December 28, 2012

oxtail in red sauce with ribbon pasta

Oxtail, known as rabo in Spanish, is a highly marbled and bony cut from the tail of a cow. When cooked in water until tender, and braised in a tomato-based sauce until nearly falling off the bone, the flavor is rich, and pairs really nicely with pasta that's been tossed with the remaining red sauce.

I first had oxtail when my husband's mother made it for a Christmas dinner, and I loved its intense flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture. This is her recipe, adjusted here and there, and paired with a ribbon-styled pasta. The pasta is like lasagne, but about half its thickness, and half its width, very much like a lasagnette noodle. Once you start braising the oxtail in the red sauce, it's not an exacting process; you taste and adjust with a little more wine and parsley, and maybe a little more stock, and let it reduce until it has a medium thickness. Generally though, it should be blessed with a depth of color from just enough red wine, lightened in flavor with some freshly minced parsley towards the end, perfumed with a little extra sprinkle of dried oregano, and then adjusted for salt and pepper. You can make this recipe up to the point of putting the oxtail and red sauce together, then refrigerate the two together overnight. Make the pasta the next day so it's fresh and finish braising the oxtail in the sauce, and you're done.

I think this dish will become a regular in our repertoire of holiday traditions. It's a very good way to end another year on the musician, who cooks, and I wish you a blessed new year. May you continue to explore and experiment and eat. I know I will, and I hope you'll join me here. ¡Buen provecho!

December 21, 2012

crema de vie

Some of you who use sweetened condensed milk on a regular basis for baking are probably quite familiar with its rich, glorious and transformational flavor. Until this past week, I was not fully aware of this, and so I've had some fun experimenting with it while working on the recipe for this post. More specifically, I've made homemade versions of both a dairy-based and non-dairy based sweetened condensed milk, both of which are incredibly luxurious and addicting. Just like the song, I've got visions of sweet things dancing in my head, imagining what can be made and vastly improved by using this amazing nectar.

Sweetened condensed milk, with a nice swig of rum, is the basis for this popular Cuban aperitif, Crema de Vie, usually made around Christmas and New Year's, and served chilled after a meal. It's very similar in style to eggnog. I've taken the recipe from my husband's mother and simplified it a bit, omitting the simple syrup and using the sweetness of the condensed milk and apple cider alone. Typically my husband's mother uses sidra Asturiana, a hard sparkling cider made in Spain, but I substituted a non-alcoholic sparkling cider because it was easier to find. If you're able to find the sidra Asturiana locally, use it instead.

Christmas is only a few days away, so take a moment to enjoy a little sip for all the work you've done, or gift a small bottle of the Crema de Vie to a friend. And have a Merry Christmas!

December 14, 2012

chocolate alderwood sea salt bizcocho

When my husband was in high school, his father owned a grocery store with a bakery that made many traditional Cuban desserts. Among those was bizcocho, a cookie very similar to Italian biscotti, but lighter in texture. Cuban bizcocho is essentially a sponge cake baked twice until it dries out and becomes crunchy. Typically, a sponge cake doesn't use any leavening, but in this recipe I added baking powder to give some lift without the trouble of whipping the eggs or egg whites for volume.

For my own version of bizcocho, I incorporated layers of chocolate flavor with a smoked alderwood sea salt. One of our favorite ways to eat dark chocolate is to take a small square of a chocolate candy bar and sprinkle it with a little smoked alderwood sea salt, and so I topped the bizcocho with a chocolate ganache and a generous sprinkle of the smoked sea salt. For this recipe's inspiration I consulted The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and used the "Anise Biscotti" recipe by fellow Food52 cook Bread and Betta as a template. I also liked the shape and height I got with the bizcocho using smaller 8-1/2" X 4-1/2" bread loaf pans instead of one larger 9" X 13" sheet pan. Taking a cue from the anise biscotti recipe, I made the batter with a thinner consistency than is typical for biscotti in order to give the final bizcocho a lighter texture. This also requires a longer baking time the second time around to dry the bizcocho out appropriately. The final bizcocho is as chocolate as I could make it while still keeping it light and also maintaining a comfortable crunch. As a result, the bizcocho is great on its own or dipped in coffee.

I hope you enjoy this first treat of the Christmas season. And I hope you remember that the best gift is always love and kindness.

December 7, 2012

11 kitchen tips

Every kitchen has its own rhythm. It takes time to create a flow, and to become accustomed to a new pattern when you move to a new place. After awhile, with practice, you move through your space without having to think too much about it. What was once like a rehearsal, with repeated stops and starts, eventually becomes like a well-performed dance from refrigerator to pantry to stove to sink. I love the kitchen dance. I don't feel alone when it's a solo turn, because I'm surrounded by the smells and sounds of food, and I get to play with whatever colors my cupboard holds. Sometimes, with two people in the kitchen, the dance is a duet, and sometimes it's a competition. With several people, it's a choreographed piece that goes smoothly if everyone remembers their moves, or quickly whirls out of control if someone forgets their place. You might think, in these days of celebrity chefs, or on a very good day in your kitchen, that the cook is the star, but you'd be mistaken. It's always the food. In my kitchen, I'm just happy to be a part of the show.

Over time, and especially since I began this blog, I've collected a few tips that are a part of my kitchen dance. They might not be ingenious, but for me they save time, money, and help make the most of leftovers. Below, I've listed not just ten, but eleven tips (because eleven rocks just a little more). If you cook, you're part of the dance, too; and whether your tips are elaborate or elementary, feel free to contribute and share them in the comments section below.