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Archive for the ‘holidays’ Category

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Growing up, occasionally my mom would buy a plastic tub of soft cheese spread as a treat. Once in a while it was a cheeseball or log, rolled in chopped almonds or pecans, but mostly it was just a clear plastic tub that I would dip crackers directly into. This method was rarely successful and I’d often leave a trail of cracker debris in the container and someone would yell at me. But I continued to do it anyway, too lazy to get a knife and a proper plate I suppose. There were a few flavors as I recall, cheddar certainly and maybe something called “Swiss almond” but my favorite was a pastel pink and orange swirled concoction known as “port wine cheese spread.” I didn’t even know what port wine was until many years later, but damn I loved that stuff. It seemed very adult and sophisticated to my young mind, like the Daiquiri Ice at Baskin Robbins.

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Retro old school appetizers, for the most part, are perfect. Rumaki, that delicious little bite of salty brown sugar glazed bacon wrapped around a bit of water chestnut and chicken liver? They were a requirement at my parents’ parties when I was a kid and I ate as many as I could steal. Green olives wrapped in a cheddar dough and baked until crispy? Delightful. How about meatballs or little Vienna sausages swimming in a sea of those ‘70’s classics, chili sauce and grape jelly? Sounds hideous, I know, but I’m also certain you were the one boxing out the crockpot, fishing around with a toothpick hoping to score that last delectable, caramelized piece. And then there’s baked Brie. Does anything epitomize the ‘80’s more than a golden pastry encased round of gooey cheese? I think not. I also don’t think it should stay stuck in the ’80’s. Holiday party season is here, let’s bring that baby back

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I don’t drink much Guinness these days, which is a shame, but I have a deep, fond love for the stuff. It goes back to my college days when, tired of watered down $2 pitchers of Coors Light, my friends and I would save our pennies and splurge once in a while on Guinness pints or Black & Tan’s at our local Irish Pub. We’d eat bowls and bowls of free pretzels, play really bad games of darts and coerce Colin the bartender to do handstand push-ups on the bar. I loved that place far more than the cheaper pitcher joint packed with the pretty people. Quirky neighborhood joints with interesting clientele have always been more my thing.

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I’ve often wondered about Brown Bread Ice Cream. What was it? Who puts bread in ice cream? In my mind, it was a major disconnect. Bread + Ice Cream = Huh? During my research into Irish recipes, this one came up several times yet I’ve never tasted, much less made it. Why would you do such a thing? Cookies yes, but bread? Brown wheat bread? But you know I was intrigued. My friend Meg once made an amazing ice cream with popcorn so how different could this be? I recalled a post David Lebovitz, the ice cream king, did a few years ago so I thought I’d start there. And you know what? It was really good and what better time than around St. Patrick’s Day to try this one out?

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Around this time every year, I try to come up with a creative spin on Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day beyond the standard corned beef and cabbage or things tinted green or soaked with Bailey’s. I think the food of the Emerald Isle, like much of the UK, gets a bad rap. It’s the same situation everywhere: you get the good and you get the bad and I’ve had some phenomenal meals in Ireland. I’ve also had a few wretched ones. Whatever. In researching traditional Irish food, a few things come up repeatedly:  boxty, colcannon, soda bread. I had heard of someplace – in Southern California maybe? – that was doing boxty as a sort of potato pancake-crepe hybrid with various hearty fillings, and the thought stuck with me. Since I’ve had boxty exactly zero times, it’s been on my list to try for some time. But things are funny.  Sometimes what starts out as one thing, turns into something else as wonderful discoveries are made along the way.  And while this started out as an experiment in boxty, it was the filling that took me by surprise. Go figure.

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Linzertorte was one of those things that made me immensely happy in culinary school. I was tickled to finally be making all those old-school European pastries I’d pined for as a kid pouring over my mother’s cookbooks: Dobos Torte, Marjolaine, Opera Torte, Sacher Torte and yes, the linzer. Making my own, following the exacting instructions of a classically inclined chef, made me feel good about my seemingly off-the-cuff career change, from marketing to pastry. It also cemented a particular mindset I’d started to develop regarding classic pastries. Riffs and adaptations are welcome but one must know the classic, the original, first.  You have to know history before you can rewrite it.  With many things of this nature, I am a traditionalist and when it comes to linzer, I have a very defined set of parameters.

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Oh Valentine’s Day.  So much pressure, so many expectations, often so many disappointments. Falling on a Friday this year, I think it’s heightened even more. Good luck getting a reservation and with the weather lately, who knows what will happen. Slipping through icy streets to pack into a crowded restaurant with others working hard to enjoy themselves? Doesn’t sound too appealing to me. Here’s a thought:  stay in, watch a good movie, drink champagne and eat a lot of chocolate. Preferably in liquid form. Sounds good doesn’t it?

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