Thursday, December 30, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is a Black Forest Cherry Torte

My parents host Christmas dinner, and I promised my Mom I would bring dessert.  While I like pie better than cake, I find I am far better at baking cakes than pies.  Since Mom was making Roast Pork Loin with Sour Cherries for dinner, I thought this Black Forest Cherry Torte would compliment dinner nicely.

I made a few minor modifications to the recipe.  I omitted the almond extract, since I'm not a fan.  Also, Bryan didn't find kirschwasser at the liquor, so brought home a cherry flavored brandy instead.

The torte itself is a rather involved process, though not overly difficult.  Step 1 had me baking 3 layers of chocolate cake.  One of the most time consuming parts of the entire process was finely grating 9 oz. of semisweet chocolate.  I grated three 3 oz. bars using the fine side of my box grater, which took roughly forever.  Surely there is a better way, one which I am not aware of.  Since the chocolate is not melted, but is rather folded into the cake batter, this was a necessary evil.  The perk was my fingers being covered in melting chocolate.

The cake batter also had me wishing I had an extra bowl for my mixer, as I first needed to cream the butter and sugar, and then beat egg whites.  I got by just fine without it, but my lazy self would have liked to have an extra bowl.

Since I made the cakes on Friday, I decided I would wait until Saturday to assemble the torte itself.  I was worried that the brandy would make the cakes soggy, and the whipped cream would begin to break down if I let it sit overnight.

Saturday morning, I assembled the cake: brandy, cherry preserves, and whipped cream in the middle.

And whipped cream frosting with chocolate shavings on top.

The cake was a huge hit. I have to admit, it was insanely delicious.  And, it turned out, even better the next day.  The brandy had some time to mellow out, and the cakes did not get soggy as I had feared, nor did the cream start to melt.  Next time, I'll definitely make the entire thing the day before.

Oh yes, I said next time.  This cake was definitely worth the effort.

Lamb Tagine

For one of our Christmas gifts, my very talented mother in law, Linda, made us a tagine.  Yep, made us one.  This is something we've been wanting to get for awhile, so we were very excited about the gift.

I did a little research, and seasoned the tagine before use.  Our first attempt was Lamb Tagine with Dates and Chickpeas.  We placed the tagine on the top of the stove, on top the cast iron griddle to accomplish the need for indirect heat (inside the oven would be fine as well).  We had the heat too low, so a little more heat would have been better, but overall the dish turned out delicious - and beautiful.

We're looking forward to trying out more recipes:

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Spiced Pine Nuts

Beef-Short Ribs Tagine with Honey-Glazed Butternut Squash

Fresh Nectarine and Plum Moroccan Chicken Tagine

Lamb, Quince, and Okra Tagine

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Thanksgiving went off without a hitch here.  We host each year, it being the holiday we feel best suits our cooking style.  Our goal was A Local Thanksgiving.  And we did pretty good - almost everything we prepared was sourced locally.

We invested in an American Bronze Heritage turkey from JenEhr farms.  Far different from your supermarket turkey, which have been bred for giant breasts and little flavor, heritage turkeys offer a variety of benefits.  For one, like many traditional foods, they are healthier:

They have reduced fat and cholesterol because they are adhering to a regimen that physicians usually recommend to their patients, i.e., to eat more greens and fiber, exercise daily and reduce stress levels. Meats, eggs and poultry from grass fed animals have a better balance of health-promoting essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, and have more vitamin E and beta carotene. Recent studies indicate that “grass-grown” meats are the richest source of good fats called CLA (conjugated linoleic acids), which may be linked to reducing the growth of tumors.  (JenEhr  Farms, Pasture Raised is Healthier).

Of course, raising meat on pasture has huge environmental benefits, as well. From requiring less fossil fuel to produce, to reducing greenhouse gasses, to less erosion, to healthier soil - there is an unending list of reasons why raising meat on pasture is better for the environment.

And they taste darn good, too.  They taste like turkey.

Our preference is to brine the bird.  After some research, Bryan used Alton Brown's highly recommended brine recipe.  Bryan used the caul fat from our pig (from Otter Creek Organic Farm) to cover the bird.

To go with the fantastic turkey, Bryan made gravy and I made Cranberries with Port, our version of cranberry sauce.

We planned a good number of side dishes because, well, that's what you do on Thanksgiving.

For the dressing, Bryan made a Pecan and Apricot Stuffing.  A fairly standard base of bread, onions, and celery, seasoned with sage, with toasted pecans and dried apricots added in.  Definitely a favorite around the table.  I had an entire second helping after the kids were in bed.

Bryan traditionally makes Diana Kennedy's corn budin (Budin de Elote), which is one of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  However, he decided to shake things up this year and make Alton Brown's Sweet Corn Bread Pudding.  I was skeptical, but I may actually like that recipe better.

Bryan also creamed some kale from JenEhr, and Shannon brought some polish sausage from a Polish deli in Chicago.  (My paternal grandmother being 100% Polish, every holiday comes with a side of polish sausage!)

We had some of the standards as well: brussel sprouts with bacon, Mom's homemade wheat rolls, Aunt Debbie's cheesy potatoes, and a potato gratin from my cousin (a Pioneer Woman recipe), as well as a green bean casserole.  We had just enough food, me thinks.

For dessert, Shannon made a Gluten Free Pecan Pie, and I made my Apple and Fennel Pie.  Instead of your standard pie crust, this year I made a biscuit topping based off Martha Stewart's Quince Biscuit Pie.  Definitely easier to make, and easier to make a large one, as well.  Also, I found the pie to be a lot less wet, which was a good thing.  My cousin brought Candied Bacon Ice Cream as well.  There were no complaints at dessert.

Good food and good company.  That's what the holidays are about!