On and Around New Year...

New Year's Eve and Day have both come and gone, and now I'm surrounded by leftovers from the past several days. Not that I'm complaining. It was fun turning my house into the central hub of girlie conversation for a few days, punctuating our jabbering with as many sweets as we could hold. I rarely do as much visiting as I have done in the past few days, and now that the house is quiet, I miss it greatly.

On the sweets front, I already had quite an impressive amount of leftover Christmas cookies, and more added to me from my Mom. But an email from Northern Brewer convinced me to bite the bullet and add even more. You may remember the beginning of my obsession with them back in June when I started brewing kombucha. Though I haven't been there for a visit in a pretty long time, just the thought of their store still excites me. It's like a well organized and stocked pantry of laboratory supplies for obsessive fermenters like myself. If you are of the curious type and just walk in the front door, you immediately find inspiration and 20 new things you feel as if you must try. No surprise then that the mere mention of a New Year's Champagne Cake led me to yet more sugar.

I decided to turn a half recipe into 18 cupcakes. They are simple, yes, but actually quite elegant and complex. I topped them generously with an orange cream cheese frosting, which proved to be the perfect complement. I think I ate 4 of them all by myself on New Year's Eve... and I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the least bit sorry. I tried them both cold and at room temperature (since some people like refrigerated cake, and I usually do not), and I couldn't really decide which way I liked them best. At room temperature, the frosting was soft and droopy, from the fridge it was a bit more sturdy.

The room temperature cake tasted surprisingly like the inexpensive, yet delicious, Cristalino Brut Cava. This Spanish sparkling wine is actually a really great match for many different food types. (I once memorably served it with a Portuguese fish stew.) It has aggressive bubbles, and a semi-sweet flavor that believe it or not actually makes a simple butter cake recipe taste beautifully like champagne.

Plus, how much fun is it to say Champagne Cupcake?

Champagne Cupcakes (slightly adapted from the Northern Brewer blog)

makes 18
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 c. granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 c. champagne or sparking wine
  • 1 1/2 c. plus 3/8 c. (6 T.) AP flour
  • 1 1/8 t. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium sized bowl, sift (or stir) together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, cream butter together with sugar until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating a full minutes after each. Beat in vanilla.

Add flour alternately with champagne (or sparkling wine). (Add flour in three additions and the wine in two, beginning and ending with the flour.) Mix until well incorporated, but do not over mix.

Portion batter into 18 cupcake liners and bake for 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out cleanly.

Cool completely before topping with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting. (recipe follows)

This frosting makes a little more than you probably want to use on a batch of 18 cupcakes (or, maybe not!). This frosting is so good, I have an overwhelming urge to make some vanilla ice cream to use up the rest. I've never added leftover frosting to an ice cream before, so I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
(adapted from Epicurious)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • grated peel of 1 orange (preferably organic, about 2 t.)
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 - 3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/3 c. sour cream, cold from fridge
With a hand mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until very soft and well combined, then add orange peel and vanilla. Add about half of the powdered sugar, and continue mixing. After the powdered sugar is incorporated, add about half of the remaining amount. Mix well, then taste and add a pinch of salt if you feel it needs it. Mix in sour cream, and beat well. If the consistency is too soft, add a bit more powdered sugar. Refrigerate for a half hour or longer (to firm up a bit more) before using a knife to top cupcakes.

Prior to the overindulgence of sugar, we actually attempted to be quite virtuous by making pizza. Any time I have company, I use the excuse to knock out another of the veg heavy Lahey pizzas on my Lahey Project list. This delicious specimen was the Pizza Radici de Sedano, or celery root pizza.

I'd have to say, that this is the variety that I was looking forward to the least, and the one that is probably my favorite so far. The celery root turns soft and nearly potato-like in some parts, while still retaining the trace of celery flavor. Another of the cheese-less pizzas in My Bread, I decided that being from Wisconsin entitled me to add just a little bit of Parmesan during the last few minutes of baking. We can't see it floating on the top, but are convinced that the salinity of the cheese is a good addition to an already perfect recipe. I can't help but say it again: You have to get a copy of My Bread for yourself!

Though we could have easily survived on leftovers and sugar well into the new year, I decided to make a New Year's Eve Gumbo on December 31, 2010. I had proudly made a stock from shrimp peels that my Husband peeled for me (his only kitchen task, and one he enjoyed!) last month using the method that Sally Fallon outlined in Nourishing Traditions. I'm actually a "take it or leave it" type when it comes to shrimp, and this stock smelled so delicious when I was simmering it that I could hardly wait to use some up in something. I only ended up using a cup in this gumbo recipe from Paula Deen, but I'm convinced that it made a difference.

I took back my vow of "no chicken parts" for one day, and used 3 chicken breasts along with andouille sausage and a half pound of shrimp for this southern stew. I have never made this before, and am so thankful for leftovers and the promise that it will be made again. I hate the description, but I'll use it anyway that the broth was actually silk-like, since the pot was thickened with a whole half cup of flour. A fair amount of veg was present for all of that meat: a large green pepper, onion, okra and home canned tomatoes. We served the gumbo on plain white rice, and garnished with slices of sourdough bread. I was actually surprised that the meal wasn't as heavy as I anticipated. Well, at least not until I continued eating Champagne Cupcakes on into the wee hours of the morning.

Gumbo (adapted from Paula Deen, via Food Network)

serves 8-10
  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 12 oz. andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices on the bias
  • 1/2 cup AP flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/4 c. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 smallish bunch of parsley (flat leaf)
  • 1 c. shrimp stock (could use chicken or beef stock to equal the 4 cups of liquid, we agreed that 4 cups of the shrimp stock may have been too "shrimpy".)
  • 3 c. water
  • 14 oz. "stewed tomatoes" (1 can, or equivalent home-canned)
  • 2 cups frozen, sliced okra
  • 4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
  • 1/2 pound small shrimp (25-30 size), peeled and deveined

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a non-reactive (enameled) dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove. Sprinkle the flour over the oil, add 2 tablespoons of butter and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. Let the roux cool slightly.

Return the Dutch oven to low heat and melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste and 1/4 bunch chopped parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes.

Add 4 cups liquid (shrimp stock/water or other stock), whisking constantly. Add the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving add the green onions and shrimp. Cover and cook until shrimp is opaque and cooked through about 3 minutes. Add additional chopped parsley, and serve over rice.

I reheated the last of the celery root pizza for lunch today, and look forward to a little bowl of gumbo for supper later tonight. Meanwhile, I'm sitting around in a clean-ish house after having taken my tree down yesterday. It's always a bittersweet time of year for me, I love Christmas and it's joy, the remembrance of the deepest things of life. A year ends, another notch indelibly marked into our lives, and January begins as a clean slate with nothing on the horizon.

The days seem immediately to lengthen, and the circle of seasons and life continue on. Being the homebody I am, I wonder what I can get myself into for the next few months before all I want to do is be outside, and I have a few ideas. If you have any suggestions, send them my way. Meanwhile, I'm off to read about sprouting grains...

Happy New Year!!