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Philadelphia, PA
Anna teaches, writes and consults about food and agriculture.

30 December 2014

New Year's Eve for All

There are many ways to cross the threshold into 2015, from gala affairs to quiet romantic dinners. But on New Year's Eve, nothing beats a gathering of people of all ages, sharing a toast of something sparkling. Old friends and new, parents alongside children, together between past and future.
Sparkling, flaming, fancy, and formal can be had in many a venue, or evoked with simple gestures at home. Light all the candles you can find. Create a centerpiece with glittery ribbons and mirrored balls. Serve anything in champagne flutes. Make your first flambé.
For guidance in hosting mixed groups of old and young, I look back fondly on the decades of New Year's Eve anniversary parties thrown by, and then with, my parents, Nancy and Walter Herman. Soon after they eloped 55 years ago, the annual ritual was born.
My three siblings and I came of age at these parties, where as children we were allowed to serve canapes to the grown-ups. Home from college in the mid-'70s, we joined in the planning and invited friends bearing disco music. Through the years, the parties witnessed my friends' life passages, from singles to couples, to newlyweds, to parents.
Each room had a different vibe: dancing and drinking in the darkened dining room; quieter conversation and music in the den; standing-room-only cocktail chatter in the living room; scores of little kids sleeping or playing in upstairs bedrooms.
Year after year, family members and out-of-town friends took on roles setting up lighting and music, moving furniture, stocking the bar, gluing the bases of plastic champagne glasses to the stems.
The largest group of us shopped for and prepared whatever special menu we agreed upon. Some years we did themes - Italian, Indian, Mediterranean. One year was a costume ball. We always had appetizer stations and passed hors d'oeuvres, which kept everyone happy until dinner around 10 p.m.
Aunt Edie played "Auld Lang Syne" on the piano as the grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight.
Such memories inspire my suggestions for your own mixed-age celebration. Cohosting is the easiest way to take on a party but not all the work.
Kids, neighbors, and guests all can be included in ways that suit their talent. Little hands can color place cards or decorative banners; bigger ones can assemble canapes or decorate cookies. Send driving-age teens and younger adults out for groceries and ice. Anyone who likes to cook can contribute a special dish. If every guest brings one tray of finger foods or desserts, you can focus on a simple, elegant main course.
Appetizers such as dips and chips are always welcome, but to really dress up the menu, arrange several variations of canapes and hors d'oeuvres. The youngest among your guests can make a meal of these early-evening edibles and head off to bed.
Toasted slices of French bread and crackers, sliced cucumbers, radishes, and endive spears make great bases for dollops of topping. Small quantities of several pates, spreads, cheeses, relishes, and micro-greens can be mixed and matched to create a dazzling canape selection. Even hummus from a container looks and tastes fancy when spread carefully on a cracker or cucumber with a crumble of feta cheese and a piece of olive. Warm hors d'ouevres can be made or purchased, like mini-pizzas or taquitos.
Buttery phyllo dough rolls or triangles are easy make-aheads. Fillings such as seasoned spinach (a la spanakopita), chopped wild mushrooms and goat cheese, or roasted cumin-garlic squash are flavorful starters.
A substantial and elegant entree that can be prepared in advance and served with fanfare, such as beef Wellington or coulibiac of salmon, works well for a smallish party. For a larger group, consider a casserole or stew that can be kept warm on the stove or chafing dish, with noodles or rice and a big green salad.
Or skip the main course altogether. Go straight to dessert.
A simple dessert buffet can be elevated with a single, dramatic centerpiece. One of my favorites for a crowd is croque en bouche - hundreds of little chocolate-iced cream puffs held together in a pyramid with caramel. It is stunning, delicious, and fun to pull apart and eat.
Another crowd-pleasing dessert is a coffee mousse called "Mexican Cream," the recipe for which was cut out of magazine sometime in the early 1970s. It is a perfect complement to cookies or cake.
But for the most dramatic post-midnight display, what about a dessert featuring ice cream and flames? If that sounds good, make a baked Alaska flambĂ©. Creating a flaming dessert, like so many culinary feats, is easier than it looks. Whipped egg-white meringue insulates molded ice cream, which is briefly baked in a very hot oven to cook and brown the meringue. Warm Grand Marnier or brandy ignites with the touch of a match; these flames are poured on the just-baked confection to dance and continue browning the dessert.
One year, I made baked Alaska for 50 using the largest metal bowl I could find and more than 30 pints of ice cream and six dozen eggs. The project took several days, and required a butane torch and much logistical maneuvering. But years later, it's still a fond memory.
I miss the days when so many of us joined in ringing the midnight bells. I know I can rekindle relationships and resolve to continue gathering new and old friends and family for celebrations in the new year and beyond. More important, I am going to move some furniture, roll up a rug, and find someone who will dance with me (and wish my parents a happy new year!).

Individual Beef Wellingtons

Makes 4 portions
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 (4-ounce) thickly cut filet mignons
11/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound puff pastry (1 sheet), thawed
Mushroom Duxelles, recipe follows
1 large egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water to make an egg wash
1. Mix the mustard, salt, and pepper together in a medium nonreactive bowl. Add the filet pieces and toss, rubbing the mustard mixture onto all the surfaces of each piece of meat. Let sit for a half-hour to an hour at room temperature.
2. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sear each piece for less than minute on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and refrigerate till cool.
3. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 14-inch square, and cut into 4 (approximately 7-inch) squares.
4. Spread one-quarter of the mushroom duxelles in the center of each square of pastry. Place the filet on top. Using a pastry brush or your finger, paint the inside edges of the pastry with egg wash. Fold the pastry over the filet as though wrapping a package and press the edges to seal. Place the packages seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Make several slits in the pastry to allow steam to escape when baking. If desired use any pastry scraps to create decorative patterns on top, using additional egg wash to adhere the cutouts. Place in freezer for 1 hour or up to 1 week. (if freezing for longer than an hour wrap well).
5. When ready to prepare, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush egg wash over the tops and sides of each package and bake for 10 minutes. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue cooking until the pastry is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 110 degrees F for rare, about 25-30 additional minutes depending on the thickness of the meat.
6. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a dish of mustard or with a veal-beef demi-glace (purchase from D'Artagnan) warmed with a splash of red wine as a sauce.
- Anna Herman,
Per serving (based on 4): 894 calories; 41.9 grams protein; 51.6 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams sugar; 57.3 grams fat; 121 milligrams cholesterol; 1574 milligrams sodium; 1.9 grams dietary fiber.

Mushroom Duxelles

Makes 4 portions
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, wiped clean, stemmed, and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup red wine
1. Heat the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots and garlic are translucent.
3. Add the mushrooms, salt, and pepper, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are browning but still have some softness, 10-12 minutes.
4. Add the wine and cook, stirring to deglaze the pan, until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let cool before using.
- Anna Herman,
Per serving (based on 4): 46 calories; 2.8 grams protein; 3.4 grams carbohydrates; 1.5 grams sugar; 3.1 grams fat; 8 milligrams cholesterol; 316 milligrams sodium; .9 grams dietary fiber.

Flaming Baked Alaska

Makes 4 portions
Molded Ice Cream: 
2 pints of favored ice cream - one to three flavors. If using 2 flavors, use 1½ pints of the main flavor and ½ pint of the contrasting flavor. If using 3 flavors, use 1¼ pints of main flavor, ¼ pint of the second flavor, and ½ pint of the third
Plain pound cake or brownies - enough to cover the base of the ice cream mold
4 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar (only if not using a copper bowl to mix meringue)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
To serve:
¼ cup Grand Marnier
raspberries, candied orange slices (optional)
1. Select a metal or ceramic bowl to become your mold that has at least a one-quart capacity and a shape you like. Chill this bowl in the freezer for about an hour. Remove the ice cream from the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
2. Working quickly but neatly, add half of the "main" flavor of ice cream to the bottom of the mold. Add the contrasting flavor on top. If using a third flavor, layer it here. Add the remaining main flavor to cover and enclose the contrasting flavor (s) which will now be in the center of the mold. Smooth the ice cream and return mold to the freezer, well covered.
3. A few hours before serving (up to a day ahead) arrange thin brownie slices or slices of pound cake on a plate or platter in approximately the shape of the ice cream mold. Fill a bowl large enough to place the ice cream mold in with hot water. Working quickly but neatly remove the ice cream mold from the freezer, place it briefly in the hot water, run a knife around the ice cream, and unmold the ice cream onto the cake. Return unmolded ice cream and cake immediately to the freezer.
4. Make the meringue. Fill a saucepan sized to hold a mixing bowl double-boiler style with a few inches of water and bring to a simmer. Add the egg whites, cream of tartar if using, and sugar to a very clean mixing bowl (any oil in the bowl will prevent the whites from forming a firm meringue). Whisk continuously over the hot water until the sugar is well dissolved and the meringue is thickening. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and continue to beat vigorously until the meringue holds its shape and is quite glossy and cool.
5. Remove the unmolded ice cream from the freezer. Trim any cake away as needed. With a spatula spread a layer of meringue around the entire mold, carefully ensuring that all the ice cream is well covered and that the seam between the cake and the ice cream is sealed with meringue. The meringue will insulate the ice cream when the meringue is browned. Make decorative swirls or peaks using a knife or spatula, or place some of the meringue in a pastry bag fitted out with star or shell tip and add peaked flourishes as desired. A simple, swirling, snow-covered mountain looks great and is easily achieved. Return the meringue-covered ice cream to the freezer until just before serving. Ideally, this meringue is completed before dinner, not much more than 4 hours before dessert.
6. To serve: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place meringue-covered ice cream cake on a cool, heatproof serving plate. Put Grand Marnier in a very small saucepan over very low heat. Turn off the lights in the dining room. Have matches ready. Put the unbaked Alaska into the hot oven for 1-3 minutes until just lightly browned. Bring to the table along with the warmed Grand Marnier. Light the Grand Marnier in the pan and pour this flaming alcohol onto and around the Baked Alaska. The alcohol will burn away quickly as it continues to brown the meringue. Once the flames subside, dig in.
- Anna Herman,
Per serving (without orange slices): 663 calories; 10 grams protein; 97 grams carbohydrates; 93 grams sugar; 23 grams fat; 81 milligrams cholesterol; 1,423 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Most Delicious Mexican Cream

Makes 8 portions
1/2 cup of sugar
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp of instant espresso
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
11/4 cups of milk
1 cup cream for whipping
This recipe was cut out of magazine sometime in the 1970's and made with few adjustments (besides tripling and quadrupling the recipe) for dozens of New Year's eve parties. Transcribed here are my mother's notes from the margin. . .
Be careful, plan ahead
Not all sugar at once!
Watch out for gelatin mixture getting hard fast.
1. Combine 1/4 cup sugar, gelatin, instant coffee, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla in top of double boiler (save remaining 1/4 cup sugar for Step 4).
2. Separate eggs, putting whites in medium-size bowl, yolks in a small bowl. Beat egg yolks slightly; stir in milk; stir into gelatin mixture.
3. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, 5 minutes or until gelatin dissolves and mixture coats a metal spoon; strain into small bowl. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture is as thick as unbeaten egg whites.
4. Beat egg whites until foamy-white and double in volume; gradually beat in saved 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each, until meringue stands in firm peaks. Beat cream until stiff in small bowl.
5. Place bowl of meringue in pan of ice and water. Gradually fold in gelatin mixture, then whipped cream. Continue folding, keeping bowl over ice, until no streaks of white remain and mixture holds its shape.
6. Pour into 6-cup mold; chill 4 hours, or until firm.
- Anna Herman,
Per serving (based on 8): 105 calories; 3.6 grams protein; 15.4 grams carbohydrates; 14.9 grams sugar; 4 grams fat; 3.5 milligrams cholesterol; 50 milligrams sodium; 0 grams dietary fiber.
Anna HermanFor The Inquirer

23 September 2014

Honeyed Holidays - latest Inquirer Article

Honeyed holidays

ANNA HERMAN, FOR THE INQUIRERPublished Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 9:35 AM
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Back-to-school energy pervades September - even decades past graduation. For Jews around the world, this sense is heightened by the overlapping of the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashanah, literally "head of the year," celebrates ending and beginning again. As part of the annual High Holiday rituals of taking stock, making amends, and looking forward there are opportunities for feasting and fasting, and always there are wishes for a "sweet new year."
That translates at the table to a widespread tradition of eating apples and honey, and other treats at the holiday table.
The autumn honey harvest from local beekeepers is perfectly timed for showcasing dishes made with this amber nectar, from savory roasts to glazed cakes.
Honey adds a delicate floral note to salad dressing, enlivens and counters spices, and heightens the contrasts of acids and bitterness in marinades or sauces for meat and poultry.
As I harvested honey this fall from my backyard hives, I was determined to figure out how to feature honey in every dish on my holiday tables. Just as each new school year is another chance to build on what you've learned and to try something new, I look back to tradition and seasonal ingredients for inspiration, but always resolve to try something new.
While many of us don't eat so much red meat these days, beef brisket is still a favorite centerpiece for a holiday meal. There are several local producers of grass-fed brisket, which makes it even more appealing.
Brisket always tastes better a day or two after it is cooked, and reheats perfectly. And it is such an agreeable cut of meat: It's delicious hot out of the oven, or at room temperature for the last person through the buffet, or cold out of the fridge the next day in sandwiches.
But how to add honey to this dish while keeping the savoriness that makes meat so toothsome? The answer I found was balsamic vinegar to provide some balance. The result: a savory, juicy, and not-too-sweet dish with lots of flavorful gravy.
Not eating red meat? Roast a whole chicken, or legs and thighs, marinated in a blend of honey, mustard, lemon rind, lemon juice, and rosemary with dried apricots or prunes. Succulent, moist and crispy chicken complimented by sweet fruit.
Vegetable main and side dishes and salads offer many possibilities for honey in a featured or supporting role. Spicy-sweet carrot coins - sliced rounds of fresh-picked carrots, simmered with chunks of fresh ginger and spicy Aleppo peppers, finished with wildflower honey, are festive for any fall meal. Onions, with their natural sweetness, sliced thin, quick fried, and honey-glazed go nicely with fish, meat or green vegetables. Many of the slightly bitter greens such as escarole or kale, wilted lightly, benefit from a honey-scented vinaigrette.
If you want to get fancy and impress your family and friends, simmer honey in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the hard-crack stage of 300 degrees. Toss in a few salted nuts or seeds - almonds, pistachios, walnuts, sesame seeds - and spread on a parchment-lined sheet pan to cool. This honey brittle can be chopped for a garnish for seasoned rice or couscous, or tossed with blanched green beans. Make extra to snack on, or bring as hostess gifts.
Dessert is the most obvious home for honey. Drizzle it on some ripe, sliced fruit to dress it up for company. Poach peaches or plums in honey and riesling wine. Roast or pan-sear plums, peaches, or figs with a bit of honey to caramelize, sweeten, and soften the fruits.
You can serve fruit as is, or alongside a honey cake. I have graduated from basic Bundt cakes and now own several heavy bee-themed and honeycomb-shaped cake pans. I feel obligated to come up with a new honey cake recipe each year. For this new year I developed a vanilla tahini honey cake - no dairy, so Jews who don't eat dairy with meat meals can serve this with their brisket. This cake goes nicely with roasted plums., or fresh raspberries (or whipped cream if dairy is not your concern).
My honeybees and I share in this sweet work, and hope to do so year after year.

Tahini Vanilla Cake
Makes 8-10 servings
5 eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup good-quality tahini
1/4 cup olive or other vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
11/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
11/2 teaspoon baking powder
Fresh fruit or pan- seared or roasted fruit such as Italian plums, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a standard 12-cup bundt cake pan, or Nordic Ware honeycomb cake pan, well-greased and floured.
2. Place eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and beat until the mixture is very light and smooth, at least 4-6 minutes.
3. Stop the mixer, add the tahini, vegetable oil, honey, and vanilla. Beat on low until all ingredients are incorporated. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl at least once, and mix a bit more. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until just incorporated.
4. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 25-35 minutes for the honeycomb pan, 35-40 minutes for the bundt pan, until cake is browned and center of cake is not at all jiggly. Remove from heat and let cool on a rack. Turn cake onto a platter carefully.
5. Garnish with fresh fruit, roasted fruit, or pan-seared fruit. Italian prune plums are especially nice this time of year. To pan-sear fruit: Heat a cast iron skillet until hot. Add a knob of butter or a little olive oil. Place pitted and halved plums cut side down and cook over medium high heat until they are bubbly and brown. No need to turn. Remove from pan with a spatula to a plate. Drizzle with honey or honey mixed with lemon juice.

- From Anna Herman
Per serving (based on 10): 360 calories; 5 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 25 grams sugar; 19 grams fat; 82 milligrams cholesterol; 32 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Honey Nut or Seed Brittle
Makes about 1 cup of brittle
1 cup honey
1 cup toasted nuts or seeds, such as pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or sesame
Sea salt, lavender, or chopped thyme for variation
1. Have a candy thermometer ready. Prepare a sheet pan by lining with a nonstick mat or parchment paper.
2. Bring the honey to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to allow for bubbling syrup to rise. Place the candy thermometer in the syrup and cook until the syrup is just 300 degrees. Turn off heat.
3. Working quickly, add the toasted nuts and stir. Immediately turn this mixture onto the prepared pan. Allow to cool.
4. Break into pieces or chop. For a variation, use mixture of nuts, or nuts and sesame seeds. Adding a pinch of sea salt, a pinch of lavender flowers, or some fresh chopped thyme is also nice.

- From Anna Herman

Per two-tablepoon serving: 218 calories; 3 grams protein; 38 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams sugar; 8 grams fat; no cholesterol; 3 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.

Balsamic Honey Brisket
Makes 8 to12 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
4-6 pounds brisket, trimmed of any large amounts of fat
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
5 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
2 carrots, sliced thin
1 stalk celery, minced fine
4-6 plum tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1-2 teaspoons of fresh or 1/2-1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and pepper as needed
1. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees. If you have an ovenproof skillet large enough for the brisket, use it. Otherwise select a roasting pan that can also be used on the stove top.
2. Add the olive oil to the pan, and heat on medium to high heat (use two burners if needed for a roasting pan) until the oil shimmers. Season the brisket well with salt and fresh pepper on both sides and place fat side down in the pan to sear. After 4-5 minutes peek at the underside, and when well browned, turn the brisket. Add the onions and garlic to pan, in the spots that the brisket doesn't cover, and stir from time to time to allow them to brown and soften slightly while the second side of the brisket browns.
3. Remove the brisket from the skillet and set aside. Add the carrots, celery, tomatoes, vinegar, honey, and herbs. Cook over medium-high heat, scraping any browned bits from the bottom, for 1-2 minutes. Push the vegetables and liquid to the sides and return the brisket to the skillet. Spoon some of the vegetables and liquid over the brisket. Cover the entire pan with a lid, or foil, and place in oven. Cook for 2-3 hours, uncovering from time to time to baste the brisket with the gravy and re-covering well each time. Cook until a fork easily pierces the thickest part of the meat and allow to cool.
4. Refrigerate overnight. Skim excess fat from the gravy. Remove meat to a cutting board, slice thinly across the grain, and return slices to the gravy to rewarm. Heat well covered, at 250, for 35-40 minutes.

- From Anna Herman
Per serving (based on 12): 416 calories; 52 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams sugar; 18 grams fat; 169 milligrams cholesterol; 329 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.

Sweet and Spicy Carrot Coins
Makes 6-8 servings
5-8 carrots, washed well and peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1- to 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped into very small pieces (or use 5 pieces of candied ginger, chopped coarsely)
1 clove garlic minced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, optional
1. Trim the carrots and slice into 1/8-inch rounds.
2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the carrots. Cook until just beginning to brown. Add the ginger, pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring continuously, until the garlic is softened and translucent. Add the honey, salt to taste, and 1/4 to 1/3 cup water and stir.
3. There should be enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until carrots are soft and well glazed, approximately 15 minutes. Add a small amount of water if needed to prevent scorching. Adjust seasoning (a bit more salt, a bit more honey, lemon juice/zest as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

- From Anna Herman

Per serving (based on 8): 81 calories; trace protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugar; 5 grams fat; no cholesterol; 124 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.