Tag Archives: Christmas

The Perfect Hors D’ouvres for a New Year’s Weekend

Cured salmon, often referred to as gravlax, is the perfect do ahead hors d’oeuvres for the long New Year’s weekend. Cured salmon will keep happily in your refrigerator for more than a week.

Right now Christina and I are not sure of our plans — except for New Year’s Eve when we celebrate the anniversary of our engagement with a dinner for two at home.  But I made a large batch of roasted sweet and hot peppers last week — I added more sweet this weekend as I had too many hot — and Sunday I began a citrus-cure of two pounds of salmon. I’ll make some crostini tonight and know that I have two at-the-ready hors d’oeuvres for welcoming guests…whenever they appear. The following recipe is from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. The recipe suggests a two to three day cure, but you can make a lovely and light cured salmon with a twenty-four hour cure. The length of the cure is also dependent on the thickness of your filet with a thin filet requiring a shorter cure. My filets were fairly thin and the salmon was perfectly cured after twenty-four hours though a longer cured would have intensified the flavor and produced a somewhat drier outcome — not better, just different.

Mastering Cured Salmon

Cured salmon is a versatile meal starter. Once you get comfortable with the simple process of curing salmon, you’ll be able to create your own variations. The basic cure mixture always includes sugar and salt: The salt draws out moisture and breaks down the natural protein, while the sugar provides sweetness. The recipe below uses only the basic mix, but you always want to add an accent; you can find these in the variations described below. Salmon has a high fat content that results in a firm and pleasant texture, but tuna also takes cures well. Buy very fresh fish. Avoid the narrow tail end of the salmon, as it will easily dry out and resist slicing. Thicker portions are preferred though they will need more time to be cured.
do ahead Cured salmon can be made well ahead. You can start up to three days in advance for lightly cured salmon or up to two weeks for long-cured salmon. Store cured salmon, tightly wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator.

Basic Salt and Sugar Curing Mix
1 pound salmon filet
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
flavor accent (see variations below)

1 Remove skin and trim away fat on the skin side of the salmon. Trim off the thin striated strip that runs down one side of the filet so the piece of fish is uniform. Run your finger along the top flesh, about an inch from the thick side, checking for pin bones. Remove any pin bones with tweezers or needle-nose pliers. Rinse filet and pat dry.
2 Make the basic cure by combining salt, sugar, pepper and additional flavor accent. Use a fork to distribute ingredients evenly.
3 Spread a generous piece of plastic wrap large enough to easily wrap around the fish. Spread a layer of the cure mixture in the shape of the filet. If you have cheesecloth on hand, lay that down next. The cheesecloth will make it easier to remove the curing mix. Place fish on top and add enough cure mixture to completely cover, with some cure mixture spreading over the sides of the fish. Tightly wrap the fish in the cheesecloth, if using. Either way, wrap again in a second layer of plastic. Place wrapped fish in a shallow, nonreactive container with at least some slope to contain any moisture that escapes from the plastic wrap. Next, place a weight on the fish to aid the extraction of moisture. A plate and several large cans work well. Refrigerate anywhere from 3-14 days. The longer the cure, the firmer, drier and more intensely flavored the fish.
4 Once the fish is cured to your liking, remove plastic wrap and cheesecloth. You can cut a little slice of cured fish to check. If you want a longer cure, just rewrap the fish and return it to the refrigerator. Keep in mind that the first slice, surrounded on three sides by the cure mixture, will be more intensely cured than the interior will be. If you’re satisfied, carefully scrape away the curing mixture with a knife blade. If you prefer a less salty cure, rinse salmon under cold water and dry. (If you used cheesecloth, rinsing won’t be necessary.)
5 Use a very sharp knife to slice salmon on the bias against the grain. For lightly cured salmon, cut slices about 1⁄4-inch thick. For longer-curedM salmon, cut thinner slices. Cured salmon can be eaten without adornment, dressed with a touch of good olive oil or served with condiments on fresh or crisp toasted bread.

Pepper-Cured Salmon Add 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coarsely ground green peppercorns and 11⁄2 tablespoons pink peppercorns to basic salt and sugar mixture. Leave some residual pepper and do not rinse. Just scrape.

Coriander-Cured Salmon Add 2 tablespoons ground (preferably toasted) coriander to basic salt and sugar mixture. Just scrape and leave some residual coriander.

Salmon “Jerky” Add 2 teaspoons ground (preferably toasted) coriander, 2 teaspoons ground (preferably toasted) fennel to basic salt and sugar mixture and use 3 tablespoons total black peppercorns. Use 1 pound salmon trimmings in place of filet. Cure for 5 days. Remove mixture, rinse and dry well. Slice thinly.

Juniper and Sage-Cured Salmon Add 1⁄4 cup crushed and chopped juniper berries, 1⁄3 cup chopped fresh sage to basic salt and sugar mixture. Serve with horseradish sauce (see page 216).

Traditional Dill-Cured Salmon Add 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh dill and 1 ounce brandy to basic salt and sugar mixture. Serve with dill honey mustard sauce (see page 223).

Citrus-Cured Salmon with Jicama Relish Add finely grated zest of 3 lemons, 3 limes and 2 oranges and 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro to basic salt and sugar mixture, using a fork to break up zest. Serve with jicama relish (see page 212).
serves 8

Wrapped and curing salmon filet after about twenty-four hours.

With natural moisture of salmon removed by the action of the salt gathered at the base of the dish.

Unwrapped filet ready to scrape and rinse.

Scrape away crust of salt, sugar, cilantro and citrus zest, rinse and dry.

Citrus-cured salmon sliced and ready to go. Add crostini or sliced bread and a dip and you have an easy, every-ready and elegant hors d’oeuvres.

A Family Christmas

It was not quite over the river and through the woods, but a trip up 95 and 287 brought Christina and I to Larry and Susan’s for our traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gathering. As previously noted, Larry is an an ambitious and excellent cook. Shortly after arrival, with Pomegranate-Lemon Martini from At Home in hand, we began our Seven Fish repast gathered in the kitchen. Larry always produces a printed menu that both lets guests know what’s ahead and provides a memento of the evening.

Citrus Cured Gravlax not pictured

Smoked Trout Dip

Boquerone (Anchovies)

Olive Ripieni di Pesce (Deep-fried olives stuffed with fish) not pictured
Regina’s Marinated Cod with Carrots not pictured

Steve’s Mediterranean Seafood (Shrimp & Scallops) Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

Panko-crusted Calamari with Lemongrass-chili Sauce

Swordfish slowly cooking in olive oil with a little rosemary

Olive Oil Poached Swordfish with Blood Orange Salsa

Paparadelle with Poached Egg and Caviar

Buche de Noel

Christmas Cookies and Toffee

Four hours later, happy, sated and a bit exhausted — everything was delicious with the unquestioned best of show being the Swordfish and the Paparadelle.

Christmas morning was a noshers delight with some evidence of middle-of-the-night visitors. Susan’s pumpkin bread spread with cream cheese and the left-over smoked trout dip were the highlights.

Followed by a wonderful Christmas dinner.

Wine-braised hanger steak and short ribs of beef with a gratin of celery root and potatoes and asparagus with blood oranges. For dessert, Buche de Noel and Christmas Cookies and Toffee Redux. While the food was memorable, most important was the traditional gathering of family and friends and the ritual of food that surrounds that gathering.

Thanks for visiting.

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Merry Christmas – Some Last Minute Advice

Izzy Extends His Holiday Wishes

Last Minute Gift Giving

My wife Christina and I have both been incredibly busy. Me working – with your help – in spreading the word about At Home; and, Christina on re-settling our Fairmount Avenue operation into the Franklin Institute where we have begun operating the restaurants. (Come to our Cajun Christmas Festival at The Franklin Institute from December 26th to January 3rd.) So neither of us have had much time for holiday shopping. Christina has extended the period of our holiday celebration to Twelfth Night which, over dinner last night, we calculated to be January 5th. In the event you have tighter gift giving deadlines, here are some last minute suggestions:

Dessert Wine
Dessert wines are sorely under appreciated. Read the following note from At Home and then see some suggestions below.

High-Quality Sweet Wines
They may not be very popular, but I’ve never known anyone who tasted a high quality sweet wine for the first time who wasn’t delighted and amazed. Sweet wines range in price from relatively inexpensive to extraordinarily expensive, and pairing them with food is not a simple business. With few exceptions, sweet wines are dessert wines. The pinnacle of these are Sauternes from Bordeaux and lateharvest German wines. California also produces some sweet wines of distinction. They’re generally produced from grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vine beyond a typical harvest time. The term late harvest refers to this sweet process. In sweet wine–producing regions, a fungus that occurs naturally in the soil attacks the wine grapes. The fungus effectively punctures the skin of the grape and allows some evaporation of water and concentration of the natural sugars in the grape prior to picking. This lets the winemaker ferment the wine and produce the desired level of alcohol while maintaining a natural sweetness. The high-quality product contains extraordinary depth and complexity, with a honeyed sweetness that’s not cloying. These wines are the true nectar of the gods.

The following wines should be available in Pennsylvania State Store. If not available, try to find something similar at about the prices indicated. If possible, seek the advice of a store employee. Typically you drink small portions of dessert wine so a 375 ml or half bottle will provide enough wine for 4-6 servings.

Bonny Doon Muscat Vin De Glaciere   ½ bottle  $17.99
Bonny Doon Viognier Doux  ½ bottle  $18.99
Eos Tears of Dew  $19.99
Robert Mondavi Moscato D’Oro ½ bottle $16.99
These next two are premium French sauternes — extravagant, but worth it.
Chateau Rieussec Sauternes  $93.99
Chateau Suduiraut  $93.99

A Good Bottle of Sake
I will spend more time in the new year talking about sake. But, if the only sake you know is none or not much, there is an entire new beverage world waiting for you or your gift recipient. Sake is actually brewed like beer – though other than technique there is no flavor similarity. Made from rice and served chilled, fine sake is more like fine white wine with much of the flavor notes found in wines. In Pennsylvania we have a very limited supply, but there are a few good bottles. Expect to pay at least $25 for a good sake and much more for great sake. Worth it.

A Good Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine is to gift giving as the black dress is to cocktail dresses – not original, but always appropriate. If you are going to bother giving sparkling wine, give something a notch or two up from what you would buy for yourself. You can’t go wrong with a Veuve Cliquot – a French champagne with the iconographic orange label. ($59.95) For an American selection think about a Schramsberg Brut Rose ($39.95). Schramsberg is the classic American vintner of sparkling wine.

A Promissory Note for an Herb Garden
You don’t need a green thumb to plant and nurture a successful herb garden. Giving the promise to plant an herb garden come Spring – in containers or a sunny spot in a backyard — is a very special gift and one of those proverbial gifts that keep on giving. The following is a note from At Home.

Planting an Herb Garden
Here’s a list of herbs for a nice but not exotic herb garden. Basil (Thai if you can find it). Thyme, preferably lemon thyme. Sage. Cilantro. Fennel, preferably bronze for the color. Chervil (though this is very heat sensitive and doesn’t do well in the height of summer). Lemon verbena. Rosemary. Several varieties of mint. It’s also fun to add a Thai pepper plant. Since parsley and dill are plentiful and pretty inexpensive in the supermarket, I usually don’t plant them. Also, I don’t think of dill as a summer herb, but one associated with cuisines of colder climates. Get the herbs in as early as you can. Herbs like sun, but don’t require it all day. If you get more than you can use for your normal cooking, add them to a salad. The ultimate herbal extravagance is an all herb salad with just a bit of olive oil, a touch of lemon juice and good salt and pepper.

Here are links to previous blogs about gift suggestions.

At Home’s Stocking Stuffers

At Home’s Top 5 Holiday Gifts for Home Entertainers

Last Minute Advice for Guests

1. Do Not Arrive Early. (My goal always is for your host to get one relaxed hour prior to your arrival. Your early arrival does not help my goal, or, more importantly, your host, who does not need you as an un-scheduled distraction from getting ready for you.)
2. Stay out of the kitchen unless helping or invited.
3. Help out.

Last Minute Advice for Hosts

It’s great that you are hosting a holiday celebration. Whatever you do is good enough. Do not fret. Relax. Ask for help. Enjoy yourself.

Merry Christmas

I want to thank you for the support you have provided since the mid-October launch of At Home. It is a wonderful feeling to know At Home is already helping hosts and that over the next several days lots of people will be receiving At Home as a holiday gift. I am confident they will enjoy At Home for many holidays to come. It has also provided me with great joy to have spent many an hour sitting in the amazing Reading Terminal Market “hawking” At Home. More people than I could count shared with me their appreciation of their tattered and worn Frog Commissary Cookbooks — seemingly everyone’s favorite cookbook — and their their own joy over many years dining at Frog, The Commissary and my other restaurants. It has made for a Merry Christmas for me.

Christina and I are off to brother-in-law Larry and Susan’s in Tuxedo, NY, for a Seven Fishes Christmas Eve (including my Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade) followed by what I am sure will be a wonderful Christmas day meal. Larry and Susan are wonderful hosts and though I am sure the food will be delicious, what is most important by far, is that family is gathering to celebrate. Whatever your Christmas tradition, my wishes for many delicious moments…at home.

Thank you for visiting. Merry Christmas.

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At Home’s Traditional Eggnog

There are all sorts of approaches to eggnog, but our favorite is to make a custard base, add some spice and bourbon, brandy or rum, and enrich with some whipped cream. It’s thick but delightfully drinkable. Serve very cold.

do ahead Eggnog can be made up to four days ahead, but add whipped cream no more than a few hours before serving. Stir as needed.

7 cups whole milk
10 egg yolks
11⁄2 cups sugar
3 cups heavy cream, divided
11⁄2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups bourbon, rum or brandy
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
8 cinnamon sticks

1 In a large mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar and beat until mixture thickens and turns pale yellow.
2 Add milk to a 4-quart pot and over moderately high heat, scald milk to just below boiling. Working very gradually at first, add milk to egg-sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added about a third of the milk, you can add the rest more quickly.
3 Return mixture to pot over low heat and cook, constantly stirring, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. If you’re using a thermometer, shoot for a temperature of 170°. Remove from heat, and immediately transfer mixture back to the mixing bowl. Add 1 cup heavy cream, vanilla, bourbon and nutmeg and mix well. Allow to cool and transfer to refrigerator. Chill for at least 6 hours.
4 Just prior to serving, whip 2 cups heavy cream until soft peaks form and fold into custard mixture. Transfer eggnog to a pitcher. Divide between glasses and serve with a cinnamon stick and some grated nutmeg on top.

yields 3 quarts

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My Best Wishes for Eggnog

I will be signing At Home at Reading Terminal Market today (Wednesay) from about 11 AM. Look for me in Center Court across from Meze. Books are also available at Coopermarket at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd and at Joseph Fox Bookshop at 1724 Sansom Street.

Please pass this post along to any friends and family responsible for the eggnog at the Christmas celebration.

Among the joys of Christmas is eggnog and there is nothing like homemade. I learned to make eggnog from the legendary Peter von Starck nearly 40 years ago as a cook at his La Panetiere restaurant. For a Jewish kid from Yonkers, Peter was an epiphany — as was his eggnog. Peter, an extravagant personality, took no culinary shortcuts. And for a once a year treat for guests, you should not take shortcuts either.

So, here’s my recipe for Traditional Eggnog — an homage to Peter — from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. Don’t be intimidated by making the custard base. Just keep the heat low and the custard moving to avoid scrambling your eggs. If your eggs do scramble slightly, pass custard through a fine strainer and it will be fine. Bourbon is my favorite alcoholic accent but feel free to substitute brandy or rum — and don’t skimp on the quantity of alcohol.

(Book owners, once you get comfortable with making a custard base, check out my Peppermint Ice Cream Sundaes on Page 416 of At Home. Ice cream is the ultimate do ahead in desserts. There’s no a better holiday ice cream than my peppermint made with chunks of candy canes.)

At Home’s Traditional Eggnog

There are all sorts of approaches to eggnog, but our favorite is to make a custard base, add some spice and bourbon, brandy or rum, and enrich with some whipped cream. It’s thick but delightfully drinkable. Serve very cold.

do ahead Eggnog can be made up to four days ahead, but add whipped cream no more than a few hours before serving. Stir as needed.

7 cups whole milk
10 egg yolks
11⁄2 cups sugar
3 cups heavy cream, divided
11⁄2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups bourbon, rum or brandy
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for garnish
8 cinnamon sticks

1 In a large mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar and beat until mixture thickens and turns pale yellow.
2 Add milk to a 4-quart pot and over moderately high heat, scald milk to just below boiling. Working very gradually at first, add milk to egg-sugar mixture, whisking constantly. Once you’ve added about a third of the milk, you can add the rest more quickly.
3 Return mixture to pot over low heat and cook, constantly stirring, until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. If you’re using a thermometer, shoot for a temperature of 170°. Remove from heat, and immediately transfer mixture back to the mixing bowl. Add 1 cup heavy cream, vanilla, bourbon and nutmeg and mix well. Allow to cool and transfer to refrigerator. Chill for at least 6 hours.
4 Just prior to serving, whip 2 cups heavy cream until soft peaks form and fold into custard mixture. Transfer eggnog to a pitcher. Divide between glasses and serve with a cinnamon stick and some grated nutmeg on top.

yields 3 quarts

Thank you for visiting.


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For Christmas Eve: Two Do Ahead Recipes and a Cocktail

Note: For last minute shoppers, I will be signing books in Reading Terminal Market’s Center Court on Tuesday, December 22nd and Wednesday, December 23rd beginning at 11 AM. Books are available at Coopermarket in Bala Cynwyd and Joseph Fox Bookshop in Center City. Please pass this along to any harried last minute shoppers you know as I’m sure all your shopping is completed.

My Christmas Eve assignment from my brother-in-law Larry: something with seafood. I married into the tradition of a family Christmas at Larry and Susan’s. And a tradition that centers around food at night and gift exchange in the morning was a welcome addition to my life.

Larry is an excellent cook who handles the seven fishes with gustatory enthusiasm and finesse. Guests get assignments, but the heavy lifting is done by Larry. As Larry and Susan live some two hours away in Tuxedo, NY and as we plan to arrive just as the first bottle of sparkling wine is popped, my plan needs to be very do ahead with a minimum of last minute preparation.

Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

These simple to prepare seafood cakes are made from shrimp and scallops with an accent of fennel and sundried tomatoes. They can be made fully ahead and reheated. Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients — it’s mostly shopping with a little chopping. The final coating of a little flour gets a flavor boost from the addition of ground toasted fennel seed, but this is totally optional. The do ahead green olive tapenade adds a piquant bite. You can make miniature versions and serve as an hors d’oeuvres for a crowd. The green olive tapenade also makes for an excellent sitting around hors d’ouvres — a change from the more typical black olive tapenade. Reheating takes just ten minutes in the oven.

Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, parsley, olives, anchovies, capers and pepper and process until finely chopped. Add olive oil and process until smooth.

1 pound shrimp, peeled
1/2 pound dry scallops, divided
3 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced fennel
2 tablespoons diced sundried tomato
1/2 cup diced scallion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons fennel fronds (the whispy leaves that look like dill)
1 lightly beaten large eggs
1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
2 tablespoons fennel seed (optional)
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup flour
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

Do ahead Cakes may be made up to three days ahead and reheated in 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

1 Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to medium sauté pan over low heat. Heat oil. Add fennel, onion and garlic and cook about 5 minutes until translucent. Add sundried tomato and dry vermouth and cook until there is just a small residue of liquid. Off heat. Set aside and allow to cool.
2 Add shrimp and 1/4 pound scallops to work bowl of food processor. Pulse into paste. Transfer to medium mixing bowl.
3 Cut remaining scallops into small cubes. Cubes should be between an eighth and quarter inch.
4 Add to mixing bowl cubed scallops, sautéed vegetables, basil, parsley, fennel fronds, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
6 Making cakes: Have a small bowl of water to moisten hands making it easier to work with sticky shrimp mixture. You will make 12 cakes. Form ball with 3 ounces mixture. Flatten into cake about 1/2-inch thick by 3-inch diameter. Lay out cakes on rimmed cookie sheet. Chill at least one hour or up to two days. If making hors d’oeuvres, reduce 1 ounce cakes.
7 Optional: In small dry pan over moderate heat, toast fennel seed until it lightly tans and releases its fragrance. Immediately transfer out of pan to stop cooking. Cool. Transfer to spice grinder and grind until powder.
8 Combine flour, optional ground fennel seed and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a dinner plate. Lightly coat seafood cakes all over with flour.
9 Add 2 tablespoons oil to medium sauté pan over low-moderate heat. When oil is hot, add cakes and cook until first side is well-browned, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until second side is browned, another 2 minutes. Don’t cook over too high a heat or outside will brown before inside gets cooked. Continue until all cakes are cooked, adding more oil as needed.

Yield 12 3-inch cakes or 30-26 hors d’oeuvres-sized cakes

Green Olive Tapenade
do ahead Tapenade can be made up to a week ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups good quality green olives, rinsed, drained and pitted
2 anchovy filets, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

In the work bowl of a food processor, combine garlic, parsley, olives, anchovies, capers and pepper and process until finely chopped. Add olive oil and process until smooth.

Serve tapenade on the side, family-style or top seafood cakes.

Yield 1 cup

To dice fennel, start by cutting into slices and dice the slices.

You want a thin layer of liquid left in pan to add flavor to cakes.

Dry toasting optional fennel seed. From here it goes into a spice (coffee) grinder.

Cooking seafood cakes in batches. Add oil as needed.

The finished result: Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade. You too can do this with crowd-pleasing results.

An Entertainer’s 911: Roasted Sweet and Hot Peppers

A big, colorful bowl of roasted sweet and hot peppers is an Entertainer’s 911. They are at the ready, whenever guests show up. Add crostini or good bread and you have an instant “sitting around” hors d’oeuvres. My inspiration for this was a saute of Long Hots at Ralph’s on 9th Street on Friday where Christina and I met Noah and his friend Jake for a little post-Oregon Avenue Christmas tree purchase dinner. (Noah just rented a house with two friends on League Street in the heart of the Italian market.)

I love the combination of sweet and hot — a common Asian flavor profile, but less so in Western cooking. Start by selecting a mix of mostly sweet with a few hot peppers added for interest and surprise. If you have a total of seven peppers, no more than two should be hot. None of the peppers pictured below are very hot — just pleasantly so. However, take care whenever handling hot peppers. Do not touch your fingers to your eyes or other soft membrane and wash your hands and cutting board when done.

Types of peppers purchased Saturday at Reading Terminal Market.
Pictured above beginning at the bottom center is a dark, moderately hot poblano. To the left and running clockwise: a moderately hot Anaheim, orange and yellow sweet peppers, a green bell pepper, assorted mild frying peppers, long hots and a moderately hot banana pepper.

Roasting whole peppers over intense heat chars the skin — softening it and/or enabling you to peel your peppers, while the peppers also get cooked from the inside by the steam that builds up. The simplest way to roast peppers is on an outdoor grill with ample space to roast all in one batch. You can also roast peppers — one at a time — by placing directly on the cooking grate of a gas burner. This is an easy way to roast a single pepper. But if you are roasting the big batch and your grill is buried under two feet of snow, then the broiler method works best.

Broiling Peppers

Pre-heat broiler to high. Begin by very lightly rubbing each pepper with olive oil. Place peppers on a sturdy rimmed baking sheet and place on upper oven shelf, but not so high that peppers touch broiler. As peppers broil, blister and darken, rotate peppers to cook all over. Kitchen tongs is the ideal implement to do this because you do not want to poke a hole in the pepper and release the steam.

Peppers in the broiler.

Firm and meaty sweet peppers take to charring and peeling. Thinner skinned peppers just need a light charring — mostly blistering to soften the skin as you will not peel these. Remove peppers from broiler, place in bowl. When cool enough to handle, cut away or pull away stem. Split peppers in half with skin side down. Gently scrape away and discard seeds by scraping gently with a paring knife. While doing this it is helpful to keep your scraping area clean of seeds with a dough scraper, damp cloth or knife blade as the seeds will adhere back on to just cleaned peppers and you will have to scrape them off again. Be patient.

Ready for removing stems, splitting, scraping away seeds and cutting into strips — julienne.

Once seeds are scraped away, remove black char from peppers. Not every bit needs to be removed. Next, make small stacks of peppers and cut into julienne strips. Very long strips should be cut in half. Place pepper julienne in bowl. Add lots of chopped garlic — about a teaspoon of chopped garlic for every pepper, good olive oil, salt and pepper. I also like to add some cracked toasted coriander seeds, but strictly optional.

A festive bowl of holiday peppers

In selecting peppers, pick a nice holiday mix of lots of sweet red and orange peppers with green peppers — ideally more red than I selected above. Roasted peppers will keep in the refrigerator through the entire holiday season.

Winter: Pomegranate-Lemon Martini

At Home’s seven Sections are organized from hello to good-bye beginning with Section 1: Welcoming Guests. And there are few better ways to welcome holiday guests than with a “house cocktail” such as my Pomegranate-Lemon Martini. It is one of four Four Seasons of Martinis included in At Home.

Four Seasons of Martinis — Winter — From At Home
Typically, martinis are made one at a time in a shaker with ice, which serves the function of diluting the alcohol a bit. But you don’t want to be bothered making drinks for each guest when you have a big group. Below, we’ve given you recipes for cocktails that can be made in a pitcher ahead, using water to dilute the alcohol instead of the traditional ice.
do ahead Martinis can be made up to one day ahead and chilled until serving.

General Procedure
In a pitcher, combine vodka and all other liquids. Stir. Chill for at least 3 hours before serving. Pour martinis into glasses and garnish each one with recommended garnish.

Winter: Pomegranate-Lemon Martini
21⁄2 cups lemon-flavored vodka
2⁄3 cup limoncello
2⁄3 cup lemon juice
3 cups pomegranate juice
3 cups water
long strips of lemon peel, for garnish
serves 6

These martinis go down very easily. As with serving any alcohol, as host you have the responsibility to make sure your guests do not drink and drive. If you have any concerns or a driving guest seems impaired, stop drinks early and extend the evening. Do not let an impaired guest drive.

At Home for the New Year – Still the Perfect Gift

At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining is an ideal house gift throughout the holiday season and for the host of a New Year’s gathering. Online ordering is easy.

Thank you for visiting.

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Traditions: Latkes and Choucroute

What we cook and serve at home is an expression of from who we came, where we’ve been…and who we’ve married. Fittingly, At Home includes recipes for both Henny’s Stuffed Cabbage, from my mother, and Ginny’s Meatballs with Tomato Sauce from Christina’s mother. We are a combination of traditions old and new, inherited and borrowed. Our table is who we were, who we are today and who we aspire to be. What follows is a “bottom note” about my traditions — it is one of the autobiographical notes that pepper the pages of At Home.

Latkes and Choucroute
Many years of demanding work, single fatherhood and a reclusive social life meant I was a near-celibate when it came to home entertaining. Christina changed all that. She has a wide range of friends and family and loves having them over. A very stylish entertainer, she always has a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator and her oft-repeated and perfected salt and pepper chicken is featured on page 157.

Naturally, Christina has influenced the shape of this book, just as she’s shaped my home entertaining attitude. She is from the KISS school of entertaining: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Her philosophy is that by keeping it simple, you’ll be inclined to host more often and maintain the focus on your guests. For too long, I thought of entertaining as my art and guests were simply a welcome excuse to practice that art.

Married on November 29th, we decided on an early December holiday gathering. Worn out from our wedding and the demands of recipe testing, I was, frankly, hardly in the mood for extracurricular cooking. Yet holiday entertaining was a long-held Christina tradition and we wanted to celebrate married life with friends and family in a season of celebrations. Potato latkes (see page 340) were de rigueur. On my list of recipes to test was choucroute garnie, the traditional pork-laden sauerkraut dish that I made for Christina for our first New Year’s Day together. So, killing two birds with one stone, the choucroute garnie complemented our latkes, making for a reasonable Hanukkah and Christmas pairing befitting our respective holiday traditions. Dessert was lavender ice cream—leftovers from the batch I’d made for our wedding.

Choucroute Garnie
Choucroute garnie is a classic cold-weather tour de force. Making it well requires advance planning but no special skill, and you can’t help but feel proud placing this impressive display before your guests. (This is a recipe for a crowd, on the theory that if you’re going to this trouble, why not have a crowd enjoy it?) If you don’t have a very large pot, you can do the sautéing in batches in a skillet and transfer everything to a roasting pan covered with foil for the long oven cooking. The traditional accompaniment is boiled potatoes tossed with parsley.

do ahead Everything may be made up to five days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Before serving, reheat, covered, in a 350° oven until hot, about 30-45 minutes.

12 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds kielbasa, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds bratwurst or knockwurst, cut into 3-inch lengths
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
8 garlic cloves, crushed
4 pounds sauerkraut, rinsed well with water squeezed out
4 long lengths orange peel
3 smoked ham hocks
1⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
3-4 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder
4 bay leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 fresh sage sprigs
31⁄4 cups white wine (ideally Riesling)
1 cups chicken stock
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1 Place ham hocks in a large pot and cover with water. Add brown sugar, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is tender, about 11⁄2-2 hours. Allow to cool. Trim away skin and fat and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.
2 Make a bouquet garni by wrapping juniper berries, black peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small square of cheesecloth. Tie packet.
3 In a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, stir bacon over moderate heat to render fat and just cook through. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set it aside. In the residual fat, first brown kielbasa. Remove and brown bratwurst or other sausage. Remove and brown pork butt or shoulder. Be patient and brown everything well, leaving residual fat in the pot each time.
4 In the same pot with the same fat over moderate heat, sauté onions, carrots and garlic until onions lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Add sauerkraut, bacon, ham hocks, orange peel, bay leaves and the bouquet garni. Mix well.
5 Preheat oven to 300°. Place browned pork on top of sauerkraut mix. Place sprigs of thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage over top. Cover and bake until pork is very tender, about 3 hours. If serving right away, add kielbasa and bratwurst around the perimeter of pot to heat during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
6 Remove pork and set aside to cool. Remove and discard herbs, bouquet garni, orange peel and bay leaves.
7 To serve, cut pork into approximately 3⁄8-inch slices. Arrange sauerkraut on a large platter and arrange slices of pork down the middle; arrange sausages around pork. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. If you are serving potatoes and have a large enough platter, arrange potatoes around and just off the edge of the sauerkraut.
serves 10-12

See Recipe for Latkes.

Reading Terminal Moments – The Passing of Harry Ochs

Harry Ochs died a week ago Sunday. Harry was an un-sung hero of Philadelphia’s food renaissance. His Reading Terminal “butcher shop” — which his son Nick continues — has been the meat mecca of accomplished and aspiring Philadelphia cooks for generations.

If Harry was your butcher, you were a lucky cook. Harry’s knowledge added interest to countless Philadelphia tables. There will be a memorial service honoring Harry at 1 p.m. today in Reading Terminal Market’s Center Court.

A note on The Butcher from At Home:

Supermarket meat departments provide the most common cuts of meats and poultry. But there are wonderful uncommon cuts of meats that are often less expensive than the usual filets and steaks. If you get friendly with your supermarket butcher they may be willing to special order less common cuts. Better still, find a local butcher shop. Use your butcher’s knowledge to expand the range of cuts you use and add interest to your table.

Upcoming Book Signings

Today at Coopermarket
I will be at Beth Cooper’s Coopermarket from 3PM to 6 PM. Coopermarket is at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Weekends at The Reading Terminal Market
I will be at Reading Terminal Market weekends between now and the end of the year. Look for At Home’s table in Center Court across from Meze on Saturday’s and near Spataro’s Cheesesteaks — across from the pig — on Sundays.

Saturday, December 19th at Weaver’s Way
I will be at Weaver’s Way in Mt. Airy on Saturday, December 19th from 11 AM to 2 PM. Weaver’s Way’s Mt. Airy is located on 559 Carpenter Lane.

Thanks for visiting.


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Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Memories, Recipes

Peppermint Ice Cream Sundae Recipe

A word of caution: Serve this special ice cream treat one Christmas and folks will want it from you every Christmas. It’s the gift that you’ll have to keep on giving. Crushed candy canes provide a festive look and crunch to the ice cream. Garnish your sundaes with miniature candy canes stuck into the ice cream, hooked ends up. The ice cream is very rich, so keep servings small.

do ahead Ice cream can be made up to two weeks ahead. Sauce can be made up to a week ahead and refrigerated. Microwave briefly to loosen before serving.
11⁄2 cups crushed candy canes (about 15 51⁄2 -inch canes), divided
milk chocolate sauce (see p. 420)
8 egg yolks
11⁄2 cups sugar
pinch of table salt
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint half and half

1 In a mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar and salt. Whisk until pale and creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in peppermint extract.
2 In a small saucepan, combine heavy cream and half and half over moderate heat and simmer until nearly boiling. Remove immediately from heat.
3 Add cream mixture in a slow, steady stream to yolk-sugar mixture, using a whisk to stir continuously. Transfer combined base mixture to a large measuring cup and reserve the bowl for the following step.
4 Slowly pour base mixture back into the pot over low heat. Stir constantly until lightly thickened. Do not boil. If using a thermometer, bring to 170º, about 10-12 minutes. Otherwise, heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. To check, put spoon in mixture, remove and run your finger down the back of spoon. It should leave a distinct, clean line for a moment. Remove from heat at once and pour into the reserved bowl to stop cooking.
5 Chill custard completely, at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
6 Freeze ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once it is ready, turn frozen mixture into a bowl and fold in 1 cup crushed candy canes. Place in freezer for at least 4 hours for final freezing.
7 Top ice cream with chocolate sauce and remaining crushed candy canes.
serves 12

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Filed under Holidays, Recipes