Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve spread

Last New Year's Eve was cold and snowy and we decided to stay in. Even if we weren't partying, I wanted special nibbles to pass the time till the ball dropped. I wanted them to be easy to make and made with ingredients I already had or ones that were at least inexpensive to purchase in one quick trip. I was also looking for one last hurrah of fat and sugar calories before buckling down for better health in 2009 but I didn't want to get too crazy. So the sausage balls made with Bisquick and cheese were out, as badly as I wanted the foods to taste homey and comforting and be filling. I think I did OK. Even the husband said "That was a pretty good spread."



Clockwise from left: deviled eggs, chicken wings with raspberry barbecue sauce, pepperoni rolls, hummus with herbed pita crisps and brown-sugar bacon (not shown.)

Three of the starters came from Katie Lee Joel's cookbook, "The Comfort Table". But here's a sampling of some of her recipes. (She and Billy split in May and I've noticed the book has been rereleased with "Katie Lee" on the cover.)

Her deviled eggs are nothing special, no matter how much Paula Deen raves about them. Cooks in my family make them better. I prefer a tangier filling. But here's her recipe because that's what I made last year.

DEVILED EGGS
from "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008

1 dozen large eggs
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow prepared mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Paprika


Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the vinegar. (Note from Cynthia: According to more than one site, adding vinegar to the water in which you boil eggs might keep them from cracking and if they do crack, it keeps the egg in the shell instead of it spilling out in the water.) Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for 15-18 minutes. Drain off the water. When cool enough to touch, remove shells.

Slice each egg in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place them i na food processor. Arrange the whites on a serving platter. Add the mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to the yolks. Blend until smooth. Scoop the yolk mixture into a resealable plastic bag. Use scissors to snip off a bottom corner of the bag. Use the bag like a pastry bag to pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Sprinkle each deviled egg half with paprika. Cover loosely and chill until serving time.

HUMMUS WITH HERBED PITA CRISPS
from "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008

For the pita crisps
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, etc.)
4 pitas, split in half and each half cut in fourths (use whole-wheat for a nuttier flavor)
Kosher salt

For the hummus
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained, juice reserved
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

OR just buy premade hummus


For the pita crisps
Preheat the oven to 400. In a mini food processor, combine the butter and herbs and pulse until well-combined. Spread the herb butter onto the pita slices. Sprinkle with salt and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes.

For the hummus
In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, tahini and cumin. Pulse until smooth. With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Season with the salt and puree until very smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved chickpea juice at a time until the desired consistency is reached.




BROWN-SUGAR BACON
from "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008

I was going to make this for Christmas Day breakfast but an ice storm kept my guests away. Break it into 1-inch pieces for a cocktail-party snack.

1 pound applewood-smoked bacon
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place a wire cooling rack on top.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar and mustard. Add the bacon and toss to coat. Lay out the bacon slices flat on the rack. Brush with any remaining sugar. Roast the bacon for 25-30 minutes. Let drain on the rack for a few minutes before serving.


THIS YEAR...
If I make wings, I'm going to coat them with a spicy honey barbecue sauce made in West Virginia that I got as Christmas present. I have everything to make the brown-sugar bacon but I might save that for breakfast tomorrow. I am definitely trying new versions of Chex Mix, which Katie Lee was a spokeswoman for this holiday season. I'm most interested in the Buffalo and Deviled varieties.



Buffalo Chex Mix


I might make a Pampered Chef Classic Reuben sandwich ring. I might also make Katie Lee's Hot Spinach & Artichoke Dip. I already promised the husband we'd toast with ice cream floats.

I guess I better get moving if I want to do all that.
Happy New Year!





HOT SPINACH & ARTICHOKE DIP
from "The Comfort Table" by Katie Lee, Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts (or drained jarred or canned, but not marinated)
1 cup steamed spinach (1 pound raw or 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, well-drained)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 garlic cloves
6 large fresh basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella


Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a 2-quart baking dish.
In a food processor, combine the cream cheese, artichoke hearts, spinach, mayo, Parmesan, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Spoon into the baking dish. Top with mozzarella. Bake until bubbling and the top is golden brown, 25-30 minutes.
Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or toasted rustic bread.





CLASSIC REUBEN SANDWICH RING
from The Pampered Chef "All The Best", 2003

2 cans crescent rolls
8 ounces sliced deli corned beef, chopped
1 8-ounce can sauerkraut, drained and squeezed dry
1 1/4 cups shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 egg white, lightly beaten


Unroll 2 packages refrigerated crescent rolls and separate into 16 triangles. Arrange triangles, slightly overlapping, in a circle on a round baking stone or pan with wide ends 4 inches from edge. (Points will extend off the edge.) Roll wide ends of dough toward center to create a 5-inch opening.

Preheat oven to 375. Combine corned beef, sauerkraut, 1 cup of the cheese, dressing, parsley and garlic; mix well.

Scoop filling evenly over dough in a continuous circle. Bring points of triangle up over filling and tuck under dough at center to form a ring. Filling will show.
Brush with egg white. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Party time: Tips for smoother small talk

Tis the season for office Christmas parties. Does the thought of mingling make your palms sweat -- especially at your spouse's office soiree where you likely know no one or anything about them or at least nothing you can say to their face? If you need help making small talk, the tips here are timeless despite the fact that I wrote this four years ago.

I can talk to my colleague about anything EXCEPT work from 9-5, but we can’t seem to think of anything to talk about other than work when we go out to lunch. I have just enough social skill to know you shouldn’t talk about work at a party and I, like maybe some of you, worry about being engaging while mingling.

But what I’ve learned is that the best small-talkers are engaged. They succeed by showing genuine interest in others. And they’ve likely done their homework before the event.

See, by staying in a corner at a party or, worse, finding the TV and gluing yourself to the ballgame, you look like you don’t want to be there. At worst, you look stuck up. While making a favorable impression is important, to make friends or keep your job, it’s far more important to put others at ease and make them feel valued. When you invest in other guests, you’re also contributing to the event, said Debra Fine, author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk.” And I think that’s a way to thank your host for the invite.

Making small talk is a skill. Like penmanship, it requires practice to do well.

If you’re not sold on trying this yourself by the end of my column, at least try to look approachable. Smile, make eye contact and wait for the small-talkers to come to you.

It’s not easy for wallflowers to uproot their feet. Especially when you walk in fashionably late, as we did to my husband’s office Christmas party, and everyone’s already paired up at tables and gabbing away.

I dragged the husband to the table where the boss’s secretary sat with the office courier and his wife. There I was able to employ a tip I’d learned. Listen to other conversations to find something to talk about. The boss’s wife asked the secretary how her daughter liked her new job. Bingo. When the Mrs. moved on I found out the daughter is a hair dresser who opened a Christian bookstore.

If you hit it off with someone it’s hard to move on, but you can’t monopolize that person’s time. Leaving at the top of your game leaves people wanting more: “Be bright. Be brief. Be gone,” advises “Mingling Maven” Susan RoAne.

And what if you can’t get away from someone? I didn’t have to employ an exit line, but I had one ready: “The caprese salad looked good but I didn’t try it the first time through the buffet line.” I would never use one source’s suggestion: “I’ve enjoyed our talk but now I have to make-believe I’m interested in everybody else.” Wouldn’t that say to the person that you were just pretending with them, too?

Next, I employed Tactic No. 2, find someone who looks approachable, and Tactic No. 3, ask about something you know about them. In this case, it was the dispatcher and I knew she had penpals in Iraq. Here is where it helps to have a spouse or friend who has done a little reconnaissance for you.

If you don’t know anything about anybody, rely on “free information.” Maybe talk about how nervous you are making small talk or ask if they read my column.

You do have this in common: You’re all at the same event. Ask what they do for the company or how they know the host. You’re all in it together and can help each other get through it. And I got through it better than I ever have.

With each smooth transition from guest to guest, I got more confident. Maybe I should’ve shared these tips with my equally backward husband because much too soon, he told me it was time to go.

Now I just have to get invited to another party to keep practicing.

This column was first published Dec. 29, 2005, in The Dominion Post newspaper, which holds the copyright.

Leave a comment with your best and worst conversation starters.



I only look like the life of the party. Ha! Seriously, that's not an alcoholic beverage in my hand -- I'm at church -- it's EVOO. I dressed (or tried to dress) as Rachael Ray for Halloween this year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday baking tip: Substitute for brown sugar

If you're baking and you run out of brown sugar, or you find you don't have quite enough, or if you find you need a little and you don't want to buy a 1-pound package because the rest will just harden in your cabinet, try this:

Measure 1 cup of granulated white sugar and add 2 teaspoons molasses. Mix with a fork or an electric mixer.

I learned this trick from author Joanne Fluke who writes the Hannah Swensen series of culinary mysteries.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Unexpected food find: Almond milk at Shop'n Save

I was surprised to find what I consider an upscale product at the Terra Alta Shop 'n Save. I am intrigued that there would be enough demand for a small grocery store to stock almond milk. But they have pleasantly surprised me before with products like acini di pepe, which I couldn't find at Wal-mart in larger neighboring towns.

A half-gallon carton of the Blue Diamond Almond Breeze lactose-free, vitamin-fortified almond milk cost $2.99. I splurged.

I made a kheer-like concoction (kheer is an Indian rice pudding) by mixing the milk with a little sugar, cardamom and vanilla extract and putting it over cooled basmati rice. It was OK but I made more than we really wanted to eat.

I would much rather drink just the spiced, sweetened milk -- especially at bedtime. Just pour some almond milk into a glass and add a little granulated sugar, vanilla extract and cardamom to taste. Stir and enjoy. Good night!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Talking turkey about the cost of eating organic



The elephant in my kitchen all summer has been a turkey.

This year for Thanksgiving, I decided to reserve a live turkey from a local farmer who sells produce at the farmer’s market across the street from my house.

On the market’s opening day in June, I sought him out and signed up for my bird.

Only then he tells me how big the birds were last year – and how much they cost per pound.

Last year, his family cooked and ate a 48-pound turkey. That’s dressed weight, meaning the turkey had been stripped of feathers and other inedible parts.

And his price, derived from the cost of organic feed, was $2.75 per pound. That would be $132 for my Thanksgiving turkey.

He called to another shopper, Loretta Wotring, to tell me her story. She bought a 38-pound turkey. It barely fit in her roaster pan. And she had just served her family the last of the frozen leftovers that spring.

I started to sweat.

As the weeks slipped by till Thanksgiving, I tried to save money and I occasionally worried how I was going to pay for the bird. I decided if it was huge, I’d just cut it in half and freeze half of it raw – presentation be damned!

I sheepishly told my husband we might have to pay as much for the turkey as I would’ve previously spent on the whole meal, frozen store-bought turkey included.

My curiosity got the better of me in October and I called the farmer, James Stemple.

He said this year the price per pound would be the same but he was sure the birds would be smaller – in the 12- to 18-pound range because he got the day-old chicks in July this year. Last year he had hatchlings in May so they had more time to grow and get larger.

I wanted the local turkey for the experience. I’ve never roasted a fresh turkey, only frozen. My experience tasting locally raised animals is limited to pork and beef.

I am apathetic about food politics.

I think it’s important to support your neighbors if you can, but I don’t buy all my food from local sources. I understand how it pollutes the earth the farther your food travels and that it puts big business over the small farmer. It’s admirable to be a locavore, but I am lazy. I am also concerned about additives, hormones and injections that are given commercially raised animals. But I’d rather not think about it. Price is the biggest influence on my purchasing.

I spent no more than $150 on the Thanksgiving dinner I’m serving to eight people this year. That is easily half my monthly food budget. The turkey’s price was $38 of that. I could’ve had a turkey for 39 cents a pound from Kroger with a $25 purchase. And I have had several local women laugh at me (actually laugh out loud) and tell me I was crazy for spending so much. I do not begrudge James Stemple the money at all. Even having not yet tasted the bird, I’d buy from him again if I could save the money. I have the highest respect for farmers. He and his father, Darwin, graciously showed me around their farm and talked turkey with me. They are very kind and hardworking.

It’s just that I am too poor to have a food conscience.

I cannot buy organic and sustainable and make a statement with my purchases year-round. I have long thought it a shame that fruits and vegetables cost more than processed foods; juice costs 2 to 3 times more than soda. Poor people are at the mercy of whatever is in the food they can afford.

This is a difficult post to write because I'm not comfortable sharing details about my personal financial situation. We aren’t hungry. We don’t go to food pantries. Maybe if I did I could meet every bill every month.

But I want to end this blog post on a happier note. So I will tell you about the Stemples’ farm.



The Stemples – James and his dad Darwin – farm on the sides of two steep hills in rural West Virginia. It is incredibly rocky on the hill where the Stemples have a house, barns and the livestock. It’s easier to break ground on the facing hillside where James grows the produce for his farmers’ market stand. He had just finished planting garlic when I visited in October. The driveway is a deeply rutted meandering cow path. You have to stop and open the gate, drive through, then close it behind you so no cows get out. They have a beautiful view of the surrounding tree-covered hills.

The farm has been in the family since 1941 or ’42. The Stemples moved to it in 1992. James had always wanted to keep birds. He sells eggs and the occasional chicken from his flock. And he has a personal flock of heritage turkeys that he occasionally harvests for a Sunday dinner. He buys white turkeys – the same that wind up inside the Butterball wrapper at the grocery store – to raise for sale at Thanksgiving. He doesn’t grow heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving because they take a long time to mature.

The turkeys are allowed to roam free-range. He feeds them a mix of corn and oats he buys from other local farmers and a feed blend he orders. He doesn’t inoculate his flock and he’s never had a problem. He is interested in sustainability, and he shyly grinned and said he wasn’t sure anyone would want to read about his flock. But he told me anyway. And I thank him. For his time and for his candor.

I thank him for raising the turkey my family will eat. And I thank him for selling it because I wouldn’t have found, or went to great lengths to seek out, the opportunity to serve a fresh, locally grown bird this year. Having the chance to buy local food that’s not been injected with something is only half the challenge of choosing organic. It also has to be affordable. And that is not Stemple’s problem to solve – he charges what he must to cover production costs and I think he deals fairly.

I want to reassure readers I am not indigent and I am having a happy Thanksgiving. I wish you the same.

Tread lightly on tradition when you host Thanksgiving dinner

Last year, I posted an opinion piece that said food writers hate Thanksgiving because they are pressured to develop new recipes that will largely be ignored. Few consumers break with tradition when the day comes to break the wishbone. They will make green bean casserole and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes despite all the side-dish variations and innovations presented in magazines and newspapers.

My experience has also been that people want Thanksgiving to taste a certain way -- the recipes prepared the way they remember their mothers or grandmothers making them. A woman at church complained last week that her aunt wants to put lemon pepper on the turkey this year because she saw Martha Stewart do it. The changes I have implemented in my holiday meals are, in my opinion, not that radical, but I have met resistance of varying intensities.



My mother-in-law distrusts my cooking because, in part, one Thanksgiving I was assigned to bring the green beans. Instead of boiling them within an inch of their lives with butter and bacon, I sauteed them until crisp-tender and sprinkled chopped smoked almonds on top. And that is how I will be serving them at my house this year. She better brace herself.

Last year, I made a side dish that combined mashed red skin and sweet potatoes. Mashed white potatoes are piped into the center of a mashed sweet potato nest, drizzled with melted butter and broiled. It is called two-tone potato cups. My mother-in-law, again, was not satisfied with what was served and she went looking through the covered pots on the back of the stove. She found the mashed white potatoes that I hadn't baked off yet and scooped them on her plate. Because they have raw eggs in them, and potentially bacteria, I made her scrape them off her plate.

My advice, especially if you are trying to build your own traditions or hosting dinner for the first time, is to make changes slowly. Add one new dish, homemade dressing for example, alongside the traditional boxed dressing. Don't do anything too radical if you want to host the meal next year and have people accept your invitation.

The holiday meals of my childhood were good. My mom makes wonderfully creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes and terrific from-scratch gravy. She also used some convenience products. There is nothing wrong with brown-'n-serve rolls, Stove Top stuffing and Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. But when I got out on my own, I wanted to do things my way. I still serve frozen rolls -- Rhodes are quite good. I sometimes top them with a spice butter. But I make from-scratch bread dressing.

Going against my own advice, I am trying something risky this year. Instead of merely buttering my turkey before I roast it, I'm going to rub herbs and spices under its skin.

I am also trying a new dressing recipe for the first time ever -- another no-no. Alongside the familiar bread stuffing, I'm serving a cornbread-sausage dressing.

A few years ago I started making a sweet potato casserole with curry, cherries and bleu cheese to serve alongside my mom's candied sweet potatoes. The savory casserole will be on the table this year, and I'm adding a new sweet potato dish: chunks of the tuber coated with a cinnamon-honey glaze.



The casserole with curry, bleu cheese and cherries is pictured above. I have served it with ham and cornbread before.

There are some institutions I will not mess with -- they cannot be improved upon or replaced. One is Libby's pumpkin pie. Alongside the pie, I am going to serve a marbled pumpkin cheesecake. I might make the pear cake from an earlier post.

I better get busy starting some of the recipes. And I overlooked a few ingredients when I made my list for my first shopping trip so I have to make a foolhardy last-minute dash to the grocery store.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thanksgiving 2009 Recipes

Turkey seasoning rub

In making the turkey this year, I am going against everything I advise about 1. Trying something new for a major dinner instead of having a trial run first and 2. messing with how people expect something to taste.

I am going to rub a mix of seasonings under the skin instead of just butter. This recipe comes from TV show host and cookbook author Jim Coleman.


COLEMAN'S RUB
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1 teaspoon powdered coriander
1 lemon


Wash turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towles. Using hands, lift up the skin (without tearing) and rub herb mixture onto meat under skin, starting near the neck and continuing to rump. Squeeze lemon over turkey and use remaining herb mixture to caot the top of the bird.

I bake my turkey in an electric roaster at 350 degrees because it leaves my oven free for preparing other dishes and it cooks faster.

Dressing No. 1

I never bake stuffing inside the bird. I worry about bacteria. The recipe is from the November 1999 Good Housekeeping magazine. It was the first Thanksgiving in my house and the first time I tried to host the dinner.


TRADITIONAL BREAD STUFFING WITH HERBS

1/2 cup margarine or butter (1 stick)
5 large celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 14 1/2-ounce can chicken broth
2 16-ounce loaves sliced firm white bread, lightly toasted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 325. In 12-inch skillet, melt margarine or butter over medium heat. Add celery and onion, and cook 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in thyme, salt, pepper, sage, chicken broth and 1/2 cup water; remove skillet from heat.

Place bread cubes in very large bowl. Add celery mixture and parsley; toss to mix well.

Spoon stuffing into 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish; cover with foil and bake 40 minutes or until heated through. Makes about 12 cups.

Dressing No. 2

This is also the first time I'm trying this recipe for cornbread dressing.


CORNBREAD AND SAUSAGE STUFFING from Martha Stewart
1 pound fresh pork sausage, casings removed, crumbled (plus giblets, diced; optional)
1 large onion, (about 2 cups), finely chopped
3 celery, finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 pounds prepared cornbread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (12 cups)
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large nonstick skillet, cook sausage (and giblets, if using) over medium-high heat, stirring often, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a large bowl.

To pan, add onion, celery, and 1/4 cup water. Reduce heat to medium; cook, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add to sausage.

Add cornbread, sage, and eggs to sausage and vegetables. Bring broth to a simmer in a small saucepan; pour 1/2 cup over stuffing, and toss gently (cornbread will break down into smaller pieces). If needed, add up to 1/2 cup more broth, until stuffing feels moist, but not wet. If you aren't planning on cooking the stuffing inside the turkey -- and I'm not, pour all the chicken broth over the entire amount of stuffing, and transfer to a large baking dish.

Sweet Potato Side Dish No. 1

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

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch buves (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
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup diced green onions
2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
1 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. 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 ingredients until well incorporated.

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

Sweet Potato Side Dish No. 2

This recipe is new to people outside my household, but I have made it once before and found that it tastes even better the second day. If anyone misses the marshmallow-topped candied sweets, this should partly make up for it. I am also planning to make this as a side dish for barbecued pork tenderloin in the future. The recipe is from Pillsbury.


SWEET POTATOES WITH CINNAMON HONEY

5 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon peel
1/2 cup honey
4 pounds sweet potatoes


Heat oven to 325. Brush 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish with melted butter. To remaining butter, stir in cinnamon, salt, lemon peel and honey; set aside.

Peel sweet potatoes; cut into 1-inch chunks. Place in baking dish. Drizzle with half of the honey mixture; stir to evenly coat potatoes.

Cover tightly with foil; bake 30 minutes. Remove foil; spoon remaining honey mixture on top. Recover; bake 20-30 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.

Last year's mashed potatoes

I am not making these this year, but I wanted to share the recipe. My mom is making mashed russet potatoes. But last year, I nearly poisoned my mother-in-law because she went looking for "regular mashed potatoes" in a pot on the back of the stove that held some that I hadn't baked yet -- that wasn't to be served. Because the eggs were still raw and the dish potentially harbored bacteria, I made her scrape her plate into the trash. She was unhappy with me. The recipe is from an old Better Homes & Gardens magazine.


TWO-TONE POTATO CUPS

3 red-skinned medium potatoes (1 pound), cooked and drained
2 medium sweet potatoes (1 pound), cooked and drained
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel (optional)
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
Salt
White pepper


Peel all of the potatoes.

In two separate mixing bowls mash the white potatoes and the sweet potatoes with an electric mixer on low speed until smooth, adding 1 tablespoon of the butter to each. Beat egg white and onion powder into white potatoes. Beat the egg yolk and orange peel into the sweet potatoes. Season both potato mixtures with salt and white pepper to taste.

Line a baking sheet with foil; spray with nonstick spray coating. Using a wooden spoon, spread about 1/4 cup of the sweet potato mixture into a 2 1/2-to-3-inch nest on the foil. Repeat with the rest of the sweet potato mixture, making 8 nests total.

Spoon the white potato mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip. Pipe white potato mixture into the center of the sweet potato nests. Loosely cover nests with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 24 hours.

At serving time, drizzle the melted butter over the potato nests. Bake the nests, uncovered, in a 500-degree oven for 10-12 minutes or till golden. (Or, broil potato nests 4 inches from the heat about 7 minutes.) Let stand for 1-2 minutes. Use a wide spatula to carefully transfer the nests to dinner plates. Makes 4 side-dish servings.

Vegetable

Green beans, steamed, sauteed or oven-roasted, topped with chopped smoked almonds

Rolls

I prefer Rhodes frozen dinner rolls. I top them with this terrific sweet spiced butter that tastes like what they serve at Texas Roadhouse. It's also good on baked sweet potatoes.

CHRISTMAS SPICE BUTTER

1 cup (2 sticks) 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.

Cranberry sauce

My mother-in-law makes the relish-like sauce from the recipe on the back of the package of cranberries. Here is Ocean Spray's.

Dessert

Libby's Pumpkin Pie

I toted this pumpkin cheesecake to a newsroom potluck when I worked in an office and to my mom's house a few Thanksgivings ago. It is from the Oct. 5, 1999 issue of Woman's Day magazine.

MARBLED PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

Crust
7 whole chocolate graham crackers, finely crushed (1 cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons stick butter, melted

Filling
5 ounces semisweet chocolate or 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 8-ounce bricks reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves and nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus whites from two large eggs
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin


Heat oven to 350. Lightly coat an 8-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Stir cracker crumbs, sugar and butter in a small bowl until evenly moistened. Press over bottom of pan. Bake 8 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile melt chocolate according to package directions. Keep warm.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with mixer on high speed until smooth. Add sugar, cornstarch, spices and vinall. Reduce mixer speed to medium and beat mixture until very well blended. Scrape bowl and beaters, add eggs and egg whites, and beat just until mixed.

Add pumpkin and beat on low speed until well blended. Stir 2 cups pumpkin mixture into chocolate. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pumpkin batter and pour the rest onto the crust.

Pour the chocolate mixture on top of the pumpkin batter in a thick ring about 1/2 inch in from sides of pan. Top with dollops of reserved 1/2 cup pumpkin batter. Run a knife through both batters for a marble effect. (Don't overdo or effect will be muddied.)

Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Run a knife carefully around edges to release cake from pan.

Cool in pan on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours before removing pan sides. Place cheesecake on serving plate.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream



When I read about this Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream in the November issue of Gourmet magazine -- the last one they will ever print -- I couldn't wait to try it. I am considering offering it in addition to the pumpkin pies and pumpkin cheesecake at Thanksgiving.

The batter is thick and luscious -- there are two sticks of butter in it after all -- and it is fragrant with vanilla and spices. The pears do not make the cake soggy at all. The maple frosting ties everything together. It is lightly sweet and quite yummy. I think it is the butter, the 5 eggs and the baking powder and the way you thoroughly beat the batter after adding each egg that makes the layers bake up even and near-perfect. Don't neglect to rap the pans in the counter to jar out air bubbles.

Here is a link to the recipe for Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple Buttercream from the November 2009 Gourmet magazine.

And in case they ever take down Epicurious.com, seeing as how Gourmet closed, I will print the text of the recipe after I tell you what I did differently.

I made one of my two regular buttercream frosting recipes. I didn't make the cooked version from the recipe. It sounded like a lot of bother, frankly. And if I did it incorrectly -- such as somehow "cooking" the egg white with the hot syrup (I've seen it done in candy making and it is a disgusting chunky result), I'd waste a lot of pricy ingredients like real maple syrup. So I used imitation maple flavoring in my frosting. I didn't like the idea, but I already had it in my pantry. I think it turned out just fine. My frosting recipe follows the one from Gourmet.


Spice Cake with Caramelized Pears and Maple ButtercreamGourmet | November 2009
by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez


When layered with tender, brandy-spiked pears and a fluffy maple-flavored frosting, spice cake sheds its old-fashioned modesty, becoming impressive enough for any Thanksgiving sideboard. While it will surely satisfy the cake fans at your holiday gathering, it just might tempt a few diehard pie lovers, as well.

Yield: Makes 10 to 12 servings
Active Time: 1 1/2 hr
Total Time: 2 hr


For spice cake:
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs

For caramelized pears:
2 1/4 pounds Bartlett or Bosc pears (about 5)
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons brandy

For maple buttercream:
4 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup maple sugar
1 1/3 cups pure maple syrup (preferably Grade A dark amber)
4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened

Equipment: 3 (8-inch) round cake pans (2 inches deep; see cooks’ note, below); a candy thermometer



Make spice cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour cake pans.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Stir together milk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk mixture (begin and end with flour mixture) and mixing until just combined.

Divide batter among pans, smoothing tops, then rap pans once or twice on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until pale golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of pans, then invert cakes onto racks. Reinvert and cool completely.


Caramelize pears:

Peel and core pears, then coarsely chop.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then sauté pears, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in sugar, lemon juice, and brandy and cook over high heat, stirring, until juices are deep golden and pears are tender, about 5 minutes.


Make buttercream:

Beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using cleaned beaters at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add maple sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.

Boil maple syrup in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, undisturbed, until it reaches soft-ball stage (238 to 242°F on candy thermometer), 3 to 7 minutes.

With mixer at low speed, immediately pour hot syrup in a slow stream down side of bowl into egg whites, then beat at high speed, scraping down side of bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula, until meringue is cool to the touch, about 6 minutes. (It's important that meringue be fully cooled before proceeding.)

At medium speed, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. (If buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, meringue is too warm: Chill bottom of bowl in an ice bath for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.) Continue beating until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added but will come together before beating is finished.)


Assemble cake:

Put 1 cake layer on a serving plate, then spread with 3/4 cup buttercream and top with half of pear filling. Top with second cake layer, 3/4 cup buttercream, and remaining pear filling. Top with remaining cake layer, then frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream.


Cooks' notes:
•Cake can be made in 3 (9-inch) cake pans (cake layers will take a few minutes less to bake).
•Cake layers can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
•Buttercream can be made 1 week ahead and chilled or 1 month ahead and frozen. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave), then beat with an electric mixer before using.
•The egg whites in this recipe will not be fully cooked. You can substitute reconstituted powdered egg whites.



Cynthia's Maple Buttercream

I adapted a recipe from Ann Byrn "The Cake Mix Doctor".

1 stick butter, softened
3 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
3-4 tablespoons of milk

Put the butter in a mixing bowl and mix it on medium-high until fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the sugar, vanilla, maple flavoring and 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Beat again until the sugar is incorporated, about 5 minutes. Add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time till you get a spreadable consistency.

Note: When I make the pear cake again, I think I will make a recipe and a half of frosting. I was spreading it pretty thin trying to cover the sides and top of the cake.

Other tips I would give, in case some readers are new to baking:
1. Measure carefully. Baking is exact.
2. Don't substitute. Use real ingredients: butter, whole milk, etc.
3. Make sure your spices are fresh.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cute, but gross



I really wanted to like this caramel popcorn shaped like an ear of corn instead of a ball. (You thought I was playing with my food? Shame on you!)

I couldn't help but pick up three of these for $1.79 apiece when I saw them at the Hill Top Farmer's Market in Oakland, Md. (The Farmer's Market is not a place where vendors set up once a week. It's a store that keeps regular hours and has fresh local produce as well as bulk baking items and Amish products and the famed Candyland -- hundreds of varieties that you pick and mix and pay for by the pound.)

Anyway, these were on the produce side late this summer. I'd like to say I didn't have the popcorn balls to post this until now but really I was just lazy.

There are two varieties of the Caramel Cob -- classic and peanut. The flavor is not bad. It's the texture that makes this cutie disgusting.

It, ahem, stands up to its claim of "soft n' chewy." In your mouth it becomes taffy with popcorn hulls. Blech!

I wouldn't mind a crunchier cob. I may try to replicate these at home without preservatives and additives; I could use green plastic wrap as the husks. Just wondering how I would form the ears... .



The package is printed to look like peeled-back corn husks. It's just darling, really. And the opening instructions crack me up: "Smack & Snack -- The fun way to open! Push top of cob through wrapper by smacking bottom of cob upward."

It's manufactured by Kathy Kaye Foods in Hyde Park, Utah. Here's a link to the Web site.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

NYT discovers the pepperoni roll

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/dining/30unit.html

Thursday, July 2, 2009

S'more better



This spring I discovered Kraft Jet-Puffed SwirlMallows in Caramel & Vanilla. Eaten by hand from the bag, they have a slight burnt-sugar quality. I like them. When you toast them over a stove burner or a bonfire's flames, they seem to burn faster than regular marshmallows. I didn't mind. But a "gourmet" marshmallow needed a little better treatment. So I got a dark chocolate bar and elevated the outdoors experience. I used graham crackers but I wonder if shortbread would be fitting or too over-the-top. The only place I have found these new marshmallows at Foodland Fresh in Kingwood. Last time I looked, they didn't have them, though. If you can find them, enjoy them -- Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Brownie a trois

You'll feel naughty eating these decadent brownies.

A plain brownie is pretty scrumptious but I prefer dressing them up with toppings. I've done a coconut frosting, raspberry jam swirled with white chocolate chips and a turtle variation. For the past year I have made a lot of the rocky road brownies from a recipe I got from a former co-worker. This spring I started thinking about recreating a Hershey's Take 5 candy bar by topping the chocolate brownie base with pretzels, caramel and peanut butter. I didn't add Hershey's fifth ingredient, chopped peanuts, so my creation is more of a "Take 4." Good -- they won't get me for trademark infringement. I also had the urge to make a Fluffernutter topping for a brownie, but instead of pairing peanut butter with marshmallow fluff, I used marshmallow ice cream sundae topping. The result was yummy.

Brownies are the perfect portable thing to tote to a potluck, picnic or reunion. They hold up well for transport, they don't spoil and people love them. I recommend these three recipes for Memorial Day and all your summertime get-togethers.



Cynthia's Take 4 Brownies

You could figure this out without a recipe, really. And I didn't measure anything -- just put on what looks right to you. It's the technique you'll probably be interested in more than anything.

A boxed brownie mix -- I like Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge.
peanut butter -- creamy or chunky, your choice
mini pretzels
caramel bits
chocolate chips


Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions. Spread it in the pan. Bake at 350 for 17 minutes. Note this isn't enough time to completely cook it.

Take out the underbaked brownies. Stir the peanut butter -- maybe about 1/3 to 1/2 cup; it's up to you -- until creamy and drop gobs of it randomly on the brownie batter. As it starts to melt, gently spread it a little. It doesn't have to be a solid coating.

Drop some pretzels on top: Put them close together or space them so you can cut between them -- your choice. Or you can break them up and sprinkle the pieces.

Sprinkle some caramel bits and then some chocolate chips until it's coated as much or as little as you like.

Bake for another 13 minutes.

I partially baked it before putting on the toppings because I didn't want the heavy pieces to sink in the batter nor did I want the caramel bits to scorch. The bits don't get really melty and when the brownies cool, they are firm. My husband liked it. If I get ambitious again soon, I'm going to try melting the bits and combining with some whipping cream and drizzling it on in hope that it will stay smooth.

Cynthia's Fluffernutter Brownies

A boxed brownie mix -- I like Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge.
peanut butter
Smucker's Marshmallow Sauce ice cream sundae topping


Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions. Spread it in the pan. Bake at 350 for 17 minutes. Note this isn't enough time to completely cook it.

Remove the underbaked brownies from the oven. Stir the peanut butter until creamy. Maybe about 1/2 a cup for a 13-by-9-inch pan. Smear the pb over the top of the batter -- pushing it off the spoon with another spoon. When it gets melty, carefully spread it a little. It doesn't have to be a solid coating.

With a clean spoon, stir the marshmallow sauce in the jar. Holding it several inches above the batter, drizzle as much as you want over the top.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for 13 minutes.

I put these toppings on in the middle of the baking process because I worried that the marshmallow topping might brown if it was in the oven for the whole time. Likewise the pb could scorch. I suppose you could add the topping as soon as you remove the completely baked brownies from the oven. But I did it at the midpoint of baking tonight because I did one pan of brownies with Fluffernutter on half and Take 4 toppings on the rest.

Why marshmallow sauce and not Fluff or real marshmallows? Consistency. I think Fluff might scorch or just not look appealing. And I know real marshmallows tend to "toast" in the oven and then firm up when the brownies cool. Trust me -- the sauce is what you're looking for in a topping to get Fluffernutter flavor.

Rocky Road Brownies

This has been published elsewhere on this site, but here it is again for convenience.

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.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of bread and croutons

I love the independent artisan bakery in Morgantown, New Day Bakery, but sometimes I end up in town on Mondays, when it's closed. Those times, I admit, I go to Panera for the Mediterranean Veggie sandwich: Peppadew™ peppers, feta cheese, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cilantro hummus on tomato basil bread.

Last time, I bought a loaf of the bread, which is a hefty hunk for $3.99. I made a couple of muffulettas with it but its flavor was overpowered. I toasted and buttered it and sprinkled it with garlic powder -- not the right combo of flavors. I spread it with regular hummus ... good, but still not hitting the spot.

Tonight I realized I have to use it up or it's going to go bad. I cubed it and made croutons for a spinach salad. Voila! The flavors of egg, bacon, spinach and cheddar matched nicely with the crisp tomato basil croutons. I almost didn't need the Catalina dressing. I can't wait to have it again.

To make croutons: Toss 1 cup bread cubes with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch each of salt, pepper and garlic powder. Spread out on a baking sheet and toast at 350°F until crispy, turning occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

'Fat cat' has never been truer

West Virginia legislators scarf Tudor's biscuits and Krispy Kreme doughnuts and crumple the menu calorie bill with the wrapper. Urp!

Calorie Bill Killed by House Committee

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Easter Brunch ideas

I would rather have an Easter brunch than a dinner, perhaps it's because of all the sweets, yeast breads and egg dishes. Plus ham goes well for breakfast, too. Here are some of the brunch dishes I've served in the past plus some new things I've tried recently that I think would be great on Easter morning.

This past Sunday morning, I tried this 1978 Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist recipe for Maple Cream Coffee Treat. If I made it again, I would up the powdered sugar and leave out the coconut. It's yummy though and the sticky sauce reminds me of January Thaw.


Image borrowed from Pillsbury

MAPLE CREAM COFFEE TREAT
from Pillsbury's "Crescents biscuits & more" booklet

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup maple syrup or dark corn syrup
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup coconut
2 12-ounce cans Pillsbury Golden Layers refrigerated buttermilk biscuits


Heat oven to 350. In ungreased 13-by-9-inch pan, mix brown sugar, nuts, syrup and 1/4 cup butter; spread evenly in bottom of pan. In small bowl, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons butter with spoon until smooth. Stir in coconut.

Separate dough into 20 biscuits; press or roll each into 4-inch round. Spoon 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture down center of each biscuit round to within 1/4 inch of edge. Overlap sides of dough over filling, forming finger-shaped rolls, arrange seam side down in 2 rows of 10 rolls each over brown sugar mixture in pn.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Turn pan upside down onto sheet of foil or waxed paper, or onto serving platter; remove pan. Serve warm. Cover and refrigerate any remaining sweet rolls.



I made this bacon for just us on New Year's Eve and broke it into 1-inch pieces, as recommended in the cookbook, as a cocktail-party snack.

BROWN-SUGAR BACON
from "The Comfort Table" by West Virginian Katie Lee Joel

1 pound applewood-smoked bacon
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Place a wire cooling rack on top.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar and mustard. Add the bacon and toss to coat. Lay out the bacon slices flat on the rack. Brush with any remaining sugar. Roast the bacon for 25-30 minutes. Let drain on the rack for a few minutes before serving. Serve whole or cut into 1-inch pieces.


Cream cheese plays a supporting role at Easter and in my stuffed French toast that I concocted and reported on in 2007.

Equally special, easy and appropriate for Easter brunch, is the Almond Crumble Twist I featured in a post last fall.

This baked berry French toast was a big hit at a church I attended for Easter brunch several years ago. If you cover it for transport, be sure to vent the lid so the bread doesn't get soggy.


BAKED BERRY FRENCH TOAST
from Cooking Light magazine

1 cup fat-free milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites, lightly beathen, or 3/4 cup egg white substitute from a carton
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 8-ounce loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch slices
cooking spray
2 cups frozen blueberries
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350. In a 9-by-13-inch dish, combine milk, vanilla, egg whites and egg, stirring well with a whisk. Add bread until it covers the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Turn to coat. Let stand 5 minutes, turning bread occasionally.

While the bread soaks up the egg mixture, coat a second 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Combine berries, 3/4 cup sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in the dish. Arrange bread in a single layer over berries. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Sprinkle evenly with powdered sugar. Six servings.

GREEN MONSTAH FRUIT SALAD
from Cook's Country magazine

1 honeydew melon
3 kiwi fruits, peeled and sliced
Handful fresh mint
2 cups green grapes, halved
1/2 cup simple syrup, less if you prefer


Make simple syrup by combining 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water and stirring constantly over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Don’t let it boil or scorch. Allow to cool.

Halve the melon and remove seeds. Scoop the flesh from both halves with a melon baller. Stack the mint leaves, roll them and thinly slice on a bias to make a chiffonade.

Combine the melon, grapes and kiwi. Dress with simple syrup and mint. Serve chilled.

My mom loves this salad from my good friend Katie McDowell. She requests it almost every holiday.

KATIE'S SALAD

1 bag baby spinach
1 container grape tomatoes
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 container white button mushrooms OR one large portabello mushroom, sliced
1/2 to 1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 to 1 cup blueberries (can use sliced strawberries, raspberries, Granny Smith apple or green grapes — whatever looks good and is in season)
1 small log chevre (goat cheese) — plain, ash or cranberry, whichever you prefer
1 cup candied pecans (see below)
Lots freshly ground black pepper


Combine ingredients in a large salad bowl. If you like, sautee the mushrooms with a tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil and/or butter before placing on top of salad. This brings out the mushrooms’ flavor and adds a nice warm/cool-and-crispy component to the salad. For another twist — works well if serving as a main dish — form silver-dollar-sized patties of the goat cheese and dredge in flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs and fry in a small amount of oil until golden brown outside and melty inside. Serve atop the salad.

CANDIED PECANS
1 cup pecan halves
light brown sugar
honey
pinch salt
freshly ground black pepper


In a bowl, combine pecans with enough brown sugar and honey to coat liberally. Add dash of salt and black pepper and spread coated pecans on a baking sheet (I line it with foil for easier clean up). Put pecans under the broiler until sugar has caramelized. Be sure to keep a close on them, they burn quickly. When nicely caramelized, remove from oven and allow to sit. The coating will harden. When cooled, scatter over salad (you may want to save a few as snacks).

For dessert, I have made cheesecakes before and sometimes cherry pies -- try topping canned cherry pie filling with crumbled almond paste instead of a top crust. YUM! This year, I'm trying to talk my mom into making her from-scratch butterscotch pie. Heaven!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mourning Chef Harv

Chef Harv died before I got to make his acquaintance. Harvey Christie could've gone quite far, but was just getting companies and concepts off the ground when he crashed his van in December 2006 and died. He had founded a gourmet company in the Eastern Panhandle that served The Greenbrier Resort among others. But his most intriguing concept was a company that handled the overhead for people who wanted to make and package their own products to sell. For example, let's say I had what I thought was a great recipe for Granny's apple butter but opening a commercial kitchen and getting the proper permits was too overwhelming. I could call Harvey Christie's Gourmet Central, take my apples and spices to their kitchen and use their equipment to prepare, package and even label my product before marketing it. Harv's wife and partner are still running it last I heard.

What got me thinking about Chef Harv? I caught a 15-minute cooking show he hosted on our local public television station. I don't know if he was the only host of "Easy Bites" but it seemed like he was. He gave two quick kid-friendly recipes, fitness tips on a kid level like "go outside and jump rope or run around to get your energy out and you won't have any trouble being sleepy at bedtime" and book recommendations. I fell in love with him and missed him severely when Arabella and I caught an episode about bedtime snacks recently. I wish I had written down the recipe for these scone-like creations that combined bits of cooked turkey breast with cranberries, sage, a few kinds of cheese and baking mix like Bisquick. He said he liked to take them on fishing trips. But the second recipe I do remember and it is simple and can be served hot or cold.

APPLE-CHAMOMILE BEDTIME DRINK OR POPSICLES
Take a cup of apple juice and a chamomile tea bag.
Have a grown-up help you heat the apple juice. Steep the tea bag in the warm apple juice for 10 minutes or so. Drink.
OR pour into Popsicle molds and insert sticks. Freeze. Eat one before bed on a warm night.

I have e-mailed the station for the turkey biscuit recipe. If I receive it, I'll post it. I may just have to fiddle with it till I figure it out.

The recipes from the 2006 season of Christie's main show "WV Cooks" are still on the station's Web site. On that show, Harv had guest chefs from around the state join him to make something.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Cinnamon-Raisin Biscuits

I abhor Hardee's fast-food restaurants. The grease in their food -- even the salads -- is not the only thing that makes me queasy. They concoct the most unhealthful sandwiches -- huge slabs of meat with more meat as toppings. Disgusting.

However, every now and then, I crave their cinnamon-raisin biscuits. That happened early one morning back when I was helping on my mom's paper route. I went through the drive-thru. Some employees smoking outside told me that they don't open till 6. It was 5:55 -- you have got to be kidding me. I laid rubber to get home and look up a comparable recipe to do it myself. Who needs Hardee's?

I found this online and this morning I finally made it after saving it all that time. The craving had apparently passed. I have been trying to make myself an easy little comfort food homemade treat on Friday mornings just because. This was today's.

I think if I make it again I would cut back on the sugar a little. And instead of making drop biscuits, I might roll them in hope that the texture would be a little more like Hardee's. Still it's better than going to the place with the obnoxious star.



CINNAMON-RAISIN DROP BISCUITS
2 cups Bisquick baking mix
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar (or slightly less)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins


Preheat oven to 425.

Stir all ingredients together until a soft dough forms.

Drop by spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes 12.

POWDERED SUGAR GLAZE
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk (plus a teensy splash more)


Stir until smooth. Drizzle on hot biscuits.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

[Product Reviews] Hot and Not



I went into Wal*mart a little snacky, with homemade Chex Mix on my mind. Then I saw a can of Blue Diamond Almonds Bold Wasabi & Soy Sauce. I bought them and have managed to not eat the entire can at once...just nibbling a few at a time. They really hit the spot when I'm craving something salty and a little spicy. I don't have to eat many to satisfy my munchies. I don't have to feel guilty about snacking because almonds have fiber and are low in fat. Six ounces cost about $3.

We don't buy much juice but recently I tried Welch's Black Cherry Concord Grape and it was divine: jammy and luscious. A bit pricey at more than $4 for 64 ounces but there was a $1 coupon on the bottle (which of course the checker didn't acknowledge) but still well worth what I paid for it.

I took the coupon back on my next shopping trip but all the bottle of that variety were gone. Then I noticed they had the same flavor and brand of powdered drink mix in little on-the-go packets that you add to water. Yes I know there's nothing you can add to water that will match juice's nutrition. But I was hoping for flavor and for the promised immunity-boosting antioxidants till I could find the real thing again. I have tried one packet and I'm disappointed. It tastes like really bad grape Kool-aid, not that grape Kool-aid is all that great to start with. I don't know if I can make it through the whole box, even for the vitamins. It is quite like taking my medicine. Think Dimetapp.

Hot: Blue Diamond Almonds Wasabi & Soy Sauce
Hot: Welch's Black Cherry Concord Grape 100 percent Juice
Not: Welch's to go! powdered drink mix

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Oatmeal cookies two more ways

I really like the oatmeal cookies I make with dried cherries and bittersweet chocolate chips. But this winter, after Christmas, I wanted to try something different. I had leftover candied orange peel so I bought some dried cranberries to pair with it, replacing the chocolate and cherries, for variation No. 1. It was yummy. I knew it would be because I had been stirring a little of each into bowls of oatmeal since I ran out of Granny Smith apple. The second variation I tried was riskier but oh so worth it. I had been craving candied ginger and bittersweet chocolate together. I finely chopped a small amount of ginger and added it to the cookie batter in place of the cherries. Very good. Please note that for the variations, I added a teaspoon of cinnamon, for which the original recipe doesn't call.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A tasty treat for dry skin

The colder-than-usual temperatures are really brutal to my skin, which normally doesn't have any problems. My creamy cleanser and moisturizer haven't been able to keep up. I tried to drink more water to fight the problem and that didn't completely solve it. I pumped moisture into the air with a humidifier. But for immediate relief for my dry, tight, itchy, flaky face, I whipped up a home remedy with ingredients in the kitchen. I found a few variations of this recipe all over the 'Net.

1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
a little ground oatmeal (optional)

Combine and apply to face (avoiding eyes) for 15 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.

This recipe made enough for me to do two applications, which I thought was excessive to do two days in a row. I could halve the recipe but what would I do with half an egg yolk? I think with a little planning -- mixing it on the weekend when I make scrambled eggs or something else I could sneak a little extra egg yolk in -- and I'll be set. The dilemma of what to do with the egg white, if I don't want to just throw it out, could be solved the same way. But I have a yummier idea: seafoam candy. I'll post about that when the air is dry and I have time to draft the husband into helping me make a batch and take photos. It is the most special homemade candy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Losing my head over garlic

"You can, but you shouldn't" is a proverb I hadn't heard until I started researching whether or not you can freeze fresh garlic with no adverse effects.

First, the back story:
An inattentive/apathetic cashier at Wal*mart shoved a produce bag of four heads of garlic into a bag with some frozen foods. I'll admit I was a little negligent, too. Putting away groceries late at night after a 5-year-old was carsick all over herself, I wasn't careful to take everything out of the bags. I shoved what appeared to be a shopping bag of frozen fish and vegetables into the deep freeze. Two nights later when I was looking for the garlic I bought, it dawned on me to check the bag in the freezer. There was the garlic.

A few frantic Googles and an angry call to a Wal*mart manager later, I had a decision to make. I could keep the garlic -- in the freezer, wrapped in plastic and inside a tightly sealed container -- and use it a clove at a time, risking lost flavor and funky texture.

OR I could return the garlic to Wal*mart for a replacement and risk them putting the perfect-looking heads I chose back in the produce bin for me or some other shopper to take home unknowingly. I wouldn't put it past them.

So far the garlic is still in my freezer. I used four cloves of it and the texture of the thawing cloves is somewhat like that of lettuce that has been frozen -- the beginnings of mushy. Chopping it is like cutting through a frozen grape or a melon ball or maybe a creamsicle. It's not right. It's not crisp. But it doesn't seem to taste so bad. I think as long as I put it IN something -- saute it, melt it in sauce or mix it into a burger -- it shouldn't be so bad.

That's right. I am leaning toward keeping it. Part of what I found in my research said freezing garlic isn't such a bad thing as long as you double-wrap it like I described above and use it up fast. But first, I think I might call Lynne Rosetto Kasper on "The Splendid Table" and see what she thinks. I'll let you know if I get through.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

It's the portion size, silly

I know a woman with unhealthy eating habits. I do not mean to belittle or deride her when I say she is a simple person. I think she is capable of learning about nutritious foods and eating in moderation, but she will probably never be motivated to find out for herself. She is morbidly obese and has a variety of health problems that are exacerbated if not completely caused by the weight and malnutrition. She once said, in regard to eating habits, "I had only mashed potatoes for dinner." She in fact had a dinner plate heaped full of mashed potatoes. Probably enough for five or six servings.

There are a lot of things regular people in this country don't understand about their diets and portion size is one of them. They are the folks who do not read labels and do not measure anything. They assume that all of a 20-ounce bottle of soda is one serving because they will consume it quite comfortably in a sitting. (Actually, if you didn't know, it's 2 1/2 servings so multiply all those calories and other numbers on the nutrition facts panel by 2 1/2.) They are the people who "super size" their servings when dishing up a homecooked meal. Some no doubt think that the food is better for them than fast-food because of where it was prepared.

While the portion sizes and kinds of food offered at fast-food restaurants are certainly not in line with good nutrition, this recent study written up in the Chicago Tribune shows that it is a lifestyle habit to overeat everywhere, not just under the Golden Arches.

Read about the study here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Et tu, Girl Scouts?

I heard a few months ago that some food makers were putting less food in the same-size packages and charging the same price. Their goal is to off-set the rising cost of raw ingredients without raising prices. One of the sneakiest examples was peanut butter manufacturers increasing the "punt" (the dent in the bottom) of the jar so it holds less peanut butter but on the shelf it looks like the same jar you bought before. Sneaky, I say!

Within the last couple of days, Consumer Reports and NBC Nightly News reported again on these downsized products and also noted that consumers would rather pay more for the same amount of food than the same price for less.

During the same time, I heard that Girl Scouts have put fewer Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos and Tagalongs in their boxes this year. Far be it from me to slam Girl Scouts seeing as how 80 or so of my lovely friends, relatives and associates have cooperated to buy more than 330 boxes from my daughter. I am just pointing out that no one is spared in this economy. (The sale is over so I cannot be accused of selling on the Internet.) Perhaps if I had known there were fewer in each box I could've told people "Buy an extra, 'cause there's fewer this year." Actually, honestly, before I saw the report about fewer cookies I was looking at the package info and thinking "$3.50 for 15 cookies/5.5 ounces (for the sugar-free chocolate chip kind). Yipe! That's steep! This is a pretty good racket. They have the corner on scarcity -- you can get them only once a year and there are few other brands that taste like them. They are good but come on." I am not the only one who had second thoughts. I had one person tell me no because, she said, her family in this economy has clamped down on discretionary spending.

Honestly I do not intend to slam on Girl Scouts so I will stop now. However, the economy as it affects my bread and butter, literally, has been on my mind for a year or more. I have weighed where to enter the debate and how much I want to tell about my own personal grocery bill. I'm still working on it. Watch for future posts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I won free cheese!

This is not what I wanted my first post of the new year to be, but it's as good as any seeing as how if I wait till I have the motivation/inspiration/satisfaction/wherewithal to post something else, it may be Easter. I have to jump in somewhere.

Kraft Foods is running a Super Bowl promotion right now, giving away up to $15 in coupons for Kraft products you might serve at a bowl party, including cheese, crackers and peanuts. To enter, go to http://brands.kraftfoods.com/sogoodtogether/
The first time, you'll be asked for your name and address, but you'll be spared that on subsequent visits. You can enter up to four times a day through Feb. 2. I did it four times a day for the past three or four days and just today got a message that I was a winner and my coupons would come in 2-4 weeks. Given that the Super Bowl is only 8 days away, I probably wouldn't have them in time to shop for my party if I were having one (ridiculous as I don't even have cable or satellite.) But I am not one to refuse free cheese. Or crackers. Or peanuts. Good luck!
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