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Irish Christmas Cake

Irish Christmas Cake (c) 2012 La Domestique

Last night we ate our first slice of Irish Christmas Cake. To my Irish-born-and-raised husband, this fruit cake is an essential part of celebrating Christmas. If you ask him about Christmas cake, his eyes gloss over as he recites its virtues, from boozy dried fruit to moist, dark crumb to marzipan crust. My experience with Christmas cake came a couple of years ago when we traveled to Ireland during the holidays for a family wedding. As we journeyed from house to house visiting friends and relatives, I noticed a Christmas cake appeared on every table in every home. Once invited in, we gathered around the kitchen table next to the warm stove. A pot of tea and the obligatory slice of Christmas cake placed on the table sustained us through hours of chatting and catching up. The dense crumb studded with golden raisins, currants, and glacé cherries was heavy with holiday spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger. Covered in a thick coating of marzipan and wrapped in white fondant, the cake tasted tooth achingly sweet. Everyone had their favorite way to eat Christmas cake, my husband preferring to peel off the fondant and nibble at the marzipan. He had a history of stripping the whole cake of marzipan and leaving the naked fruit cake for everyone else!

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Dinner with Food52: A Cookbook Review and Giveaway

Chicken That Fancies Itself Spanish, with Lemons, Onions, and Olives (c)2012 La Domestique

Food52 sent me their newest cookbook for review, and have graciously  provided a copy for this giveaway contest to La Domestique readers.

Full contest rules can be found at the end of the review.

I pick up the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2, Seasonal Recipes from Our Kitchens to Yours, and run my fingers over the smooth, slate-gray cover. The cover photo is a gathering of ingredients that tells the story of a recipe in the making: sliced squash, sprig of sage, sprinkling of salt. Will it be soup tonight? I open the book to find out.

The introduction takes me back to the beginning of Food52, a website founded by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs. Their original project crowdsourcing a cookbook online is now an active community of home cooks (about 100,00) sharing recipes, advice, and inspiration on Food52.com. I turn the page  and see The Year in Recipes begins with my favorite season, fall. Flipping through the pages, I find a somewhat random collection of recipes (noted as winners of weekly contests at Food52.com), anchored by the seasonal theme. Week 1 is the contest winner for Your Best Red Peppers, Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Corn and Cilantro, followed by Your Best Chicken Wings, Korean Fried Chicken Wings, and a Wildcard Winner, the Wicked Witch Martini. Each page turn reveals something unexpected, and I feel this is a cookbook I’ll reach for throughout the year to shake up my cooking routine. Every time I see the words “Your Best” before a recipe, it reinforces the highly tested, curated standard to which Amanda and Merrill measure these recipes by home cooks. Flipping through the pages, several fall recipes catch my eye. I realize they each have one thing in common: a clever combination of flavors that I would not have thought of before. In Week 4, Your Best Brown Bag Lunch, there’s Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Salad Sandwich, tempting me with a vibrant and punchy mix of tuna, basil leaves, olives, red bell pepper, red onion, artichoke hearts, and haricots verts (French green beans) atop crusty baguette. The Roasted Cauliflower with Gremolata Bread Crumbs (winner of Your Best Cauliflower) brings to mind an Italian antipasto – so simple and smart – coated in crisp breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. Another thing I notice about this cookbook collaboration by home cooks across the world is diversity – from the Moorish Paella to Afghan Dumplings with Lamb Kofta and Yogurt Sauce to Okonomiyaki (Kyoto-style pancakes), the Food52 Cookbook, Volume 2 is anything but vanilla.

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Winter Radicchio Tart

Winter Radicchio Tart (c) 2012 La Domestique

Last week here at La Domestique, I shared images of produce from the final farmers market of the regular season in Boulder, Colorado in a post titled, The Last Phase is the Most Glorious. Every season, a trip to the market brings the usual staples (carrots, onions, celery, potatoes), seasonal highlights (peaches, corn, pumpkins), and the occasional wildcard vegetable (an unfamiliar green, exotic fruit, or monstrous squash). Scanning the farm stands at the last market of 2012, my eyes smiled at old friends, both human and vegetable, until I came across something I had never seen at the market before – a massive head of ragged leaves, dark green surrounding a tender heart of purple with white veins. As Chef Eric Skokan of the Black Cat farm and restaurant handed me a piece to taste, I looked at him, perplexed, “What IS this?” Chewing on the sturdy, bitter leaf, my brain knew it was the wild, tannic flavor of a chicory, but my eyes weren’t sure. It was a radicchio – but not just any variety of radicchio, a huge leafy head of Radicchio Palla Rossa.

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The Last Phase is the Most Glorious

The growing season is pretty much over here in Colorado. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden there will still be the occasional snow-covered leaves of kale to harvest, or maybe one last head of cabbage to pull from the cold, hard ground. This Saturday the lot where farmers stands piled high with produce all summer was empty. Living at Zone 5 on the plant hardiness map teaches you to really savor the seasons. Winter is long, and when spring finally arrives at the end of May she’s slow to reveal herself. It seems like all we get is radishes and salad greens forever, until August when summer arrives and gives us everything all at once: peaches, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, peas, zucchini, squash, carrots, cucumbers. The bounty of summer overwhelms us and we hardly have time to appreciate it all. September and October lull us into complacency with seemingly endless offerings of pumpkins and hot peppers, but apples and pears freshly plucked from the tree hint that a change is coming. Autumn turns abruptly to winter here in Colorado, and the first snow in October snaps us back into reality- the barren season of our Zone 5 winter is approaching. A visit to the final farmers market of the season reveals the beauty of nature even at the end of the growing season in November. I’m reminded of a favorite line from the movie, The Calendar Girls:

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Kosher Thanksgiving: Challah Stuffing with Mushrooms and Hazelnuts

Kosher Challah Stuffing with Mushrooms and Hazelnuts (c)2012 La Domestique

Kosher couldn’t be farther from the pulled pork sandwiches and steaks smothered in creamy sauces I grew up eating in Arkansas. So when I was asked to develop a Thanksgiving menu abiding by the laws of kashrut, I felt overwhelmed and intimidated. Growing up I didn’t know anyone who was Jewish, let alone kosher. Clueless as I was about this way of living, I knew it was more than a special diet. Setting out to create a kosher Thanksgiving, I had a lot of respect for Jewish culture and the importance of preparing food in their rituals. During my research I carefully studied the rules to keeping kosher: no mixing meat and dairy, only eat fish with fins and scales, pork and rabbit are prohibited, etc. I knew it was more than a bunch of rules, and to create kosher recipes that embraced Jewish cuisine I would have to really get to the root of the rituals. Why do Jews go to such lengths to keep keep kosher? It’s not just about what to eat, but how the food is prepared every step of the way, from slaughterhouse practice to kashering the home kitchen. Kashrut (following kosher laws) is a serious commitment for a household.

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Pear, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart

Pear, Cheddar, and Caramelized Onion Tart (c) 2012 La Domestique

I’ve been busy in the test kitchen developing holiday entertaining recipes for a client, and today I’d like to share a savory tart with you. The components can be prepared ahead of time (the pastry pre-baked), later assembled and baked just before serving. High-quality puff pastry can be found in the freezer section of the grocery store, and bakes up into a flaky, buttery tart base. The toppings are a combination of four autumnal ingredients: slow-cooked caramelized onions for rich sweetness, thyme contributes a woodsy note, and Bosc pears, a baking fruit with crisp, juicy texture, combine beautifully with the nutty, sharp flavor of aged cheddar. Slice the tart into squares and serve it at casual gatherings with cocktails, beers, or mulled wine. It’s a delicious small bite that “tastes like more” as the husband would say.

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Election Day Chicken Drumsticks

Pomegranate Glazed Chicken Drumsticks (c) 2012 La Domestique

Sweet and sour glazed chicken is a dish democrats and republicans can all agree on. Tuesday, November 6, our country will elect the next President of the United States of America. Many of us will gather, family and friends, to watch election coverage on television. There will be heated discussions over the dinner table and cheers (or tears) as results roll in. Pomegranate Glazed Chicken Drumsticks is a festive appetizer, perfect for serving a crowd. An economical finger food, drumsticks pair nicely with beer, cocktails, or a big bowl of party punch. Inspired by the technique from Giada De Laurentis’s Balsamic Chicken Drumettes, I created my own sweet and sticky glaze with the exotic flavor of pomegranate molasses. If you’ve never cooked with pomegranate molasses, it’s syrupy and tart, a reduced pomegranate juice found in the Middle Eastern section of large grocery stores. The combination of pomegranate molasses, orange juice, cinnamon, brown sugar, and garlic, makes for a deeply flavored, sweet, fruity, and gently spiced marinade that tenderizes and flavors the chicken, caramelizing deep golden brown and crisp in the oven.

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Halloween Barmbrack, an Irish Tradition

Halloween Barmbrack (c)2012 La Domestique

Barmbrack – such a strange word to those of us who didn’t grow up in Ireland. Originating from the Gaelic language, bairín, is a reference to the yeast of fermented bear and breac, notes the speckled appearance of currants and golden raisins. This sweet bread is leavened with yeast, enriched with milk and butter, and infused with cinnamon and nutmeg. Tokens are wrapped in parchment, then folded into the bread dough to be discovered later when the bread is sliced. My Irish husband’s favorite Halloween memory is of gathering at the table with his family to slice into the barmbrack. Each token symbolizes a different prediction for the future. Find a ring in your slice and you’ll be married soon. The matchstick predicts an unhappy marriage. A pea foretells poverty, a coin, wealth. It’s great fun to see who gets what, laughing at the good and the bad (which is very Irish).

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Cook in the Moment: Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Soup (c)2012 La Domestique

It’s been quiet here at La Domestique. I went home to Arkansas to stay with my sister and help with the baby while her husband was away. The day after I returned to Colorado, my husband surprised me with a spontaneous trip to Florida to celebrate our fifth anniversary. We had a relaxing time in the Florida Keys, then stopped off at Disney World (where the husband asked me to marry him six years ago) and Universal Studios for a little magic and roller coasters. While I love the nostalgia of the Magic Kingdom, visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was my favorite. Ollivanders wand shop was just like in the movie, and we couldn’t resist walking away with a couple of magic wands (remember, the wand chooses the wizard). It was fun to leave the stresses of the adult world at the door and just be a kid again with my husband.

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Inspiration from Nature: Color, Shape, and Pattern

Hammock in the trees (c)2012 La Domestique

October is flying by and it seems all my projects involve everything but food. Being a freelancer is fun because I never know what kind of project lies just around the corner. Most recently, I photographed my friend Kerry, founder of Comma Workshop, quilting in her beautiful studio and I’m working on a project styling luxury handwoven purses with a photographer for another client. Food is still my favorite subject, but it’s fun to branch out and grow as an artist. I don’t have a recipe for you today, but I would like share a few photos I captured on a trip to Seattle in August. Nature is a huge inspiration for my lifestyle and food styling. Even though it was still technically summer in Seattle, the overcast skies and cool temperatures felt very autumnal. Usually, when I think of lying in a hammock I picture ocean waves, sunny skies, and a refreshing drink, but it’s interesting to see a hammock at the edge of dark and mysterious woods. Instead of a lemonade I picture sipping a cuppa hot tea and getting lost in a copy of Alice in Wonderland.

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About Jess

Jess O'Toole is La Domestique

Hi, I’m Jess, aka La Domestique. No matter how busy or cooking-challenged you are I can help you live the good life and enjoy fresh, healthy meals at home every day. Find out more

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