I’M BACK (BRINED PORK CHOPS & CHOCOLATE MADELEINES)

It’s been a little over two months since I last posted here. In that time I moved with my boyfriend into a new neighborhood, Downtown Los Angeles (more on that soon). I took on a new role at my day job. Whenever I had a spare hour, I was trying to make my new apartment into a home. I was eating a whole lot of salads from a place called “Simply Salad.”

But you can’t deny the Alpenglow. I’m back and things are moving, beginning with this stalwart trio of dishes. It’s a Sunday dinner that’s inspired by things I love in restaurants but don’t want to dine out for: the brined pork chops from Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill House, vibrant broccolini smothered in salsa verde and anchovy croutons, and dark chocolate madeleines fresh out of the oven. It feels good to be back.

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PAN-ROASTED BRINED PORK CHOPS  

recipe by Brian Leth of Vinegar Hill House, Brooklyn:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 head of garlic halved, plus two cloves for basting
several sprigs of fresh thyme
1 2-inch thick bone-in pork chop (about 1 1/4 lb.) or 2 1-inch chops
2 tablespoons grapeseed or or vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
flaky or coarse sea salt

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add kosher salt, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, halved head of garlic, and 1 thyme sprig; stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 5 cups ice cubes. Stir until brine is cool. Add pork chop; cover and chill for at least 8 and up to 12 hours.

Preheat oven to 450°. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet. Remove chop from brine; pat dry. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet. Cook chop until beginning to brown, 3-4 minutes. Turn and cook until second side is beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Keep turning chop every 2 minutes until both sides are deep golden brown, 10-12 minutes total.

Transfer skillet to oven and roast chop, turning every 2 minutes to prevent it from browning too quickly, until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into center of meat registers 135°, about 14 minutes. (Chop will continue to cook during basting and resting.)

arefully drain fat from skillet and place over medium heat. Add butter, 2 unpeeled garlic cloves, and remaining thyme sprig; cook until butter is foamy. Carefully tip skillet and, using a large spoon, baste chop repeatedly with butter until butter is brown and smells nutty, 2-3 minutes.

Transfer pork chop to prepared rack and let rest, turning often to ensure juices are evenly distributed, for 15 minutes. Cut pork from bones, slice, and sprinkle with sea salt.

BROCCOLINI with SALSA VERDE & ANCHOVY CROUTONS 

an improvised recipe that works well with many cruciferous vegetables:
2 bunches of broccolini
big handful of flat-leaf parsley
big handful of chives or green onions
3-4 peeled garlic cloves
1/2 cup or so of extra virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon
pinch of red chili flakes
kosher salt to taste
bread, torn up
unsalted butter and olive oil
anchovies

I steamed the broccolini, but you could saute or grill them as well. Add the parsley, chives, garlic, olive oil, chili flakes, and salt to a blender and pulse into smooth. Set the salsa verde aside. Set the oven to 350. Heat the butter and oil in an oven-safe skillet. Add the anchovies and use a wooden spatula to dissolve them in the butter and oil. Add the torn bread to soak up the butter and oil thoroughly. Transfer the pan to the oven until the croutons are crisp and golden brown. To serve, plate the broccolini, spoon the salsa verde over the broccolini, and scatter a generous amount of the anchovy croutons on top.

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DARK CHOCOLATE MADELEINES with CARAMEL SAUCE  

recipe by Chef Gale Gand:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter softened for the madeleine mold)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush madeleine pans well with 4 tablespoons softened butter; refrigerate 5 minutes. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt remaining 1/2 cup butter over medium heat. Continue to cook until butter turns golden brown, being careful not to let the butter burn. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs with granulated and brown sugars until light and thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, and stir on low speed until combined. Add vanilla and reserved browned butter; mix just until blended.

Insert a 1/2-inch plain tip into a pastry bag and fill with batter. Pipe mounds of batter into prepared pans until each mold is full, mounding batter in the center of the molds but not filling to the edge. Alternatively, you can use a teaspoon to fill the molds with batter. Bake until madeleines are firm and a little mound is puffed up in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes. Madeleines are best eaten the same day they are baked.

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FISHERMAN’S STEW WITH GREEN CHILE & COLLARDS

“I wish I was a fisherman
Tumblin’ on the seas
Far away from dry land
And its bitter memories
Casting out my sweet line
With abandonment and love
No ceiling bearin’ down on me
Save the starry sky above
With light in my head
You in my arms.”
– Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys

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FISHERMAN’S STEW with GREEN CHILE & COLLARDS 

recipe for 4-6 servings from Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes:
2 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
8 cups homemade fish stock (see below)
2 tsp sunflower oil (or substitute olive oil)
2 small sweet white onions, thinly sliced
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 oz hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, stemmed
1 fennel bulb, halved, cored, thinly sliced
1 tbsp kosher salt
3 tbsp Hatch or other green chile powder*
1 lb skinless sturgeon, carp, or catfish fillets cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 lb Manila clams (optional)
4 oz young collard greens, stemmed and torn
1/4 cup fish sauce
12 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced
1 lemon, halved
green onions, thinly sliced for garnish
fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
freshly ground black pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine 1 1/2 cups of the parsley leaves and 2 cups of the stock and puree until smooth. Set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the remaining stock to a simmer. Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat until a drop of water flicked on the surface sizzle gentles on contact. Add the sunflower oil to the saute pan and then immediately add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, fennel, and 1 tsp of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the chile powder and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the cooked vegetables to the simmering stock along with the fish pieces, collard greens, fish sauce, anchovies, and remaining salt. Simmer until the fish is cooked and the collards are tender, about 5 minutes. (Note that the carp and catfish are more delicate than sturgeon. They will fall apart if cooked for more than 5 minutes or stirred too vigorously) Stir in the pureed parsley mixture and remove from the heat. Ladle the stew into individual bowls. Tear the remaining parsley leaves directly into each serving. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to each bowl and garnish with green onions and black pepper. Leftover stew will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

*Instead of buying or making green chile powder, I halved 4 Hatch chiles, drizzled them with olive oil, and placed them under a broiler until nicely charred, then threw them into the blender along with the parsley.

FISH STOCK 

for 8 cups (2 liters):
3 sheets dried kombu
3 quarts water
2 lbs carp, sturgeon, or catfish trimmings and bones, rinsed and scaled
2 large sweet white onions, quartered
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped garlic

Trim small slits into the kombu with a pair of scissors to help it release flavor. In a large pot, combine the kombu and water and let soak until it starts to soften, about 2 hours. Add the fish trimmings and bones, onions, fennel, and garlic to the pot with the kombu, cover, and bring to a simmer. Maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the bones fall apart, about 1 hour. Remove the kombu and discord. Remove the pot from the heat and pass its contents through a heavy-duty food mill. Not everything will pass through the mill; discard any bones that get stuck. Alternatively, smash the solids with a large spoon while in the pot and press against them to extract as much flavor as possible. Pass the stock through a fine mesh sieve to remove small particles. If not using immediately, let cool at room temperature until lukewarm, about 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

SARDINIAN PARCHMENT BREAD & FENNEL ANCHOVY SPREAD

This little snack came together in fragments, beginning with a visit to the finest liquor store I’ve ever known — Mission Wine & Spirits in Pasadena. I was there in search of Amaro Nonino, a liqueur of grape distillate aged in barrels with mountain herbs (essentially aged, infused grappa). Enticing, right? True to Mission’s reputation, I found it, setting into motion my favorite pastime: pairing food with the drink you’re intent on having. The idea to make Sardinian parchment bread — “carta musica” (sheet music) — came about fortuitously while browsing a local deli. To go with it, I improvised a rustic spread made with caramelized fennel and anchovies. That’s how I welcomed Amaro into Mr. Alpenglow’s bar.

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SARDINIAN PARCHMENT BREAD
“carta musica”

recipe for about a dozen oblong breads:
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup fine semolina
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1 1/4 cups water, about
extra virgin olive oil, optional

Preheat the oven to 450F. In a large bowl combine the flours and salt and mix ingredients thoroughly. Slowly add water, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough (you many not need to add all the water). With your hands, work the dough into a ball. Place on a clean, floured work surface and knead for about one minute. The dough should be firm and pliable, not sticky. Divide the dough evenly into 12 balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface. Flatten each ball into a thick 4-inch pancake. Generously flour the work surface and with with a heavy-duty rolling pin roll each portion of the dough as thin as possible into an 8″ to 9″ round. These breads are meant to be roughly shaped. Thinness is more important than the shape. The dough should be thin enough to see your hand through it.

Place several rounds of dough on an ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with the olive oil, and place in the oven. Bake until the top of the bread is firm and lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Baking time will vary and will also depend on the number of breads placed in the oven. With tongs or your fingers, turn the bread over and bake until the other side is slightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes more. (The bread should be rather bumpy, puffy, and irregular, with occasional pockets full of air.) Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining rounds of dough. The bread cools quickly and can be served immediately.

FENNEL ANCHOVY SPREAD 

improvised recipe for about 2-3 cups:
extra virgin olive oil
3 medium-large fennel bulbs, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tin of fine anchovies
1 cup of walnut pieces, toasted
juice of 1 lemon, plus a bit more to taste
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
one bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Aleppo chili peppers, optional

In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of olive oil on medium-high flame. Add the fennel and saute until caramelized and softened. Transfer to a dish. Reheat more oil and saute the onions until caramelized and softened. Transfer the onions to the dish with the fennel. Reheat a bit more oil and add the garlic and anchovies, using a wooden spoon to break apart the anchovies in the oil. When the anchovies are nearly dissolved into the oil, add the caramelized fennel and onions back into the skillet with the toasted walnuts. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer half of this mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir the blended and unblended portions together and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and top with parsley and Aleppo chili.

FOLDING SHRIMP WONTONS WITH MY MOM

Tsim Chai Kee is just a few steps from Hong Kong’s Central Mid-levels escalator. Famous for Cantonese-style shrimp wontons with noodle soup, this joint has been designated by Michelin guide as “Bib Gourmand” — that is, “inspector’s favourite for good value.” Good value is an understatement. Of all the luxurious delicacies on offer across that aromatic isle, these wontons perpetually monopolize my affections. Last Sunday when Los Angeles was blanketed in rain and fog, I had to make them.

Since these wontons are accented with faint notes of ginger, white pepper, sesame and salt, the theme is 99% prawn — so get the freshest ones you can muster. Making wontons can be a chore. It’s customary to have helping hands on deck. As my mom and I folded (127, she counted, hers superior to mine), we recalled with laughter all the shapes and stories from wonton-making sessions over the years.

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SHRIMP WONTON SOUP 

recipe makes about 30 wontons, 4 servings:
350g medium-sized prawns, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
wonton wrappers (square)
8 cups Chinese chicken stock, below*
one bunch of watercress or bok choy

Dice the prawns, about 4-5 pieces per prawn. Add the white pepper, cornstarch, ginger, sugar, sesame oil, and salt. Use a wooden spoon to beat the shrimp mixture together. Cover the prawns and let them marinate in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes. To assemble your wontons, prepare a wonton “station”: wonton wrappers, a small bowl of cold water, the shrimp mixture along with a teaspoon, and a baking sheet lined with parchment. To form each wonton, spoon a teaspoon of the prawn mixture onto one wrapper. Dip your finger in the cold water and apply it against the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half (see below), pressing the edges closed. With the seam facing down, take the top two corners and bring them together, using water to make them adhere. Repeat with all the wrappers/shrimp.

Meanwhile bring a pot of water to a boil. In a separate pot, bring your chicken broth to a simmer and ensure that it is seasoned with salt and white pepper. Quickly blanch your vegetables until tender (eg. watercress) and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Place a few wontons in the boiling water for about 4 minutes. Transfer wontons to each bowl and add the blanched vegetables along with the hot chicken broth. Serve immediately.

*If you won’t be making Chinese chicken stock from scratch, simply bring canned chicken stock to a simmer with water, a few fresh ginger slices, green onions, and ground white pepper.

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CHINESE CHICKEN STOCK 

for about 2 liters of stock:
2-3 lbs chicken bones
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, diced
3 green onions
salt and white pepper to taste

Use a cleaver to chop the chicken bones into smaller pieces, about 2-3″ in size. Add the ginger and and green onions. Cover the bones with cold water, about 2 liters, and simmer for 2-3 hours. Strain several times to remove impurities. Cool and store for future use. Season with salt and white pepper as needed.

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SPARKLING COCKTAILS FOR A NEW YEAR

How is it that effervescent beverages are so winsome while effervescent humans are almost always distressing? (Don’t answer that.)

364 days a year, I wouldn’t dream of protesting if offered a glass of champagne. On the last day of the year, my mood changes. I don’t just want just bubbles. I want a more complex mixture — something fortified perhaps, or distilled, tart, even slightly bitter — topped with champagne. I want a sparkling cocktail.

I’d raise that cocktail with a suitably beguiling toast for the new year:
We must be still and still moving.”

photo (3)(clockwise from noon: French 75, Elder Fashion Royale, North by Northwest, Bittenbender, Boomin’ Granny)

All recipes below are from the magisterial book, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails:

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FRENCH 75
classic, well-balanced, overachieving

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
dry champagne
1 lemon twist for garnish

Shake all the ingredients (except the champagne) with ice, then strain into a flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with the lemon twist.

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ELDER FASHION ROYALE
understated, self-assured, sophisticated

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin
1/2 ounce St-Germain
1 dash orange bitters
dry champagne
1 grapefruit twist for garnish

Stir all the ingredients (except the champagne) over ice, then strain into a flute. Top with champagne. Garnish with the grapefruit twist.

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NORTH BY NORTHWEST
mysterious, brooding, iconoclastic

1 1/2 ounces Aviation gin
1/4 ounce absinthe
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
dry champagne

Shake all the ingredients (except the champagne) with ice, then strain into a flute. Top with champagne. No garnish.

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BITTENBENDER
complex, zesty, sexy 

4 raspberries
1 lemon twist
1 orange twist
2 ounces bourbon
3/4 ounce cacao nib-infused Campari*
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger syrup**
1 ounce dry champagne
1 lemon wheel for garnish

In a shaker, muddle the raspberries with the lemon and orange twists. Add the remaining ingredients (except the champagne) and shake with ice. Strain into a snifter over 1 large ice cube. Top with champagne. Garnish with the lemon wheel.
*Combine 3 tablespoons of cacao nibs with one 750-ml bottle of Campari and stir well. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.
**With about 24 ounces of ginger root, make 1/2 cup fresh ginger juice using a juice extractor or by finely grating fresh ginger, wrapping it in cheesecloth, and squeezing out the juice. Put the juice in a blender with 1 cup of superfine sugar and blend until the sugar is dissolved.

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BOOMIN’ GRANNY
wholesome, nostalgic, a little needy

1 1/2 ounces cognac
1 ounce fresh green (Granny Smith) apple juice*
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce honey syrup**
dry champagne
1 Granny Smith apple slice for garnish

Shake all the ingredients (except the champagne) with ice, then strain into a flute or coupe. Top with champagne. Garnish with the apple slice, dropped into the drink.
*I preferred to double the amount of green apple juice.
**In a bottle or other container with a tight lid, combine 2 cups of honey with 1 cup of warm water. Shake vigorously until the honey is dissolved.

LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH (PINE NUT ROSEMARY TART)

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PINE NUT ROSEMARY TART 

makes one 10″ tart, recipe from The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali:
sweet tart crust (see below)
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cup pine nuts
several sprigs of fresh rosemary for garnish*
granulated sugar for garnish 

On a floured surface, roll the tart dough into an 11″ circle 1/8″ thick. Transfer the dough to a 10″ tart pan with fluted sides and a removable bottom. It’s easiest to transfer by rolling the dough around the pin and then unrolling it into the pan. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan, then trim it so it is flush with the top of the pan. Chill the tart shell while you make the filling. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and position an oven rack in the center of oven.

To make the custard: Place the honey, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir to combine them. Add the butter, place the saucepan over med-high heat, and bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl; allow it to cool for 20 minutes. Whisk in heavy cream, followed by the egg and egg yolk.

Place the tart shell on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Distribute the pine nuts evenly over the bottom of the tart shell and pour the custard into the shell until it reaches the top of the crust. Bake for 30-55 minutes, or until both the crust and the filling have turned light golden brown and the custard is set but still jiggly. (Mine took the full 55 minutes.) Allow the tart to cool completely on a rack before carefully removing the sides of the pan. Serve the tart while still slightly warm, or cool it and serve at room temperature, garnished with the candied rosemary sprigs.

*To make the “candied” rosemary, dip a rosemary sprig in water and shake off excess. Sprinkle granulated sugar all over it and again shake off excess. Set aside to dry.

SWEET TART CRUST

makes one 10″ tart shell:
2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
freshly grated zest of 1 lemon or 1 small orange
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
a few drops ice water, if necessary

Place the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and citrus zest in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine the dry ingredients. Add all fo the cold, cubed butter to the bowl and pulse to process the mixture until it is sandy and there are no visible lumps of butter. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract, and heavy cream. Add the wet ingredients to the food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times, or until the dough comes together. If necessary, add some ice water, a few drops at a time, to make the dough come together. Remove the dough from the food processor and work it with your hands to even out any dry and wet spots. Form the dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling it out.

MOTHER’S RUIN PUNCH with BACON WRAPPED DATES

I can get a little heavy-handed around the holidays. Not about gifts, not about the nitty gritty of a recipe, not even about rampant fetishization of jolly patriarchal figures of dubious origin. I do, however, have certain dictums around the creation of conviviality.

One of these dictums concerns punch: For the sake of poetry, unalienable rights, and reason — make one. Make a punch and watch your guests open themselves to the exchange of unusual affection. Here is a punch that I like. (By all means, give it a less tragic name.)

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MOTHER’S RUIN PUNCH

 for 4-6 servings:
8 white sugar cubes
2 ounces club soda
4 ounces Plymouth gin
2 ounces cinnamon orange tea-infused sweet vermouth*
4 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
2 ounces fresh lemon juice
3 ounces dry sparkling wine
1-2 drops red food coloring (optional)
grapefruit and lemon wheels for garnish

 In a pitcher, muddle the sugar cubes with the club soda until the sugar is fully broken up. Add the remaining ingredients (except the sparkling wine) and fill the pitcher ¾ full with ice cubes. Stir until cold, then strain into a punch bowl over 1 large block of ice. Top with the sparkling wine and garnish with the grapefruit and lemon wheels.

*For the cinnamon orange tea-infused sweet vermouth: In a large container, combine 3 heaping tablespoons of cinnamon-orange tea (available at marketspice.com, or any comparable cinnamon tea substitute) and one 750-ml bottle of Martini sweet vermouth and stir well. Let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.

BACON WRAPPED DATES STUFFED with BLUE CHEESE  

for 24-30 appetizers:
1 pound dates, such as Medjool
1 pound thick sliced bacon, preferably applewood smoked
4 ounces blue cheese, such as Maytag
toothpicks

Preheat the oven to 375F. Slice the dates partially open to remove the pit. Pinch off a piece of blue cheese and place them into the center of the date, pressing them closed. Wrap a half slice of bacon firmly around each date, securing it with a toothpick. Arrange the bacon-wrapped dates in a baking dish (preferably with a wire rack to drain grease) and bake for 30-40 minutes until the bacon is crisp. Turn the dates once at around 20 minutes. Drain them, remove toothpicks, and serve immediately.

STICKY DATE CAKE with TOFFEE SAUCE & WHIPPED CREAM

THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.
THIS IS THE CAKE YOU NEED TO MAKE FOR CHRISTMAS.

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STICKY DATE CAKE with TOFFEE SAUCE & WHIPPED CREAM

for the date cake, recipe from Sunday Suppers:
1 pound dried dates, pitted and finely chopped
2 ¼ cups water
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
whipped cream, for serving

 for the toffee sauce:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Place the dates in a heatproof bowl. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan and pour it over the dates. Stir in the baking soda, cover the bowl, and set aside to allow the dates to absorb the water, about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 10-inch square baking pan or a similarly sized circle cake pan. Puree the date mixture in a food processor until smooth. In a large bowl, combine the melted butter and both sugars. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the flour and the date puree. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake should be moist and a little sticky when a toothpick is inserted into the center. The top should be a deep brown color. Let cool before removing from pan.

To make the sauce, combine the butter, cream, brown sugar, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Whisk over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens. Remove the warm cake from the pan and pour toffee sauce over it, or cut the warm cake into squares or slices and spoon toffee sauce generously over each serving. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

CRAB & LEEK HUSHPUPPIES / OYSTERS / TANGERINE MIMOSAS

Curators are my tribe.

You know the people I’m talking about — they’re incessantly choosing, arranging, rearranging. Always scrutinizing, editing, unsatisfied. They do it in the realm of material culture, the mind, even human relations. When they’re “in the zone,” you’re just a spectator. Curators are sometimes a huge pain to be around.

Brunch is totally a curator’s paradise. Tradition lounges in the wings and there’s plenty of room for appetite’s eccentric dance. Here’s my little jig:

TANGERINE MIMOSAS

CRAB & LEEK HUSHPUPPIES, GREEN GODDESS SAUCE

OYSTERS, GREEN APPLE JUICE, CHILE, PINK PEPPERCORN

SOFT SCRAMBLED EGGS

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CRAB & LEEK HUSHPUPPIES with GREEN GODDESS SAUCE   

recipe for 8 servings (32 hushpuppies) from Sean Brock’s Heritage:
1/2 pound leeks (or wild ramps), cleaned and green parts only
2 cups self-rising flour
2 cups cornmeal, such as Anson Mills
1 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup small dice sweet onion or shallot
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/4 cup rendered fresh lard, melted, or vegetable shortening
canola oil for frying
1 1/2 cups fresh crabmeat, such as blue crab
Green Goddess dressing (below)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a bowl with equal parts ice and water. Place a steamer basket over the water and steam the leeks over the water, cover, and steam until softened and bright green. Remove the steamed leeks to an ice bath until completely cold. Drain and shake off any water, then dry with paper towels. Thinly slice the leeks.

Combine the self-rising flour, cornmeal, all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, white pepper, baking soda, and baking powder in a large bowl and whisk well. Mix in the onion and some of the chopped leeks (use your judgment as to what proportion of leeks to batter you prefer). Lightly beat the eggs and whisk in the milk, buttermilk, and lard. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Heat 2-3 inches of canola oil in a large high-rimmed pot and heat to 350F. While the oil is heating, blend the remaining leeks in a blender on high and add the pureed leeks to the batter. Then fold in the fresh crabmeat. The batter should be scoopable. If the batter is too moist, add all-purpose flour. If too dry, add buttermilk. Place one scoop of the batter into the hot oil to test the consistency and shape. When it turns golden brown, transfer the hushpuppy to a wire rack or paper towel-lined platter. Continue frying the hushpuppies, placing scoops of batter into the hot oil without crowding the hushpuppies. Transfer the hushpuppies to your baking sheets and bake for 4-5 minutes to ensure that the hushpuppies are cooked through. Drain the hushpuppies on a paper towel then serve immediately with the green goddess sauce.

GREEN GODDESS SAUCE

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1-2  anchovy filtets (optional)
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

In a blender or food processor, puree all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to use. Serve at room temperature.

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OYSTERS with GREEN APPLE JUICE, CHILE & PINK PEPPERCORN

a dozen freshly shucked oysters
1-2 green apples, juiced
2 slender serrano peppers, thinly sliced
pink peppercorns, crushed

Place the shucked oysters on ice. Place a dab of foam from the green apple juice on each oyster along with a slice of the serrano pepper and some of the crushed pink peppercorn. Serve immediately.

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