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Archive for December, 2012

COCKTAILS: New Year’s Eve Cocktails

For your imbibing pleasure, we present the final two cocktails of the year. Both are made with your choice of sparkling wine: Cava, Champagne or Prosecco. Cava and Prosecco are less expensive and work just as well in mixed drinks.

First, the Ginger Sparkler, created by New York City caterer Canard, Inc. It combines vodka and ginger beer (a more intense predecessor of ginger ale) with Prosecco, and can be served year-round without the sparkling wine topper.

Keep the ingredients well chilled.


Ingredients For One Drink

  • 3 parts vodka
  • 1 part fresh lime juice
  • Dash of bitters
  • Chilled ginger beer to taste
  • Prosecco or other sparkling wine


    Top off a ginger cocktail with Prosecco or other sparkler. Photo courtesy Canard, Inc. | New York City.


    1. GLASS. Combine the ingredients in a tall glass over ice.

    2. FLUTE. Alternatively, you can serve the cocktail in a Champagne flute; be sure to chill the vodka, lime juice and ginger beer in advance.


    Our favorite Champagne cocktail is easy to make. Photo courtesy St. Germain.



    This photo doesn’t begin to capture the glamour of a St. Germain Champagne Cocktail—our favorite Champagne cocktail. St. Germain elderflower liqueur is one of the great food/beverage imports of the last 10 years.

    A liqueur made from Alpine elderflowers may sound strange, but it has the exquisite flavor of lychee—in fact, much more so than any lychee liqueur we’ve tried.

    Using one ounce rather than a half ounce of St. Germain elderflower liqueur makes the cocktail slightly sweeter.

    Ingredients Per Cocktail

  • 3-4 ounces Brut Champagne, Brut Rosé
    Champagne or any dry sparkling wine
  • 1/2-1 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • Garnish: fresh strawberry or raspberry


    1. POUR ingredients into a chilled fluted glass and stir lightly (you don’t want to burst the bubbles).

    2. FLOAT half a strawberry or a whole raspberry as a garnish.

    3. VARIATION: Experiment with other garnishes. A lemon or orange twist, a slice of fresh ginger, a blackberry or gooseberry.
    Browse through our cocktail recipes in our Cocktails & Spirits Section.


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    RECIPE: Crème Pâtissière

    Most lovers of cake and pastry have eaten crème pâtissière without knowing what it is.

    A French standard, crème pâtissière—prnounced CREM pah-tees-YAIR, French for pastry cream—is a stirred custard thickened with cornstarch or flour and typically flavored with vanilla (other flavors can be used).

    Crème pâtissière is made of egg yolks, sugar and cream or milk like crème anglaise, but the addition of some starch gives it the stability to be brought to a boil. With the addition of beaten egg whites, it becomes crème Saint-Honoré, a filling for cream puffs. (Here are the different types of custard.)


    Makes about 2 cups.


  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch or heaping 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cups of milk, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup of butter, room temperature (1/2 stick)
  • Cold water
  • 3 cups ice cubes plus extra

    A cream puff: pâte à choux (puff pastry) filled with crème pâtissière (pastry cream). Photo courtesy American Egg Board.



    1. WHISK together the egg yolks and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

    2. COMBINE cream and 1 cup of the milk in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture; then add the scraped pod. Bring to a simmer; then remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes.

    3. PREPARE an ice bath: Fill a large bowl with cold water and add three cups of ice cubes.

    4. COMBINE the cornstarch with 1/2 cup milk in a small bowl or mug. Stir thoroughly to break up any lumps (they often hide on the bottom of the cup) or they’ll end up in the crème pâtissière.

    5. PLACE the saucepan with the cream mixture over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. As soon as bubbles begin to form around the edges, remove the pan from the heat. Be sure the mixture doesn’t boil.

    6. SLOWLY pour the hot cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly (or pour in a small amount of cream, whisk and repeat). If the hot cream is added to quickly, the eggs will scramble.

    7. POUR the cream and eggs mixture back into the saucepan. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly over medium heat until the mixture is very thick.

    8. MOVE the saucepan into the ice bath, adding more ice as necessary to keep the water very cold. Stir rapidly for a minute, until the cream has cooled slightly.

    9. REMOVE the vanilla bean. Add the butter and stir until it is completely combined and the pastry cream is smooth. Store in a bowl with plastic wrap pressed against the entire surface of the cream, so that no skin forms. Seal with more plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. The cream can be made up to 3 days in advance.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Start A Tradition, Make An Epiphany Cake

    Crown your “king cake”; the person who
    finds the charm gets to wear the crown.
    Photo courtesy


    Bûches de Noël, fruitcake and Christmas cookies are enjoyed throughout the holiday season. In France, the celebratory confections continue into January with an Epiphany cake, or galette des rois, French for kings’ cake (a galette is a flat pastry cake).

    In January, the windows of French pastry shops showcase galettes des rois to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany (January 6th).* The cake is enjoyed beginning a few days before Epiphany, and continuing for a few days after. Some families get a new cake every day!

    Epiphany Cake/galette des rois is traditionally a puff pastry (pâte à choux) cake filled with frangipane (almond cream). Other fillings can be substituted, from almond paste to chocolate ganache to sliced apples. In the south of France, brioche is often substituted for the puff pastry.

    But one thing can’t be substituted: the charm (originally a baby, representing baby Jesus) or other trinket that is hidden inside. It can be anything from a miniature car to a cartoon character (Hello Kitty? Sponge Bob Square Pants?). When we made this cake for a group of adults, we used a key chain featuring a miniature bottle of Champagne.



    The person who gets the slice with the charm becomes “king” or “queen” for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown (provided by the bakery or your nearest party store, if you bake your own cake). But it’s an entailed honor: By tradition, the king has to provide next year’s galette. You can forgo that French tradition in favor of making the Epiphany Cake your annual party treat.

    Hiding some type of token in food is a pre-Christian tradition, with roots in the Roman feast of Saturnalia.† A dry bean would be hidden in a dish prepared for the household staff. The slave who got that helping would be given the “kingship,” which included drinking, gambling and “general bawdiness.”

    In fact, in France the charm/trinket is known as la fève, the French word for bean. Americans have adopted the idea as the Mardi Gras king cake (Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is celebrated from right after Epiphany until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday).

    French chef Héléne Darroze, who commutes each week between the kitchens of the Connaught Hotel in London and her own two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, recalls celebrating the Epiphany feast as a child. Growing up in southwestern France, “each year there would be a series of family parties and the person who found the token in the cake would buy the charms for the following day’s galette.”

    She’s provided this recipe:




  • 1 packet shop-bought puff pastry (or homemade puff pastry)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 6 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons crème pâtissiere
    (custard thickened with flour)
  • Zest of one-sixth lemon and one-sixth lime
  • Paper crown for garnish (to be worn by the “king”)

    Héléne Darroze’s epiphany cake is filled with chocolate ganache. Photo courtesy Héléne Darroze.



    1. ROLL out the puff pastry to a thickness of 3/4″ (2mm) with a rolling pin and leave it in the fridge for 1 hour. Cut two rounds of pastry (9-10 inches in diameter) and leave in the fridge.

    2. MAKE the frangipane: Mix the butter, sugar and almonds with a spatula. Add the egg and crème pâtissière little by little and finish with the zest.

    3. PLACE one of the rounds of puff pastry on a pastry tray and brush some egg yolk around the edge. Pipe frangipane into the middle, add the “feve” and cover with the second round of puff pastry. Press the edges a bit and leave in the fridge for an hour.

    4. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F (180°C/gas 4). When at temperature, brush the top round with egg yolk. With the back of the knife, make small score lines from the center to the edges in a crescent shape. Repeat all the way around. Pierce with fork tines to vent. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve warm.


  • If making puff pastry from scratch, substitute 25% of the flour with cocoa powder. Use chocolate ganache instead of frangipane (be sure the ganache recipe can be heated).
  • You can use the puff pastry recipe; roll out and shape two rounds 10 inches in diameter.

  • If the cake is at room temperature, warm it prior to serving.
  • Bring the cake to the table with the gold paper crown atop; remove the crown prior to slicing.
  • Cut the cake in as many pieces as there are there participants, so someone is sure to get the piece with the charm.
  • The person who finds the charm in his/her piece becomes king or queen for the day, and gets to wear the crown. In terms of other privileges: That’s up to you to decide.
    Find more of our favorite cake recipes on

    *Epiphany derives from the ancient Greek theophany, “vision of God,” referring to the revelation of the divine nature of Jesus Christ as told by the Magi. The holiday traditionally falls on January 6th. The night before, the eve of the Epiphany, is called Twelfth Night, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and “a time of merrymaking.”

    †Saturnalia, a festival spanning December 17-23, honored Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture.


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    NEW YEAR’S RECIPE: Hoppin’ John

      Hoppin’ John: a Southern New Year’s Eve
      tradition for good luck. Photo courtesy


      In long-standing traditions, people the world over eat certain foods to ring in the New Year. We’re aiming to fix a New Year’s Eve dinner with all of them.

      Here are the foods that hopefully bring health and prosperity in the new year. Coincidentally, all of them are very nutritious—another reason to enjoy them as you usher in the new year.

    1. Beans: money. Ancient man used certain beans as currency (cacao beans are the most famous example). As civilization evolved, beans symbolized coins. Beans are a nutritional powerhouse: Make a New Year’s resolution to add more of them to your weekly diet. Enjoy a bean salad or hot bean dish: anything from black beans to lentils to the Hoppin’ John recipe below, made with black-eyed peas and rice. Check out our Beans Glossary for more bean inspiration.
    2. Figs: fertility. Want to hear the patter of little feet in the new year? Chow down on figs. We love them with fresh goat cheese. One of the first foods cultivated by man, figs are naturally rich in minerals and vitamins, including antioxidants.

    4. Fish: money. Silvery scales resemble money and fish swim in schools, which signifies abundance. Fish are packed with nutritional benefits, from protein to omega 3s in fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines and tuna—head for the sushi bar).
    5. Grains: abundance. We’re making risotto—a personal favorite. Make recipes with whole grains, and you’ll get lots of fiber and nutrients that can lower cholesterol, risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems. Beyond brown rice, work barley, quinoa and other whole grains into your repertoire (list of whole grains and more health benefits). Check out our Beans & Grains Glossary and our Rice Glossary.
    6. Grapes: a sweet year. When the clock chimes 12, Mexicans pop 12 grapes, one for each stroke of midnight. Each grape represents a month. If you get a bitter grape, beware of that month!
    7. Greens: money. Green vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber and are low in calories. Make anything from your favorite Brussels sprouts dish to a big green salad.
    8. Noodles: long life. Whole wheat and buckwheat noodles (like Japanese soba) are a great source of fiber. Enjoy your favorite pasta or Asian noodle dish.
    9. Pork: good luck. Pigs are a lucky symbol because they root forward and are rotund. Include some bacon, pork or sausage in your New Year’s Eve dinner.
    10. Pomegranate seeds: prosperity. The pomegranate’s many seeds symbolize abundance. Scatter them in sauces; sprinkle them on everything from porridge and yogurt to luncheon salads to ice cream and sorbet.


      Hoppin’ John is a traditional Southern dish enjoyed on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to usher in a year of prosperity. It combines several good luck foods: beans, greens, pork and rice.

      Some recipes substitute ham hock, fatback, or country sausage for the conventional bacon; some add green peas, a splash of vinegar and/or favorite spices.

      Enjoy Hoppin’ John as a hearty side with your favorite protein and a green salad (toss grapes and pomegranate seeds into that salad to up the good luck ante).

      This recipe is courtesy Frieda’s, one of America’s finest specialty produce companies. Use dried habaneros if you like a slightly milder, smokier flavor.




      Black-eyed or blackeyed peas are a Southern specialty. Photo courtesy Zursun.

    12. 1-1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
    13. 11-ounces pre-soaked blackeyed peas (or soak regular blackeyed peas overnight)
    14. 4 1/2 cups water
    15. 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
    16. 1 bay leaf
    17. 6 bacon strips
    18. 1 cup onion, chopped
    19. 1 cup red or green bell pepper, chopped
    20. 1/2 cup celery, minced
    21. 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
    22. 1 garlic clove, minced
    23. 1 habanero chile, seeded and finely minced (or dried habaneros, reconstituted according to package directions)
    24. Salt and pepper to taste


      1. COMBINE rice with blackeyed peas and water in a Dutch oven. Stir in thyme and bay leaf. Cover and bring mixture to a boil. Uncover and reduce heat and simmer 15 to 18 minutes or until rice and beans are done, checking to make sure mixture does not boil dry.

      2. MEANWHILE, in a medium skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels, reserving 2 tablespoons of drippings in skillet. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, parsley, garlic, and habanero chile to drippings in pan. Sauté about 3 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Crumble bacon; add to skillet. Remove from heat.

      3. DRAIN off any excess liquid when rice and beans are done. Remove bay leaf. Stir bacon mixture into rice and beans. The longer it sits, the more the flavors blend.


      Probably, nobody. Some food historians believe that the name is a corruption of the Haitian Creole term for blackeyed peas: pois pigeons (pwah-pee-JONE).


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    RECIPE: Candied Lemon Cookies

    Start the new year with a new cookie recipe. Photo courtesy


    Whether for dessert on New Year’s Eve or a special snack on New Year’s Day, we like to start the new year with a new cookie recipe—something different and exciting that we never get around to during the year, something perhaps a bit more laborious.

    This French shortbread cookie, topped with a beautiful candied lemon slice, is something special. The base is a vanilla sablé (classic French shortbread): butter, sugar and vanilla.

    The candied lemon slice takes some time. The key to maintaining a lovely slice, says the blogger Stresscake, who created the recipe, is to candy slowly and gently. “It’s not a quick process by any means,” she says, “but it is pretty easy, mostly hands off and well worth the effort for these beautiful and unique cookies.”

    The recipe makes about 4 dozen cookies depending on size.


    Ingredients For The Candied Lemon Slices

  • 3-4 thin skinned lemons, well washed and dried
  • 3 cups sugar, divided
  • 3¼ cups water + more as needed, divided
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup

    Ingredients For The Cookie Dough

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, measured then sifted
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Coarse sanding sugar
    Preparation: Candied Lemon Slices

    1. SLICE lemons into thin, even rounds about 1/8-inch thick, using a sharp knife. Try to slice evenly and take care to keep as much of the flesh intact as possible. Discard ends, carefully remove and discard any seeds.

    2. BRING 1¾ cups water and 1 cup sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add sliced lemons and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat as low as possible to maintain a gentle simmer, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours or overnight. Gently drain the lemons and discard the liquid (it is rather bitter).

    3. BRING remaining 2 cups sugar, 1½ cups water and 2 tablespoons corn syrup to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon slices and bring back to a gentle boil. Reduce heat as low as possible to maintain a gentle simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove pan from heat, cover and let sit at room temperature at least 4 hours or overnight.

    4. BRING same mixture back to boil and repeat this process 2-3 more times until lemon rind is tender and translucent, adding ¼ cup to ¾ cup water as needed to keep syrup liquid. If syrup becomes too thick, it may begin to caramelize, which should be avoided.

    5. REMOVE lemon slices from syrup and spread out evenly on a wire rack set over a sheet pan. Let dry for at least 1 hour or overnight. Note: If you care to save the leftover syrup, it makes a rather nice drink mixed with sparkling water, or mixed with gin, tequila or vodka.


    Preparation: Cookie Dough

    1. MIX butter on low speed until smooth and creamy, in a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, about 1 minute (you don’t want it to get light and fluffy).

    2. ADD sugar, salt and powdered sugar and mix until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape down bowl as needed. Add egg yolk (save white for later), vanilla extract and lemon zest; mix for 1 minute. On low speed, mix in the flour just until blended, scraping bowl once or twice (dough will be very soft.)

    3. DIVIDE dough in 2 or 3 pieces and shape each piece into log slightly smaller in diameter than your lemon slices (the dough will spread slightly during baking). Wrap logs in plastic wrap and roll on counter to round out the edges.

    4. REFRIGERATE for at least 3 hours until firm. At this point the dough can be frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months.


    Good butter is expensive, but it makes all the difference in the flavor of cookies. Photo courtesy Beurremont.


    To Bake

    1. POSITION oven racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

    2. WHISK remaining egg white with a ½ teaspoon water to combine. Unwrap one dough log and brush lightly and evenly with the egg wash. Sprinkle about ¼ cup coarse sanding sugar around log and gently roll dough to coat, patting sugar where necessary until evenly coated. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into ½-inch thick rounds, turning the roll as your slice to keep the cookies round, and place on the prepared sheet pans, leaving about 1 inch between rounds.

    3. BAKE cookies for 9 minutes until they just begin to set but haven’t yet browned.

    4. TOP each cookie with a candied lemon slice then return to oven, rotating pans, and continue to bake until the cookies are slightly firm to the touch and golden brown on the bottom, about 8-10 additional minutes.

    5. COOL cookies completely on sheet pans.

    6. PACK in airtight container with wax or parchment paper between layers and store at room temperature for up to 4 days.
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