Month: December 2008

Trials of Holiday Baking

  Ask me to make a pot of succulent coq au vin, a platter of spanikopita based upon that fragile phyllo dough or eggs Benedict with a picture-perfect Hollandaise sauce and I’ll rise to the occasion every single time.  Give me a “simple” culinary task, such as using a 3-dimensional cake mold to make a cutesy Christmas bear, and I flounder over and over again. Case in point:  The Williams-Sonoma Build-A-Bear cake pan.  Sean bought this adorable, Nordicware pan and the accompanying fondant Santa bear outfit at Williams-Sonoma as an early holiday gift for me.  The plan?  That I master making this cake before our annual Christmas Eve party.  We both envisioned our friends and family crowding around the dessert table on December 24th, all smiles as they ooo-ed and ah-ed over the cake.   “Ah, look at the cute, little Santa bear.  Isn’t he just the sweetest thing?”  They’ll definitely say something about that cake but more likely it will be, “What on earth is that freak of nature supposed to be?!  Someone please take a knife to it and put it out of its misery!” The first failure …

International Christmas Breads

In early October, when most people hadn’t even started thinking about Halloween, I sat in my kitchen, mounds of cookbooks spread out before me, mulling over Christmas recipes.  That’s the thing about food writing.  You never work within the season.  In fall I’m researching summer sorbets.  In spring I could be scouring upscale markets in search of an out-of-season persimmon.  A quirky apsect of the field but one that leaves me well-prepared for every season and event.     What I learned on those warm, fall afternoons is that every country seems to possess a Christmas bread.  In Germany it’s dried fruit and nut-studded stollen.  Dusted with powdered sugar or iced with a powdered sugar frosting, stollen is a delectable snack, dessert or breakfast sweet.   Forget Christmas.  I could eat this every day of the week.   The same holds true for panettone.  Originating in Milan, panettone is served year-round at special occasions.  With its rich, cake-like dough and tall, mushroom-like shape, it’s a stunner in both taste and appearance.  Traditionally, raisins, candied citron and citrus zest fill out the bread but my concoction …

A Few Favorite Farmers' Markets

Recently the New York Times ran a small story about Europe’s reversal of a ban on selling “ugly” produce.  At the time I laughed at the bizarreness of this ruling.  I did the same two weekends ago as I stood on line at the Phoenixville Farmers’ Market, a knobbly parsnip clutched in my right hand.  Years of hanging out at farmers’ markets and of intermittently and unsuccessfully growing my own vegetables have taught me that beautiful does not mean better.  In fact, in most instances the pretty produce found at grocery stores is downright bland.  Granted, every now and then my farmer’s market purchases might yield a crooked carrot or dirt still clinging to my microgreens.  Yet, because of the wealth of good, seasonal products and opportunity to support local and increasingly biodynamic farmers, it remains my preferred place for produce.  Thanks to the luxury of travel and of dividing my time between city and suburban life, I have a long list of favorite markets at which I shop.  In New York I go to the place that anyone who has ever lived in or around the city seems to know, Union Square’s Greenmarket.  Greenmarket has …