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twelve months of two bites

recap one

Every holiday season we get together with some of our extended family, people who, more often than not, we see only once a year. Conversation is the catch-up kind. And while the details of the recent months are still vivid and easily recalled – and I know everyone wants to hear about how to navigate a successful (read champagne included) intermission at the Kennedy Center – months long-since past are, well, fuzzy. Sure, a few things stand out: an epically stunted start to a trip abroad; sleep lost and never regained during stressful weeks at work; the feeling of peace one finds on the shores of a lake in northern Norway. But the details, the nuances of the year, have faded away. So what was intended to be a simple compilation of this past year’s posts, turned into a serious memory jump-start, and included more than a few pleasant surprises. Celebrations that had dimmed a bit, recipes tried, trips taken, seasons enjoyed, and fun had. All in all, it might have been a long year, but it was a good one. If 2013 is anything like it, I can hardly complain. Here’s wishing you a joyous – and delicious – new year!

Looking back at 2012 -

We kicked off the year as part of the party at Rogue 24. And we learned a thing or two from Frankie upstairs at the Gibson. With February came a fireside obsession at the Inn at Perry Cabin. I decided to get into the Valentine’s Day spirit with some cake love while Ken indulged his love of duck confit in the best way possible. (pictures above)

recap two

Come spring friends indulged my entertaining whims with an afternoon soiree and we were lucky enough to enjoy a meal at home with Sidra. Perhaps it was a winter’s worth of indulgent meals, but we were also feeling the need to lighten things up a bit. So out came the spinach for breakfast. But Ken, crafty as he is, snuck in some cheese-stuffed roasted dates. True, I wasn’t complaining.

recap three

A long-anticipated trip to Charleston, SC, arrived in April, as did our excuse to indulge at Husk and Bin 152 all in the same day. As summer set in in the city, so did the picnics on the patio. To battle the hazy, hot summer days we did what anyone else would do – tossed together some summer cocktails and cooled down our coffee with cardamom affogato. Weekend trips brought us together with friends over tables at Whitehall, Sarabeth’s, not to mention some hometown brunch time at Boqueria. And excitement for food-related innovations in the city brought out some DC love.

recap four

And while the trip lasted no more than a week, we did our fair share of eating while on holiday in Rome and London. We discovered that muddling our way through Italian was well worth it if the reward was dinner at al Moro. And while reconnecting with old friends in London – and following recommendations from new ones – we covered some delicious and low-key culinary ground at La Fromagerie, the Grazing Goat, Ducksoup, and Canteen.

recap five

We squeezed some adventure into the final months of summer. While Ken thought the trip would be all work he was surprised by some delights in Israel, including the at-home restaurant Spoons and a vineyard set in the precarious lands of the Golan Heights. I ventured north of the arctic circle for the most activity-packed three and a half days I’ve ever had, but trading sleep for learning how to forage for mushrooms and catch fish for breakfast is always a good idea. But we learned that we don’t have to travel to such far-flung locations to enjoy a bit of adventure. Sometimes it comes to you: sharing tiny urban kitchens and staying out of the way of friends with sharp knives; a new food hall crammed to overflowing on opening day; or a night spent Outstanding in the Field.

recap six

No sooner had Labor Day arrived and I was ready to jump into autumn. Give us some cooler weather and fall celebrations and we’re ready for some comfort food: apple spice cake, lamb ragu, and the simplest chocolate mousse around. A pre-Thanksgiving gathering of friends started off the chain of celebrations in November and December. Pies dominated, as usual, at Thanksgiving and we revisited some old favorites for the holiday: reindeer gingerbread and bacon puree anyone?

Not together. Obviously.

Happy 2013 friends!

bacon puree – part two

two bites at a time

bases waiting for the puree

If one were to go by search terms alone, it would be safe to assume that we – that is the royal we – have an obsession with bacon. “Bacon puree,” “how to puree bacon,” “bacon whipped cream,” “bacon infused cream.” Those are just four of no less than twenty-five bacon searches that have brought folks to two bites at a time. On the back end of this blog our server (quite handily) tracks the search terms that bring readers to our site. Bacon puree is #2. Of all time. I think it is safe to qualify it as an obsession. And while I love that slightly more random searches bring folks here – “emotion happy” and “deep-seated Anglomania” among them -  I thought we should chat about the bacon. I’m going to be an enabler. So here we are, revisiting one of our very first posts: whipping up bacon puree.

Armed with the knowledge of its popularity, I set about crafting a follow up post for all the fans of bacon puree – starting with me. Since my last undertaking required many attempts and resembled a [very rough] test kitchen, I was hoping this time would be more straight forward – just follow the recipe and go. So I dutifully diced and cooked the bacon, drained it, poured off the fat, deglazed the pan with some cream, and put the cooked bacon in the cream. For good measure I also added the small amount of cream that I used to deglaze the pan. The resulting liquid appeared quite thick, but I was undeterred. I set the bacon and cream in the fridge and let it steep overnight.

two bites at a time bacon puree

corn bread, bleu cheese, and bacon puree – a perfect bite

When I returned the next day, however, I found the cream and bacon mixture to be practically solid. I was able to pick the bacon out of the thick cream, but that took a long time and I would not recommend it for habitual use. The flavor was absolutely amazing though, and by the time I had separated the bacon, added a little whole milk to loosen it up a bit, and got it in the whipper, it was perfect. It was so similar to what I remember from my first encounter with bacon puree at Restaurant Eve.

But how to solve the problem of the cream solidifying overnight? I thought that the cream I used to deglaze the pan had picked up too much bacon fat and caused the base to thicken in the fridge. But I picked up so much bacon flavor with that step that I couldn’t justify skipping it. So, to get the best of both worlds, keep the cream used to deglaze the pan in a separate container overnight and only add it to the bacon-steeped cream after the bacon is removed. If the cream is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of whole milk to help loosen it up. And you’re ready to whip.

bacon puree

sweet bases help to balance out the saltiness of the bacon – fruit and sweet breads. here we served on pear.

So here is my slightly revised version of my original recipe for that all-time two bites favorite bacon puree.

Bacon Puree Recipe

1 lb good quality bacon, diced

16 oz heavy cream, divided

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 tsp salt, depending on saltiness of your bacon and to taste

1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until well browned. Remove bacon to paper-towel lined plate to drain, pour off bacon fat, and deglaze pan with small amount of cream. Pour cream used to deglaze pan into a small container. Pour the rest into a large container and add bacon and seal. Place in refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

2. After the bacon has steeped, skim off any fat that has collected on the top and strain cream into a large bowl, discarding bacon. Combine the  two containers of cream and add milk, a tablespoon at a time, to loosen up and allow the cream to whip. Taste the cream and add salt, but since the saltiness of different types of bacon may vary, add as much or as little as necessary to bring out the full flavor. Add cream to the gas-whipper and follow instructions for your particular device.

add orange juice and bubbly to that shopping list

gingerbread cookies

You’ve experienced one. A conversation in which you realize that, about half way through, the other person has stopped listening. You’ve been uttering words that you thought quite important – worth hearing, at the very least – and they have, well, zoned you out. So you stop talking. Silence settles and it is typically then that your companion’s eyes re-focus. They shift their head slightly realizing that the ambient noise – or your voice, as you think of it – has died. They look at you a bit sheepishly. And you know it isn’t even worth asking the question “did you hear anything I just said?”.

Well, when baking, I am that other person. Beat butter and sugar. Dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another. Pan into oven. Rotate pan. Pan out of oven. Cool cookies. Ice cookies. Don’t break cookies. Those are the words running on a constant loop in my head; others not welcome. When elbow deep in dough there are only a few words you can utter that will really catch my attention; “oven,” “fire,” and “oh shit”  quickly come to mind. But that is a pretty tragic conversation, particularly for a pastime that can consume hour after hour after consecutive hour. But a friend of mine has landed on a solution: two bakers, one kitchen, and several mimosas.

gingerbread cookies

my baking companion putting on her final touches

gingerbread cookies

When I stopped mid-sentence to explain to the kitchen timer that, yes, I heard it, it could stop beeping now, she barely noticed. When she waved me from the kitchen so we didn’t collide over hot cookie sheets, I just sat down and took another sip. Pause all conversation to cram both of our heads in the space in front of the oven, peeking at its contents? Absolutely and without complaint. Hours of catch-up, cocktails, and a vast array of cookies; can’t say that is a bad way to spend a December afternoon.

Keeping to the theme of collaboration, here’s one of the recipes cooked up that day. It has lived in my mother’s kitchen cabinet for years. In hard copy. She didn’t type it up and email it to me. Or scan it. She read it to me over the phone. See, baking isn’t so isolating after all.

reindeer gingerbread

gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread cookies, adapted from a 1979 issue of Better Homes & Gardens

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup light molasses
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (from that orange you just zested)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1. Cream butter and sugar in a standing mixer. Add egg and beat until the batter is light and fluffy.

2. Add molasses, orange zest, orange juice. Mix well.

3. In a separate bowl mix all dry ingredients: salt, flours, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and clove.

4. Gradually add dry ingredients to liquid ingredients, mixing well to ensure fully incorporated.

5. Turn out dough and divide it into two disks. Wrap disks in waxed paper and chill in fridge overnight.

6. When ready to bake heat oven to 375 degrees.

7. Lightly flour counter or pastry cloth and roll out dough until 1/8-inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.

8. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack and let cool fully before decorating.

If you want to use a royal icing for decoration (like seen here) check out this post from last holiday season.

gingerbread cookies

eleven months, twenty-nine days

thanksgiving two bites at a time

Eleven months, twenty-nine days. It is possible that Ken has already started the countdown – to Thanksgiving 2013. Forget Christmas. Never mind birthdays. 4th of July has a lot going for it, festive fireworks toping the list, but it pales in comparison to the palpable enthusiasm and excitement that Thanksgiving elicits in our house. If you want to see someone take a holiday seriously, you needn’t look further than our kitchen the night before Thanksgiving. The gravy has started its two-day cooking process. The turkey is several stops into its circuitous route from butcher to oven. Yes, ok, I play my part in the episode, but Ken is the headliner. He is the organizer, the author of the to do list, the orchestrator that gets all of the dishes to the table, on time, at the same time, cooked just the way you like them. In the final hours that stand between Ken and his favorite meal of the year, if you want into that kitchen you had better ask permission. And keep a safe distance from his carving knife.

But as a year now stands between us and our next turkey fest, we’re taking a moment to reflect on a few lessons that we hope will carry us through. Good thing we have a bit of time to put them to the test.

1. When someone asks the question “should we triple the mashed potato recipe?” the answer is always “yes”.

2. Ken is correct: if accounted for properly one can always find time for football.

3. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that adding Grand Marnier to whipped cream is a bad idea. It isn’t.

4. You like the leftovers more than real thing? Feel no shame. No shame at all.

5. Friends and family – whether or not they come bearing wine – are always welcome at the table. It’s no fun eating alone.

Here’s hoping you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

the cry for pie

two bites at a time

When it comes to dessert I am an equal opportunity type of gal. Layered cakes, frosted cookies, airy macarons, gooey caramels, truffled chocolates, even sticky toffee puddings; I’m rarely one to turn a good sweet away from the table. And the options are prolific, as my bookshelf laden with dessert-only cookbooks can attest.

But this week, more than any other time of year, one – and only one – treat dominates. Yup, you got it. Pie.

A few Thanksgivings ago I tried to convince my family that we should try something other than pie for dessert. Now, before you protest, I wasn’t suggesting that we go completely off-script. Pumpkin was involved, as were classically autumnal spices. They just came together in the form of a cheesecake, rather than a pie. And perhaps brandied pears were bandied about as potential garnish. All in all I thought it was a good sell. I was, however, wrong. I had no takers. Instead the cry was for pie.

apple galette with red wine & orange

And I don’t blame them. Flaky crust and soft, sweat fillings. Rarely can you go wrong. But sometimes you want something a little different, a variation on theme. Feeling a similar inclination? Here are two options which play on a classic: apple pies with a twist.

First up you need some crust. Yes, you can buy it at the store and it will work just fine. Looking for a low-stress approach to either of these recipes, purchased crust is a pretty good way to go. That said, a homemade crust can be put together surprisingly fast. You just need to plan ahead a bit, to give your crust the night to chill in the fridge. This crust recipe came from my grandmother. And it works every, single time.

Pie Crust:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 9 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
  • 4 ½ tablespoons cold water, measured out and held in a small liquid measuring cup

1. Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a bowl. Stir briefly with fork.

2. Add butter, breaking up pieces as you go. Using your fingers crumble the butter into the dry ingredients. Continue breaking up the butter until the mixture is the consistency of coarse sand.

3. Using your finger create a small well in the middle of the mixture. Pour in one-third of the cold water. Mix together with your finger until water is absorbed. Continue adding remaining water in the same manner until dough comes together easily, but isn’t too wet. You won’t necessarily need all of the water. If you squeeze the dough together and it easily forms a ball without sticking to your hands then you’ve incorporated enough water.

4. Pat dough into round disk and wrap in wax paper. Store in fridge overnight. (Yes, really, overnight. Dough requires patience and time to chill out.)

mini apple hand pies

Apple Tart with Red Wine & Orange (adapted from Saveur) – this is a free-form galette, beautiful and easy to assemble:

  • 1 pie crust
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups red wine
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced thinly
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Zest from one orange
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

1. Bring sugar, wine, cinnamon, apples, salt, and orange zest to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.

2. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until wine is reduced to a syrup, approximately 30 minutes. Let cool.

3. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Transfer pie dough to floured surface; roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Transfer dough to 12-inch tart pan with removable bottom (this is just going to provide a non-stick surface for your galette and an easy way to move to and from the oven). Gently lay the dough in the tart pan; no need to press it into place.

4. Pour the apple-wine mixture into the center of the dough, creating an even layer. Leave two inches of dough clear around the perimeter. Wrap the extra dough up over the edge of the apple filling. Top with decorative pieces of dough. Brush gently with egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake until golden brown, 25-30 minutes.

mini apple pies to go

Mini Apple Hand-Pies – Love your apple pie so much you want to take it on the go? This one is for you.

  • 1 pie crust
  • Your favorite apple pie filling (or the one above)
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • Cinnamon & sugar

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Roll out crust & cut with 4-inch round cookie or biscuit cutter. Cut an even number of disks.

3. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place disks of dough on cookie sheet and put in fridge while you prepare your filling.

4. Once your filling is assembled remove crust from fridge and, with your hands, gently work dough, thinning slightly while keeping the circular shape.

5. Place filling inside dough disk, leaving 1/2-inch of dough clear around the perimeter. Top with second piece of dough, pressing the two pieces of dough together around edges. Crimp with the tines of a fork. Brush lightly with egg white and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Bake until golden brown, 15- 20 minutes.

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