A baby shower and Hickory Farms Feast

Not long ago, I came home from a very long day and found 2 boxes in front of my door.  Not expecting anything I was really excited!  I opened them to find 2 boxes FULL of Hickory Farms crackers, cheeses, mustards and different kinds of sausage. What fun!  I had completely forgotten that I had signed up to be part of the FoodBuzz Tastermaker program.  You get to sign up and test out products from different food related companies.

The boxes were so FULL and I knew there was no way I could eat that much cheese.  I was in need of a party-  a party with lots of people who liked cheese.  I tried to get together with some of my girlfriends but work and life got so busy this season that plans fell through. Thankfully, I had another party I could bring them to.  A baby shower!  My sister and brother in law are having a baby!  They live in Seattle, pretty far from Washington, D.C., but I was able to skip out of town during the busy holiday season last weekend for her shower.


As I suppose is expected for Seattle in December, it rained pretty much the entire weekend.  It rained a relatively hard, warm rain called "the pineapple express".  I thought that was just the name of a movie but as it turns out it is also what a storm coming from Hawaii is called.

What do two sisters do when it's raining?  Bake!  We make gingerbread "little boy and little girls" and my grandfather's famous cheeseballs.  I usually publish all my recipes but my grandfather's cheeseball recipe has to stay in the family.  I'm sure if you search cheeseball you can find a recipe that is pretty close to what we used.  Cheese (sharp cheddar preferably), flour, mustard powder and butter.  That's it!  Shred it, mix it and chill it.  Just like cookie dough.


The Hickory Farm cheese grated nicely and definitely made great cheeseballs!


Check out the savory spread we had!  Homemade cheeeseball, gingerbread boys and girls.  Humus, olives, carrot sticks, Hickory Farms summer beef and turkey sausage, cranberry and regular mustard, AMAZING northwest salmon that my brother in law's mother brought.. and other goodies!


Look at the adorable cucakes my brother in law's mother made!  She even brought the great cupcake stands!


(tag cute monkey flower arrangement in the background)



Despite the rain we all had a great time!  It's hard to go wrong with cupcakes, cheeseballs and humus.


The holiday parties are wrapping up at the restaurant which now gives me time to think about parties at my house!   I hope everyone is having a great holiday season!



Plum Brandy Finale- bottling!


Three months really do fly by!

When I started my plum brandy project back in September, winter, the holidays and cold weather were all just a foggy memory left over from last year.  For some reason it's hard to remember what wool sweaters and gloves feel like when there is a seemingly perpetual mugginess in the air.  With work and life at full speed, the September heat and humidity quickly turned into a December chill.  While I was surviving the October event rush at the restaurant, my plums were gently befriending the brandy they were swimming in.  While we celebrated Thanksgiving and watching the leaves turn colors, the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean were enveloping the fruity flavors with a warm spicy tone.  Now that country has begun its unusually long holiday celebration, it's time to bottle and taste what has been working away all these months.


After gently rocking the large jar back and forth one more time to make sure all the flavors were evenly distributed before they are poured into their own individual bottles, take a ladle and gently remove the swollen plums and put them in a separate bowl.  I am freezing mine to make "brandied plum sorbet or ice cream!  The cinnamon stick has opened up and looks more like the bark that it really is than a dried spice.  The vanilla pod, completely saturated with juice and brandy oozes out its precious seeds.  I took it and put it in a jar with sugar to make vanilla brandy sugar.  I just couldn't bring myself to throw away the pod.  The fruit, stick and pod look pretty, glistening with all the sugars that have been marinating for several months.

IMG_0509.JPGI bought small bottles online, washed them out and then poured boiling water into them to make sure to kill anything that might have called them home in the store.  This isn't the boiling that is necessary to can or jar but I the alcohol in the bottles will kill anything else.

IMG_0511.JPGDon't these bottles all lined up remind you of the Jean Paul Gaultier ad for his cologne  Maybe it's just me.

http://cdn2.ioffer.com/img/item/157/303/289/6lbJLCASocK8Cek.jpgsource: http://www.ioffer.com/si/fragrances

Strain the brandy to remove any bits of plum that might be floating around.

The mixture won' t be completely clear unless you use cheesecloth (which I do not have) but that's ok.  It will taste the same.


Pour the mixture into the bottles that have dried and cooled off by now, label them, and you are done! Unless you plan to spend MANY nights watching movies and drinking brandy, these dark red bottles can makes great gifts for your family and friends



Spiced winter brandy for the cold months to come.


Plum brandy update and poached pears

The long days at work are far from over which leaves very little time for baking and cooking.  Thankfully I have a recipe working away even while I'm not at home.  My plum brandy is happily marinating away in the corner of my dining room, getting sweeter and fruitier every day.  I opened up the jar the other day to taste my progress and, what a difference!  The almost harsh brandy taste is almost completely gone.  It now tastes like delicious, sweet, spicy, smooth, and fruity brandy.  All that after only a few weeks!  I can only imagine what this will taste like in December (by which time I'm sure I'll have decided I have waited long enough and will want a real taste).  Some of the plums have kind of lost their color which can only mean that they are not only graciously giving their flavor to the brandy but also donated their beautiful purple color.


Along with my other farmers' market purchases I also bought pears.  If you give me an apple and a pear I will usually reach for the apple.  For some reason the crispy crunch you get from an apple is simply more satisfying to me than the grainy nature of a pear.  One way I do like pears though, and I feel almost silly saying this, is poached in wine.  After all, who wouldn't agree with me on that one?  I was watching a show called French Food at Home about a woman who "quit the corporate life and moved to Paris to learn how to cook" (how lovely...) and watched her make an incredibly simple poached pear recipe that I just had to try.  This recipe takes a while but couldn't be easier.  Not only its flavors completely embody fall and makes you look like an accomplished cook, it fill your house or apartment with an amazing mulled wine smell.
Poached Pears in Wine
from French Food at Home on Cooking Channel
(4) Bosc pears
(1) bottle of red wine
1/2 cup of honey


Pick 4 pears (or like in my case 3) that are relatively firm.  You don't want them falling apart while cooking in the wine.  Peel them but keep the stems on.
Pour the bottle of red wine you have selected into an oven proof baking dish that has a cover on it.  Le Creuset pots are perfect for this.  Turn the heat of your stove onto medium and mix in the honey and let it melt into the wine.  I used less than 1/2 a cup, more like 1/4 cup.  I don't love really sweet desserts and figured the pears would have plenty of sugar.  (NOTE: here you could add spices like cinnamon sticks, or star anise, a vanilla bean maybe?)  Add your peeled pears.  The wine should only cover them about half way.  That's OK.  You will turn them every hour or so, so they absorb the wine equally and evenly.
Turn the heat up until the wine starts to boil.
Put the pot, with the lid/cover on, into your oven, set at 250 degrees.  The temperature is very low but you will be cooking the pears for anywhere from 3-5 hours so you don't want it too hot.
I cooked mine for 3 hours, turning the pears every hour.  By the time they were done their naked white bodies had turned a beautiful burgundy red.
Remove the pears and put the pot of wine back on the stove.  Turn the heat up to high and let the mixture boil until it had reduced by more than half.  It should be a dark red syrup when you are done.
Drizzle it over the pears and enjoy.


The sweet syrupy wine is just so incredibly good.  I have some leftover and I am trying to figure out what else I could drizzle it on because throwing it away seems like a shame.  Any ideas?


Farmers' Market and Comfort Food

I am in serious need of comfort food.  October is one of the busiest months for me at the restaurant.  Everyone who was away for the summer, relaxing on their decks or patios with friends, are now booking dinner at the restaurant.  Companies that had vacated DC for the summer are back at work and throwing cocktail parties and business dinners.  It's as if Washingtonians feel bad for deserted us during July and August and feel like they need to make it up to us.  Great for business but utterly exhausting.  After an unavoidably hard week I needed comfort food and fast - something warm and satisfying. -something that reflects the season.  I headed out to the farmers' market to get inspired.
Grape kiwis? Never heard of them.  They kind of smelled like kiwis.  So cute!  You apparently eat them whole, no peeling necessary.
I buy my eggs from this woman every Sunday.  I'm not sure if I can really taste the difference between these and the ones you would get at the store but appart from it being more fun I just like thinking that my eggs came from happy chickens on her farm.  She reuses the egg cartons too.
Twin Springs is my go-to fruits and vegetable stand.  I used to go to their Bethesda location on Saturdays when I lived there.  I feel a sense of loyalty to them and their prices are very reasonable.
I guess other people like them too!
It's dahlia season!
How beautiful are these variegated beans and eggplant
I didn't know you could grow ginger this far north.  I assumed it was a tropical plant.  Wrong again!
OK these aren't from the farmers' market.  They were hanging off the plant growing in front of my building but it was so colorful I thought I'd take a picture!  When did we decide that fall colors were represented by fall foliage?  The farmers market is bursting with pinks and purples and bright greens!
I ended up coming home with butternut squash, a LOT of apples, a few pairs, apple cider and some brussels sprouts.  Now what to make.....?
When it comes to comfort I think is stews and soups.  Since it was in the 70s this week (the last warm spell of the year I'm sure) I wasn't quite ready for a stew so I went with soup.  Butternut squash and apples are a pretty classic combination for soup.  I've been craving pizza from Delancey ever since I had it Seattle this summer.  The owner of the restaurant started out writing a food blog so I thought I'd check it out for a recipe.  Success!

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
adapted from Orangette

¼ cup olive oil ( I used just a couple tablespoons)
1 2-lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
2 flavorful apples, preferably Gala, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)- ( used 3 apples.  They just looked so good.)
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 1 cup) ( I'm sure she was calling for a white onion but I used a red onion for its sweetness and color)
¾ tsp curry powder ( I didn't have curry powder so I used some cumin and paprika instead)
¾ tsp ground mace ( I used nutmeg which is pretty close)
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 cup good-quality apple cider (I had some from the farmers' market)
1 quart chicken stock (vegetable works fine as well) ( I used vegetable bouillon cubes. I know I should have my own stock... if I just had the time to make it)
I wanted to add a little spice so a I added a few pinches of Espelette pepper.  It's a mild chili pepper flake cultivated in France.  It adds just enough spice to give the soup a little kick without making it really spicy.

Peel and cut the butternut squash and apples (that I both bought at the farmers' market!  Market use #1!!) into cubes and add them to a large pot along with the onion. "Saute" them, more like steam them, until the onion starts to turn translucent.  Add the spices, the cider  (that I bought at the market!  Use #2!!!) and the vegetable stock and cook away, about 40 minutes, until the squash is nice and tender.  Honestly that's about it.  That's what's great about soups.  Once you do all the chopping it's really up to the pot and heat to do their job and meld all the ingredients.
Carefully ladle the cooked vegetables and broth into a food processor or blender and pulse it until it becomes smooth.  Remember to do this in small batches because hot liquids will create pressure in the blender and rise to the top quickly.
When you are ready to eat it you could put a little dollop of creme fraiche or fromage blanc in the middle or eat it as it is. Yum.


Food, for me, can really wipe away whatever it was that I was thinking about or worrying about.  The act of chopping and cutting and measuring and stirring relaxes me and eating the final product is so satisfying.  This easy soup was just what I needed after my long week.  One day off and on to the next one!

Last Sunday I tried to make chocolate caramels from a cookbook my Italian chef friends gave me...and failed miserably.  It was probably because the instructions were in Italian.  I can understand a good 50% of what I hear and read but 50% just doesn't cut it when it comes to baking and confectionaries.  Out of failure comes success though.  I had a lot of leftover cream so I made butter!

I started out by shaking the cream in an empty 1/2 gallon milk jug.  By the time it got to whipped cream consistency it really got too hard for me to shake.  I must be seriously lacking in upper body muscle.  I transferred my whipped cream to the mixer and let it finish the job.

Butter in my butter bell for my morning toast this week


Autumn Plums

Summer is unfortunately over.  It's a fact.  It has only been over for 4 days, but to me, it ended the day I came back from vacation about two weeks ago.  As much as I love the cooler fall days, it's always hard to say goodbye to warm nights- the perfect excuse to go out for drinks and sit outside, farmers markets FULL of fruits and vegetables, and my favorite "it's a Friday in August so I'm leaving work early" excuse.  Fall means back to school, back to work and the start of the root vegetable season at the farmers' market.  Before all brightly colored fruits hibernate for the winter, fall gives us a few last bursts of color, like the pomegranate, the plum and figs (OK I know some figs are black but there are some pretty lime green ones too!)

I've discovered a new interest in cocktails.  I never really enjoyed sweet cocktails like the Cosmopolitan but I thought those sugary/sour/fruity drinks were my only option if I wanted something other than a beer or a glass of wine while sitting at a bar.  This isn't the first time that it turns out that's I'm wrong..  Over the summer I found several bars, in DC and other cities, that are "re-creating" the cocktail, using creative new combinations of flavors and ingredients.  Fruits, herbs, bitters, infusions- the possibilities are endless.  I've made Limoncello before and I just infused vodka with lemon verbena but those both have vodka.  I wanted to try a new liquor.  To go along with my "fall" mood, I thought I would try a recipe for plum brandy my sister found for me in the New York Times. She sent me two recipes: "Brandied Plums with Cinnamon and Vanilla" and "Pomegranate Gin Preserve". Brandied plums it is! The pomegranates will have to wait.


Brandied Plums with Cinnamon and Vanilla

Adapted from The New York Times - published on September 21, 2010



2 lb of plums

1/2 cup sugar

1 liter of brandy

one cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise


This really could not be easier.  I changed the original proportions a little but nothing really changed all that much.  The recipe is put together in under 10 minutes and then you just have to wait.

Wash the plums and prick them all over with the tip of a sharp knife.  Put them in a large jar (the kind with a top that clamps shut).  I used  3 liter jar and it was not full.


Pour the sugar over the plums and then add the brandy.  Plop in the cinnamon stick and the vanilla bean and voila!


Let the jar sit in a cool dark place (not the fridge) for at least 6 weeks, and up to 3-4 months.  Gently "shake" the jar from time to time, by turning the jar over.  Who knows.  This is an experiment.  The ingredients sound like they would go together and it if works, I'll have a delicious drink to sip when it's cold this winter (or give away as Christmas gifts because let's be honest, that's a lot of brandy).  I'll keep you updated on the brandy's status!




I had some plums leftover so I thought I would make a cake.  Last week I made a delicious peach upside down cake with the last of my summer peaches.  I've learned that most stone fruit desserts work with just about any type of stone fruit (or any sort of fruit in general really because a tart tatin is the apple version of this cake.)

Plum and Rum Raisin Upside Down Cake

Adapted from the Honey Peach Upside Down Cake from Hotpolkadot


About 8-10 plums depending on the kind you use and how big they are- quartered

1/4 cup of maple syrup

1/4 cup of golden raisins soaked in about 1/4 cup of rum - drained.

1 cup of flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter - room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup honey

2 eggs



Preheat your oven to 350.  Butter a 9 inch round cake pan (sides and bottom).  Cup out a round piece of parchment paper and put it on the buttered bottom of the pan.  Butter the parchment round.  (I know it sounds like a lot of butter but this is an upside down cake.  You really don't want it to stick when it comes time to flip).

Pour the maple syrup on top of the buttered parchment paper.  The original recipe called for honey but I thought the deeper flavor of maple syrup would taste really nice with plums.  Take your plum quarters and arrange them, cut side down, in a nice circular pattern.  Take your rum raisin and sprinkle them evenly over the plums.  Set this aside and now.  It's time to work on the cake batter.



In a small bowl, mix together your dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking powder).

In your mixer's bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.  Add the honey and then the eggs.  I added a little nutmeg because I think nutmeg tastes like fall.  You can omit it, of course, or add your spice of choice.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and you're done!  The batter will not soupy.  In fact, you probably won't be able to pour it out of the bowl.  Use a spatula to scoup and plop it into the pan (kind of like mashed potatoes).  Don't be afraid to use your fingers to gently convince the batter to fill in the little holes between the plums.  Work the batter into the pan and put it in the middle of the oven.

The recipe calls for baking the cake for 30-35 minutes.  Both times I made this it took me more like 40-43.  See what works for you.

When the cake is done (clean toothpick test), let it cool until you can pick up the pan with your fingers without burning them (idiot test).  Put a large plate over the pan and quickly flip it and put the plate down on the table.  If all the buttering did its job the cake should easily slip out of the pan.  If the parchment paper came out of the pan with the cake, just carefully peel it off.

Serve it warm or refrigerate it for the next day.



Happy fall.