Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Special dinner: Pasta with Shrimp, Clams and Artichokes



I learned this recipe at the 3rd Annual Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival in Fairmont. The co-founder's father taught it. His tasted way better than what I made last night. Buttery. I'm not sure if he added butter because people were so loud and rude that I missed a lot of his presentation unfortunately. Even if I missed something, what I made still tasted pretty good. I used a whole pound of pasta and we have a couple of lunches' worth of leftovers. It was easy to make, too, and just expensive enough to feel like a splurge.

PASTA WITH SHRIMP, CLAMS AND ARTICHOKES
From Larry Colaianni
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 8-ounce package angel hair pasta
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 can of clams
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pepper flakes


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water according to directions or until al dente. Add a small amount of oil to cooking water to prevent pasta from sticking. Drain and set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic, stirring constantly, until the garlic is soft but do not let the garlic burn. Add shrimp and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until pink. Remove shrimp from the skillet, and set aside.

Add the wine, parsley, artichokes, basil and pepper flakes into the skillet. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half, 8 to 12 minutes. Add shrimp and clams and continue cooking until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Serve the shrimp and clam mixture over the pasta. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and chopped herbs.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good eats from a bawdy book:
New Year's Eve hors d'oeuvres

Of all the memorable parts of dirty Judy Blume books, there is one that makes my mouth water in a wholesome way. Might've known it'd be food writing.

"Justine was the ultimate caterer, the finest, the classiest, the most gourmet. Sandy knew the menu by heart. So did all the other guests. There would be no palatable surprises. But no one would go hungry. Crab fingers, marinated mushrooms, miniature pizzas, cheese and spinach quiche, tiny shells filled with chicken a la king, giant shrimp to hold by the tail, and later, at midnight, Justine herself would emerge from the kitchen, offering whole fillets of beef, slice before your very eyes and placed on squares of hot garlic brea, eliminating the hostess's need for renting china or silverware. And later still the buffet table would be laden with delectable French pastries and freshly brewed coffee."
-- "Wifey" by Judy Blume (Pocket Books, 1978)

I learned a lot of things from Judy Blume, not least of which was about heavy hors d'oeuvres. That bit about the slab of beef on the hot garlic bread -- and I have always added in my imagination, melty, gooey cheese -- has stuck with me.

This passage, like most all of Blume's works for young people and those who are more mature, is loaded with information. Party guests want the familiar but they appreciate a gourmet or elegant twist. Hostesses want to satisfy people without creating a lot of mess and work for themselves, such as silverware to wash or in this case, rent. Things you can make ahead and hold over a day or two are good, too, such as marinated mushrooms. You certainly don't want to be stuck in the kitchen at any party, particularly a New Year's Eve bash.

When I was growing up, my mom's New Year's Eve staple for watching the ball drop was a can of deviled ham mixed with a package of softened cream cheese and served on Ritz crackers. Familiar ingredients (except maybe the canned, processed meat which wasn't an everyday food) presented in a different way.

For the last potluck I attended at my former office, I took two dishes that were easy to make, pretty on the plate and, I hoped, palate-pleasing. I thought the marinated mushrooms would be impressive, but most people raved over the simplest, most heart-stopping (in a cholesterol-laden way) item: thin slices of salami spread with whipped cream cheese and wrapped around scallions (green onions.) The familiar ingredients won out. I learned that recipe at a family reunion on the in-laws' side and it's usually a big hit with men, so I send it with my husband to men's meetings at church. Really there is not much more to the recipe than there is to the deviled ham spread but I'll list my technique here.

Thin sliced salami
A container of whipped cream cheese spread
Scallions (green onions)

Clean and count your onions. Lay out as many pieces of salami as you have scallions. Evenly divide the cream cheese among the slices of meat, spreading evenly. Place the white part of the scallion on the slice of meat and roll up.

MARINATED MUSHROOMS
(adapted from a recipe I found on About.com)

6 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 jarred roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
4 to 6 green onions, thinly sliced
16 ounces whole mushrooms, blanched

Whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, pepper, salt and garlic. Stir in chopped bell pepper and basil. Add sliced green onions and drained mushrooms. Let mushrooms marinate in refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving.

My sister-in-law Gloria served these potato and bacon mini pizzas at her Christmas Eve party. They are yummy, filling, mess-free to eat and easy to assemble. They also have familiar ingredients but make an attractive presentation. Their leftovers are good too. My husband brought home a plate that he finished two days later for lunch.



POTATO AND BACON MINI PIZZAS
From Pillsbury

20 1/4-inch-thick slices of red boiling potatoes (about 3 medium)
8 ounces thick-sliced smoky bacon
1 medium onion, sliced
1 12-ounce can refirgerated flaky biscuits
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat oven to 400. In medium saucepan, cook potato slices in boiling salted water over medium-high heat for 5 minutes and drain.

Fry bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Crumble bacon and set aside.

In same skillet with bacon drippings, cook onion 5-7 minutes until softened and separated into rings, stirring frequently.

Separate dough into 10 biscuits. Separate each biscuit into two layers. Place biscuit rounds onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten each slightly. Spread each lightly with mustard. Top each dough round with potato slice and onion.

Bake for 9-15 minutes or until crusts are crisp and golden brown. Top each mini pizza with sour cream and crumbled bacon. Sprinkle with parsley.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Polar Bear

I got myself a copy of "The Comfort Table" by Mrs. Billy Joel, Katie Lee, as she was known growing up in West Virginia. I plan to review it here later.

The first recipe I tried after a quick flip-through is the Polar Bear, which she describes as a grown-up coffee milkshake that will warm you up in the winter and cool you down in summer. Well... it's kind of a glorified White Russian. Or maybe a watered-down cousin of a White Russian. It was OK. And my husband, who doesn't drink alcohol at all, said "I've had better shakes." Hey, it got us to take the 2-year-old hand blender that I *had to have* on its maiden voyage.

Polar Bear
From "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee Joel (2008, Simon Spotlight Entertainment)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 pint vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup coffee-flavored liqueur
Cocoa powder

Put four dessert glasses in the freezer.

Whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form.

Combine ice cream, milk and coffee liqueur in a blender. Blend until smooth. Serve in the dessert glasses, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of cocoa.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas morning brunch rolls



On Christmas morning at my house, I want some easy but special nibbles to enjoy while we open presents. This is probably the most relaxed I'll be all day. As soon as we clean up wrapping paper, we change out of our PJs and start packing the car to go to my mom's house across the county for lunch. Not only do I take presents, I find myself taking more and more of the meal -- either dishes I've made ahead or the ingredients, recipes and kitchen equipment to prepare them. This year I'll be doing everything at her house. But that's another post.

I make these easy rolls to treat myself and others throughout the year. They are just different fillings for crescent roll dough.

CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT BRUNCH ROLLS
3 tubes of crescent rolls dough
(If it's the traditional triangle cut, you'll have to push the perforations together. For this recipe, try to get the new variation where the dough is in strips or one big sheet.)
Jar of Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread (look for it near the peanut butter and jams)
chopped toasted hazelnuts or walnuts if you wish

Preheat oven to 375. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
Place one tube of the crescent roll dough out flat. Spread evenly with Nutella. Sprinkle with nuts. Cover with the other whole piece of crescent roll dough from the second can. Cut it into eight long strips. Pick up one and gently twist it a few times before twirling it into a roll. Place one roll in each muffin tin.
Place the dough from the third can flat on the work surface. Spread one half (lengthwise) with Nutella and sprinkle with nuts. Fold the other half over. Cut into four pieces and repeat the twisting and twirling procedure from above. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes or
Makes 12.



APPLE VARIATION
Spread the crescent roll dough from one tube. Sprinkle with brown or granulated sugar as you prefer. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Lay thin slices of Granny Smith apple end to end to cover the whole dough. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Starting at a short end roll up lengthwise, taking care to bend/stretch/break slices to accommodate the apples. Slice into six equal pieces. Place in greased muffin cups. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. While still hot, drizzle with icing you make from mixing a bit of milk into powdered sugar.



CHEESE VARIATION
Probably the simplest of all. Place a piece of Havarti cheese (you determine its size but don't get too carried away or it'll ooze all over your baking sheet -- tastes fine but not so pretty) on a crescent roll dough triangle. Fold the dough around it to enclose the cheese. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Serve warm with seedless red raspberry or red plum jam.

St. Nick of time nibbles

If you need something to fill in your Christmas Eve dinner party buffet or if you were asked ot attend a holiday potluck at the last minute, try these elegant and supremely easy little wonders.

Buy some whole pitted dates, some goat cheese and some walnuts. I'm assuming you have powdered sugar and orange juice on hand.

Split one side of the whole date. Grab a little piece of goat cheese and stuff it in the date. Plop a walnut half or piece (depending on the size of the date) on top. Drizzle the whole batch with some icing you whip up by mixing a little orange juice into some powdered sugar.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I cheat at cookies

Well, I don't cheat at all cookies, but close readers will see my Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich cookies from an early post start with a boxed cake mix. And this Christmas cookie, rugelach, which I have never attempted to make from scratch, starts with a storebought pie crust. I saw it on the Rachael Ray TV show and had to try it. If I ever make it again, I'll try different jams for the filling or use Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread instead of fooling with the melted butter and cocoa. This isn't bad tasting but it's not spectacular either. But it's a good way to get a little visual variety on your cookie tray, which is what I was going for.



For Rachael Ray's recipe and a video demonstration, click here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Special touches for Christmas Dinner

I almost added the word "easy" to the headline on this post. The recipe for Christmas Spice Butter is easy. Admittedly, the other technique -- for making dinner rolls shaped like doves -- requires some time and an eye for detail.

If you like the sweet, spicy butter at Texas Roadhouse, this is a good knock-off. It is great on rolls and sweet potatoes.

CHRISTMAS SPICE BUTTER
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy and well-combined. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Makes 1 cup.

Shaping the doves is the hardest part of making the rolls because you're using thawed frozen rolls. It's no harder than rolling the bread dough into a rope and tying a knot. You'll need clean kitchen shears to snip the tail into feathers. Whole cloves are the eyes and slivered almonds are the beaks. These will get you lots of compliments and "you shouldn't haves." They are slightly more work than just putting a pan of thawed rolls in the oven but it is a really special addition to Christmas dinner. Just warn your guests to remove the whole cloves before eating. My brother-in-law ate them when I made this the first time. Get the complete instructions at the Rhodes Web site.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Make your spirits bright: Wassail

On Friday I interviewed an artist, Morgantown metalsmith Amy Johns, at her shop in the historic Seneca Center. She shares The Little Studio with business partner and fellow crafter Carolyn Schuessler and the glass factory's original freight elevator that dates to 1902.

Amy and Carolyn had set up Christmas cookies, punch and hot wassail for a holiday open house. At their urging, I grabbed a cup while they helped a customer. Then, without much urging, Carolyn shared her recipe.

I made it for the church youth group Christmas party at my house tonight. A few of the teens tried it with no complaints and the oldest youth adviser, probably in his 70s, went back for more than one glass.

I just had a little myself with a nip of brandy in it ... but only after all the guests have gone home.

Wassail
1 gallon apple cider
1 large can frozen orange juice concentrate
1 large can pineapple juice
8 short cinnamon sticks or 4 long ones
27 whole cloves

Mix all ingredients in a large stockpot. Simmer on stovetop for 2 hours or until cinnamon sticks swell. Strain sticks and cloves and discard. Serve hot.
Optional: Add a shot of Maker's Mark brandy to individual servings.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas cookie exchange



Held the first Christmas cookie exchange with the church ladies' group Wednesday night. Only three people showed besides me. Heavy fog and prior commitments kept people away. I hope it will catch on in subsequent years. Here are three recipes (one woman didn't bring hers to copy.)

REESE BALLS
1 1/2 cups graham crackers
1 1/3 cups crunchy peanut butter
1 box confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
12-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 block food-grade paraffin (Gulf Wax brand) Note: Paraffin is no longer receommended for consumption. You can add a small amount of Crisco to the chocolate to make it shiny

Crush graham crackers until fine. Add peanut butter, sugar and melted butter. Roll mixture into balls. Melt paraffin wax with chocolate chips. Dip balls with toothpick into melted chocolate. Place on wax paper until dry. Should make approximately 5 dozen depending on the size of the balls.




HARVEST COOKIES
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon water
1 1/2 cups rolled oats.
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup finely chopped apples
1/2 cup each raisins and nuts

To roll cookies in: 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

Sift flour with baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmed in bowl. Add shortening, 1 cup brown sugar, egg and water; beat until mixed thoroughly. Stir in apples, rolled oats, raisins and nuts. Mixture will be stiff. Mix together brown sugar and cinnamon. Make 1 tevel tablespoon of cookie dough into balls. Roll in sugar mixture; bake on greased cookie sheet in 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until done.




I have it on good authority from my friend Katie that the ones I made are "AWESOME."
The recipe is from the current (Dec./Jan. 09) issue of Taste of Home Magazine. The person who submitted it said it was brought to America from Germany in 1846 and handed down through six generations.

SPICED CHRISTMAS COOKIES
2 cups molasses
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 tablespoon lemon juice
8 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 teaspoons EACH ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
1 2/3 cups raisins
1/4 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1/4 cup chopped candied orange peel

FROSTING:
4 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons lemon juice

GARNISH
2 cups red and/or green candied cherries, cut as desired

In a large bowl, beat molasses, butter, sour cream and lemon juice until well blended. Combine flour, brown sugar, spices, baking soda, lemon peel and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture; mix well. Stir in walnuts, raisins and candied peels. Cover; refrigerate for 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

Divide dough into four portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a floured 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Beat frosting ingredients until smooth. Frost cookies; decorate with cherries. Store in an airtight container.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I'm Italian!

I guess I just gave it away. Let me explain ... .

I had a wish come true this holiday season, two actually, sort of. I grew up occasionally wondering where my family came from but I could never get a satisfactory answer, or really much of an answer at all, about our origins, our heritage. My maiden name is Molisee. I thought maybe we were German but I settled on us being regular ol' American mutt. And I was sad. Though not sad or curious enough to dig into genealogy. My Aunt Mary was spurred by her desire to join the Daughters of the American Revolution to unearth the roots of our family tree. She ascertained that the Molisees are from the Molise region of Italy, beneath Abruzzo (kinda the Achilles heel of the boot) on the Adriatic Sea.

So my first wish -- to know my heritage -- came true. And my second wish, which I am almost too shy to publish, was to be Italian. I was romanced mainly by the food, by travel stories and movies to a lesser degree, and by the rich traditions -- of which few are as magnificent as the Christmas Eve celebration from Southern Italy: La Vigilia di Natale or the Feast of the Seven Fishes. You don't have to be Catholic to observe the midnight watch for the birth of the Christ child with much food, although the seven seafood dishes are said to represent the sacraments of the Church. You don't even have to stay up till midnight. Nor do you have to be Italian, as the founders of an annual local festival celebrating The Feast are fond of saying. And if you go to the festival, held a couple of weeks before Christmas, I guess you don't have to wait till Christmas Eve to start celebrating.

Now my work really begins but it won't feel like so much work. It is my responsibility to read and learn all I can about the region, very much geographically and culturally like Appalachia, from where my forebears struck out. Then I must share it with my family and, as it pertains to food, with you, dear readers. Don't worry everyone, I'll break you in slowly with familiar foods like oysters and anchovies. You're gonna love it! Eventually I'll have to go to Molise, you know.

My education starts today, right now in fact, at the third annual Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival in Fairmont from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. today. Consider it my coming-out party, where I will mingle with my kinspeople and literally taste my heritage, authentically, from street vendors and at the cooking school, where I intend to soak in every detail of preparation. As a food reporter, I have written about The Feast and the festival before and now I am rightfully part of that glorious heritage. I am so excited! Buon Natale!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Waffle weekend

I was in a better humor on the first snow day of the school year, Oct. 28, when I started this post. I had nothing planned that day, unlike today when I am supposed to be working like a regular person in a city with adults and lunching with a dear friend. But enough about my troubles. The day I was in a good mood I made my daughter and her cousin waffles from-scratch because I had the time and inclination and patience... with the children and circumstances ... not the waffle-making process. Actually homemade waffles are not all that hard to make. Consider treating your family or just yourself this cold, snowy weekend.

And if there is just one of you, freeze the extras and pop them in the toaster on the "defrost" setting on weekday mornings. This is where a vacuum sealer comes in handy. I own a Reynolds Handi-Vac and I will review it at the end of this blog and give you the recipe I use for "regular" waffles that you can add blueberries or other mix-ins to or just serve them as-is.

The third part of my post will be a different kind of waffle that I tried by slightly modifying a quick bread recipe.

Back on Oct. 28, because it was just a few days before Halloween and I wanted to treat the kids, I tried to make a jack-o'-lantern face on the waffle with chocolate chips.



Cute in theory but it was hard to make out the face on the baked waffle.



PUMPKIN WAFFLES
1 1/2 sticks butter (not margarine)
3 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of each of the following: baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
1/8 teaspoon each salt and fresh ground pepper
3 eggs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree from a 16-ounce can
2 1/2 cups milk

Melt butter and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, put flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices. Blend well with wire whip. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat eggs with brown sugar. Add the pumpkin and milk and blend well. Add cooled butter and blend well.

Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and stir just until ingredients are moist. Do not overbeat. Bake in waffle iron, about 7 minutes each. Keep warm until serving in a 200-degree oven. Place directly on oven racks. Leave door ajar. Makes about 7 8-inch waffles. Mix chocolate chips into the batter or serve plain waffles with apple butter or orange walnut butter (recipe follows) and maple syrup.

ORANGE WALNUT BUTTER
From Taste of Home Simple & Delicious magazine
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon grated orange peel

In a small bowl, combine the butter, walnuts and orange peel until blended. Serve on waffles.

I actually served it not on pumpkin waffles but on a little experiment of mine: Zucchini Waffles, made from my mom's recipe for the quick bread. I think I added more flour to the recipe to make it more like waffle batter. I assumed there was enough oil in the recipe to keep it from sticking. I was wrong. It really gummed up my waffle iron, even though I oiled it in between every waffle, which is unusual. Maybe melted butter is the way to go. Definitely I think I should cut the sugar.



This is the usual recipe I use for "plain" waffles.

CRISP & GOLDEN WAFFLES
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional mix-ins: blueberries or granola or chocolate chips
In medium bowl, beat egg until frothy. Add remaining ingredients; mix until smooth. Add 2/3 cup batter to pre-heated waffle maker and spread evenly with rubber spatula. Close waffle maker and bake until light goes out. Carefully remove waffle (lightly re-oil if sticking occurs.) Repeat with remaining batter.

I made a lot of blueberry waffles this summer from the berries in the yard and froze them with the help of the Reynolds Handi-Vac vacuum sealer. I bought it as sort of a vacuum sealer training wheels, instead of committing to the larger expensive machine.

You place food below a line marked on the special zipper-top bags and lightly press the battery-powered sealer to the bag's air valve. Press the button on the sealer and it sucks out the air. You have to do it gingerly because you don't want to mash the air valve shut and air-lock the process. It takes a short time to suck out the air. I have sealed pancakes, waffles and a piece of meat or two. In the case of waffles, you have to stop sealing when the bag lightly conforms to the food...suck too much air out and you'll compress the airy waffles and they will come out misshapen. I like this product just fine. I don't feel compelled to buy a full-size vacuum sealer just yet because I don't do much of my own freezing and I have a small house and kitchen.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Chocolate cookies sandwiched with peppermint buttercream



"Gobs" is such an ugly word. But the cookie called by any other name is just as sweet. And if you get the commercially made ones...you know, spelled Gobz and sold at Sheetz convenience stores...they taste like nothing but sweet. These, ahem, chocolate-peppermint sandwich cookies I started making last year have distinct flavors besides just sweet. And the texture of the cookie is distinctly chewy and crackly compared to the soft creaminess of the buttercream filling. Divine.

I recommend using more schnapps than milk when thinning the frosting for optimum punchiness. I prefer King Leo peppermint sticks for the same reason, plus they crunch up better, but I couldn't find them this year and had to settle for some generic bulk candies that are just OK. It's OK if the frosting is a little stiffer than you'd use on a cake because you are not spreading it, it's a filling and you want it to be able to hold up the weight of the top cookie.

DEVIL'S FOOD COOKIES
1 18.25-ounce package devil's food cake mix
1/2 cup butter, softened plus 2 Tablespoons oil OR 1/2 cup oil (which is what I used and I haven't tried it the other way yet)
2 eggs

Mix the cake mix, oil and eggs. Batter will be thick.
Scoop the batter in small amounts onto a cookie sheet and slightly press the tops to help them spread as they bake. Aim to get the cookies all the same size.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before moving to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Try to make sure you have an even number of chocolate cookies. If you have an odd cookie, you'll just have to use it to scrape the frosting bowl when you're finished filling the other cookies. And eat it. Poor you.

PEPPERMINT BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
From "The Cake Mix Doctor" (Workman Publishing Co., 1999)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup finely crushed peppermint candy (about 7 peppermint sticks) -- note these are powdery sticks that crumble not brittle candy canes that shatter into shards
3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
2-3 tablespoons milk
1-2 tablespoons peppermint schnapps or 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the peppermint candy, confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons milk and 1 tablespoon peppermint schnapps. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is well incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting lightens and is fluffy, 1 minute more. Blend in up to 1 tablespoon milk or peppermint schnapps if the frosting seems too stiff.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Turn half the cooled cookies over on the wire rack. Start dividing the peppermint buttercream evenly among the flipped cookies. I can't remember if I made half a recipe of frosting the first time I made these...seems to me I did...but this time I made the whole batch and a little was left in the bowl when I had maxed out the cookies. The husband didn't mind a bit.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why Food Writers Hate Thanksgiving

By Regina Schrambling

As a food writer, I should never admit this, but I really hate Thanksgiving. Not the day, not the food, not the cooking or the shopping, not even the sappy reason Americans ostensibly gather to gorge in late November. What makes me totally crazy is the persistent pressure to reinvent a wheel that has been going around quite nicely for more than 200 years. Every fall, writers and editors have to knock themselves out to come up with a gimmick—fast turkey, slow turkey, brined turkey, unbrined turkey—when the meal essentially has to stay the same. It's like redrawing the Kama Sutra when readers really only care about the missionary position. ...
More

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Saying Thanks...Grace at the Dinner Table

There is something hollow and phony to me about going around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and telling what we're thankful for. If that is your tradition, that's fine for you and I am not belittling it. It is not my tradition as I strive to give my thanks to God every day or at least every week at church. Specific thanks for His general goodness and for instances where I believe I have seen His handiwork in my life, such as divine appointments and deliverances. When I am a guest somewhere and pressed to share what I'm grateful for, I usually say something flip but honest like "four-wheel-drive and coffee." But it is immensely important to me to be real (and I am thankful for go-in-the-snow ability and the caffeine that gets my motor running every day of the year.)

Being real is so important that when I hear children at my table singsong "God is great, God is good" seemingly without contemplating the words' meaning or, worse, rushing through it or purposely mispronouncing words, I halt them and make them do it right. I want them to give genuine thanks to God not merely mouth a rote recitation. So I was thrilled and touched to find a prayer book for children, "Peanut Butter and Jelly Prayers" by Julie B. Sevig (Morehouse Publishing, 2007). The author has written some graces for specific common meals like mac and cheese and Mexican, even leftovers. She has included in her compilation prayers for occasions such as Thanksgiving and other holidays and events like moving or going back to school. Also in the little book are graces from other countries. After most of the prayers are conversation starters: questions to get everyone at the table talking about their day, their favorite foods and deeper subjects like finding comfort.

I can't get through this one without crying:
Pizza
Bless the cheese,
Bless the meat,
Oh dear God, bless all who eat,
For those who hunger, those who shiver --
We thank you, God -- you, too, deliver.

I love that the prayers give not just due respect to God but foster consideration for other people. Like this one ...

Fast Food
We want it fast, we want it now.
Thank you God for the cow!
For burgers, fries and all we chew!
For all who work at this drive-thru!

Personally, I am especially touched when the person saying grace off-the-cuff asks God to bless the hands that prepared the food, particularly when I have cooked the meal.

This Thanksgiving I encourage you to be more mindful eaters ... I don't mean pay attention to what and how much you consume, pay attention to your attitude about gratitude.

Here is Sevig's Thanksgiving grace:

For all that you have made, we give you thanks gracious God.
For our homes, family and friends; for our country and its leaders; for freedom and for those who have sacrificed so much for that freedom; and for all that you give us to eat this day -- and always.
We remember those throughout the world and in our country who go hungry this day -- and many other days. Help us to share what we have: a harvest of blessings and goodness.
In the name of Jesus, who taught us about justice for all people, Amen.

A heartfelt Thank You and Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Smoky Corn and Potato Chowder

Some of the tried-and-true recipes in my personal cookbook come from the "back of the box." Those are the recipes companies put on products -- whether they come in boxes or cans -- to show consumers different ways to use them in hope that they buy more.
I found a variation of this recipe on the back of a can of Del Monte corn more than four years ago. I don't make it a lot but it is easy as in quick to make, inexpensive and good on cold fall evenings.



SMOKY CORN AND POTATO CHOWDER
1 1/2 cups milk
1 14-ounce can creamed corn
1 cup cubed cooked ham
1 14-ounce can diced new potatoes, drained
1 can golden sweet corn, drained
1 cup shredded smoked cheddar, Swiss or Gouda cheese

Stir milk into creamed corn in large saucepan. Add ham, potatoes and whole kernel corn. Heat through, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted. Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Open Letter to the Next Farmer In Chief: Michael Pollan in The New York Times

Please take the time to read this. There are many good points here, including one that I have been making for at least 15 years: Food Stamps should be regulated so you can't buy soda or junk food with them. But there's lots more meat to this guy's proposals for sustainable agriculture.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Substituting and adapting: Country ribs a new way



I have long made country ribs in the oven covered with a thick, rich, spicy sauce from a recipe in an old The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook. YUM! But when I read a new recipe for Sweet 'n' Spicy Country Ribs in Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious Sept./Oct. 2008, I decided to try it. I had everything for the recipe except apple juice. I could've bought it but I already had apple cider so I decided to use that instead. It caused no problem as far as I could tell. The big change I made was in the preparation method. The recipe is for the grill. I have no desire to fire up the charcoal grill, especially on a day when my house could use the warming from the oven. I have a cast-iron grill pan but no desire to cook two ribs at a time for 45 minutes per batch. So instead I used the grill pan at an extremely high heat to sear each rib and get sexy grill marks, then I finished the meat off in the oven. Oven roasting is the method used in my preferred recipe, which follows.



I think I still prefer the saucy recipe for country ribs I've made for years. But this is a good treatment for meat that would wind up cold sliced on a sandwich.

Finding the right accompaniment for these ribs was troublesome. I like cole slaw but I'm the only one in the house. I like sauerkraut but again I'm in the minority. I settled on something I modified from an Everyday with Rachael Ray recipe. I would like to make that recipe the right way some day. But this time I substituted frozen hash brown potatoes for the fresh potato, reduced the number of eggs, omitted the bacon, used half and half instead of whole cream and replaced the caraway seed with anise seed, which I already had. I just wish I had remembered to grease the casserole dish, as I didn't use a pie crust. It was still tasty, but didn't hit the spot like I'd hoped. RaeRay's original recipe follows, too.

SWEET 'N' SPICY COUNTRY RIBS
adapted from Simple & Delicious magazine
3/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cola
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke, optional
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 to 4 pounds boneless country-style pork ribs

In a small bowl, combine the apple juice, oil, cola, brown sugar, honey, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, Liquid Smoke and seasonings. Pour 1 1/2 cups marinade into a large resealable plastic bag; add the ribs. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for 5 hours or overnight, turning once. Cover and refrigerate remaining marinade for basting.

Coat grill pan with cooking oil. Get it really hot. Drain the ribs and discard the marinade. Sear every side of the ribs, working in batches. Put the meat in a baking pan and cover with foil. Roast at 350 for two hours or until fork tender.

OVEN-BARBECUED RIBS
The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook
6 pounds pork ribs
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons salad oil
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder

Arrange ribs in a large open roasting pan in one layer. Roast at 325 for 1 1/2 hours or until fork tender.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: In bowl, mix tomato paste with remaining ingredients.

During the last 30 minutes of roasting time, brush ribs frequently with glaze.

I usually serve this with cheesy scalloped potatoes.

GERMAN POTATO PIE
Every Day With Rachael Ray October 2008
1 cup sauerkraut, squeezed dry
2 baking potatoes (about 1 pound) -- peeled, grated and squeezed dry
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
Salt and pepper
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 9-inch frozen pie shell

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine the sauerkraut, potatoes, bacon and caraway seeds, season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, beat together the eggs and cream. Stir into the potato mixture. Pour the potato mixture into the pie shell, transfer to a baking pan. Bake until the filling has set and is golden around the edges, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note: I have heard, and had some success with this, that you can use a salad spinner to wring the water from thawed chopped spinach, sauerkraut and potatoes, etc. I didn't try it this time but I bet it would work all right.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First Time: Italian Wedding Soup and
Product Review: New York Ciabatta Rolls

This soup was relatively quick to make, hearty without seeming heavy and passed muster with my sometimes-picky family. My husband liked that the spinach didn't seem slimy. I think I will chop the spinach next time before adding it to the pot. I also think I will add one more can of chicken broth. I liked that it packed in a lot of vegetables and low-fat meats -- that's turkey in the meatballs.



WEDDING SOUP
Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious magazine Sept./Oct. 2008
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup chopped onion, divided
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cups sliced fresh carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups fresh baby spinach (coarsely chopped)
3 (plus 1) 14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth
1 cup cubed cooked chicken breast
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspooon pepper
1 1/4 cups acini di pepe pasta

In a large bowl, combine the egg, 1/4 cup onion and bread crumbs. Crumble turkey over mixture and mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls. In a large skillet, brown meatballs in oil until no longer pink; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, saute the carrots, celery and remaning onion in butter until crisp-tender. Add the spinach, broth, chicken, parsley, thyme, salt, pepper and reserved meatballs. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Bring to a boil. Add pasta; cook, uncovered for 6-7 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally. Yield: 6 servings.

I poached boneless skinless chicken breasts for use in this recipe by covering the chicken with water up to an inch above it. Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a bare simmer and partly cover. Cook for 10 minutes. Then cover completely and remove from heat. Let stand 15 minutes more.

I served big steaming mugs of this with a new product I found in the freezer case: New York brand Ciabatta Rolls. They were soft and chewy with the right amount of garlic and cheese and a lightly crackly crust. It didn't cut my mouth when I chewed it and I appreciate that. Very good. I will buy them again until I see how much they cost in relation to regular Texas Toast and then I may deem them a luxury.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Winging it: Chicken salad sandwiches

I used to be a diehard recipe follower. Now I'm less afraid of messing up something. I'm not completely at ease just mixing random things without measuring. Ingredients are too expensive to throw away and I am too picky to eat my mistakes. But I have come to trust my palate more and will occasionally wing it.

I must really be taking risks in my sleep-deprived state of late because I mixed up some chicken salad for sandwich filling to serve at a church luncheon reception with only a vague notion of what I was going for and a quick glance at a couple of recipes. Tyler Florence helped only marginally. I didn't boil my chicken with onion, carrots and celery and save the stock but someday I will. A review of Baltimore's Atwater's restaurant sparked the notion of adding dried cherries as well as the golden raisins I planned. The resulting sandwich wasn't bad -- no complaints but no requests for the recipe (unlike my Rocky Road Brownies, which drew raves.)

Here's what I did -- as best as I can remember as I threw it together early this morning on just a couple of hours' sleep. I'll give you the brownie recipe for good measure.

CYNTHIA'S CHICKEN SALAD
1 4-pound whole chicken
olive oil
McCormick's French Herb Roasting Rub
1 small jar Hellman's Mayonnaise mixed with a heaping tablespoon of powdered mustard
a cup or so toasted walnuts, chopped
a half-cup or less dried cherries, coarsely chopped
a half-cup or so golden raisins
a couple of stalks of celery, cleaned and finely chopped
3-4 green onions, finely chopped

Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with the seasoning mix. Roast. Cool. Skin, debone and cube the chicken meat.

Mix with the other ingredients and spread on white or wheat sandwich bread. Cut in halves and arrange artfully on a platter.

ROCKY ROAD BROWNIES
1 box Duncan Hines Brownie Mix
mini marshmallows
chopped walnuts
1/2 cup or so chocolate chips
a couple of tablespoons of milk

Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions for fudgy brownies. Within the last 5 minutes of bake time, scatter some mini marshmallows on top of the batter. Don't make it a solid layer, but get it even. Return the pan to the oven to finish baking the brownies and melt and toast the marshmallows. Remove from oven and sprinkle some chopped walnuts on top. In a saucepan or the microwave, melt the chocolate chips with the milk and stir until smooth. Dribble on top of the brownies. Cool, cut and serve by, uh, arranging artfully on a platter. ;)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Pepperoni rolls

A couple just moved from Sedona, Arizona, to Terra Alta to join my church's ministry team. One of my contributions to the luncheon reception to welcome them is pepperoni rolls, a West Virginia invention. Someone in Marion County got the notion to bake pepperoni in bread dough for Italian American coal miners to carry in their lunchboxes.

Here's how I make mine:




Two loaves Rhodes frozen bread dough, thawed
3/4 pound thin sliced deli sandwich pepperoni
1/4 pound thin sliced salami
Mozzarella or provolone cheese (optional, I didn't use it this time) sliced is more manageable than shredded

Cut the bread dough loaves each into 12 equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough till it's about the size of a deck of cards. Stack together about 3 slices pepperoni and one slice salami (and a slice of cheese if you're using). Roll up. Roughly chop it with your knife on your workspace (this releases oils from the meat to make a good orange "grease spot" on the bottom of the roll.) Put it in the center of the dough. Fold in the short ends and then roll up the long ends. Place it in a greased 13-by-9-inch pan to double in size -- about 12 rolls per pan. Bake according to the dough package directions. Rub with butter when they come out of the oven. Makes two dozen.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cool nights, warm wings

We had an out-of-the-ordinary main dish tonight. I made chicken wings in the crockpot because it was an overscheduled day. So much so that they might've been left in a little too long -- they were falling off the bone. Not a quality I want in a meaty, saucy rib I grip and gnosh. While I might remember this for football games and the Christmas Eve party, I might more likely try the recipe again with ribs and serve the sauce over rice. I think it would go just fine. Some of you might like to try it with chicken thighs.

SWEET 'N' TANGY CHICKEN WINGS
From Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious March/April 2008
3 pounds chicken wingettes (about 30)
salt
dash pepper
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced garlic (not the jarred kind, folks -- icky)
1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke, optional
Sesame seeds, optional

Sprinkle chicken wings with salt and pepper. Broil 4-6 inches from the heat for 5-10 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a greased 5-quart slow cooker.

Combine the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, Liquid Smoke if desired and a little more salt if you wish. Pour over wings. Toss to coat. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours 15 minutes to 3 hours 45 minutes or until chicken juices run clear. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Comfort in a cup

My house smells like scorched dust, leftover spaghetti and hot cocoa. Mmmm.
It is 39 degrees and drizzly here on the mountain. My husband turned on the furnace tonight when he got home -- unbidden. I was prepared to bundle up and take it a few more weeks. Also without much prompting he made hot cocoa from scratch while our daughter took her bath. "Smells like brownies," she said. After she was tucked in, I set to putting away our summer clothes and hanging up our winter wear. I couldn't think of a nicer way to welcome my favorite season on the first truly cold night.

Here's the recipe:

HERSHEY'S FAVORITE HOT COCOA
Top of stove six servings
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Hershey's Cocoa
Dash salt
1/3 cup hot water
4 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix sugar, cocoa and salt in saucepan; stir in water.
Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils; boil and stir 2 minutes.
Stir in milk and heat. Do not boil.
Remove from heat; add vanilla.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Buckwheat light

Lest you think I ignored or neglected a big part of my heritage, here is my post about the 67th Annual Preston County Buckwheat Festival wrapping up in Kingwood.

We almost didn't go this year -- things have been kind of up in the air since my mom's surgery. So we didn't enter any food or arts and crafts exhibits. We didn't see a parade. We didn't walk through the livestock exhibits. We didn't have family and friends over for our traditional buckwheat-cakes-and-sausage feed on the Sunday before the festival. My husband said he felt like it was too early this year but it always starts the last Thursday in September.

Here, in photos, are the highlights of our festival traditions and some of the new things we did this year. May we be better prepared for next year's festival.

We watched a lumberjack contest ...



... let Bella ride the carousel (for which we paid $3 -- yow) ...



... bought a chance on a handmade muzzleloader from a craftsman I wrote about, got some lollipops and candied nuts, bought my mom a wall hanging in the commercial arts and crafts displays ...





An interesting anecdote about these teddy bear suckers: They got their maker on "Late Night With David Letterman". I can't remember when but she had made a "ramp" version of the hardtack candy filler she pours in the teddy bear molds. Ramps are stinky wild leeks that grow in these parts in springtime.



Then we came home to a dinner of buckwheat cakes and sausage.



To make them, dissolve yeast in warm water and add salt. Then you stir in enough buckwheat flour to make a stiff batter. It looks like wallpaper paste or putty or something, kinda gray or beige. (Appetizing, no?) You let it sit overnight, covered but not refrigerated. In the morning (or the next night for dinner) you stir in sugar (always more than the recipe on the bag calls for so they'll brown right) and baking soda and more water -- enough till you get the consistency you want. That's the basic recipe but some people use buttermilk and cold coffee and I-don't-want-to-know-what. Then you save a cup of the batter (or whatever's left after you've baked all the cakes you want) as starter for the next batch and just add flour to it, let it sit and repeat everything. That's what makes them sourdough. Ever made friendship bread where you get starter from somebody and add stuff and it sits and ferments? Same idea.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pumpkin outside the pie -- and can

Two years ago I roasted a pie pumpkin for the first time. This year I made one of the recipes again. It is aptly called "Dinner in a pumpkin" because you bake all the elements of the meal inside the gourd. The filling is similar to that of stuffed peppers. You can serve right from the pumpkin and it makes a lovely presentation as the shell turns a lovely dark burnt sienna color.

When picking your pumpkin, steer clear of the big kind you carve jack-o'-lanterns from. You want smaller pie pumpkins from the produce section. If your pumpkin won't hold all the filling, bake it separately in a covered casserole dish. You can halve the ingredients listed here for 1 small pumpkin or bake it in two.

Save the pumpkin seeds to roast and snack on ... a recipe for that follows and includes variations.



DINNER IN A PUMPKIN
1 medium sugar (or pie) pumpkin
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 cups tomato juice
3 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 pound fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 cup uncooked brown rice

Prepare the brown rice according to package directions before you mix it into the filling. If you don't, it will be crunchy.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash pumpkin, cut off top, scrape out seeds (and save for making roasted pumpkin seeds).

Place hamburger in a large, deep skillet. Crumble and cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain fat, add onion and garlic; saute slightly.

Add sugar, Italian herbs, salt, pepper, tomato juice and rice; mix thoroughly.

Layer inside of pumpkin with 1/3 cabbage, green beans and beef and rice mixture. Repeat layers, replace lid and bake for 2-3 hours.



GARLIC PUMPKIN SEEDS
Adapted from Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious magazine Sept./Oct. 2008
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
2 cups fresh pumpkin seeds, washed of pulp and patted dry

In a small bowl, combine the oil, celery salt, garlic powder and seasoned salt. Add pumpkin seeds; toss to coat.

Spread all of the seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, stirring every 8. Spread on a paper towel to cool.

VARIATION: Roast pumpkin seeds by rinsing them of pulp, patting them dry and spreading in a single layer on the baking sheet.
Then shake hot seeds in a covered bowl with one of the following combinations:
salt, cumin and chili powder
OR salt, turbinado sugar, pumpkin pie spice

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Curried sweet potato dressing, squash cornbread accompany glazed ham

Wow. Tonight's dinner was special and awesome. I consoled myself for missing tonight's firemen's parade at the 67th Annual Preston County Buckwheat Festival by making a fully-cooked-just-heat-and-eat glazed ham with from-scratch summer squash cornbread and sweet potato, dried cherry, Madras curry and bleu cheese dressing. (That's dressing as in a casserole-style side dish that can also be used to stuff turkeys and game hens, not salad dressing.)

I'll get right to the recipes and photos. Yum!



SQUASH CORN BREAD

From Taste of Home's Simple & Delicious Sept./Oct. 2008
This recipe makes two -- one to eat now and one to freeze. If you're trying it for the first time, you can halve the ingredients make just one, as I did. I like that it packs in extra nutrition and uses up some summer squash.

5 medium yellow summer squash (about 2 pounds), chopped
2 packages (8 1/2 ounces each) cornbread/muffin mix, such as Jiffy
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup 4 percent cottage cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Place squash in a steamer basket; place in a large saucepan over 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, cover and steam for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Drain and squeeze dry.

In a large bowl, combine cornbread mixes and eggs. Fold in squash, cheeses, onion, salt and pepper.

Pour into two 8-inch square baking pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in foil and freeze for up to 3 months. To use frozen bread: Thaw at room temperature. Serve warm. Yield: 2 dozen squares.


SWEET POTATO, DRIED CHERRY, MADRAS CURRY AND BLEU CHEESE DRESSING/STUFFING

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 slices hardwood smoked bacon, julienned
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder (from McCormick's Gourmet Collection)
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup diced green onions
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, onion, bell pepper, bacon, olive oil and curry powder. Pour mixture into an ovenproof dish, cover with foil and bake until sweet potatoes are tender, up to 90 minutes (Check at one hour or even 45 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool about 30 minutes.

Once mixture has cooled, add the dried cherries, bleu cheese, orange juice, green onions, salt and pepper and mix until well incorporated.

Makes 4 to 6 side-dish servings. Good with steak or pork. Can also be used to stuff quail, Cornish hens, chicken or turkey. If used as stuffing, decrease bake time to 50 minutes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

'Maters

For dinner I just finished a juicy hamburger with creamy mayo and a luscious, red, sweet-tart tomato I bought at the local farmers' market. A few weeks ago, my neighbor left a bag of softball-sized tomatoes on my porch. Two of them kept me in BLTs with mayo on toasted 12-grain bread for almost two weeks of lunches. The rest I chopped up for a panzanella salad.

I wish I measured when I made this but I don't. It just has to "look right". I add olive oil and red wine vinegar, a little chopped red onion, chopped fresh garlic and a chiffonade of basil.

This time, I chopped fresh tomatoes and seasoned them with a little salt and pepper. Usually I use canned tomatoes -- an excellent choice -- with their juice ready to soak into the bread, these tomatoes are canned at the peak of ripeness so they make this salad a hit all year. In fact, I have it in the spring before tomatoes are even coming on in local gardens.

I get some sort of Italian, French or country bread -- whatever looks good -- and slice it and toasted it to make it "stale". At Wal-mart I have found a log of fresh mozzarella that is prescored. When I dip up the salad into bowls, I tuck slices of it around the edges, sprinkled with a little black pepper.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A cooking show coming to your town?

Before Rachael Ray brought her cooking show spots to daytime TV on a network station, before the TV chefs became a celebrity phenomenon, the Taste of Home Cooking School's home economists and culinary specialists were taking their cooking shows on the road. They still are. One week from today I will be sitting in the audience at one in Morgantown, WV. One year ago I was onstage, helping make the show happen.
Newspapers and other sponsors bring the shows to venues in their cities. This one happens to be in a concert theater at a university arts center. National food makers sponsor the shows too so their products get plugged in the recipe demonstrations.
The home economists that present the shows travel a particular several-state region of the country. They come to town and an advance team of workers from the sponsoring newspaper help unpack their equipment, shop for ingredients and prep all the recipes they'll be presenting at that night's show. They chop, measure and sort so the host can show different steps of the recipes. There are lights and cameras to catch the action at the onstage workstation close up. The night of the show, more volunteers help on the stage and behind the scenes. They shuttle trays of ingredients and ferry dishes into and out of ovens and refrigerators. They complete steps in recipes and garnish final products. Sometimes they even pass samples. One year that I helped onstage I burned my arm and couldn't yell anything.
The shows are a lot of fun. Before you turn up your nose, you should know that even I usually learn something -- a technique or even just a fact. It's not all how to use convenience products. Much of it is from-scratch. Though there are different kinds of Taste of Home Cooking Schools and Quick Cooking On Stage is the one that leans heavily on pre-prepped convenience products. There are also different themes. The show I'll be seeing is Fresh Ideas For Fall. There's also Homemade For The Holidays appearing in other markets.
Besides the fun of seeing a live cooking demonstration you get goodies. Every attendee gets a bag containing a magazine with all the night's recipes and room to take notes plus many more recipes. There are often coupons and sample sizes of products. Sometimes there are little gadgets like some cheap plastic scrapers or measuring spoons. Local sponsors donate prizes such as groceries and mixers and coffee makers for drawings. Vendors such as Pampered Chef and Tupperware consultants, gourmet and specialty shopkeepers and sometimes nonfood related industries such as massage therapists set up outside the auditorium and give away more goodies.
I like getting ideas for quick dinners and impressive entertaining.
I'm kind of a gloryhound so I LOVED being onstage more than I care to admit. But this year, because I don't work for that newspaper anymore, I'm delighted to be able to sit back and enjoy the show and be eligible for prizes. The past couple of years they've given away the final dishes that were prepared onstage in a pretty serving dish from Taste of Home's home-party line.
New this year is the chance to ask questions of the home economist.
I hope you'll join me -- if not in Morgantown, then in spirit at a show near your own city.
Find a show near you at http://www.tasteofhome.com/cooking-schools/find-a-cooking-school. Tickets are reasonable -- about $10. Doors open a couple of hours before the show.
Here is an AWESOME recipe from last year's show that I've made several times. Mmm-mmm!

ALMOND CRUMBLE TWIST
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped slivered almonds, walnuts or pecans
12 Rhodes White Dinner Rolls or 8 Rhodes Texas Rolls, thawed to room temperature

Browned Butter Icing:
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 tablespoon almond extract

In a small bowl, mix buter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in flour, almond extract and cinnamon until smooth. Stir in almonds. Cover and chill 30 minutes.

Spray work surface with nonstick cooking spray. Combine rolls to form a ball and roll into a 15-inch-by-10-inch rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest while almond mixture is chilling.

Remove plastic wrap and sprinkle filling evenly over the dough to within 1 inch of all edges. Roll up tightly, jelly roll style, starting with a long side. With a sharp, serrated knife, cut roll in half lengthwise. Turn each half so he cut side is facing up. Carefully twist halves together so cut sides can be sween. Pinch ends together. Place on a large, greased baking sheet. Cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise 30-45 minutes.

Remove wrap and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cover with foil the last 5 minutes, if necessary, to prevent over browning. Cool slightly on wire rack.

Meanwhile, lightly brown butter in a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Do not burn. Remove from heat and blend in confectioners' sugar, milk and almond extract until mixture is smooth. Drizzle over warm loaf. Yield: 1 loaf.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Flavors of fall

I love fall. I love the colors and decorating with them. But probably most of all because of all the yummy things I can make from the harvest: pies, fresh whole hog sausage patties, pumpkin waffles, and much more. They warm my house and my tummy and my spirits. I started early this year and in the next few weeks I hope to share a lot of recipes and photos.

Here's a recipe for an apple pie I made a few weeks ago. I used apples of unknown lineage from the tree in the backyard. I usually use Granny Smiths but David's grandma baked from this tree all the time and I wanted to give them a try.



You might think they look splotchy but you must realize that Americans eat with their eyes first. If it doesn't look pretty and perfect and unblemished we think it has spoiled or is otherwise inferior and inedible. Not true! These are apples that haven't been treated with pesticides and so they bear the marks of growing unprotected in nature. I hope to make apple butter with them before the season ends. But for now, here's the pie recipe:



I LOVE this recipe from the Sept. 16, 2003 issue of Woman's Day magazine.

CRUNCHY CRUMB APPLE PIE
1 refrigerated ready-to-bake pie crust (from a 15-ounce box)

Topping:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick cold butter, cut in small pieces

Filling:
7 medium to large tart apples (about 3 1/4 pound) such as Granny Smith, Pippins or Greenings
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Have ready a 9-inch pie plate and a baking sheet. Place oven rack in lowest position in oven. Heat oven to 450. Line pie plate with pie crust as package directs. Flute or crimp edge.

Topping: Mix flour, sugars and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture forms moist, coarse crumbs that clump together easily.

Filling: Peel, halve and core apples. Cut in 1/8-inch thick slices by hand or with the slicing disk of a food processor. Place in a large bowl, add lemon juice and toss to coat. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl, sprinkle over apple slices and toss to coat.
Layer apple slices in pie shell, mounding them higher in center. Pat topping evenly over apples to form a top crust. Place pie on the baking sheet to catch any drips.
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake 45 minutes longer or until a skewer meets some resistance when center of pie is pierced (apples will continue cooking after pie is removed from oven) and topping is golden brown. (If topping browns too quickly, drape a piece of foil loosely over the pie.) Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Foiling flavor fairies (repost)

It's that time of year when a swarm descends upon my kitchen and bathrooms, so I thought it fitting to repost this really good tip. Gnats, fruit flies, call them what you will -- my former colleague Mark prefers "flavor fairies" -- flit within my line of vision seeking something sour: drying towels, anyone?
My friend Diane Hooie, a bright, well-traveled and adventurous cook, told me how to trap 'em. This really works:
Pour a half inch of apple cider vinegar in a small glass and add two drops of dishwashing liquid. Mix well, sit it out and the flies will be drawn to the cup and gone forever.
I misremembered her instructions and added water to the glass. It doesn't seem to affect the potion's desirability as dozens of gnats have perished in a watery grave.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Great zukes! Cute flower-shaped muffins



I got this 12-cup silicone muffin "tin" for Christmas 2007 and hadn't played with it until recently. I was making zucchini bread and got the idea to scoop some of the batter into these molds. The result was adorable.



Tonight, when I needed birthday cupcakes for a church meeting, I decided red velvet batter would make pretty cake flowers. Because I couldn't top them with the traditional cream cheese frosting (you wouldn't be able to tell what the flowers are), I mixed up a simple powdered sugar glaze and dribbled it over the cooled cakes.



I displayed them on my Wilton cupcake stand. The flower silicone mold is by Pampered Chef. I don't buy (or ask for) all the kitschy tools but it's fun to have some little indulgences so I can do something special once in a while.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Peachy keen with ice cream

My fabulous foodie friend Katie e-mailed me a recipe for roasted peaches that she concocted. It sounded yummy, but I had no whole vanilla beans and I worried extract just wouldn't do it justice. I made it with a cinnamon stick instead. It was warm and spicy and quite good.



Here's my way and her way:

Cinnamon Roasted Peaches

6 peaches, sliced in half, stones removed
3-4 tablespoons melted butter
3-4 tablespoons cinnamon-infused honey
3-4 tablespoons brown sugar
cinnamon stick
vanilla ice cream
Whisk together the butter, honey and brown sugar in a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish. Add the cinnamon stick. Place peach halves in the mixture, turning to coat thoroughly, and resting cut side down. Bake at about 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, checking for doneness. About every 8-10 minutes or so, remove the peaches from the oven and use a spoon to baste the peaches in the honey mixture. Roast until the peaches yield easily to a knife, but aren’t mushy, and the honey mixture is bubbly and slightly carmelized.

Serve with vanilla frozen yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream and more of the honey mixture spooned liberally over the top.



Vanilla Honey Roasted Peaches

About 4 good-size ripe (but not overly ripe) peaches, sliced in half, stone removed (use one or two more if they’re small)
1 vanilla bean
about 2 tablespoons honey
about 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
about 2 tablespoons melted butter

In a large baking dish, combine melted butter, brown sugar and honey. Whisk until smooth. Cut vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, and use the back of a knife to scrape the seeds out of both halves. Put the seeds and the two halves of the bean in the baking dish and stir to distribute the seeds evenly.

Place peach halves in the mixture, turning to coat thoroughly, and resting cut side down. Bake at about 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, checking for doneness. About every 8-10 minutes or so, remove the peaches from the oven and use a spoon to baste the peaches in the honey mixture. Roast until the peaches yield easily to a knife, but aren’t mushy, and the honey mixture is bubbly and slightly carmelized.

Serve with vanilla frozen yogurt, ice cream or whipped cream and more of the honey mixture spooned liberally over the top.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sweet and simple breakfast corn muffins

I'm trying to encourage the women and men of my church to sign up to bring sweet treats on Sunday morning for the coffee bar instead of the same kind soul (not me) buying doughnuts or whatever every week. It hasn't quite caught on yet.

But today was my Sunday to bring the treats and boy was I swamped with work, work-related traveling and helping my mom. Still, feeling like I needed to be a good example, I whipped up something I already had on hand. It is easy -- 20 minutes start to finish. In fact, it baked while I was in the shower. And I thought it was pretty yummy -- a couple of other people said so, too.

Here is my fuss-free formula:

1 package of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
red raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin tin that yields 24 mini muffins. Prepare the muffin mix according to package directions but scoop the batter into 24 minimuffin tins, Filling them half full.
Drop a scant 1/4 teaspoon raspberry jam into the middle of the batter in each muffin cup.
Bake at the temperature on the package for 8 minutes (no longer.)

Variation: Instead of the jam, you could stir in about a 1/2 cup dried mixed fruit. We had snack-size boxes of raisins, pomegranate "chips" and dried blueberries for lunch boxes and I stirred one ounce into half the batter and had about 10 muffins with dried fruit and 14 with jam.

Sorry there are no pics -- I really was in a hurry!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blueberries



My family is fortunate that my husband’s grandfather planted eight blueberry bushes in his backyard. Now our front yard blends into it and our daughter often walks down and stands among the bushes picking and eating the fat blue-black berries till she’s full or bored. We don’t usually snack between meals but I don’t mind her grazing at the blueberry bushes.



Sometimes she will take an 8-cup lidded Tupperware measuring cup by the handle and pick alongside her grandmother, bringing home berries that I stir into pancake or waffle batter. Recently she brought so many that I made a pie. This year, thanks to their daily picking, we beat the birds to the berries. I’m not a berry pie or cobbler baker or lover (I don’t like the little seeds in my teeth) but I recently made individual (think cupcake-sized) peach “cobblers” – really they were more like pies – for a church bake sale. There was a berry variation listed so I adapted this recipe when I made my full-size blueberry pie.



Then our culinarily-inclined friend Shaun wrote asking for a cobbler recipe. My mom sifted through her recipes and I sifted through my own childhood berry-picking memories.

I remember as a child I liked the adventure of dressing in jeans and long sleeves on hot August days and driving to briers growing along a dusty dirt road to pluck blackberries – some an inch long and as plump as my adult thumb. I did not eat as I picked. I preferred to swipe bits of the crusty juice-soaked dough but I would not eat the hot cobbler as my family did -- doused with milk and sprinkled with more sugar. The base of my mom’s cobbler is a crust of biscuit dough to which she adds sugar.

With greater patience I would strain the juice of the seeds and make jam/jelly but I haven’t found the wherewithal to do that. But when cooking the berries for the pie recipe, I hate to see all that good juice going down the drain. Next time I’ll think quicker and save the juice, maybe mix it with simple syrup and try it on pancakes.



CYNTHIA’S BLUEBERRY PIE
A variation on Anne Byrn’s Peach Cobbler Cupcakes as first printed in “Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor” (2005, Workman Publishing Co.)

Note this makes a whole pie and not the individual cupcake-sized ones.

1 15-ounce package refrigerated pie crusts (2 per package)
2 heaping cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus cornstarch or tapioca if you want
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Unroll one pie crust on the bottom and up the sides of a pie pan.

Put the berries in a medium saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. Stir until they boil. Reduce heat to low and stir often while they simmer, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Combine the 1/2 cup sugar and the flour (and cornstarch or tapioca if desired) and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix into the berries and pour all into crust.

Put the top crust on and crimp the edges. Cut slits to vent. Distribute the cold bits of butter on top. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Place the pan in the oven.

Bake until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly, 16 to 18 minutes.

David made this for one of my early Mother's Day breakfasts-in-bed. I just made it for the coffee station at my church and they polished off all but a couple of slices. I used a stoneware bundt pan and I think it made the cake a little too dark. The recipe says to cool it in the pan and I think the stoneware held the heat too long and the cake continued to bake. It wasn't dry nor did it taste overdone but the part closest the pan and halfway through was brown rather than cream.



Blueberry Crumb Ring

from "The New Good Housekeeping Cookbook"
1 cup butter or margarine, softened (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 8-ounce container sour cream (1 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 pint blueberries

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9-inch tube pan.

In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter or margarine and 1 cup sugar just until blended. Increase speed to high; beat until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add allspice and 2 cups flour; beat until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Set aside 1 cup flour-butter mixture.

To mixture remaining in large bowl, add sour cream, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, salt, eggs, remaining 1 1/2 cups flour, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Beat at low speed until well mixed, constantly scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Increase speed to high; beat 2 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl. Gently fold in half of blueberries.

Spoon batter into pan. Sprinkle reserved flour-butter mixture and remaining blueberries over batter in pan. Bake about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack; remove from pan.

MOM'S COBBLER CRUST
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup Crisco
3/4 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in Crisco till it resembles small peas. Then stir in the milk. Use to top the fruit of your choice that you have mixed with sugar.

Friday, August 29, 2008

[Product Review] Silicone baking cups: Crumb-y innovation or green advancement?

I bought a dozen pastel Wilton silicone cupcake bakers when they first came out more than a year ago just to try them. It has taken me awhile but I finally used them. I baked 24 cupcakes for one of my daughter's birthday parties. [She had two this year; one with each side of the family because they live in different towns.] I have just one cupcake/muffin tin and I didn't want to hold over the second half of the batter.

Here are my observations of the silicone baking cups' performance:

1. The cakes didn't brown as dark (or at all) as the cakes in paper wrappers. Not that that is good or bad one way or the other.

2. Though the cakes pulled away from the sides of the cups as they baked, it was hard to remove them from the holders without tearing the cakes. This is because the cups have to be so sturdy so as not to collapse under the batter. You can't bend and manipulate the silicone holder as easily as paper which will yield or "give", thus leaving the delicate cake in one piece.

I am not greasing each individual cup -- I'd rather use paper liners if I have to do that.

Some "greenies" might argue for using silicone baking cups because they save the environment: They are reusable so they don't fill up dumps, they are not made of paper and therefore no trees died for their producion and they're not printed with ink that might pollute the water or soil.

My conclusion: Use these sometimes -- like when you're going to eat their contents at home and no one will expect to see a whole and perfect confection.

Decorating tip: For anyone who's interested, I was trying to top my cupcakes with frosting quickly and neatly. I decided to pipe the ivory-tinted icing in blobs in concentric circles with a No. 199 tip. I think they looked like mums. Perfect for fall!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Substituting and adapting



I do this thing -- well, I used to do it more often, when I had a bigger grocery budget and reason to be near a big-city grocery store -- where I see an ingredient that I consider hard to come by in rural parts. Rose water, for example. I used to snap up the hard-to-find ingredient -- one time it was haluski noodles -- and bring it home only to find that I had misplaced the recipe I'd been saving to try if I ever found the elusive ingredient. The ingredient would spoil or go stale and I'd toss it, never having found the recipe I wanted to try. That's why I never bought the rose water when the nearest Kroger opened its ethnic section a few years ago. I was tempted, but I knew that recipe would be nowhere to be found at home. But that fear and reasoning didn't stop me from snapping up a package of chorizo, a Spanish link sausage, at a fancy Giant Eagle a few months back. And it stayed in my freezer until I found a good recipe to try.

But to try that recipe required some substitutions. When you live rurally and frugally like I have to you don't always have the luxury of buying the exact ingredient a recipe needs. You should not let that stop you from trying new things anyway.

In this case, fresh jumbo shrimp were replaced with smaller frozen shrimp (just use more of them.)

Portuguese rolls became King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls. At first, I could find only the dinner roll size. I made 12 small burgers, put 12 chunks of chorizo on them and put 1 or 2 shrimp on each sandwich. I think these would be a hit as a heavy hors d'oeurve at cocktail parties. For everyday dinners -- not that we eat this much meat or this richly every day -- now I'm able to get the sandwich bun size in our local Wal-marts.

However, I can no longer afford to go to a big store and buy real chorizo. So I looked up a substitute and found some things with which to doctor regular bulk pork sausage. The recipe follows. Again, I had to substitute to even make the mock chorizo. I couldn't find spicy bulk pork sausage so I bought plain and used chipotle chili pepper to amp up the heat.

I also am running low on things and can't replace them right away. For example, I'm out of sweet paprika. So in the chicken burger recipe I used 1 teaspoons of hot paprika and omitted the hot sauce. It seemed to work OK. I might've been able to go measure-for-measure without too much spice but I didn't risk it. My next experiment will be to chop the shrimp and mix the chorizo into the chicken burger mix and grill the whole thing at once, possibly making six to eight more manageable burgers than the colossal ones that result from stacking the shrimp on the sausage on the burger. I can't finish a whole one.

I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the recipe for the paella burgers and two more for fries to accompany them. One is my own concoction to dress sweet potato fries. Rachael Ray mixes a pimiento mayonnaise for the burger and her fries. I'm the only one who eats mayo in my family so I don't go to the trouble.

PAELLA BURGERS
From "365: No Repeats" by Rachael Ray
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken breast
2 or 3 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3-4 garlic cloves
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons hot sauce
zest of 1 lemon
2 1/2 tablespoons grill seasoning, such as McCormick's Montreal Steak Seasoning
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed, cut into 4 3-inch pieces and butterflied if you're making full-size burgers OR 12 2-inch pieces if you're making hors d'oeuvres. OR I prefer to smoosh the meat together and make thin little patties to sit atop the chicken burgers.
4 (or 12) jumbo shrimp (8 count per pound), peeled, deveined and butterflied
Coarse salt
4 Portuguese rolls (slightly sweet rectangular crusty rolls), if you can find them
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Preheat a large griddle or nonstick skillet over medium-high to high heat.

Place the chicken in a bowl. Finely chop the parsley. Add it and the garlic to the chicken. Add the onions, paprika and hot sauce, the lemon zest and the grill seasoning. Pour a healthy drizzle of EVOO around the outside of the bowl. Combine the mixture and form 4 or 12 patties. Place the patties on the griddle and cook for 5 minutes on each side or until done through. When you remove it from the pan, keep it warm on a plate tented with foil on the back of the stove.

Place the chorizo on the griddle, weighting it (if it's butterflied links) to keep it from curling by placing a heavy small skillet on top.. Cook for just 2 to 3 minutes on each side. The chorizo is already fully cooked; you're just crisping the edges and heating it through (if you make your own you have to fully cook it.) Transfer it to the platter with the burgers and keep warm.

Squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp, season them with coarse salt, drizzle with EVOO. Grill the shrimp about 2 minutes on each side. Keep them warm with the meats. You can do the shrimp and chorizo alongside the burgers if your griddle is big enough (mine isn't.)

Drizzle the cut sides of the rolls with EVOO and place cut side down on the griddle. I usually just toast mine on the bagel setting before I add oil because the griddle has lots of grease from the meat.

Mound some chopped lettuce on the roll bottoms, then top with chorizo, chicken patties and shrimp. Slather the bun top with mayo if you prefer and set in place. Serve with fries.

My Lightly Spiced Sweet Potato Fries

Prepare a sack of McCain Sweet Potato Fries according to package directions in the oven. When they come out, sprinkle with brown sugar, coarse salt, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chili powder. Add or omit spices and seasonings to your own liking.

Rae-Ray's Spanish Fries
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
salt
1 sack extra-crispy-style frozen fries
a handful of parsley leaves
Prepare the fries according to package directions.
Melt the butter together with the chopped garlic over low heat until the garlic sizzles in the butter. Toss the butter with the fries. Add chopped parsley and season with salt and toss again. Rae-Ray, who you remember has a staff to clean up after her, does this in a separate bowl. I just put the fries in the pan with the butter and toss it there.

CHORIZO SUBSTITUTE
(from about.com.)
1/2 pound spicy bulk pork sausage
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine pork sausage, cider vinegar, cilantro, chili powder, garlic and cumin. Mix well, but do not over-handle.
Form sausage into patties and fry about 4 minutes on each side.
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