Thursday, December 2, 2010


Several times a year we seem to congregate together to celebrate something or other. The origins of these gatherings have long been drowned in a sea of advertisements, themed gift baskets and cartoon characters, but somehow we managed to retain the sense of warmth and family gathering I have always admired about the holidays.

Living in New York for the past five years, I rarely see my family and look forward to birthdays, thanksgivings and Christmases to have the opportunity to cook together in our pajamas and stuff ourselves with a five course meal. We spend the afternoon cooking, dropping soup laden spoons on the broilers and slipping on renegade cubes of butter and settle around a 1.5ft high coffee table propping ourselves up on throw pillows to enjoy the spoils of our battle with the kitchen.

Long ago, I put a ban on most packaged foods in my kitchen, and since then have barely been able to afford the ingredients that my lavish lifestyle seems to constantly require of me. Perhaps I have developed an alter ego, one who requires that Comté and Morbier accompany every proper meal and scoffs at any jam with more than five ingredients. She's quite a burden, you see, and it is indeed a blessing when my parents arrive with logs of fillet mignon and balls of Mozzarella di Buffalo and bags filled with florets of cauliflower and haricot vert. That alter ego of mine can finish her pouting over our roasted chicken and ratatouille diet (where really, what sensible girl can complain of rosemary buttered chicken and fresh vegetable ratatouille?) and return to her epic planning of the perfect French fête. To explain the image above, I imagine my alter ego wearing a 1930's feather hat and lace dresses as she prepares her gateaux, I am sure you won't oppose.

This year, my whole family has been operating on a low carbohydrate diet, so I had to plan accordingly. No stuffings or mashed potatoes coated in glutenous gravy were to be tolerated, no chocolate bread puddings or gateaux drenched in raspberry jam could even be contemplated. Whatever was I to do with all of my wartime glass cake pedestals? Leave them to their fine blanket of dust? I wouldn't dream of it.

The stuffing and potatoes were easily overcome: I can't stand the concept of roast turkey anyway, a poor excuse for a giant dry chicken. I-make-a-lamb (as has come to be a catchphrase for me among my closest friends). Lamb is one of my favorite meats, it is fatty and flavorful and requires little dressing, the only sin being to overcook the poor beast. Thinking about my curly-coated friend, I planned the rest of the menu.

The lamb, I dusted with salt and pepper and instructed the dad to puncture its entire surface with inch long holes into which we subsequently stuffed halved cloves of garlic, giving the roast its "signature" porcupinesque appearance, and drenched in a nice shower of olive oil (I am proud to admit that I learned this recipe from my dad). Accompanying the lamb we had garlic and butter sautéed haricot vert, a signature Caprese salad (as we have discussed, I cannot survive a formal meal without one) as well as a rich and cheesy spinach and artichoke dip with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Monterey Jack cheeses (recipe below) paired with chips made of low carb tortillas. A few other dishes were in the running, but found themselves downgraded to "day after thanksgiving" meal, since it was only mom, dad and I feasting.

Meal accomplished, I had a bit of a harder time with an idea for a dessert, but a "ladies night" dinner party of a few years back reminded me of the perfect idea: a flourless chocolate cake. Bittersweet chocolate has relatively few carbohydrates (in comparison to other desserts), and this cake could be accomplished with a sugar substitute and no additional starches. I scoured the internet, and ended up mashing together a few different recipes and substituting ingredients until I came up with what I thought would be a moist and rich cake, without the hefty starch setback (recipe below).

Masterpiece accomplished, my dad and I took to our century long fully outfitted photo shoot (for my lovely readers, of course) as my mom complained of fainting fits and starvation. A full hour later, after we inched platters around and endlessly fickled around with depth of field and aperture settings, we finally sliced the roast, picked our pillow "chairs" and settled around the coffee table. We had a lovely evening making fun of each other, watching silly movies and stuffing ourselves past morbidity only to get up the next morning and feast on a brunch of solid chocolate at Payard's FC Chocolate Bar (apparently I go there often, no wonder I'm not losing any weight this week.)

Spinach Artichoke Dip

1 package of fresh spinach
1 16oz jar of artichoke hearts
1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup freshly grated Monterey Jack
2 cloves garlic, minced

First thing's first, preheat oven to 350. I like to throw the entire bag of spinach, with a tiny hole in the bag, into the microwave and cook it on high for about 2 minutes. While that is cooking, drain the artichoke hearts and separate (or mush) them with your fingers. Mix together all of the ingredients save for 1/4 cup of Jack and place in an oven safe container. Sprinkle the remainder of the Monterey Jack on top and allow to bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the cheese crust is golden brown at the edges. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes and serve with chips, or whatever else you choose.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream and Blueberries

16 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
9 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup Splenda (or sugar)
16 ounce container of heavy cream (additional 2 tablespoons of Splenda)
6 ounce carton of fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Melt the butter and mix with melted chocolate. While the chocolate is melting, wisk together the sugar and egg yolks. Dip your wisk into the chocolate mixture and return it to the egg and sugar bowl, wisking quickly. This will serve to temper your eggs so they do not cook while you combine the chocolate and egg yolk mixtures. Separately, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate. Line a 9" round pan (preferably with collapsible sides) and pour in the batter. Bake for 18-25 minutes until the batter is set.

Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream and add 2 tablespoons of Splenda. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan and another 15-30 minutes before serving.

Hope you guys enjoy the recipes. Thank you all for keeping up with my sporadic posts, I am thankful for every beautiful moment of my life!

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