Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holiday Fun (Long Post. You Have Been Warned)

Happy New Year Muffins!  Hope you all enjoyed your holidays.  It has been a very full week for me.

Christmas week did not get off to such a great start.  I found myself coughing up a storm on Sunday night, only to wake up the next morning with more coughs and a high fever (well, high for me considering my normal body temperature is somewhere slightly above corpse).  I struggled to get some cookies baked and spent most of my time in bed.  After completing a successful weight loss program this year, I found myself dealing with Christmas treats and the complete inability to hit the gym.

Christmas Eve I was able to drag myself out of bed and head to the city for dinner with Dad and his wife.  We ate at the beautiful Lebanese restaurant Al Bhustan.

We started our meal with such Mediterranean classics as felafel, hummus, and tabbouleh.  The tabbouleh was the most unusual one I have ever eaten as it contained far more parsley than wheat.
My main course was Kafta Khashkhash, patties of spiced minced lamb served over a bed of tomatoes dressed in pomegranate molasses.
Dessert was baklava and little pancakes stuffed with pistachio-rosewater cream.

The next morning we headed to Mom's place for brunch.  Christmas Eve was a small affair with just the four of us.  Christmas Day we were joined by her boyfriend and his family, my mother-in-law, and my brother and his family. Mom decided to just do a simple catered meal.

We had bagels and spreads, quiche, and muffins.  Mom also made a delicious blueberry French toast and cooked lots of bacon.  We had fruit salad and mock egg salad for the vegans.  I also brought over those cookies I managed to bake.  I made brown butter snickerdoodles from Ambitious Kitchen  and dark chocolate pistachio chunk cookies from Two Peas and Their Pod.  I made a slight alteration to the recipe.  Rather than use sea salt, I added a spoonful of orange rind, which is really good with pistachio cookies.

After all that food my brother and his family had to head out to dinner again.  He and my sister-in-law had hosted Christmas Eve dinner at their place for her side of the family, which is why they weren't at Al Bhustan with us.  Now they had to go have dinner with Dad. Just served to remind me that I hadn't been to the gym all week.

By the time Friday night rolled around I was in the mood for something light.  It's not often I crave vegetables and grilled chicken breast, but I was definitely craving it by the end of the week.

I marinated chicken breasts in yogurt, cumin, oregano, and lime juice.

I thought some fresh salsa would be great with them, but it's December and the condition of your average tomato is not really conducive to fresh salsa.  The best way to make a winter tomato taste good is to roast it, so that's what I did.  I tried to make my salsa a bit different from others like it by adding a sweet red pepper in there for a twist on the flavor and used vinegar instead of lime juice.

I served my broiled, marinated chicken breasts on a bed of lettuce topped with my roasted tomato salsa.  I wanted to serve my chicken in little cups of butter lettuce, but Shop Rite didn't have any heads.  I had to buy a bag of it chopped, which made my presentation a little strange.

Chicken Breasts with Winter Salsa

  • 6 oz plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 plum tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 large onion, cut in chunks
  • 3 cloves of garlic, whole and unpeeled
  • 2 poblano peppers, halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • 2 tbls chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 Tbl red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt

In a bowl combine first 4 ingredients.  Place chicken breasts in marinade, cover and refrigerate at least one hour.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Brush the tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic with olive oil and place on cookie sheet.  Cook 20 minutes until skins of peppers start to blister.

Place peppers in a sealed plastic bag for 5 minutes.  Remove as much of the skin as possible.  Remove garlic cloves from skins.

Combine tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, vinegar, and salt in a food processor.  Process until it reaches your desired level of smoothness.

Heat a broiler.  Broil chicken breasts for 20 minutes and serve with sauce.

On to New Year's.

We ended up staying home.  The party we usually attend didn't happen this year.  We went out to dinner for an intimate evening together.  We stayed local for dinner and ate at Club Car (previously reviewed here).

We were very lucky to have a table by the fireplace.

I started with a cucumber basil gimlet.  This was gun, cucumber, lime, mint, and basil.  Very tasty and not too sweet.
My appetizer was two lamb rib chops ("lollipops") covered in melted brie and served in a minty jus.  They were tasty, but one chop was cooked perfectly and one was cooked a little more than I like my lamb to be cooked.  They never asked me how I wanted it cooked.  I guess they gave me one of each level of doneness and figured I'd be happy with one of them.

For a main course I only had one choice.  Two of the choices on the menu were seafood and one was veal, so I had to go with the mushroom ravioli with duck confit and goat cheese.  I liked these, but I would have preferred fewer mushrooms and more duck.

For dessert I had the baked Alaska.  How could I not?  I have never seen baked Alaska on a menu before.  It seems like a real old-timey classic that no one bothers with anymore.  Nicely done.

The meal had a few flaws, but we had great (if a bit slow) service, sat next to some very friendly people, and had a great time.  If the food wasn't always perfect, it was still tasty and much better than many New Year's Eve prix fixe dinners I have encountered in the past.

I decided to ring in the new year with a special New Year's Breakfast.  I think I spent enough time recovering from Christmas week.  I was back in the gym and also back in the (literal) saddle over the weekend.

I made mimosas with fresh juice.

I made giant biscuit egg sandwiches.  Turkey sausage and egg for Sir Pickypants.  For me it was eggs, jack cheese, and bacon.

We finished it off with homemade apple crumb cake.  I looked around the internet for good crumb cake recipes.  I ended up adapting recipes from two of my long-time favorite blogs, Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy and Noble Pig.  I find it interesting that this is considered "New York Style".  I never thought of crumb cake as a New York thing.  Maybe that's because I live in New York, so I don't see it from non-New Yorkers perspectives.

I made the cake base and then topped it with a decadent layer of apples cooked in butter, brown sugar, and brandy before covering it all with crumbs.

Have a great 2014!

New Year Apple Crumb Cake


For Apple Layer
  • 4 firm apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 4 Tbl butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brandy
For Crumb Layer
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 sticks butter, melted
For Cake
  • 2 sticks room temperature butter
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
To make the apple layer, heat the butter in a large skillet.  Add the apples and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the brown sugar and cinnamon and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the apples are very soft.  Add the brandy and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Next make the crumb layer.  Mix together brown sugar, sugar, flour and cinnamon.  You may want to use your hand to really break up the brown sugar and integrate all of the ingredients.  Pour in the melted butter and use your hands to mix it into the flour mixture, forming lots of uneven clumps.  Set aside.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 9"x13" inch cake pan with baking spray (or just grease it the old fashioned way).

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until it is light colored and fluffy.  Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time until each one is incorporated and then add the vanilla.  

With the mixer on low add some of the flour.  Mix until incorporated and add some of the buttermilk.  Continue alternately adding the flour and buttermilk until the mixture is integrated and smooth.

Spread the cake batter evenly in the pan.  Cover with the apple mixture, pressing the apples down into the batter a little.  Cover with the crumbs.

Bake for 1 hour or until cake tester comes out clean.