Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mussels in Spicy Wine Sauce

If you like mussels, I guarantee that you will love these!  They are simple to make, and pack a lot of flavor. I'm a little crazy about this recipe.  They are a fantastic appetizer, double or triple the recipe and they would be an impressive addition to a holiday buffet or, if you are like me, you'll eat them as a main course with a salad and a crispy baguette to sop up the sauce. 

I've played with this recipe for quite a while.  I've learned a few things that I'd like to share before we start cooking.  First, buy the freshest mussels you can find.  If fresh local mussels aren't in season, I buy Prince Edward Island mussels from someplace like Whole Foods, where they label the bag of mussels with a harvest date.  This recipe calls for a lot of shallots.  I've substituted onion when I forgot to buy shallots. I have to say, the flavor that the shallots give the sauce is superior; go for the shallots and only use fresh flat-leaf parsley.   If I have fresh homemade tomato sauce or frozen sauce, I use that.  If I don't have any homemade sauce on hand, I use a good jarred sauce.  You only need a little so I like to use something like "Vincent's Original Sauce".  Lastly, use a dry white wine like a pinot grigio.  Even a semi- sweet wine will ruin this dish.  Oh, and if you are not mollusk savvy, you can refer to my note about clams in this post.  The same goes for mussels.  Be sure to discard any that do not open during the cooking process as well.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aunt Dot's Rugelach

I guess if you had to assign a signature recipe to my mother, this would be it.  Every Christmas, my mom would make a tray of home baked cookies to take to her sister's house or my cousin's house, depending upon who was doing Christmas that year.  Her choice of cookies changed from year to year, but the one constant that remained was her rugelach.  She baked them exclusively for the holidays, and it was expected that they would be present on every tray.  They were everyone's favorite.  They became known as Aunt Dot's Rugelach.  Even I call them Aunt Dot's rugelach, and she is my mother.  "Did Aunt Dot make her rugelach?" or "Aunt Dot's rugelach is here" is how we were usually greeted at the door.  My cousins and I all had the same idea to sneak one off the tray before dinner; heck no one would notice just one missing.  The problem was, when you multiply 10 or 12 people sneaking just one cookie, it gets noticed.  My mother, wise woman that she was, eventually brought an extra tin of rugelach along to fill in the holes.
My mom use to bake her rugelach with a raisin and nut filling.  It wasn't until I took over the Christmas baking, that I began to add some apricot or raspberry jam.  Sometimes I'd fill them with a cocoa-chocolate bit filling.  You can use any jam or dried fruit that you like.   I find it easier to mix the pastry the night before I want to bake the cookies.  I mix the dough, wrap the dough in wax paper and refrigerate it overnight.  I take the dough out of the refrigerator an hour before I am ready to roll the pastry and they are the perfect temperature.  They take a little time to make, but they are well worth the effort.  Add some rugelach to your cookie tray this year.  My mom would be happy!
Cookie bags for EVERYONE!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Heath Bar Shortbread Meltaways

Christmas has been sneaking up on me.  Thanks to the internet, my shopping is now under control .  It's a quiet weekend.  Paul is away visiting his family.  Today was the perfect day to start my holiday baking.  I sat with a cup of coffee this morning, looking through cookbooks, reading tattered recipe cards, and pulling out cookie recipes that I've been collecting all year.  I thought I'd spend the day mixing batters, baking off some cookies and freezing the rest.  I wanted to use ingredients that I had on hand.  I've been squirreling away cookie-baking ingredients since October.

I finally decided to start my first day of holiday cookie baking by making my mom's rugelach recipe, her spritz cookies, some sparkling ginger chip cookies, russian tea cakes, peanut butter cookies, and I was thinking of making some shortbread cookies.
I've been a busy baking elf today
This morning I came across a hand written shortbread recipe that my mom probably wrote back in the '60s.  I remembered that she liked them with her afternoon tea.  They weren't too sweet and they melted in your mouth.  I was thinking of jazzing them up with some chocolate, either chopped and added to the batter, or better yet, maybe I would dip the baked shortbread in some dark chocolate.  I started pulling all of my ingredients out of the pantry and lo and behold, a bag of Heath Bar chips was tucked between a bar of Belgium chocolate and a bag of chocolate chips.  I bought them because one of Paul's favorite candy bars is a Heath Bar.  I didn't have anything in mind to bake when I bought them.  I don't know what possessed me to do it, maybe I was missing Paul, but I decided to go a little crazy and add the Heath Bar chips to the shortbread and heck....dip them in chocolate as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Best Chocolate Cake

I have the recipe for the best chocolate cake.  Yes, that is a BOLD statement, but I truly believe that it's a TRUE statement.  If you made this cake, you would understand where I am coming from.  For me to consider a chocolate cake to be really good, it has to meet a certain criteria.  Here is my criteria for what I believe constitutes a good chocolate cake:
This is what my best chocolate cake looks like
  1. A good chocolate cake should not be a mere vehicle for frosting or butter cream.  A good chocolate cake should be able to stand on its own.
  2. A good chocolate cake should have depth of flavor.
  3. The only after taste a good chocolate cake should have is chocolate.
  4. A good chocolate cake should have a fine crumb.
  5. A good chocolate cake should be moist, and remain fresh if properly stored, for a few days (if you hide it from your husband the masses).
  6. When a good chocolate cake is baking, it should fill the air with an aroma that stops people dead in their tracks and makes them think they have died and gone to heaven.
  7. When you eat a small piece of a good chocolate cake, you contemplate each bite and nothing else in the world matters.
  8. When my husband eats you eat an even bigger piece of a good chocolate cake, you break out in a  chocolate sweat, right between your upper lip and your nose.
  9. A good chocolate cake makes your mouth feel happy.
Last weekend we were invited to a dinner party and I volunteered to bring dessert.  I did not not know everyone attending, so I thought it safe to bring one chocolate dessert and one non-chocolate dessert.   The only chocolate cake I considered bringing was this Chocolate Guinness Cake.  The Guinness and the little bit of molasses, not to mention the brown sugar, give this moist cake a deep, complex flavor. Yes, it was the right choice.