  See, I knew I wanted to have a soup course but was worried about stove-space — at one point, I did in fact have all four burners going at once — which is why the crockpot was so helpful.  I just poured my soup in there earlier in the afternoon and plugged it in to keep warm.  And since I was concerned about what I would be able to cook on the stove, an oven-roasted fish was perfect.  And so stress-relieving; once I slid its tray in the oven, I was free to walk away, drink a glass of wine and have a little chat with guests.

So here’s what we had for dinner, from the top:  purée of onion soup (not pictured), potato galette, holiday rice (which my mother made for Keith specifically), salmon roasted in crème fraîche, beef tenderloin with basil-curry mayonnaise (in the ramekins), cream-braised Brussels sprouts and more holiday rice.

For dessert, which I did not photograph, I made an apple galette, chocolate mousse and two different types of caramels (more about these another day).  I also emptied a box of clementines into a bowl, though I can’t take credit for making them.

Now, here’s why preparing this dinner was so easy: almost everything could be done ahead of time. Honestly.  It’s as simple as that.

The caramels I had made a few days earlier, and sat hardening in my fridge until it was time for dessert.  The night before, I not only cleaned and split my Brussels sprouts but also made pâte brisée.  On Christmas Eve morning I sliced potatoes and apples for my savory and sweet galettes, which then went straight into the oven; they’re served at room temperature, so baking them and getting them out of the way was perfect.  As the soup’s onions sweated in a covered pan, I made and refrigerated the mousse.  After I puréed the onions with some vegetable stock and a splash of cream, it all went into the crockpot, leaving me plenty of time to make the rub and the mayonnaise for the beef tenderloin, as well as braise my sprouts.  I purposely waited until the last minute to stick the beef in the oven; everyone snacked from Keith’s cheese plate while it roasted and, as the tenderloin rested, the salmon had its turn in the oven.  And then we sat down to eat.

I’ve got to say, cooking for this crowd went much more smoothly than I could have ever hoped, mostly because I tried to choose recipes that could be made prior to dinner.  Something else that helped was preparing simple recipes that had high-impact results, like the salmon, beef, Brussels sprouts and soup.

Before I get to the recipes, here’s a shot of my parents’ fifteen-year-old English setter Winston partaking in his culture’s Christmas tradition: wearing the crown from a Christmas cracker.  Adorable, no?

Potato Galette, from Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin by Jacques Pépin
Makes eight to twelve portions

½ recipe pâte brisée
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into very thin slices, washed and dried
½ cup heavy cream

  1. Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/16 thick, in a shape that fits roughly a cookie sheet — approximately 16 x 14 inches.  If the dough is not thin enough after you lay it on the cookie sheet, roll it some more, directly on the sheet.
  2. Melt the butter in a skillet and add the oil.  Add the potato slices and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes on high until the slices start to look transparent and a few are slightly browned.  Let cool a few minutes and spread the potatoes on the dough.  Bring up the border of the dough and fold it over the potatoes.
  3. Bake in a 400° oven for approximately 45 minutes, until it’s lightly browned.  Spread the cream on top and bake for another 15 minutes.  Serve lukewarm in wedges.

Purée of Onion Soup, from Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio
Makes four portions

2 tablespoons peanut oil
6 onions, peeled and sliced (about 12 cups)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 cup chicken stock (I used vegetable, as one of our guests is a pescatarian)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it slides easily across the pan.  Add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add the stock and 1 cup water and simmer for 10 minutes more.  Purée the soup, then press it through a fine strainer.
  3. Just before serving, reheat the soup, whisk in the butter and adjust seasoning.

Crème Fraîche-Roasted Salmon, from Molly Wizenberg for Bon Appétit
Makes four to six portions

1 2-pound center-cut wild salmon fillet with skin, about 1 ¼ inches thick
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup crème fraîche

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Place salmon, skin side down, on baking sheet; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (I also sprinkled it with chopped chives, then zested a lemon over it all.)  Spread crème fraîche over salmon.
  3. Roast salmon until opaque in center, about 12 to 14 minutes. To test for doneness, cut small slit in thickest part of fillet; all but center of fillet should be opaque (salmon will continue to cook after fillet is removed from oven).
  4. Using spatula, transfer to platter.  (I served mine on the baking sheet.)

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise, from Giada De Laurentiis
Makes six to eight portions

for the beef:
Vegetable oil cooking spray
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus 2 teaspoons
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (3 ½ to 4-pound) beef tenderloin, trimmed

for the mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (I used cream cheese, since I had it)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Arrange an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°. Spray a heavy baking sheet with vegetable oil cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In a mortar and pestle, or spice grinder, finely grind the cumin seeds and coriander seeds. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the spices and cook for a few seconds until aromatic and toasted. Put the spices in a small bowl. Chop the garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Holding a chef’s knife at a 45 degrees angle, scrape the garlic and salt together to form a paste. Add the garlic paste to the bowl with the spices. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, black pepper, and oil and stir until smooth.  (I did all of this in my mini food processor.  It came out just fine.)  Put the meat on the prepared baking sheet and rub with the spice mixture. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 125°, for medium-rare. Remove from the oven and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Cover the meat loosely with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mascarpone cheese, basil, curry powder, and paprika until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

To serve: Slice the meat into ¼-inch thick slices and arrange on a platter. Spoon the mayonnaise mixture into a small serving bowl and serve alongside the sliced meat.

I’m Going To Tell You Something, But I Don’t Want To Talk About It.

Here’s something you probably don’t know about me: I struggle with my weight.  And when I say struggle, I mean in an epic Greek tragedy kind of way, minus Oedipus or Electra complexes.  The thing is, I never wanted to write a fat girl blog — I’ve got no interest in composing it, and I’m going to assume that you’ve no interest in reading it.  That said, some days there’s just going to be no avoiding it, and this is one of those days.  Here’s why:

I’ve just made the most delicious-smelling dinner, and the recipe called for fourteen tablespoons of butter.  Which is why it’s probably going to taste fantastic.  And I want to enjoy it, I really do, but I’m scared that I’ll scarf the whole damn thing down.  I know you think I’m being glib or hyperbole-prone, but I promise you I am capable of such a thing.  Moderation and I have yet to meet.  And when we do, I’ll probably punch the broad in the face and take off running.  Because that’s the kind of gal I am when it comes to food.

Anyway, in the spirit of the holiday season, and of sharing and solidarity and all that, here’s the recipe.  I don’t want to be fat alone.

Chicken, Sausage + Mushroom Pot Pie, from Jean Soulard at the Fairmont le Château Frontenac, as published in Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

for the crust
2 cups all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoons ice water

for the filling
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature, divided
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 ¼ pounds Italian sausage, casings removed
2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup Madeira
2 cups low-salt chicken broth (or you can use the handy-dandy turkey stock you made this past Thanksgiving, if you’re me)
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, thickly sliced *
1 large egg yolk, beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water

  1. Make the crust.  Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until coarse meal forms. Add 4 tablespoons water. Using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form, adding more water by ½ tablespoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
  2. Make the filling.  Mix 2 tablespoons butter and flour in bowl to smooth paste; set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with oil in large deep skillet. Add mushrooms, shallots, and thyme. Sauté until mushrooms brown, about 8 minutes. Add sausage; sauté until no longer pink, breaking up with spoon, about 7 minutes. Add chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until chicken is no longer pink on outside, about 5 minutes. Add Madeira; boil 2 minutes. Add broth; bring to boil. Mix in butter-flour paste; simmer until sauce thickens, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Mix in parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to 10-cup round baking dish; top with egg slices.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out dough on floured surface to 13- to 14-inch round. Place atop filling. Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under; crimp edge. Brush crust with glaze; cut several slits in crust.
  4. Bake pie until crust is golden, about 45 minutes. Let rest 15 minutes and serve.
* I did not include the hard-boiled eggs.  Keith isn’t too into them, and besides, it’s not as if I need any more cholesterol.

On Boereg, aka “Cheese Things.”

It may take me a while to get to things sometimes, but I think I’m a gal of my word. I promised you the recipe to boereg, the one that has made my mother famous, so here it is:

Boereg
Makes twelve squares

1 ½ pounds mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 stick butter, melted
1 16 ounce package of phyllo dough (it should have two packets of rolled up phyllo inside.)
1 bunch finely chopped parsley
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (My mother uses Korean red pepper flakes, but I use Aleppo red pepper flakes. Use whatever you can get your hands on, and feel free to experiment.)
1 large egg, lightly beaten and mixed with a splash of water

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Mix shredded cheese, parsley and red pepper flakes in a bowl.
  3. Brush a 13 x 17 ½ sheet pan with melted butter. Unroll one packet of phyllo dough, but keep covered with a damp towel as it will dry out very quickly. Layer the pan with three sheets of phyllo, taking care not to tear the phyllo. Brush the phyllo with more butter. Continue, alternating three sheets at a time with brushed butter, until you finish the entire first packet.* Brush the last sheets of phyllo with butter, then evenly distribute the cheese mixture over the sheets of phyllo, leaving about a ½- to a ¼-inch gap along the edge of the sheet pan. Open the second packet of phyllo, again keeping covered with a damp towel. Repeat the process of layering three sheets of phyllo with brushed butter until you finish the entire second packet. At this point, you can opt to tightly wrap the entire tray in tinfoil and store it in the freezer to be baked later (but no later than three months after assembly).
  4. Brush the top layer of phyllo with the egg wash. With a sharp knife, cut the unbaked boeregs into twelve squares — cutting beforehand may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important as the phyllo becomes so flakey it’s impossible to slice the boeregs neatly. Bake for thirty minutes, or until the dough turns a deep golden color. Eat immediately! Boereg must be eaten warm; once refrigerated, the phyllo deflates. Don’t worry, you can reheat individual squares in the oven (or a toaster oven, though I do not recommend using a microwave, as it’ll make the phyllo soggy).
* You can, of course, opt to use more or less butter in between more or less sheets. My aunt Hasmig, she of the macaroni-and-cheese squares, butters each sheet of phyllo. Her boereg is incredibly rich.

Is it Weird That…

…I froze my mother’s leftover Thanksgiving turkey bones and drove them* from New York to Massachusetts?  Is it strange that when I got home, I chopped the bones up so they’d fit in my stockpot with carrots, carrot greens, a hacked-up onion, a handful of black peppercorns, some leftover parsley, a smattering of thyme and a couple of bay leaves?  What if I told you I then covered the whole lot with water, and let it all simmer, covered, on the stove for about four hours?  Would that be weird?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Making turkey — or chicken — stock is so simple, there really is no reason why anyone couldn’t do so at home.  All you need are the bones from your bird (ideally with some meat still attached, but no worries if that’s not possible, since the flavor really comes from the cartilage inside the bones), mirepoix and seasoning.  If you want results that  are a bit lighter in color, I’ve read that you can substitute parsnips for the carrots, though I’ve not done this myself.

You can also add a bouquet garni of thyme sprigs, bay leaf, parsley, sage, et cetera.  I highly recommend tying your herbs together with kitchen twine, or making a little cheesecloth bundle, or using a tea strainer, since you want your stock to be as debris-free as possible.

Speaking of keeping your stock debris-free…

Once your stock is ready to come off of the flame, you will need a fine colander to strain it.  I like to fish out the larger pieces with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs before I go through the straining process, but that’s just a personal preference.  Regardless of what you like to do, you will need to place a colander inside a large bowl to capture all of your freshly-made stock.  I’m a bit clumsy, so I put my bowl and colander inside the sink, since I invariably will splash a bit — well, maybe more than a bit — outside of my target.

If you don’t have a very fine colander, that’s okay.  Michael Ruhlman has a great tip for you:

…Strain [the stock] through a kitchen cloth, cheese cloth if you have it, or any kind of cloth (I use ones that i can wash and reuse because I’m a cheapskate and hate to keep buying cheese cloth).

After all your straining is done, it’s storage time.  I like to freeze my stock in zipper bags because I have a small freezer; this way my stores of stock take up less space than they would in little plastic tubs.  Normally I freeze stock in three-cup-quantities.  To do this, I date and label my bags, then stick them in a clean, empty plastic quart container while I measure out my three cups.  It’s much easier to pour liquids into a plastic-lined container than a floppy plastic bag.

As you can now tell, stock-making is so easy that writing a recipe for it seems a little silly, but here goes:

Turkey Stock
Makes about twelve cups

Leftover turkey bones from a fifteen-pound turkey
6 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 large onions, unpeeled and chopped roughly into quarters
4 large celery ribs, broken in half
4 large carrots and their greens, broken in half
bouquet garni of parsley, 2 bay leaves, and thyme sprigs
15 black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon salt

  1. Melt butter in a 10-quart stockpot over medium heat.  Add vegetables, stirring to coat.  Lower heat to prevent burning.
  2. Break apart turkey carcass to fit into the stockpot.  Transfer to stockpot, along with remaining ingredients.  Cover with cold water and increase heat to high.  Bring to a boil, skimming scum off as needed.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 4 hours.
  3. If you’re using the stock right away, go for it.  Otherwise, let the stock cool to room temperature, about one hour.
  4. Set a fine colander inside a large bowl.  Carefully pour stock through the colander and dispose of vegetables, bones, peppercorns and bouquet garni.  Stock can be frozen for three months; otherwise it should be used within five days.

* Before the accident.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Seven.

11.00 – 11.30 am: Breakfast of black olives, salami, baguette, pita bread (which in my house we just call bread), Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

1.42 – 2.06 pm: More olives, salami and pita bread, plus some Armenian string cheese, which I share with the dog.

5.20 – 6.01 pm: Turkey time.  Even though I don’t much like it, I eat bit of dark meat, along with my family’s version of Thanksgiving fixins — mango salad, bean salad, two and a half boeregs, holiday rice* — and a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Dry Riesling.

6.30 pm: Glass of Koehler Chardonnay in the backyard with the dog.

7.05 pm: Two slices apple galette, a bite of chocolate-chip meringue and a hazelnut truffle.  Then another few inches of galette.  Then some galette crust crumbs.  And a grape.

Apple Galette, from Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin by Jacques Pépin
Makes eight to twelve portions

½ recipe pâte brisée (recipe following)
5 large apples
¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon Calvados or Cognac

  1. Make pâte brisée.  Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/16 thick, in a shape that fits roughly a cookie sheet — approximately 16 x 14 inches.  If the dough is not thin enough after you lay it on the cookie sheet, roll it some more, directly on the sheet.
  2. Peel and cut the apples in half, core them and slice each half into ¼-inch slices.  Set aside the large center slices of the same size and chop the end slices coarsely.  Sprinkle the chopped slices over the dough, then arrange the large slices on the dough beginning at the outside, approximately 1 ½ inches from the edge.  Stagger and overlap the slices to imitate the petals of a flower.
  3. Cover the dough completely with a single layer of apples, except for the border.  Place the smaller slices in the center to resemble the heart of a flower.  Bring up the border of the dough and fold it over the apples.  Sprinkle the apples with sugar and pieces of butter, and bake in a 400° oven for 65 to 75 minutes, until the galette is really well-browned and crusty.
  4. Slide the galette onto a board. Dilute the apricot preserves with the alcohol and spread it on top of the apples with the back of a spoon and the top edge of the crust.  Take care not to disturb the apple pieces.  Serve the galette lukewarm, cut into wedges.

Pâte Brisée **
Makes enough pastry for two 13 x 16 rectangular crusts, or two 13-inch circular crusts

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, cold and cut into thin slices
½ teaspoon salt
Approximately ¾ cup very cold water

  1. Mix the flour, butter and salt together very lightly, so that the pieces of butter remain visible throughout the flour.
  2. Add the ice-cold water and mix very quickly just until the dough coheres.  The pieces of butter should still be visible.  Cut the dough in half.  Wrap and refrigerate for one to two hours, or use right away.  If you use the dough right away, the butter will be a bit soft, so you may need a little extra flour in the rolling process to absorb it.  When rolling, use flour underneath and on top of the dough so that it doesn’t stick to the table or the rolling pin.  Wrapped properly, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days, or it can be frozen.
* “Holiday rice” is what I call the rice my mother makes exclusively for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s pilaf with ground beef, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts and cinnamon.  Whenever we come to visit, Keith asks my mom for holiday rice, and she refuses.
** I find this pastry extremely soothing to make, mostly because I love mixing the ingredients together with my hands. I think it’s really relaxing. I also like to trash-talk my dough while I make it.  Dunno why.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Five.

11.45 am – 12.21 pm: Milk with Spanish honey — my dad is determined to find The Perfect Honey, so he has several kinds in the pantry.  Also, pieces of baguette with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

2.35 pm: Coke Zero (!) and quarter of an orange pepper that I’m supposed to be dicing for tabbouleh.  The dog begs for a piece of the pepper’s spongy innards; it’s a favorite snack, along with cucumber peels.

3.18 – 4.14 pm: Light lunch of tabbouleh and oven-roasted Brussels sprouts.

9.45 pm: La Chouffe at Vol de Nuit.

10.15 pm – 1.03 am: Dinner at Babbo with Joann and Keith.  We debate over whether we want the traditional or pasta tasting menus before deciding on pasta.  Our meal consists of the following: black tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta; “casunzei” with poppy seeds; garganelli with “funghi trifolati;” pyramid-shaped ravioli with pomodoro; papperdelle bolognese; cacciotta fritters with honey and thyme; and chocolate with shaved dried chilis.  I swap my full plate for Keith’s empty one, much to Joann’s dismay.  I can’t eat spicy food, even if it’s chocolate.  For our last course, we each get a different dessert — Joann a pistachio and chocolate semifreddo, Keith a lavender honey spice cake with sweet potato gelato and me a Tyrolean carrot and poppyseed cake with an olive oil drizzle and orange gelato.  I may be a little biased, I think mine is the best.

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar, Pine Nuts + Parmesan
Makes three portions

2 ½ cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.  Toss the sprouts in a bowl with the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper until well coated.  Line a roasting pan with tin foil, then arrange the sprouts in a single layer across the bottom of the pan.  Roast for twenty to thirty minutes, or until the sprouts brown.
  2. While the sprouts are in the oven, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, three to five minutes, stirring often.
  3. Remove from the sprouts from the oven and transfer to a serving dish.  Mix with pine nuts and Parmesan, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.