Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wine, Cheese, and Chocolate

This year I welcomed a new sister-in-law into my family-- my brother and Janejai were married in NYC in October!

For Christmas, they sent me a lovely crate of cheeses-- way more than I could eat by myself!

So a wine & cheese night was definitely seemed in order... and chocolate is the perfect accompaniment for that! 

I invited a few friends over one dark, cold winter night to indulge themselves in fancy cheeses and other delectables including pate, olives, fruit, and a flourless chocolate cake.

I set out a smorgasbord of gluten-free crackers to go with the cheeses... 

and we had fun creating our own descriptions of the cheese... which we thought we better than the descriptions that came with them.  Who wouldn't want to eat a cheese that makes you feel like you're rolling around naked in mousse (Delice des Cremiers), mud oozing between your toes (Chabichou), diving into mashed potatoes wearing a yellow polka dot bikini (Basqu d'Argental), or walking into a cow barn with fresh milk running down your body (Blue d'Auvergne)...

To add a little sweetness to the evening, I whipped up my standby flourless chocolate cake to serve with the spread.  I love this recipe since it's only 5 ingredients that are easy to keep on hand, quick to make, and always a crowd-pleaser.  And gluten-free.

Flourless Chocolate Cake


4 ounces fine-quality chocolate (not unsweetened)-- I usually us 2/3 cups of Ghirardelli chocolate chips

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

3/4 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

In a double boiler on the stove, melt the butter and chocolate.

Remove from the heat and add the sugar, eggs, and cocoa powder.  Pour and spread evenly into a an 8-inch round pan lined with parchment paper (this makes it easy to remove after it comes out of the oven; alternatively, you can grease the pan and dust with cocoa power, but really-- the parchment paper is the way to go...).

Bake at 375°F for 25 minutes (I always test to see if a toothpick comes out clean).

It's an easy cake to decorate by sprinkling some powdered sugar over it, but I like to use a bit of butter cream frosting to doodle on top... 

But there's also all sorts of fun ways to decorate this cake for any occasion...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

White (Christmas) Russians

Sometime around August, I declared this would be the Winter of the White Russians, and I've been indulging in the rich dessert-like drink since.  But now it's Christmas and I'm on an eggnog kick, so I decided to try and combine the two... and hence idea of the White Christmas Russians.

And here we are on Christmas Eve... this morning when I woke up, my first thought was "Geez, my nose is kinda cold."  Climbing out from under my big down comforter, I thought my cabin seemed even colder than usual.  My cabin is not really that well insulated considering its location in Alaska and at the 64 parallel, so I usually keep my Toyo stove set about 58-60 degrees... otherwise I feel like I'm heating my whole property with heat that radiates out from my hot roof and big windows.

Indeed, checking my thermometer I saw that it was 40 degrees in my cabin (and -10 degrees outside), and the Toyo displayed the EE2 warning message.  I had let my fuel oil tank run dry on Christmas Eve-- and a Saturday too!  Knowing I would not be able to get fuel delivered until Monday at the soonest, I built a fire in the wood stove and started Plan B-- going out to get a few gallons of #1 diesel to get me through the weekend.  The last time this happened was a few years ago-- it was also a holiday weekend: my birthday weekend-- and I was able to borrow some fuel jugs from my friends Kelly & Johnny and put some fuel in my tank myself.

Before I could even head out to Kelly and Johnny's (and through the magic of Facebook), I got a phone call from my friends Darce and Shawn offering to bring me some fuel.  When they showed up, they had a Christmas present for me along with the fuel!  Beautiful hand-knit fingerless gloves.  Fairbanks is an amazing place where people take care of each other-- especially in the winter.  I have some of the most generous, helpful friends here who are always willing to go out of their way to help me out with whatever situation I seem to get myself into.

So, once the fuel was in the fuel tank and the Toyo was back up and running, I mixed up a batch of White Christmas Russians.

White Christmas Russians
2 oz vodka
1 oz coffee liqueur (e.g. Kahlua)
half and half

Mix the vodka and coffee liqueur in a martini shaker.

Pour over ice in your finest glasses or tumblers...

And a big splash of both the eggnog and half and half...

And serve to friends sitting around the woodstove.

Alternatively, stick the mixture outside in the snow and let it freeze solid.

And it's kinda like ice cream!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A midwinter Midwestern feast (while basking in the warmth of Southern California)

Heading down to California for a conference at the beginning of December, I tacked on a weekend beforehand to swing through to Santa Monica to meet up with my cousin Aaron, his wife Julie, their son Clark (soon to be 3 years old), and their new born twins Laila and Vaughn (3 months). 

Due to the young brood, we weren't very mobile, so we decided to cook up a Saturday night feast.  Cooking a meal together was an ideal way to spend the evening, and the kitchen feels like a natural place to spend time with Aaron and Julie.  Many of our conversations tend to revolve around food, and over the years I've introduced them to some of unique tastes from Alaska-- birch syrup, wild Alaskan blueberry jam, and wine and mead produced in Alaska.  The first time I met Julie in person and was then able to hang out exclusively with her was about 4 years ago when they were living in San Francisco.  It was a Elliott cousins reunion where those cousins that could met up tin SF for a few days.  I stayed a day longer than the others and was crashing on Aaron & Julie's couch.  The moment that really bonded as family was while Julie & I made tin foil liners for the burners on their stove.

Reaching back to our Midwest heritage and keeping in mind my gluten-free dietary requirements, we planned a meal of steaks, mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini, and Aaron's special garlic broccoli.  I also made a batch of fudgie wudies for dessert.

Aaron picked up some lovely NY strip steaks at the local market.   He coated them with coarse rock salt so they sparkled like diamonds plus added a bit of fresh ground pepper... and then onto the grill they went!

Also on the grill were the zucchini-- sliced into medallions and tossed in olive oil.  It had already gotten dark out by the time we were ready to grill, but I always pack a headlamp in my suitcase when traveling because it inevitably becomes useful-- for such occasions as grilling in the dark.

Once the steaks were done and resting, the potatoes needed mashing... just a little bit of milk, butter, and fresh ground pepper.

The last component of the meal to create was:

Aaron's special garlic broccoli

chopped broccoli
lots of garlic
olive oil
pinch of salt

Mince the garlic.  Aaron demonstrated his garlic peeling technique which involves shaking loose cloves of garlic in two bowls of the same size (with one bowl inverted and place as a lid over the other bowl).

And... VoilĂ !

Heat the olive oil until it's quite hot and add a bit of salt and the minced garlic.  Let cook for a minute or so and then add chopped broccoli.

Continue cooking until the garlic is crunchy.

Aaron, a sommelier who has served as the Wine Director at a number of top notch restaurants, selected a special bottle of wine from one of the wineries he now represents to pair with the meal.  I don't know a whole lot about wine, but I do know that this was fantastic bottle of wine...

With three small children amongst us needing attention, dinner was eaten in shifts and at the kiddie table...

One of the first questions I was welcomed with when Aaron picked me up from LAX was "Did you bring us fudgie wudgies?"  To his credit, Aaron did not leave me at the airport when I informed him that I had no fudgie wudgies with me, so I did feel compelled to whip up a batch for dessert.

Fudgie Wudgies

2/3 part wudge
1/3 part fudge
Vanilla Hagen Daz (to garnish)

***Always use only top quality wudge and fudge.  When possible, have an external quality control agent.***

Spread half of the wudge in the bottom of a baking pan.  Layer the fudge over it, and then top with the remaining wudge.

Bake in the oven until done.  When cool enough to cut into bars, serve to loved ones with a little Vanilla Hagen Daz.