Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
A Feast Fit for St. Patrick – Part 1
A Feast Fit for St. Patrick – Part 1

I don’t make corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. I make corned beef and I make cabbage; but never corned beef and cabbage.

St. Patrick’s Day is one of my favorite holidays for a dinner party for several reasons. It is a casual event, quite different in scope from the more formal holiday meals of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve, and Easter, with their expectations of multiple courses of traditional mandatory foods.

On St. Patrick’s Day I can be creative with the dishes I serve and try to surprise and delight my guests. Take that old standard corned beef and cabbage, for instance. Rather than boil everything in one pot, which can turn into a soggy mushy mess of smelly cabbage-flavored stuff, I prefer to cook my corned beef separately and then make a nice cabbage side dish. I've been doing this for years and people always tell me it is the best corned beef and cabbage meal they ever had. Even professed corned beef haters admit they like my corned beef.

My annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner is an ever-evolving menu of several favorite recipes, with some new dishes thrown in each year. In keeping with the fun of the holiday’s theme, I aim for each course in the menu to contain a dish that falls into one of several categories; an Irish recipe, or green in color, or made with beer or other Irish ingredient.

Below is my basic St. Patrick Day dinner menu. For the dishes that I consider my must-serves, I share the recipes. For the other courses I offer some ideas.

Cocktails – Bright green cocktails are a must to get everyone into the Irish spirit. Each year I try something new. Past favorites have been Melonballs, Green Apple Martinis, Frozen Mojitos made with fresh mint, and Lime Margaritas. If you prefer beer, try Black Velvets: half fill a champagne flute with Guinness Stout and top with Champagne.

Cocktail Snacks – I always serve some green snacks for nibbling with the cocktails. Some ideas: a relish tray of assorted green olives, pepperoncini, and pickles; green vegetable crudités with dip; guacamole with tortilla chips, spinach dip in a bread bowl; wasabi peas; shelled pistachio nuts. Anything green goes!

Soup or Salad course – I serve either soup or salad. In keeping with the green theme, a velvety pureed soup of green vegetables is nice and light. If the weather is very cold and my guests are the types with hearty appetites, an ale-cheese soup may fit the bill. For salad, any mixed greens work. Spinach salads are nice, especially when garnished with some glazed nuts and fresh or dried fruit (fresh strawberries or mangos; dried cherries or cranberries).

Glazed Corned Beef – This is my never-varying corned beef preparation, although I do change the glaze from year to year. This is more of a detailed cooking methodology than a recipe, but it never fails to please even the most ardent corned beef haters. And it is perfect for entertaining because most of the work is done ahead. I’ll be posting this recipe next week, in Part II.

Sauce or Relish – Corned beef is always complemented by some type of sharp flavorful sauce, relish or chutney. Past favorites have been a tangy mustard sauce, a beet and horseradish relish, and a mustard horseradish sauce.

Butter Braised Cabbage – Every few years I’ll try a different cabbage side dish, but I always come back to this one. Surprisingly, the small amount of curry powder makes this dish a perfect complement to corned beef. The recipe is below.

Potato side dish- This varies from year to year. I’ve made scalloped potatoes, colcannon, twice baked potatoes, hot potato salad and glorified mashed potatoes but I’m still seeking the perfect potato side dish to complement this menu.

Vegetable side dish – I usually make a carrot side dish to add some bright color to the table. Past choices were dilled carrots, beer glazed carrots, and apricot carrots. Green beans sometimes make an appearance in various guises.

Whole Wheat Beer Bread – I used to make Irish Soda Bread until I discovered this bread. Like Irish Soda bread, it is a quick batter bread, but what makes it special is its wonderful yeasty fragrance from the beer and marvelous rustic texture. A big plus, it is very easy to make. The recipe is below.

Beverages – Obviously beer is the beverage of choice on St. Patrick’s Day, especially a nice selection of Irish beers. I personally prefer wine and have found Alsatian Riesling or Beaujolais to go well with this menu.

Dessert – This also varies from year to year. I’ve made various Irish cream cheesecakes, grasshopper pie, and Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse. Two unusual ones on my “to-try” list are beer ice cream and a gratin of fresh fruits with Irish Mist sabayon.

Irish Coffee – This is my favorite way to prepare this popular spiked hot beverage. The recipe will appear next week in Part II.


Butter Braised Cabbage

This recipe will turn cabbage haters into cabbage lovers. From the classic, Victory Garden Cookbook, one of my favorite and most used cookbooks.

2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons curry powder
8 cups sliced cabbage (1/4 inch slices) (1 medium head)
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

In a very large skillet melt the butter with curry powder over medium heat. Add the cabbage and stir and toss to coat with butter. Season with salt and pepper . Cover, lower heat and cook gently for 5 - 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender.

Yield: 12 servings

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

This is an exceptional batter bread that also partners perfectly with chili and hearty soups. It is rustic looking, fragrant with the malty, almost floral aroma of beer, and takes mere minutes to make.

Normally, batter breads or quick breads like this are only good fresh out of the oven and then quickly dry out. But this one remains moist and delicious for days. Leftovers are wonderful toasted, which provides a crunchy texture and a nutty flavor

12 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cups whole wheat flour
4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 can or bottle of beer (12 ounce) (I like a lager)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray or grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. If the brown sugar has any lumps, be sure to break them up with a wooden spoon or your fingers.

Mix egg with the beer and add it to the flour mixture. Stir well with a wooden spoon until a stiff batter is formed. Scrape the dough into the prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Next week, in Part II, I’ll share the recipes for glazed corned beef and Irish coffee.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Improbable Praises
Improbable Praises

Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I would be sharing a recipe here like this one. In fact, it is surprising that I not only made this dish but actually brought it to a party, where it was so well received that I decided I must share it here, despite the quiet snickers it may evoke.

In my circle of friends, family, and acquaintances I’m known as “the one who cooks”. I usually do the bulk of the cooking for big holiday meals, my regular dinner parties are quite popular, and when invited to pot luck gatherings I bring interesting dishes that always elicit requests for the recipes. Because I love to experiment in the kitchen I rarely serve anything that would be considered ordinary. So now I have this reputation as some sort of kitchen goddess.

When I came across a photograph of this wow-looking but decidedly ungourmet dessert, I passed it by because it is considered quite plebian. But its appealing image stuck in my mind. Then I was invited to a party where I knew only two people and I decided to make and bring this. Heck, these people didn’t know me so I had no epicurean standard to uphold. My culinary reputation would not be at stake.

When I placed this on the table, I was shocked by the attention and responses it drew. “Ooh”, “aah”, “wow”, “cool”, and “how did you make that?” filled the room as people were drawn to it like Paris tourists flocking to the Eiffel Tower. It became the topic of conversation for the next 10 minutes, and then again and again throughout the evening as new people arrived at the party and discovered it.

Throughout my many years of cooking and entertaining I have made all sorts of beautiful, delicious and fancy foods and have received compliments for many of them, but I’ve never received the incredible improbable response this simple, plebian, anti-gourmet dessert garnered.

Okay, I’ve dragged this on long enough. I guess I feel the need to justify that I am about to share a recipe for……

Rainbow Jello Mold!

Jello! Yeah, I know! Visions of grade school cafeteria serving lines come to mind, with row upon row of small dishes, each containing a perfectly square green jiggling cube, the extraterrestrial lime color reflecting in the stainless steel. And then there is the hospital dinner tray with its ubiquitous serving of the garish red jelly supporting sad little bits of canned fruit.

But this jello creation is something entirely different! Look!

With its psychedelic rainbow of neon colors, and gentle jiggliness, it appeals to something deep inside all of us. I don’t know why but it is almost impossible to turn your eyes away from it. It possesses some kind of captivating allure. At the party people kept returning to the buffet table just to look at it. Even now I find myself looking at these photographs over and over again, and feel an odd kind of joyful elation every time.

As to the taste of this compelling dessert, well, it tastes like…. Jello.

Rainbow Ribbon Gelatin Mold

Inspired by and adapted from a recipe posted by Rachel Perlow on eGullet forums
Servings: 20

From start to finish this takes about 3 hours to complete, but actual hands-on effort is minimal. You need to allow each layer to set a bit before adding the next layer, thus two minutes of your attention will be needed every 15 minutes or so. Plan on making this while you have something else to do in or around the kitchen.

The mold needs to set up overnight so make this the day before serving.

Rainbow Ribbon Gelatin Mold

8-3/4 cups Boiling Water
7 packages of any brand gelatin in the following colors :
- 1 purple (grape)
- 1 blue (very berry)
- 1 green (lime)
- 1 yellow (lemon or pineapple)
- 1 orange (orange)
- 2 red (raspberry, strawberry, or cherry)
1 cup vanilla yogurt (avoid non-fat)
whipped cream for serving

Line up your boxes of gelatin in rainbow order: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange and red (reverse ROY G BIV, but without the indigo). Place 5 large plastic cups in front of the first five and one quart sized bowl in front of the red flavor. Put each flavor of gelatin in its own cup or bowl.

Stir 1 ¼ cups boiling water into each flavor (2 ½ cups for the red flavor) and stir each very well until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir again just to make sure.

Lightly spray a 10 cup bundt pan with cooking spray and wipe out excess with a paper towel.

Beginning with the purple flavor, pour 3/4 cup of the dissolved gelatin into the bundt pan and place in the refrigerator to chill. If your refrigerator shelves slant at all, the layers won’t be even, so use a small level across the top and folded paper towel shims to insure a level set.

Refrigerate about 15-20 minutes or until set but not firm (gelatin should feel tacky and stick to finger when touched). Meanwhile, spoon 2 ½ tablespoons of the yogurt into a small bowl and stir or whisk until perfectly smooth. Slowly stir in the 1/2 cup of dissolved purple gelatin remaining in the cup, whisking to remove any lumps. Refrigerate this yogurt gelatin until slightly thickened to the consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Leave the rest of the flavors at room temperature.

Very very gently, spoon the creamy gelatin evenly over the partially set layer in the pan. Refrigerate about 10-15 minutes or until gelatin is set but not firm (gelatin should stick to finger when touched).

Repeat this process with each remaining gelatin flavor, in rainbow sequence, to create 12 alternating clear and creamy gelatin layers. The chilling time will be less for each successive layer because the layers get thinner towards the top of the bundt pan and the gelatin gets cooler as it sits. It is critically important that you don’t allow a layer to get too firm, otherwise the next layer will not adhere to it. Check more frequently for each successive layer.

The last layer, red, is a double layer. Use 1 ½ cups of the gelatin mixture for the clear layer and 1 cup of the gelatin mixture with 5 tablespoons of yogurt for the creamy layer.

If the gelatin waiting to be used sets at room temperature, fill a bowl the cup will fit into with hot water, set it inside and stir to loosen it up again.

Refrigerate the mold overnight until firm.

Unmold just before serving. Use a large flat serving platter that is at least 2 inches larger in diameter than the mold (the gelatin will spread a bit when unmolded). Sprinkle a few drops of water onto the serving plate to facilitate adjusting the dessert after unmolding.

Fill a large bowl or clean sink with warm (not hot) water. Dip the mold almost to the edge into the warm water for just a few seconds. Wipe off with a towel and check the edges to see if they are loose; if not, repeat the dip for just a few seconds. Invert serving plate on top and flip quickly. Remove bundt pan.

Serve with whipped cream on the side.

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Monday, February 19, 2007
Peeking Behind Closed Doors

Peeking Behind Closed Doors

I’ve heard that many people, when visiting the homes of others, will often peek inside the medicine cabinet while in the bathroom. That kind of surreptitious snooping doesn’t interest me at all. Kitchen cupboards, on the other hand, are another story.

I’ll often volunteer to help my hosts in their kitchen in hopes of catching a glimpse inside their cabinets and pantries. I love to see other people’s shelves of ingredients, racks of dishes, and rows of glassware. Which brands of cereal do they eat? Are there any embarrassing convenience foods or silly coffee mugs in there? How do they organize their spices?

I confess, I am the Peeping Tom of the kitchen and that inquisitiveness inspired me to host this food blog event. Its time for some virtual voyeurism! Here are peeks into the contents of the kitchen cabinets, drawers, pantry, refrigerator, and other hidden kitchen areas of fellow food bloggers.

My own cupboards and drawers are either neatly organized or an incredible mess. There is no middle ground. The things that I use a lot are, by necessity, somewhat organized so that I can find them easily. Like my spices.

Visitors to my kitchen are always startled by this cabinet full of spices, seasonings and extracts. In order to have access to all the little jars and bottles, I carved little steps out of Styrofoam to create the internal levels of shelves.

Even so, I still experience minor avalanches from time to time. Instead of alphabetically, the spices are arranged by size/shape of the container and by frequency of use. You can tell that I am a huge fan of Penzey’s.

Now this drawer of kitchen gadgets is one of the messier ones. Despite using shoe boxes to compartmentalize things, it is still a jumble of spatulas, kitchen thermometers, skewers and other items, which constantly get jammed when I open and close the drawer.

The larger wooden utensils, such as wooden spoons, and those made from stainless steel, such as tongs and ladles, are stored countertop in two open canisters. Only the plastic ones are in this drawer.

Some of these items bring back fond memories. That melon baller was part of a box of kitchen utensils I acquired at a yard sale when I was preparing to move into my very first apartment, decades ago. That entire box of goodies cost me fifty cents back then and I still have some of its contents.

I don’t like things cluttering my kitchen counters so all my appliances are stashed away in this cabinet. Yes, it is a pain to drag them out when I need them (especially that 30 pound Kitchen Aid mixer) but it keeps my counter space available for working. Plus the way I cook, whirling through the kitchen with abandon, stirring wildly and chopping excitedly, everything within 3 feet of my workspace gets splattered with food. The appliances stay cleaner in the cupboard.

This is the neatest of my pantry shelves, containing mainly canned and jarred goods. Before photographing it I did take the liberty of removing a layer of noodle packages and turning the labels forward in order to see the contents.

My other pantry shelves are such a mess as to be unrecognizable as pantry shelves. They more resemble the grocery carts you see at the front of the store in which the checkout clerks toss all the items the customers decided not to buy at the last minute.

This cabinet of glasses is neatly organized because I drink a lot, I mean, I use them a lot. I love the way rows of shiny glasses gleam.

Other Bloggers’ Kitchen Cupboards...
E of foodaphilia exposes some of food areas she shares with her roommates. I love her analogy comparing this food event to the anthropological study of garbology, and how both provide snapshots into the patterns of our consumption behavior.
Taylor of Mac & Cheese shares her cupboards with us. Hey, we have the same set of Chinese rice pattern dishes!
Foodzings bares the contents of her neatly arranged cupboards.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Colors of the Table and Thai Chicken Dip
Colors of the Table and Thai Chicken Dip

Beige is the most unappetizing hue in the food color spectrum.

On banquets spread with kaleidoscopic arrays of tantalizing colors, beige is the ugly duckling. Between the brilliant ruby strawberries and the bright orange tangerines on the breakfast table, the bowl of oatmeal goes unnoticed. The simple poached chicken breast doesn’t stand a chance against the gorgeous smoked salmon or the sliced grilled steak that teases us with its striations of juicy rare red meat and dark brown crust.

Beige is the chromatic equivalent of the plain Jane at the high school dance, standing against the wall, ignored. Beige is every food photographer’s worst nightmare. Beige is always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

Speaking of brides, even beige’s close cousin, white, gets its fair share of the attention without even trying. Marshmallows, coconut, and meringue get the glory while tuna salad and sauerkraut fade quietly into the background.

A few beige foods have escaped this color’s insipid reputation. Foie gras, by virtue of its luxurious flavor and cachet, does not carry the beige stigma. Coffee diluted with too much milk (a.k.a. caffe latte) is quite popular these days, thanks to the Starbucks marketing department and a jolt of caffeine. The great extrovert of the beige food world, grated horseradish, by its sheer exuberance will not be ignored.

But most beige foods have neither the requisite outgoing personality nor a cadre of press agents to encourage forks in their direction. Take this warm Thai Chicken Dip, for example. It has about as much visual appeal as a bowl of oatmeal, but behind that quiet façade lays a powerhouse of Thai flavors. Green curry paste, coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce and mint turn plain ground chicken into a dip of complex Thai flavors.

One taste of this and you will never again take beige foods for granted.

Warm Thai Chicken Dip

2/3 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons Thai green curry paste
1 pound ground chicken
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Heat coconut milk in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in curry paste and cook and stir for a minute or two until well blended. Crumble in chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until the chicken is no longer pink.

Add the peanut butter, lime juice, sugar, and fish sauce and stir well. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the mint.

Serve hot or warm, garnished with mint sprigs.

For dipping, serve crackers, pita chips, or other sturdy dippers.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Clouds in my Mouth
Clouds in my Mouth

They looked so plain and unassuming on the plate; small, round, pale mounds, their tops draped in an ivory glaze. Just vanilla rocks, he thought with some disappointment. He thanked me as he lifted one up to his mouth. Framed by the sunny window, his silhouette bit into the cookie. “Oh!” he instantly sighed. His exclamation sprayed a fine rain of gossamer cookie dust particles into the streaming rays of sunlight where they danced in suspension for several seconds before the sun gobbled them up. “These are like clouds in my mouth!”

The texture is definitely the first thing you notice about these lemon cookies. Light and tender, with a fine delicate crumb, they just melt in your mouth. Next, your taste buds discover their pure buttery flavor. The light texture and rich flavor contrast marvelously on the tongue. Finally, the experience peaks with the sweet-tart spark of the lemon glaze.

Until I tasted these cookies, I thought only chocolate could provide such a voluptuous sensual taste experience.

Lemon Cloud Cookies
Adapted from High Tea Lemon Cookies
in “What’s Cooking America”
Yield: 6 dozen

1 pound butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornstarch

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
1 – 2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large stand mixer beat the butter until creamy. Add the powdered sugar and blend until light and fluffy. Add zest and vanilla extract and beat again.

Sift flour and cornstarch together and gradually add to the butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place onto ungreased cookie sheets, ½ inch apart. Bake 15 minutes or until the bottoms are light brown. Carefully place cookies on wire racks that have been placed over sheets of wax paper. Allow to cool.

When the cookies have cooled completely, prepare icing. In a small bowl mix together the melted butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add the butter mixture. Stir until it becomes smooth and thick. Stir in water a tablespoon at a time, adding just enough to make the icing thin enough to drizzle from a spoon.

Using a spoon, drizzle icing over to the top of each cookie, allowing it to run down the sides. Allow to sit at room temperature until the icing sets.

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