New Year's Resolution #1

More entertaining at home. Just last night we had an absolutely wonderful dinner at the's Park Slope apartment to usher in the New Year.  Instead of sitting at his elaborate dining room table, Arthur created a stage set in his living room, dressing the coffee table in gold leaf finery with massive candles and beautiful wine glasses laid upon tapestry.  Although we had agreed upon a simple supper for "a party of five" -- the menu morphed into an extravaganza that began in 2010 and ended sumptuously in 2011!   The evening commenced with "aperitivi"-- a great white wine from Italy (Fiano di Avellino) for me and martinis for the men.  Fleshy black olives, peppadews (tiny sweet and spicy peppers) filled with tuna, salumi, black pepper taralli, the best potato chips, and tiny white anchovies in vinegar.  For Arthur, the menu bridged old and new.  The first course was an old friend -- a beloved pasta with lentils (good luck for the New Year) that tasted meaty and primal.  He said it was the great tomato paste he used!  I also remarked how good the actual malfatti (mixed-shaped) pasta was and Arthur declared it an excellent brand from Italy.  Will find out the name.  Next came a few dishes new to Arthur -- he loves to experiment and was intrigued with a recipe that he adapted from Jamie Oliver.  In the style of cooking I love best, it was radically simple and very, very delicious:  A bone-in, tied lamb shoulder, braised ever so slowly, with lots of fresh rosemary and whole garlic cloves.  It cooked, covered, for hours until it exuded fragrant juices into which we dunked copious amounts of bread.  With that we drank a 1982 Chateau Gloria (a very good year) from our wine cellar.  A bowl of mashed root vegetables with butter and snippets of scallions and parsley added great color and were radically good.  Arthur had called to ask if I had a potato masher, and I was happy to bring the treasured utensil that once belonged to my mother-in-law.  The memories started to mount. 'Round midnight (one of my favorite Dexter Gordon jazz tunes), I was treated to four small birthday cakes, laid upon a large ceramic platter, one in every color.  I blew out many candles and could barely hear my wishes above the fireworks outside.  The beautiful cakes, "made with real buttercream," came from the Ladybird Bakery in Brooklyn. They were delicious.

And as tradition has each year beginning with a bite of cake, another tradition follows.  My birthday breakfast:  A glass of champagne followed by the most delicious scrambled eggs made by my husband in a double boiler so that they become velvety and Hollandaise-like.  He piles them atop a hillock of smoked salmon and often garnishes them with caviar.  As traditions go, it ain't half bad.

Have a happy and healthy.

Eggnog Notions

I like eggnog.  At this time of year, my friend Katherine pours eggnog, instead of milk, into her morning coffee.  No, not the alcoholic stuff, but the ultra-creamy, thick, organic, rum-flavored variety she gets from a local dairy in Bethesda, Maryland.  As a child, I witnessed the appearance of "the yearly carton" in our refrigerator every December.  My mother, who rarely drank, loved pouring rum (the alcoholic stuff) into a cut-crystal wine glass full of store-bought eggnog and savoring every sip.  This was about the same time we snuggled up and watched "White Christmas" over and over again.  (But hey, come to think of it, my mother's other favorite drink was a Brandy Alexander -- a not-too-distant cousin.)  According to Larousse Gastronomique, where eggnog is referred to by its French name, lait de poule, it is a "nourishing drink served either hot or cold."  Their recipe: to beat an egg yolk with 1 tablespoon sugar and add a glass of milk, then lace with rum or brandy.  A more interesting version, offered in the Joy of Cooking, has you adding 1/4 cup of cream (instead of the milk), 2 to 4 tablespoons rum, brandy or whisky, and then folding in a stiffly beaten egg white.  In the same book, you can find a recipe for eggnog in quantity, based on a dozen egg yolks, and take it from there (page 64, if you happen to have a copy.)  Two curious things about that recipe:  there is a mention of peach brandy (the book was originally printed in 1931.  Who knew?), and a humorous headnote that no doubt launched the beginning of humorous headnotes in cookbooks.  "Some people like to add a little more spirit to the following recipe," Irma Rombauer wrote, "remembering Mark Twain's observation that too much of anything is bad, but too much whisky is just enough."

But the real reason I write about eggnog today is to tell you how to use commercially-bought eggnog in myriad ways.  I make a one-ingredient "creme anglaise" by merely simmering eggnog until thick and creamy (until it coats the back of a wooden spoon); a wicked pumpkin flan using eggnog as its foundation, and a fabulous panettone bread pudding whose custardy goodness comes

The following recipe first made its appearance in Recipes 1-2-3, published in 1996. Eggnog and Panettone Bread Pudding A winter wonderland kind of dessert, since commercial eggnog appears just in time for the first frost.  You can use a bottled eggnog here, like Mr. Boston, from your liquor store.  This will produce a deliciously "alcoholic" dessert.  Or you can use eggnog that is available in the refrigerated case of your supermarket for a rich and evocative (and non-alcoholic) pudding.  Even the eggnog in the can (I think it's Borden's) will do.

8 ounces panettone 3 cups prepared eggnog 2 extra-large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the panettone into 3/4-inch cubes.  Put them on a baking sheet and toast them lightly in the oven.  Watch carefully.  The panettone should become golden, not brown.  Beat together 2 cups eggnog, eggs, and a pinch of salt using an electric mixer.  Place the toasted panettone cubes in a baking dish that is 9x7 or 8-inches square.  A glass dish is preferable.  Pour  the eggnog mixture over the panettone, pressing down so that the panettone is submerged.  Let sit 15 minutes.  Place the pan in a hot-water bath.  Bake 40 minutes until firm and golden.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Serve at room temperature or cold.   Prepare a sauce using the remaining eggnog:  Put 1 cup eggnog in a small, heavy saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to simmer and cook, stirring often, until reduced to 1/2 cup and is dark tan in color, about 30 minutes.  Let cool.  Drizzle pudding with sauce.  Serves 6


New Year's Eve Pig Out

I don't really mean pig out in the sense of the word overindulging, but I do mean the preparation of one of my favorite pork roasts.  Since it requires 18 hours in your oven, it is the perfect dish to serve at the stroke of midnight -- at the very same moment that you sing Auld Lang Syne and kiss your partner under the mistletoe.  Instead of shouting "Happy New Year!" however, you may instead scream "Let's eat!" The vapors streaming from your kitchen at this point will be so intoxicating as to leave all formalities aside and have you rushing to the groaning board (a word whose derivation is most interesting.)  Let's figure this out and I'm telling you now so you can get the ingredients today.  If you put the pork shoulder in the oven tonight (Thursday, December 30th) at midnight, the irresistibly crackly sphere of meat will be ready for indulging at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow night -- Friday, Dec. 31st, the early hours of most New Year's Eve festivities. That's fine for many of you who like to eat at a reasonable hour, leaving you enough time to position yourself in front of some fireworks.  For those of you who are glued to your big screen television to watch the ball drop from the center of Times Square in New York City and join the world's choral countdown, then you'll need to put the pork in the oven around 4 a.m. (Friday, Dec. 31st).  That could present a problem, or not, but it is no different than what many Americans do on Thanksgiving Day. I can't tell you how delicious this pork roast is.  Flavored with fennel and cumin seed, garlic and fresh lemon, the skin becomes so crispy and the pork flesh stays so very moist because of the very low temperature at which it cooks.  There's a little kick at the end from hot pepper flakes and the whole thing goes amazingly well with champagne, whose celebratory bubbles cut through unctuous succulence and tempers the salinity.  Serve with a pot of oil-slicked bay-scented lentils (good luck in Italy) and a simple arugula salad splashed with balsamic vinegar (and maybe some crumbled blue cheese with pickled red onions!)  A simple carrot puree -- for color and contrast -- would also be nice.  Crank up the music and bring in the new year on high.

Here's what you need to do: 18-Hour Pork Shoulder with Fennel, Garlic & Lemon If you put this in the oven before you go to bed, it will be ready for dinner the next day -- all crackly, succulent and irresistible.

10-pound whole pork shoulder, skin on 2 large heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled 3 tablespoons fennel seeds 3 tablespoons cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Make deep slits in the pork skin, about 1 inch apart, going through to the flesh.  Combine the garlic, fennel, cumin, pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a food processor; process until coarsely ground.  Spread the mixture all over the pork, making sure to pack some into the slits.  Place the pork in a roasting pan.  Roast for 30 minutes.  Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the pork and reduce the temperature to 250 degrees.  Bake for 18 hours.  Squeeze the juice of the second lemon over the pork during the last hour of cooking.  When done, the skin will crackle and the flesh will be soft.  Carve into thick or thin slices. Serves 8 (or more)

Happy almost New Year!

New Year's Nibbles

Only five days to New Year's Eve and you are, no doubt, thinking about how to celebrate.  For those who are entertaining at home (a very strategic thing to do), here are 25 ideas for radically simple things to serve.   My good friend, Claudia Omsky, roasted some chestnuts for us the other day as a treat in the middle of the afternoon.  She is from Vienna and told us about the street vendors roasting chestnuts and how she loved them as a child.  She often prepares them for her kids as a healthy snack.  Great idea.  Claudia buys them at Whole Foods and simply roasts them on a sheet pan.  Make a criss-cross slit at the top of each chestnut and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  I thought about how festive they would be with a glass of champagne and so....Idea #1:  Warm roasted chestnuts.  The day after, our cousin Mary Ann Kurasz (Seidman) served us a bowl of huge roasted black grapes that looked like big fleshy olives.  She said she got the idea from my Chicken with Roasted Grapes from Radically Simple and decided they would be great with cocktails!  They were!  A brilliant idea I never thought of.  Here are 23 more: Thinly sliced smoked salmon strewn with edible flowers cut up like confetti Large black olives baked in red wine and olive oil Wrap thin grissini (breadsticks) with good prosciutto Scoop out cherry tomatoes, fill with whitefish salad and chopped chives (serve in fluted candy papers) Coat green grapes with goat cheese and roll in crushed pistachios Toss mixed nuts with rosemary oil and warm on a sheet pan Large moist Medjool dates with chunks of aged Gouda Throw a smoked ham in the oven, slice and serve on biscuits with honey mustard and chutney Thinly slice super-rare roast beef from the supermarket, serve with horseradish creme fraiche and black bread Slather a side of fresh salmon with wasabi mayonnaise, roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, sprinkle with black sesame seeds Make a large Caesar salad and serve with garlic-rubbed skirt steaks Buy super-large cooked shrimp and serve with green goddess dressing Serve your favorite smooth soup in demitasse cups, add a few drops of truffle oil Serve a platter of roasted vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces, sprinkle with sea salt Prepare a large chafing dish of tortellini alla panna (cream, butter and parmigiano-reggiano) Make or buy gravlax and serve with 1-minute mustard sauce (2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons white vinegar, 2 tablespoons Dijon, 1/4 cup olive oil) Buy rotisserie chickens, hack them up and serve with hoisin sauce and scallions Thinly slice big sea scallops and serve atop seaweed salad, drizzle with lemon oil Top herring in wine sauce with buttery-toasted panko, creme fraiche and dill Make smoked salmon, basil and goat cheese quesadillas Make beef or turkey sliders, serve on toasted dinner rolls with pesto or curry mayonnaise Buy great fried chicken and serve with black-eyed peas Boil a whole cotechino, slice and serve on lentils

Start chilling the bubbly!