Monday, December 17, 2007

Cheers!


Season's greetings, holiday hellos, warm wishes and other yuletide pleasantries. I've been doing my best to enjoy the season, rather than sweat it, but my efforts at seasonal celebration are reflected by my shameful silence here in bloggerland. I can assure you I've been making plenty of noise in real life, however--whopping it up, singing seasonal songs, tooting horns, blah de blah. So, here's my summation of the month in review: Since we've spoken last, I've gorged myself in a marathon Thanksgiving ritual; attended a restaurant opening; joined the effort to pass an initiative preventing cruelty to farm animals; baked the lightest, dreamiest chocolate shortbread cookies ever; decided to learn French (oui, oui!), received an exciting new cookbook by my favorite doyenne of deliciousness, Nigella; committed to finally read Anna Karenina since it is widely regarded as The Greatest Novel Ever Written (even though I reserve that title for Lolita); attended a white elephant party that takes the prize for craziest event in recent memory (high point: won a bottle of Cutty Sark. Low point: got dosed with Spanish Fly by mischievous partygoers and found results to be far from those stated on the package). Whew. I've been a busy little elf.

In any case, all of the above events are unrelated, so I'll elaborate on each, but will issue an apology in advance for absence of graceful transitions and abundance of nonsequiturs.

So, first Thanksgiving. This was the year for a feast to end all feasts. Turkey, ham, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, cauliflower in cheese sauce, fruit and nut stuffing, polenta and mushroom stuffing, cranberry dressing, pumpkin pie, apple pie, raspberry trifle, cheeses and fruit and salmon, oh my! Anyway, you get the picture. It was decadence defined. This is me putting the finishing touches (meyer lemon creme fraiche and capers) on the salmon blinis. Mind you, this photo was taken in the morning, when we were still nibbling modestly, sipping cucumber water and deluding ourselves about the all-out eating orgy that was soon to follow. I am certain later photos would reveal a bloated face, loosened belt and eyes on the half-lid, but thankfully, any aspiring photogs were, by then, too lethargic to lift their lenses. Thankfully.

In other eating news, I was thrilled to attend the opening (and to return once since) to the new restaurant Serpentine, where our pal Chris Kronner (Slow Club, Town Hall) is the Executive Chef. It is, as Daily Candy reported in one of its overly-ambitious theme pieces (this restaurant rocks, it's named after a rock, we like cocktails on the rocks) delicious. And despite DC's rocky attempts at wordplay, Serpentine does in fact rock. Everything I tasted was scrummy, with a special shout out for the savory bread pudding. It's an herby, eggy wonder, light as a souffle, yet heavy on flavor. And my mother-in-law couldn't stop raving about her cocktail, Monice's Shrine, an elegant combination of gin, grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur and sparkling wine (though she opted to swap the gin for vodka). And if the opening week crowds were any indication, you'll want to get there early and secure a spot at the bar as they don't take reservations.

Next on my agenda is an announcement about this cause, which is an effort to improve the quality of life for farm animals and prevent unnecessary cruelty to these critters while they're being raised. I won't get on a soapbox about it, but I will invite you to look at the site and encourage you to help gather signatures from friends and family if you'd like to help get this initiative on the ballot. And to all you cynics and naysayers, yes I still eat meat (selectively), but that doesn't mean I think animals should be kept in torturous conditions while they're being raised. Nuff said.

Now let's away to more pleasant pastures, like those in cookieville. Many of you must remember Stars, the San Francisco restaurant that was ever-so-popular in the early '90s. For years, I've recalled a cocoa confection they served in the form of light-as-air chocolate shortbread cookies and wished I could recreate their delicate flavor and texture. So you can imagine how pleased I was when a friend's mother unearthed the Stars cookbook and passed along the recipe. Now it's important to note that the resto version instructs you to spread the cookies with a mascarpone filling and make something like refined OREO sandwiches, but I love these crispy nibbles all on their own, piped with festive fondant icing.


The recipe is as follows:

Chocolate Shortbread "Stareos"

Ingredients (I doubled this to make a big ole batch):

8 oz cold sweet butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c, flour
pinch salt
1/2 c. best quality cocoa powder, sifted

Process:

To make the chocolate shortbread, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed for 15 seconds, using the paddle attachment. Add the flour, salt and cocoa powder and continue mixing on low speed for 3-5 minutes, until the dough comes together. It will look dry just before it comes together. Place the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper and roll out to 1/4" thick. Place in freezer to firm up before cutting. Chill them for maybe 20 minutes. The recipe says to do so for an hour, but I found that made my dough come out too hard and I had to defrost it before using, so....use your best judgement. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper and place cookie cutouts on sheet so they are not touching one another. Bake shortbread for approx 1 hour until firm (mine ended up taking a bit longer). Remove cookies, let them cool and decorate them with icing and sprinkles of choice. I used a fine tipped fondant writer from Sur la Table and loved how easy it was to make intricate designs. Enjoy!

In other sweet news, my sis-in-law just gifted me with Nigella Express, a cookbook devoted to delicious creations, easily assembled in short time spans. I read it before bed last night (her cookbooks are as fun to read as they are to bake from) and I've set my sights on a winter pudding in egg nog cream. Standby for a result report in the coming week.

Away from the stomach and onto the brain for a moment, the ambitious twin decisions to learn French and read Anna Karenina came about as a means to better balance the amount of free time devoted to Project Runway and Real Housewives of Orange County. A little mental nutrition to counter the junk I binge on, you might say.

And lastly, a warning: should you decide to attend any white elephant gift parties at which punky pranksters proffer gift baskets including porn movies, adult toys and powder packets of "Spanish Fly" and "Horny Toad", one should closely monitor one's cocktail glass should said pranksters decide to make mischief by spiking ladies' beverages with the intent to incite an amorous riot of randy ladies. I can personally vouch that said powder packets should be renamed Spanish Hurl and Barfy Toad. A less-than-pleasant note on which to close, but an important holiday warning for those fraternizing with pervy partygoers.

Now go eat at Serpentine, make those Stars cookies and sign on to protect animals in need of your support. And stay away from the Spanish Fly.

3 Comments:

Anonymous alison said...

welcome back! cookies look beautiful - i must make these over the holidays - thankyou!

4:35 PM  
Blogger Yorke said...

Yummm, I have such a sweet tooth, and those cookies like just perfect!

2:40 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

That song in your head is a sign from a greater power. Did you know there are no recipes for "Cherry peach parfait" on the entire internet? After seeing your cookies I reckon it must be up to you. You are the chosen one!

5:16 AM  

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