Monthly Archives: December 2011

Raising a glass to the New Year

So here we are.  The last week of 2011.  Seven days until January.

It’s the end of Dare to Eat a Peach’s first year.  If this blog were a person, it would already be toddling and talking and pulling boxes off grocery store shelves when the grown-ups aren’t looking.  I’m oddly fond of this little internet creature I’ve birthed–through it, I’ve managed to be more creative, in a different way, than I’d been in a long time.  For a first-year adventure, it’s been a good one.

It hasn’t been the easiest year.  My family has gone through some unexpected challenges, and I’ve lost a fair amount of ground in taking care of my own health.  But I’m also on much more solid ground than I was this time last year; after many years of self-image struggles, I’m finally feeling at home in my own skin. So my efforts to buckle down on my health are actually going to stick this year.  It’s not a question of wobbly resolutions, but quiet jaw-set determination.  2012 is looking up already.

So this week is going to be my time to recharge and gear up.  I’m letting my creative muscles relax a little bit, and returning to some comfy kitchen favorites.  Last night I made a batch of these for my friends; later in this week, I’ll probably make a couple of these for dinner, and maybe try a new spin on this for lunch one day.  And then, on New Year’s Eve, I’ll whip up one of my grandmother’s favorite cocktails–champagne, Grand Marnier, a lime wedge, an ice cube–and toast to a sweeter and more sparkling 2012.

See you on the other side!

French Connection (makes one drink)

Courtesy of my grandmother Marilyn

Grab a champagne flute, and drop in an ice cube and a lime wedge.  Pour in an ounce of Grand Marnier, then top off the flute with champagne.  This was the first cocktail I ever tasted, and it’s still my favorite way to ring in the New Year.

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Chinese for Christmas: beef with broccoli

In honor of Christmas, here’s a cheesy joke:

A Jewish guy and a Chinese guy sit next to each other at (where else?) a bar. After a couple of drinks, they begin arguing over whose civilization is the greater and more venerable. The Chinese guy says, “My people have been around for four thousand years!” The Jewish guy retorts, “Oh, yeah? Well, my people have been around for five thousand years!”

“Really?” says the Chinese guy. “What did they eat for the first thousand years?”

For folks like me, eating Chinese food on Christmas is a storied tradition, as American as apple pie and just about as beloved. It’s simple, really: Chinese restaurants are usually the only ones open on Christmas–both Eve and Day–and so that’s where all the hungry Jews ended up.

So, as this toddling food blog celebrates its first holiday season, I’m instituting that tradition here. Chinese food for Christmas. It shall be so.

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Saffron-marzipan buns

One of the things I love most about keeping this blog is the conversations it sparks with people I’ve never met. There are so many people out in the wooly wilds of the internet who are just as passionate about food as I am, and swapping ideas with them is nothing short of intoxicating.

Veronika was the first person to comment on my blog who wasn’t already a friend of mine (and therefore obligated to be nice to me). We started commenting back and forth on each other’s blogs, and now I feel like I know her a bit. I so enjoy reading her blog, Eat The Roses, because she pulls no punches–body image, indiscriminate “liking” of blog posts, brussels sprouts, pizza, are all treated with the same honesty and straightforwardness. Plus, she’s constantly tickling my creative-cooking nerve with recipes for beautiful foods I’ve never seen before.

Like lusekatter, or St. Lucia buns. I’d never heard of them before, but I knew I had to try them–and holy mackerel are they tasty.

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Shortbread cookies

Disclaimer: I have been on an epic sweets-making bender for the past week. The next few posts here are going to be devoted to cookies and candies. I hope you don’t mind too much.

I’ll start with something on the savory side of sweet: rosemary shortbread cookies. I got a packet of them as a party favor from my office’s holiday shindig last week, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.

I don’t celebrate Christmas, but these seem like the perfect Christmas cookie: salty-sweet and tinted with honey, fragrant in a way that reminds me of evergreen trees. They’re sturdy enough to be packaged as gifts, but sophisticated enough that you’re bound to really impress someone. I love these little guys.

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Cacio e pepe

Whenever I read another food blogger’s take on cacio e pepe–that is, spaghetti with cheese and black pepper–the rhythm is always the same.  It’s always about how sometimes the simplest dish is the best measure of a cook’s ability.  It’s about how the simplicity of the sauce lets you taste the pasta more fully.  It’s about how the simple ingredients and simple preparation combine to make a lovely, thoroughly Italian plate of pasta.

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is a simple dish.

It’s also, at least in my world, the classic example of a sometimes food: a little guilt-inducing, best taken in small doses.

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Scallops with ginger cucumber salad

So here’s a food thing I made a while back, when there was still a little warmth left in the weather.  On the face of it, it’s a fussy little thing, insubstantial and odd: spicy cucumber salad with seared scallops on top.  But for lunch on a sunny and not-scorching day, it’s pretty terrific.

I realize that now is not the traditional time for light, sprightly, small-portion salad meals.  But in a season of indulgence, this is the kind of dish that cuts right through the heft and the guilt–ginger and jalapeno and sesame and soy, plus a cushion of golden-crowned scallops on top.

Nothing like what you’ve probably been eating.

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Homemade celery salt

Wow. I was not expecting such a visceral response to that last post. I thought I was just being self-indulgent and navel-gazey, but I guess my little moment of victory resonated more than I knew. Thanks so much to everyone who shared their experiences. You are all amazing, and I love you dearly.

I’m afraid to follow that up with a letdown, so let’s go for utter simplicity here.

I made some celery salt last week. It’s pretty nifty.

If you’re like me and can’t bring yourself to eat celery leaves, this is a terrific way to use them up. If you’re like most of the kitchen-inclined world and hate having to buy a whole head of celery for a recipe that only uses one stalk, this will help you feel like you’re getting a little more value out of your purchase. Plus, if you’re going for the “Look what I did!” factor, this is pretty far up there. It tastes like celery–it smells like celery–only even more pungent and grassy and bright. A little of this goes a long way.

Is making your own celery salt going to change your life? No. But I’ve had enough life-changing moments for a little while, I think. This is just a little kitchen fun.

Celery Salt

Adapted, barely, from 101 Cookbooks

1 head’s worth of celery leaves, picked clean from the stalks

About 1 cup flaky sea salt*

*Flaky sea salt can get pricey, so I used regular sea salt. The results are all right, but I feel like my celery salt is merely reaching for greatness. I suspect the fancy flaky stuff is the key to really getting there.

Wash and thoroughly dry the celery leaves thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 350º F and toast the leaves on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, just until they start to get toasty around the edges.

Remove the baked celery leaves from the oven and let cool completely. Some of the leaves won’t dry completely; feel free to discard them.

Using a sharp knife, chop the dried celery leaves into pieces about the same size as the grains of salt you’re using. Toss with the salt until thoroughly combined, and store in an airtight container. Use any time you want to add a little extra savory depth to whatever you’re cooking.

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