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What's Cooking? - Posted November 25, 2015 9:22 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Gifts in Good Taste

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People who love giving Christmas gifts are often met with a holiday challenge: What do you get that special person who continues to insist they don’t need anything? “If I really wanted it,” they might say, “I’d buy it for myself.” One of our favorite humbug-disarming solutions has become food. Everyone needs to eat. Everyone likes to eat. But we become so busy around Christmas that trying new flavors or experimenting with new recipes gives way to the same boring things we consume every year. This year, why not lighten the recipient’s load a little? Give the gift of food.

Frequent contributor Ruthie Landelius (née Miller), of Black Fig Catering, is part of a supper club made entirely of self-proclaimed “foodies.” Along with Amberly Clark, Amy Hart, Carolyn Hulen, Ande Parlow, and Holly Schwarz, she shared with us their favorite gift-able mixes and more, from preserved lemons to holiday cookies to moonshine.


Preserved Lemons
Courtesy of Ruthie Landelius
5 to 6 lemons for preserving
1 bottle lemon juice
About ¾ cup kosher salt

Scrub lemons under cold running water; dry thoroughly. Pour salt into large bowl. Stand lemon stem end down on cutting board; use sharp knife to cut down into it as though cutting it in half, stopping about half an inch above stem. Make a perpendicular cut, again stopping short of stem, so lemon is quartered but still intact. Holding lemon over bowl, spread four quarters open and pack in as much salt as you can, allowing excess to fall back into bowl. Put lemon cut side up (to keep salt from spilling out) in jar, pushing down so it’s squeezed in tightly. Fit as many lemons into jar as possible. Cover and leave on counter overnight. The next day, push lemons down into jar and add another salted lemon or two. Pour lemon juice into jar until it is filled to brim and salted lemons are completely submerged. Put lid on, turning until it’s just finger-tight (over-tightening can keep air from escaping and cause lid to buckle). Put jar in dark spot, not in refrigerator. For next three to four weeks, turn and shake jar once a day to redistribute salt that has settled to bottom. Add more lemon juice if you notice lemons are no longer submerged. After you’ve waited a month, open jar. If lemons on top have floated above surface of liquid, they will have oxidized a bit, which will have caused them to turn brown, but they’re fine. Pour out tiny bit of juice and replace with olive oil. They can then be stored at room temperature for several more months, though lemons will continue to soften. To keep them from softening further, drain any that are left after four months (saving brine to add to dressings and sauces) and removing pulp. Then store rinds in small glass jar, completely covered with olive oil, for up to a year in refrigerator.

Chicken Thighs with Preserved Lemons
Courtesy of Ruthie Landelius
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large onion
3 garlic cloves
1 preserved lemon, large size
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cilantro sprigs
15 to 20 whole green olives
2 tablespoons butter or ghee

Peel onion and chop and garlic into fine pieces. Quarter preserved lemon and remove pulp from peel. Slice peel and finely chop pulp. Keep in separate bowls. Heat large pot over medium heat; drizzle vegetable and olive oil into pot. Add onion and garlic. Crush saffron threads and add along with rest of spices. Add all of chopped preserved lemon pulp. Mix well and cook for 1 minute. Do not add salt as the preserved lemons have plenty! Add chicken to onion mixture and cover to cook for a few minutes. Turn chicken over and cook for a few minutes more. Add cilantro and butter; cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn chicken again and cook for additional 15 minutes. Add green olives and few slices of preserved lemon peel to sauce. Uncover pot and increase heat to medium-high. Cook sauce until it has thick, syrupy texture. Place chicken on platter and top with olives, lemons and sauce.

Makes 6 to 8 servings


Santa’s Little Helper Moonshine
Courtesy of Amy Hart
1 gallon apple cider
1 gallon apple juice
3 cups brown sugar
3 cloves
3 cups water
1 liter cinnamon whiskey
1 liter vanilla vodka
1 liter 100 proof grain alcohol

Combine all ingredients (except alcohol) in large stock pot and cook on stove. Bring to boil. Remove from stove and let cool. Once cooled, stir in whiskey, vodka and grain alcohol. Pour into individual jars for gifting.

Makes 24 (16-ounce) jars

Hangover Stew
Courtesy of Ivy Gowdy
Spice mixture:
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
Stew:
5 to 7 russet potatoes
1 stick butter
5 cups milk
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup frozen corn
Monterrey Jack cheese for topping

Combine spices in jar for gifting. To prepare stew par-boil potatoes in just enough water to cover for about 5 minutes. Add butter, milk, cream and spice mixture; bring to low boil. Simmer for about 10 more minutes then add frozen corn. Turn heat to medium and cook until potatoes are tender but firm. Serve hot and top with a generous handful of cheese.

Makes 8 to 10 servings


Santa’s Naughty Cookies
Courtesy of Ande Parlow
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups wheat flour
½ cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons red pepper flakes
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 cups dark chocolate chips

Layer all ingredients in large jar for gifting, beginning with flour. To make cookies cream 1 cup butter flavored Crisco. Add two eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla; blend well. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen cookies


Baklava
Courtesy of Holly Schwarz
1 package phyllo dough
Equal parts toasted walnuts, pecans and pistachios
3 to 4 sticks butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup honey
½ cup lemon juice

Coarsely grind toasted nuts in food processor. Combine nuts, sugars and spices in bowl; set aside. Layer 5 to 7 dough sheets with butter brushed between each layer. Cover with first layer of nut mixture. Continue layering, ending with dough (there will be two layers of nut mixture). With sharp knife slice into squares, then in half into triangles. Bake at 35o degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Make syrup and pour over baklava after baking. Cool completely before serving.

Makes 15 servings


Peaches and Cream Pie
Courtesy of Amberly Clark
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 (3-ounce) package non-instant vanilla pudding mix

3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
½ cup milk
1 (29-ounce) can sliced peaches, drained and syrup reserved
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix together dry ingredients and pour into jar for gifting. To make pie heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease sides and bottom of 10-inch, deep-dish pie plate. In medium mixing bowl, pour combined dry ingredients; mix in butter, egg and milk. Beat for 2 minutes. Pour mixture into pie plate. Arrange peach slices on top of pudding mixture. In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add ½ cup sugar and 3 tablespoons reserved syrup. Beat for 2 minutes. Spoon mixture over peaches to within 1 inch of plate edge. Mix together remaining sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Chill before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Join the Club

In recent years, organized supper clubs have become one of the best ways for friends to combine cooking with conversation. Most clubs are built around a particular theme. Some prepare recipes from a particular cooking magazine. Others might revolve around ethnic foods – rotating from Mexican dishes to Indian food to Italian – or even base each get-together on a particular ingredient. Others are more traditional, with a host or hostess providing a main course and other members contributing side dishes and desserts. Regardless of how it’s categorized, a supper club can be a fantastic method of staying connected.

We asked Ruthie Landelius to give us her tips for organizing and sustaining a supper club.

Identify your tribe. Some supper clubs start with existing friendships, using the experience of a shared meal as a reason to get together. Others form based on shared interests. “I started this particular one in January,” says Ruthie of her current club. “I wanted to get people involved who were foodies and liked to try new recipes. That’s how I first became comfortable in the kitchen. I started cooking from recipes.”

Pick a theme. Ruthie has been a member of several supper clubs over the years, but says this one is the best fit for her personality. “We don’t call it a ‘supper club,’” she says. “I call it a ‘dinner magazine club.’” Whenever the group meets, each member prepares a new dish from a magazine to share with everyone else. “I’m always looking for new recipes and always want to try so many. To me, this was a way to try all these new, different recipes – but only pay for the ingredients for one.”

Other themes may revolve around a season, certain holidays or events like the Academy Awards. Some clubs organize themselves around food categories like soups, appetizers, or “dishes your grandmother used to make.”

Be flexible. While Ruthie’s group initially met every month, they took a break during the summer months when vacation plans made scheduling more difficult. “We picked it back up in October,” Ruthie explains. If her group can’t quite get back into the swing of monthly meetings, she says, they may switch to quarterly meetings.

Match the club to your personalities. Some groups will be extremely organized, identifying each meeting’s menu in advance to make sure all the elements of a traditional meal are covered and no dishes are duplicated. But if a club’s participants aren’t quite so orderly, don’t sweat it. “We just go with the flow,” Ruthie says. “Ours is loose and fun and not really organized at all. That’s why I like it.”

Take turns hosting. “It’s a lot to have to host it every month,” says Ruthie. “That would certainly burn me out if I had it at my house every time. Share the load.” Her group rotates houses, and many groups stipulate that the host home doesn’t provide any food. Opening one’s home to a full table of guests is plenty of work already.

Open the doors. Some may choose to limit the number of people in their supper club. But Ruthie’s club is open – and she prefers it that way. “Whoever hosts is welcome to invite new people,” she says. “Not all of us make it every month, so it’s a revolving door type of thing. There’s a core group of us who started it, but we’re constantly meeting new people.”

Communicate. Above anything else, make sure the individual members of the club stay in touch, whether through email or a dedicated texting thread. Ensure everyone knows the meeting date, time, location, and theme in advance. If a guest is attending, make sure the host knows and has space. One popular idea is for members of the club to split finances, which prevents one person from absorbing too much of the meal’s expense. In these cases, make sure everyone is aware of the amount to be paid at the event – or even before you meet.

As chef and television personality Anthony Bourdain once said, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” A good supper club gives you the opportunity to do a little of both.

by Jason Boyett

Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.
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