Thursday, December 22, 2011

Fabulous holiday recipes

With just a couple of days to go before Christmas, you may be thinking of doing some last-minute baking or snack making, or you're looking for an ideal cocktail, appetizer or side dish to serve.

Here's my list of fabulous holiday recipes to give you plenty of great ideas.

Tempting treats
Orange Poppy Seed Cookies
Honey-Spice Cake
Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies
White Russian Sorbet
Cardamom Crescents
Maple Syrup Gingerbread
Butterscotch Shortbread
Fig and Rum Squares
Toffee Millionaires
Nutella Fudge Brownies
White Chocolate and Peppermint Brownies
Chocolate Dulce de Leche Bars
15-Minute Chocolate-Walnut Fudge
Anna's Walnut-Rum Wafers
Orange Butter Cookies with Grand Marnier Glaze
Clove-Scented Chocolate & Apricot Loaf
Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Sensational sides
Pear-Quinoa Salad
Warm Spinach, Mushroom and Goat Cheese Salad
Noodle Kugel
Simple Two-Potato Gratin
Celery Root and Apple Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette
Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Gouda and Chives
Braised Fingerling Potatoes with Thyme & Butter
Greek-Spiced Baked Shrimp

Appetizers and snacks
Sweet and Salty Pecans
Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls
Garlic and Cheese Crostini
Goat Cheese and Red Pepper Jelly on Crackers

Christmas Punch
Sparkling Ginger Cocktails
Ginger Rum Shandy
Sea Viper
Champagne Cosmo
Pomegranate Punch

The main event
Orange and Cumin Pork Loin
Pistachio-Crusted Rack of Lamb

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Go a little nuts during the holidays
with Sweet and Salty Pecans

Many households go a little nuts during the holidays.
   That is, many people like to set out trays of mixed nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios – for their guests to snack on. My father is a firm believer in this method of entertaining at Christmas.
   You can go one step beyond just setting a nut tray – you can dress them up in a delicious little coating.
   In the case of Sweet and Salty Pecans from Martha Stewart Living magazine, brown sugar, heavy cream and coarse salt dress up pecans in the most savoury manner.
   Served slightly warm or at room temperature, these nuts are guaranteed to please both young and old. It’s the kind of snack to pass around while everyone is watching a Christmas movie together.
   And the nuts are so easy to make, absolutely perfect if you’re looking for a last-minute holiday recipe idea.
   Light-brown sugar, heavy cream, ¾ tsp coarse salt and pecans are stirred together until the pecans are well coated. The nuts are spread onto a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer.
   The nuts are baked for 20 to 22 minutes, and are stirred every five. When they come out of the oven, the pecans are sprinkled with ¾ tsp more of coarse salt, then left to cool.
   The pecans keep well in an airtight container.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Taking my turn at the poppy seed
wheel with Orange Poppy Seed Cookies

Recently I wrote about Honey-Spice Cake, a recipe that attracted me to try it because it contains honey, a primary ingredient in Ukrainian baking.
   The same thing occurred with Orange Poppy Seed Cookies (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   Poppy seeds are popular in Ukrainian baking and cooking. My Baba makes poppy seed buns, and my mother often serves kutia, a traditional Ukrainian sweet grain pudding dotted with poppy seeds, on Christmas Eve (although I have to admit, I don’t like kutia!)
   I wanted to take my turn at the poppy seed wheel, and so picked these cookies, which looked like they would be perfect for the holiday season.
   They are a perfect family-friendly cookie for the holidays – just a bit crispy, with the perfect balance of orange and poppy seed flavors.
   Once the dough is made and shaped into a log, the recipe says to freeze it for an hour or refrigerate for several hours until very firm. However, the recipe says the dough can also be kept frozen for several weeks, and so I took a cue from that and simply froze the dough for about three hours before I cut it into pieces for baking.
   Make sure to cut the dough-log into 3/16-inch thick rounds as the recipe suggests – it’s the ideal thickness to create cute, crispy cookies.
   Poppy seeds, by the way, can be found in the spice section of many supermarkets.
   The cookies are easy to make.
   Flour, poppy seeds, baking powder and salt are combined in a small bowl.
   Softened unsalted butter and sugar are beaten together with an electric mixer, then an egg, orange juice, orange zest (finely-grated lemon peel) and lemon zest (finely-grated lemon peel) are added and the mixture beaten some more. The flour mixture is added and beaten on low until just combined.
   The soft dough is put on a large piece of plastic wrap, and wrapped and frozen for 30 minutes. Though the recipe didn’t say to do this, I formed the dough into a log already at this point.
   After the dough is frozen for 30 minutes, it’s unwrapped and kneaded briefly to remove air pockets. The dough is rolled into a nine-inch log and wrapped (roll the log yourself, don’t bother letting the plastic do it as the recipe says.)
   After refrigeration or freezing time, the log is unwrapped, then sliced into 3/16-inch rounds. The rounds are set one inch apart on lightly-greased or parchment-covered cookie sheets (I used parchment paper), then baked in the oven.
   After a few minutes of cooling, the cookies are transferred to a wire rack to cool completely.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Punch: For making
merry in a major way

It’s the time of year to make merry in a major way, and I always find a great way to do that is with an awesome festive punch.
   I’ve made it a bit of tradition to try a new punch each holiday season.
   This year’s selection is Christmas Punch from Martha Stewart Living magazine.
   It’s a wonderfully refreshing combination of pomegranate and cranberry juices, vodka and orange-flavored liqueur. Serve it with some festive appetizers and the party will be started.
   Although the recipe makes 12-16 servings, implying it’s meant for a crowd, this punch also works for the smallest of get-togethers. Just scale back the ingredient measurements in the recipe, and swap the punch bowl for a pitcher.
   The punch can be made in advance, which can be very helpful when things get busy. Combine all the ingredients, except the club soda, and chill them in a pitcher or bowl. Add the freshly-opened club soda just before serving.
   A simple syrup is prepared on the stovetop from sugar and water. It’s cooled and refrigerated until it’s cold.
   Chilled pomegranate juice and cranberry juice (I used cranberry cocktail), vodka, Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur (Grand Marnier, for example), fresh lemon juice and the simple syrup are combined.
   If serving right away, add the club soda. If serving later, refrigerate the punch and add club soda just before serving.
   Although I served the punch over ice, I didn’t bother freezing cranberries in the ice cubes as the recipe suggests.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Honey and spice and everything nice in lovely cake

I latched onto the name of the recipe immediately when I saw it in Saveur magazine: Honey-Spice Cake.
   I come from a Ukrainian heritage, and honey is used a lot in Ukrainian cakes and cookies.
   I remember my mom telling me about how her grandmother always used to make honey cookies and how delicious they were. They also kept for a long time without refrigeration.
   The recipe looked very promising, with savory cookie spices worthy of the best gingerbread along with a touch of Grand Marnier, so I gave it a whirl.
   I wasn’t disappointed. This is an amazing cake – moist and flavorful. I think my mother’s family would definitely approve of it.
   The cake will keep well for a few days if left in a cake saver and sliced as needed, but I found it tasted best on the day it was made. It was extra moist, with the orange flavor more prominent (but definitely not annoying).
   The cake would make a lovely dessert for a holiday supper.
   The recipe calls for a four-quart Bundt pan, which is a 16-cup Bundt pan. I didn’t calculate this at first, and so used a 12-quart Bundt pan to bake the cake.
   Although the cake was fine and didn’t spill over while baking – barely – I don’t recommend using a 12-cup pan. Use the 16 and don’t worry about overflow.
   The cake was very easy to make.
   Flour, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt are mixed together in a bowl.
   Sugar, egg yolks (six!), oil, honey, orange juice, orange zest (finely-grated orange peel) and Grand Marnier are mixed together, then the dry ingredients are added and everything is stirred until just combined.
   The egg whites are beaten with sugar until stiff peaks form (lift the beaters upwards and see if peaks form in the whites), and the whites are then folded into the batter.
   The recipe says to bake the cake for 60 minutes, but I baked it for about 53 minutes. It started to smell as if it was burning, so I took it out. This could have been because I used a smaller pan size than called for.
   The cake is cooled (I let it cool for about 15 minutes), then inverted on a serving plate. I let the cake cool completely at this point, then I made the glaze of orange juice and confectioners’ sugar (icing or powdered sugar) and drizzled it over the cake. It takes about 30 minutes for the glaze to set.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cold adds to the charm of
Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies

One of my favorite childhood memories is this: Sneaking into the basement freezer at Baba’s house and retrieving one of her beautiful baked treats that were piled up in ice-cream pails. (Baba is Ukrainian for grandmother.)
   There was something about eating a completely frozen butterscotch bar or mint-chocolate cookie that made it even more delicious.
   My husband had a similar ritual at his Nanny’s house, sneaking frozen goodies out of the freezer.
   We were both reminded of these childhood escapades when we enjoyed Double Chocolate-Peppermint Crunch Cookies from Bon Appetit magazine right after they’d been taken out of the fridge.
   Although these cookies are fine served at room temperature, I prefer eating them right out of the fridge. The cold makes the crushed candy cane on top extra crunchy.
   These cookies are the ultimate fun family holiday treat. Everyone will scoop them up and eat ’em quickly, but not before admiring the crushed red peppermint candy on top.
   My one suggestion for this recipe is to finely crush the candy canes or peppermint candies, not coarsely crush them as the recipe says.
   I have learned through past experience that coarsely-chopped candy canes or peppermint candies can be very annoying to bite through in baked goods. They could even be a choking hazard, especially for children.
   I broke up candy canes into pieces, then crushed them into very fine pieces in a mini-chopper, though a food processor or blender would probably work too.
   To make the cookies look especially festive, buy candy canes or peppermint candies that have a large amount of red on them. I bought gourmet candy canes with lots of red color at a bulk foods store, and, once finely crushed and sprinkled on the cookies, they looked fantastic.
   The bittersweet chocolate chips called for in the recipe can also be found in well-stocked bulk and natural foods stores.
   Be sure to follow the recipe’s direction to make each cookie from one level tablespoon of dough. These cookies are meant to be small and cute.
   Bittersweet chocolate chips are melted in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
   Two-thirds of a cup of the melted chocolate is measured out to be used as drizzle later on. The recipe says to transfer this reserved chocolate to a small metal bowl to be rewarmed later on over simmering water. I sped things up a bit by measuring the reserved chocolate into a glass measuring cup. Later on, I put it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm and melt the chocolate again.
   Flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, instant espresso powder and salt are whisked together in a medium bowl.
   Butter is beaten in a large bowl until creamy, then sugar and vanilla and peppermint extracts are added and the mixture beaten until smooth (actually, it won’t be entirely smooth – more like pieces of buttery smoothness).
   Eggs, melted chocolate and the dry ingredients are beaten into the butter mixture, then ½ cup of bittersweet chocolate chips is stirred in.
   Level tablespoonfuls of dough are rolled into balls and placed on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. (I got lazy and didn’t bother forming all the cookies into balls; I picked up pieces of dough and put them right onto the baking sheet. They still come out of the oven nice and flat.)
   After baking, the cookies are cooled completely.
   The reserved melted chocolate is rewarmed (see my microwave technique, described above), and drizzled over the cookies with a fork. The finely-crushed candy canes or pepperming candies are sprinkled on top.
   The cookies are chilled until the chocolate sets, about 20 minutes.
   As I said at the top of this blog entry, I prefer to store these cookies in an airtight container in the fridge, and serve them right after they’ve been taken out of the cold. However, they’ll also be fine at room temperature for a few hours.

Friday, December 9, 2011

White Russian Sorbet is perfect for winter

A White Russian is a cocktail I equate with winter.
   The sweet flavors of milk or cream mixed with a coffee liqueur are, for me, an ideal libation for a chilly evening.
   That’s why, when I saw the recipe for White Russian Sorbet (click for it), I knew I would have to make it in the wintertime, even though it was a sorbet recipe and I most often make icy sorbet in the summer.
   I made the sorbet for the first time last weekend, and it made for a delicious wintry treat. As I enjoyed the first spoonful, I knew my decision to make it in cool weather was right. I think all who try it would agree!
   It would make a lovely dessert at the end of a fancy holiday dinner.
   Although this recipe is extremely easy to make, it does take the sorbet a long time to freeze completely. I recommend freezing it overnight before serving.
   I made the ice cream-maker version of the sorbet, processing it in the maker for 20 minutes, then transferring the slightly icy liquid to an air-tight container and putting it in the freezer to firm up.
   The recipe can be made without an ice cream-maker. It then becomes a granita, which has bigger ice crystals than sorbet. Extra water is added to the sorbet mixture, which is then poured into a metal baking pan. The pan is put in the freezer and the mixture stirred occasionally for a few hours, then left to freeze completely.
   Water and sugar are stirred together in a saucepan and brought to a boil, then removed from heat. Instant espresso powder is added and stirred until its dissolved.
   The mixture is poured into a medium bowl. Corn syrup, whipping cream, vodka and Kahlua or another other coffee-flavored liqueur are added. The mixture refrigerated until cold, at least two hours.
   The mixture is transferred to an ice-cream maker, processed, then transferred to an air-tight container. After it is frozen, the sorbet is served.
   I skipped the bit about serving the sorbet in frozen coffee cups and garnished with coffee beans – I used small dessert bowls instead.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dried blueberries and maple syrup
set this gingerbread apart

This time of year, gingerbread takes its rightful place at the centre of Christmas baking.
   Gingerbread cookies are seen on many a holiday treat platter, and gingerbread cake is served after supper.
   Although I have a very reliable recipe for delicious gingerbread, I also wanted one that stood out a bit from the pack.
   I found what I was looking for with Maple Syrup Gingerbread (click for the recipe), developed by Lauren Chattman. The recipe calls for maple syrup instead of molasses, and the very unusual addition of dried blueberries.
   The maple syrup gives the cake a light texture and feel that’s not characteristic of most gingerbread cakes.
   Many people won’t be able to guess what the little juicy bits are in the gingerbread, and it’s fun to inform them that they’re blueberries.
   The lemon glaze on top is an absolutely perfect crown to this delicious gingerbread, which is easy to make.
   Egg yolk, pure maple syrup and buttermilk are combined in a measuring cup and lightly beaten. Flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt are combined in another bowl.
   Butter and sugar are creamed together in a large bowl. The buttermilk mixture is added, and the flour mixture. The dried blueberries are stirred in.
   The batter is scraped into an eight-inch square baking pan and baked for 35-40 minutes.
   After being inverted on a wire rack and cooled completely, the cake is iced with a glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls: A fun retro appetizer

Every once in a while I’ll see a recipe for pimento cheese pop up in cookbooks or magazines.
   It’s a common food in the Southern U.S., I’m told. The three key ingredients are sharp cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and pimentos (also spelled pimientos).
   I’ve always been curious to try a pimento cheese recipe, and felt the time was right when I happened across a recipe for Nutty Pimiento Cheese Balls (click for the recipe) in Eating Well magazine.
   The recipe is created by Jamie and Bobby Dean, sons of the iconic southern chef Paula Deen. This pedigree practically guaranteed the recipe’s success.
   I was also on the lookout for a fun appetizer for a holiday party.
   These cheese balls scored very high on the taste and fun factor.
   They were delicious – sharp in taste, but not so sharp that children wouldn’t eat them. I think children would like them a lot, in fact.
   The cheese balls, rolled in finely-chopped pecans, have a retro feel to them that will score big at any party no matter the level of elegance. They can be served with the most high-end cocktails or champagne.
   The recipe calls for finely-chopped toasted pecans. For this, I toasted the pecans in a small skillet on the stovetop, instead of in the oven as the recipe suggests. Then I put the pecans in a mini-chopper (a food processor would work, too), and ground them to very small pieces. The cheese balls will roll and pick up the pecans most easily if the pieces are minute.
   The cheese balls are very easy to make.
   Cream cheese, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, mayonnaise, pimentos (find them in the pickles and relish section of the supermarket), grated onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper are pulsed together in a food processor until smooth. The mixture is scraped into bowl or container, then covered and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes.
   The toasted, finely-chopped pecans are placed in a bowl or plate. The cheese mixture is rolled into one-inch balls, then evenly in the pecans to coat.
   Serve the cheese balls at room temperature or chilled. They will keep well, covered in a container in the fridge, for about four days.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cardamom Crescents become Cardamom Cookies due to laziness; delicious taste unaffected

When I bake, I forget about the fancy stuff.
   Generally, I avoid anything that calls for piping icing or cookie dough, I’m not keen on layer cakes, and I don’t usually decorate beyond spreading on required glaze or icing.
   I also have little patience for making things tiny and delicate and properly shaped, which is why my Cardamom Crescents (click for the recipe) from the December 2011 issue of Bon Appetit magazine were served as Cardamom Cookies.
   The recipe calls for bending pieces of dough into crescent shapes, which I grew tired of very quickly and instead shaped the pieces into small circles before baking.
   Luckily taste is not affected by shape. Cardamom Cookies, as I shall henceforth call them, are delicious.
   The ground cardamom gives these fragrant, shortbread-like cookies an extra somethin’-somethin’. People will eat them and know there is cinnamon present, but wonder about the extra dash of deliciousness. Let 'em know it’s cardamom!
   The cookies receive a generous coating of powdered sugar (also known as confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar), which add some extra flavor and make them look nice and wintery.
   Needless to say, these are lovely cookies to serve during the holidays, and are certainly family-friendly.
   They’re very easy to make.
   Powdered sugar and pecans are combined in a processor and pulsed until a coarse meal forms.
   Butter and vanilla are beaten together until creamy, then the nut mixture and a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon and kosher salt are added and blended well. A soft dough will form; transfer to a work surface and knead into a ball.
   To shape each cookie, a tablespoon of dough is formed into a ball, rolled into a log, then gently bent into a crescent shape (or be lazy like me and gently pat the top of a piece of dough into a circle).
   After baking, the warm cookies are rolled gently in powdered sugar to coat, then transferred to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrate the holiday season
with Sparkling Ginger Cocktails

With the season of holiday parties now in full swing, it’s time for festive cocktails to be shown off at their sparkling best.
   This time of year, I like serving cocktails that contain champagne, sparkling wine or Prosecco. They have an air of sophistication and fun that I think fits a holiday party best.
   Sparkling Ginger Cocktails (click for the recipe) from Gourmet magazine fit this description perfectly. Each one is a lovely pale yellow color, with a sugared rim that makes one think of soft, powdered snow.
   There’s a bonus with this recipe, too.
   Not only does the ginger syrup made for the recipe combine with Prosecco to make a fab cocktail, it can also be combined with club soda for a great mocktail that tastes leagues above the average ginger ale.
   Some of the reviewers of this recipe on the website complained of trouble making the ginger sugar that’s put on the serving glasses’ rims.
   I didn’t have any trouble at all. The recipe calls for crystallized ginger, the kind that can be found in any bulk foods store or bulk foods section of the supermarket. I ground the pieces up in a mini-chopper, rather than the blender or food processor mentioned in the recipe. There were some larger grains of crystallized ginger among the smaller ones, but it wasn’t a problem. I then put sugar into the mini-chopper with the crystallized ginger and ground it up again.
   The ginger sugar stayed perfectly on the rims of the glasses, which had been wet with lemon juice from a lemon wedge. I used wine glasses to serve the cocktail, by the way, but wide-mouthed champagne glasses or even a martini glasses would also work.
   If making the ginger sugar seems like too much trouble, simply putting sugar on the rims of the serving glasses is also nice too. I recommend using superfine or berry sugar, however, since it’s not going to be ground in a chopper.
   Water, sliced fresh ginger, and sugar are simmered in a small saucepan for about 10 minutes, then the liquid is removed from the heat and left to steep for 15 minutes. The syrup is strained through a sieve into a bowl, and the solids discarded. The syrup is refrigerated until cold.
   The rims of glasses are sugared, one tablespoon of the ginger syrup is put in each, then Prosecco is poured in. I stirred each cocktail to make sure the syrup blended well with the Prosecco, even though the recipe doesn't say to do this.
   I estimate I used about ½ cup Prosecco for every one tablespoon of syrup, but you can taste away until you find the flavor combination you like.
   For the mocktails, I used about two tablespoons of syrup with about ¾ cup of club soda. Make sure to serve the non-alcoholic version on ice!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Butterscotch Shortbread - this year's "I don't have any more time to bake for the holidays" recipe

As I write this, it’s less than a month away until Christmas. You may have holiday baking on your mind.
   You’d like to make some homemade holiday treats for your friends and family.
   But time flies, and all of a sudden it’s mere hours before the gang will show up on your doorstep.
   What to do?
   Don’t fret. Make Butterscotch Shortbread (click for the recipe) from Company’s Coming.
   Butterscotch Shortbread is my recommendation this year for an amazingly quick-to-make baked treat that tastes like you spent much more time and energy on it than you really did. (Last year’s was 15-Minute Chocolate Walnut Fudge - make both and people will think you're a genius.)
   This shortbread is perfect to set out after supper or for a snack, and it will please adults and children alike.
   The secret ingredient is graham cracker crumbs, which extends and deepens the flavor created by brown sugar.
   But don’t buy ready-ground graham cracker crumbs. It makes for much tastier shortbread if you grind your own from whole crackers in a food processor or mini-chopper.
   Butter (I used unsalted) and brown sugar are creamed (beaten) together in a medium bowl with a stand-up or hand-held mixer.
   Flour and graham cracker crumbs are combined and added to the butter mixture. Continue to mix until a soft, slightly crumbly dough forms (it won’t be in a ball).
   The recipe says to turn out the dough on to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about two minutes.
   However, I see absolutely no need to knead – it seems like a redundant step that isn’t included in other shortbread recipes I’ve made.
   Simple press the dough into an ungreased 8 x 8 inch baking pan, prick the top of it in several places with a fork, then score it into triangles with a knife (scoring means to draw the lines in the dough with a knife.)
   The shortbread is baked for about 30 minutes until edges are golden, then is cooled completely. It’s cut along the scoring into triangles.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fig and Rum Squares 'are really great'

They were a hit with my co-workers and my husband’s co-workers.
   They are a delicious combination of finely-ground figs, orange zest and a shortbread-like crust.
   They were easy to make.
   They are perfect treat for the holidays.
   They are Fig and Rum Squares (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   “These are really great, Mandy,” was the general sentiment muttered from people as they ate the squares.
   I agreed with them.
   Not only do these squares have all that I mentioned above going for them, they will keep well for about three days in an airtight container at room temperature.
   The recipe calls for dried black Mission figs, which can be found in some well-stocked supermarkets in the baking aisle (in Canada, I found them at Superstore.)
   Because the recipe called for an 11.5” x 7.5”-inch metal baking pan, a rather unusual size which I don’t have, I converted the recipe ingredient amounts to a 13” x 9” inch baking pan.
Here are the ingredient amounts I used:
- 2.7 cups of flour
- 1.36 cups of butter
- 1.36 cups of golden brown sugar (0.68 cups then 0.68 cups)
- 0.33 tsp. salt
- 1.36 tbsps. dark rum for crust
- 1.36 cups of dough is reserved for the topping
- 12 ounces (340 g) of black Mission figs
- 7 tbsps. of orange juice
- 1.36 tbsps. finely-grated orange peel
- 1.36 tsps. ground cinnamon
- 4 tbsps. dark rum for fig mixture
- 1 cup sliced almonds

   To make the crust, flour, unsalted butter, golden brown sugar and salt are combined in a food processor until a coarse meal forms. Rum is added and the mixture blended until a moist dough forms (it won’t be in a ball; it will just come together into a soft dough mixture lining the processor.)
   Some of the dough is reserved for the topping. The remaining dough is pressed into a baking pan. The food processor is not cleaned (yay!)
   Figs, orange juice, orange peel, cinnamon, golden brown sugar and rum are blended together in a processor to a coarse paste. This filling is spread over the crust.
   Sliced almonds are mixed into the reserved dough, which is then dropped onto the filling in small clumps (pick up some dough, press it together and place it on the filling.)
   The squares are baked, cooled completely, then cut into squares or bars.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oven-Barbecued Asian Chicken
makes a fun family meal

A fun family meal that’s a whole lot better than takeout – that’s what you get with Oven-Barbecued Asian Chicken (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine.
   It’s the kind of dish I’d serve on a cozy, casual Friday or Saturday night, eaten before (or during!) settling down to watch a movie.
   After the chicken was baked, we set the baking dish aside, covered it with aluminum foil and a towel to keep it warm, and baked some frozen store-bought fries to go with the chicken. The combination of the delicious, sticky chicken with the crisp fries was perfect.
   The chicken is easy to make, although it takes about an hour to cook – valuable time to clean up the dishes that have already been used.
   The recipe calls for four bone-in chicken thighs and four drumsticks. Truth be told, my husband and I preferred the juiciness of the drumsticks, and I so I recommend using only drumsticks. Besides, that makes them more fun to pick up and eat.
   The greens of scallions (also known as green onions or spring onions) are thinly sliced, and the whites of the scallions are minced.
   The scallion whites, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, minced fresh ginger, minced garlic, Chinese five-spice powder and Asian hot sauce, such as sriracha, are mixed together in a large bowl (we used ½ tsp of sriracha, instead of the full teaspoon listed in the recipe).
   The chicken pieces are added to the mixture and tossed to coat, then the chicken is arranged in an even layer in a glass 9”x 13” baking dish (I used a baking dish made of glass).
   The chicken is baked, being turned once halfway, for about an hour. It’s then transferred to a serving platter and sprinkled with scallion greens and toasted sesame seeds before being served.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Spaghetti squash provides
entertainment while cooking

One of the most fun foods to prepare for a dish is a spaghetti squash.
   It’s kind of miraculous the way the insides of a cooked spaghetti squash scrape out in thin strands which look just like the pasta for which it is named.
   The words “that is so cool,” will likely come out of your mouth, as they did from mine, as you scrape out the squash insides in preparation for Spaghetti Squash & Pork Stir-Fry (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine.
   Cutting the raw squash isn’t fun, however. It’s rather tough. The best way my husband and I have found to cut open spaghetti and butternut squash is to use a meat cleaver, and hack away at one line until a break can be made through the shell into the flesh. Extreme caution must be used this method, of course!
   This stir-fry dish is satisfying and delicious. The squash strands and pieces of pork are a nice combination. If you don’t tell people what the strands are, people may just think they are some type of Asian noodle!
   The recipe calls for a three-pound squash, but if you can't find one that size and you need to buy one that’s bigger, no problem. I had one that was six pounds, and so I cut it in half, then one of the halves in half again. These are the two halves I placed cut-side down on a baking sheet before putting them in the oven.
   The recipe is easy to make, though the squash does need to bake for one hour.
   A spaghetti squash is cut in half, and the seeds scooped out and discarded. The halves are placed, cut side down, on a baking sheet, and baked until tender, about one hour, then left to cool for 10 minutes. The flesh is scraped out with a fork into a bowl (the fun part), and the shell is discarded.
   A pork tenderloin is cut into thin rounds, and each round into matchsticks.
   A large wok (or frying pan or skillet) is heated, then sesame oil, scallions (green onions or spring onions), garlic, fresh ginger, salt, pork and squash threads are added and cooked. Soy sauce, rice vinegar and Asian red chile sauce (we used sriracha, but half the amount – ½ teaspoon instead of one teaspoon) are added and the whole mixture is cooked until it’s aromatic.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Maple Pecan Tart with Dried Cherries
says a grand goodbye to fall

Now that the snow has fallen here in Saskatchewan, I’ll be turning my attention to winter food and desserts (think holiday-style cookies and cakes).
   But to send off fall with one last hurrah, I made Maple Pecan Tart with Dried Cherries (click for the recipe) last weekend.
   It’s a really terrific dessert – delicious and elegant, yet easy to make.
   The dried cherries are a highlight that adds a little extra somethin’-somethin’ to the already-lovely combination of a pecan crust filled with maple syrup and brown sugar and topped with more pecans.
   Be sure to serve the pieces of the tart at room temperature, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
   Egg yolk, melted butter, canola oil and water are combined. Pecans and sugar, flour and salt are pulsed in a food processor to the consistency of coarse meal. The yolk mixture is drizzled through the feed tube, and the mixture is pulsed until just combined.
   The mixture is spread in a nine-inch tart pan with a removable bottom that has been coated with cooking spray, and pushed all along the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. The pan is placed on a baking sheet, and the crust is baked for 12-14 minutes.
   While the crust is baking, eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, dark rum (optional, but I recommend it), melted butter and salt are combined in a medium bowl, with ¼ cup of the mixture being transferred to a small bowl. A half-cup of pecans are chopped and added to the medium bowl, and cherries are stirred in. The remaining one cup of pecans is mixed into the reserved maple mixture.
   The filling is spread evenly on the crust, and the maple-syrup coated pecans are arranged on the filling.
   The tart is baked for 25-30 minutes, then let left to cool for 20 minutes before the pan sides are removed. Let cool completely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Carrots and fennel make a great
pair in comforting soup

Individually, carrots and fennel are great soup ingredients.
   But I don’t think I’d ever had them together in one soup until recently, when my husband made Carrot Fennel Soup (click for the recipe) from Gourmet magazine.
   They were a terrific pairing.
   People who like the earthy, deep flavor of carrot soup will likely be delighted by the very slight licorice taste the fennel and fennel seeds add.
   Because we have a hand blender (also known as an immersion blender), my husband adapted the recipe to use it instead of a regular blender.
   Instead of puréeing the roasted vegetables in a blender with chicken broth, then transferring it to a saucepan and bringing it to a simmer with some water to thin the soup, my husband brought the broth and water to a simmer, then added the roasted vegetables. He then used a hand blender to purée the soup until smooth.
   The recipe says to use an electric coffee or spice grinder to grind the fennel seeds that go on top of the soup, but my husband used a mortar and pestle to grind the seeds instead. A small electric chopper may also do the trick.
   Fennel bulbs are found in the produce section of many supermarkets, while fennel seeds are found in the dried spices aisle.
   The recipe says to chop the fennel fronds, the part that looks like dill growing out of the top of a fennel bulb, to save as a garnish to sprinkle on the soup. We didn’t bother with this step.
   The stalks and fronds are cut off two medium fennel bulbs. The bulbs are sliced and tossed with carrots, onion, garlic, olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper. The vegetables are spread in a baking sheet and roasted until tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
   The vegetables are then combined with the store-bought chicken broth (in the way the recipe outlines, or the way my husband did it – see above.)
   Fennel seeds are finely ground and stirred into olive oil.
   Serve the soup drizzled with the fennel oil.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My first outing with quinoa
is a success with Pear-Quinoa Salad

Quinoa, a whole grain, has been getting a lot of attention these days thanks in part to a bestselling cookbook called Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood.
   I turned my personal attention to it on the weekend by cooking quinoa for the very first time, and was happy that the recipe I made was a definite winner.
   Pear-Quinoa Salad (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine is a fresh little number, perfect for eating alongside pork or chicken.
   The flavor and texture of the salad is best if the salad is refrigerated before serving, so it’s great for preparing in advance or storing leftovers for lunches.
   The toasted pecans or walnuts sprinkled on top are a must-have, adding to the naturally nutty flavor of the quinoa. I toasted chopped walnuts in a small skillet on medium heat for about three-and-a-half minutes.
   Quinoa can be found in the rice section of supermarkets.
   The salad was incredibly easy to make.
   Store-bought chicken stock or vegetable stock (I used vegetable stock) is brought to a boil. Quinoa is stirred in, and the heat reduced to a maintain a simmer (I set it at four). The pot is covered and the quinoa cooked until the liquid is absorbed (the recipe says this takes about 15 minutes but I found it took about 13.5 minutes.)
   While the quinoa is cooking, walnut oil or canola oil; a fruity vinegar such as pear, raspberry or pomegranate; chives and salt and pepper are whisked together in a large bowl. Diced pears are added and tossed to coat with the dressing.
   The cooked quinoa is added to the pear mixture and tossed to combine, and the bowl put in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before serving (but the can be refrigerated much longer than this.) Serve topped with the toasted nuts.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

One-Pot Chinese Chicken is the latest
Donna Hay recipe to amaze and impress

It’s only taken three of Donna Hay’s recipes to convince me she is a genius.
   She’s amazingly clever at creating dishes that are super-easy and quick to make, but deliver on flavor.
   And they’re often family-friendly.
   The Australian cookbook author and lifestyle expert’s latest cookbook (available in North America, anyway) is Fast, Fresh, Simple.
   The recipe from the book I tried most recently is One-Pot Chinese Chicken (click for the recipe). Once again, I was impressed with Hay’s ability to streamline the preparation process of the dish to make it seem effortless.
   This is the ideal recipe for those of you leading such harried lives that cooking and enjoying a decent meal is like winning the lottery.
   Everything really is made in one pot, and there are only a few things to chop. Because everything needs to cook for at least 20 minutes, there is time to clean up the dishes and utensils you already used, leaving just a few dishes to clean up afterward.
   If you leave the green onions and coriander off the portions being served to children, I think this dish certainly falls into the family-friendly category. Make sure to take out the pieces of ginger, garlic and green chili from young folks’ servings, too.
   For adults, be sure to sprinkle soy sauce and green onions on the servings as the recipe says – they add nice sharp shots of flavour. And, if you’re like us and you hate coriander (cilantro), use parsley instead.
   If you double the recipe, it will easily serve four, but it will require more cooking time. The best way to know if it is ready is by checking to see when the rice has absorbed all the chicken stock.
   We used a jalapeno pepper for the green chilli listed in the recipe, making sure to take out the seeds and white insides before using it to reduce its heat. Chicken thigh fillets are the same as boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but be sure to weigh the correct amount required with a kitchen scale before using them.
   We used a stock pot instead of a frying pan.
   Chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth), sliced ginger, garlic, and a green chili are placed in the pot over high heat and brought to a boil.
   Jasmine rice and sliced chicken thighs are added to the stock, and the mixture is covered. The heat is reduced to low (we set it at about 2.5), covered, and cooked for at least 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed the stock and the chicken is tender.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ground beef from local farm
finds good home in chow mein dish

During the summer, we bought a couple of packages of ground beef at a local farmer’s market.
   We’ve found this fresh beef from a local farm to be exceptionally good.
   After popping the packages safely in the freezer and making a mental note they were there, I waited until I found the perfect opportunity to use one of them to its utmost potential (besides the usual suspects of burgers.)
   The opportunity came along in the form of Beef Chow Mein (click for the recipe) from The Australian Women’s Weekly.
   With great-looking ingredients such as fresh vegetables and egg noodles, this dish looked like it would be a wonderful home for the farm ground beef.
   It was – the dish was delicious and family-friendly, perfect for a casual weeknight dinner. It’s a recipe that’s perfect for the one-pan-stir-fry-cook you may have in your home. If you're making it for children, be sure to use mild curry powder.
   Wombok in the recipe is another name for Napa cabbage. Not being able to find Napa cabbage, we used regular cabbage instead, and for the brown onion, we used a yellow onion. Beef mince is another name for ground beef.
   Fresh, not dry, egg noodles can be found in the produce section of many large supermarkets, although they’re not always labeled as egg noodles. You may need to take a look at the ingredients at the back of a package of fresh Asian-style noodles to see if eggs are a primary ingredient.
   Ground beef, onion and crushed garlic cloves are stir-fried until the beef is browned. Curry powder (we used mild), carrot, celery and mushrooms are added and the mixture stir-fried until the vegetables soften.
   Chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth), oyster sauce, soy sauce, frozen peas and shredded cabbage are added to the beef mixture and stir-fried until the cabbage just wilts.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Pie-Croissant Pudding brings
the creation of bread pudding into my life

Until recently, I’d never made bread pudding because there wasn’t a recipe for it that caught my attention or imagination.
   It’s not that I strive to find wacky recipes -- far from it. It’s hard to describe, but a recipe has to entice me to try it. Something about the recipe needs to reach out and stroke the part of my brain that says, “try me, you’ll love me.”
   When I saw Pumpkin Pie-Croissant Pudding (click for the recipe) in Food & Wine magazine, I knew my day to make bread pudding had arrived.
   With the use of croissants rather than bread, and the addition of pumpkin pie filling to turn the dessert into a creation meant completely for autumn, this recipe drew me in immediately.
   The recipe was developed by two Canadians, David McMillan and Frederic Morin of the restaurant Joe Beef in Montreal, so that piqued my interest even more.
   It also looked extremely easy to make, which is always a major criteria for me when deciding whether or not to try a recipe.
   I was right about that – it was extremely easy to make.
   And it was extremely good.
   I think its deliciousness will impress anyone who likes bread pudding, or even dessert for that matter! It has a lovely aroma, too.
   A couple of my recommendations: 1) The recipe says to serve the pudding with vanilla ice cream, but my husband and I agreed the ice cream is not needed – the pudding is absolutely terrific on its own. 2)The recipe says to let the pudding cool to warm and then serve. I found it better to let the pudding completely cool and solidify, then scoop out a serving and microwave it for about 30 seconds before eating.
   The pudding will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
   I used the recipe’s recommendation of tenting the pudding with foil if the top starts to brown too quickly when baking, but I put foil overtop even earlier than that, about 20 minutes into baking time.
   To make the pudding, raisins are put in a bowl and covered with rye whiskey. Croissants cut into two-inch pieces (I just tore them up) are spread on a baking sheet and toasted until golden brown. The recipe says this will take about 10 minutes, but I found it took only five minutes.
   Pumpkin pie filling, heavy cream (I used whipping cream), milk, eggs, sugar and salt are whisked together.
   In a 9” x 13” buttered baking dish (I used a glass dish), the torn croissants are tossed with the raisins and whiskey. The pumpkin mixture is poured on top and pressed with the back of a spoon until most of the croissants are moistened.
   The pudding is baked for about 40 minutes, and is tented with foil if the top starts to brown too quickly. (That means you'll need to check it at some point during baking time!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Craving for split pea and ham soup
satisfied by slow cooker recipe

Every year about this time I have a major hankering for split pea and ham soup.
   My mom always made it in the fall when I was a kid, and I remember loving every spoonful of it. It was warm and creamy, with a green color that made it seem mysterious, wonderful and wacky.
   I haven’t yet satisfied my own craving until recently, however, when I saw Emeril's Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup (click for the recipe), developed by chef Emeril Lagasse. The recipe was in Everyday Food magazine.
   I haven’t used my slow cooker in a long time, so here was a chance to get two things done at once: Get the slow cooker going again and satisfy my craving for split pea soup.
   The slow cooker makes this recipe magnificently easy to make. I made it late in the morning one Sunday, taking the half hour required to prepare the ingredients and put them in the slow cooker, then turning it on at noon. Six hours and a bit later, we were enjoying split pea soup.
   And it was wonderful. My craving was satisfied.
   Since I ate split pea soup when I was young without complaining, I suspect that it’s a family-friendly dish. Emeril makes it and eats it with his two young children, so that’s an assurance. (Although, it can wreak a bit of havoc on the ol' digestive system, making things a bit gassy, so keep that in mind.)
   The recipe produces a lot, so it will make for great lunches during the week, or put it in the freezer to enjoy another time. Add a bit of water when warming it up in the microwave or on the stovetop to loosen it up and get it creamy again.
   I bought the required ham hocks at my local butcher.
   Ten cups of low-sodium chicken broth is brought to a boil, then carefully poured into a five- to six-quart slow cooker. Two pounds of dried green split peas, diced onion, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, minced garlic and thyme, bay leaves and two small ham hocks are placed in the broth.
   The soup is covered and cooked on high until the split peas are creamy (six hours), and is stirred occasionally.
   The ham hocks are removed from the slow cooker, and the skin and bones are discarded along with the bay leaves. The meat is diced, and the peas lightly mashed with the back of a wooden spoon. The ham is returned to the soup, then the soup is served.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Kick-butt sea salt caramel sauce

Although all the recipes on this blog work well, or I wouldn’t be writing about them, occasionally I make something that I could imagine eating in the finest restaurants.
   The sea salt caramel sauce for Lauren Chattman’s Pear Cake with Sea Salt Caramel Sauce (click for the recipe), is just such a kick-butt kitchen creation.
   My husband and I agreed the sauce was good enough that it could adorn desserts in the best eateries. The sea salt, or fleur de sel, added an unusual and welcome twist.
   It certainly is addictive, and begged to be eaten by the spoonful on its own or draped lovingly over a scoop of ice cream.
   Mind you, the pear cake of the recipe isn’t too shabby, either.
   While the sea salt in the caramel sauce of the recipe gives it a new edge, the pear cake gives the whole dessert an old-fashioned feel, especially if broken up into pieces and served in bowls with the sauce drizzled on top.
   Both the cake and sauce were easy to make.
   The recipe calls for an Anjou pear, but I think any type of pear will work. I toasted the walnuts in a skillet on the stovetop, tossing them over medium heat until they started to brown slightly.
   Fleur de sel can be found in the spice section of many large supermarkets, or in gourmet foods stores.
   For the cake, butter and sugar are combined until fluffy, then three eggs are beaten in one at a time. After pear or regular brandy is stirred in, a mixture of flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt is added to the wet ingredients alternating with milk. Chopped pear, raisins, and toasted chopped walnuts are stirred in. The cake is baked in a nine-inch round cake pan for 45 to 50 minutes, then put out on a wire rack to cool completely.
   The sauce is made by bringing sugar and water to a bowl in a small saucepan (stir to dissolve the sugar into the water.) The mixture continues to boil until it turns a light amber color. (I found this took about four minutes.)
   When the syrup is an amber color, heavy cream (I used whipping cream) is stirred in. After the bubbling subsides, remove the pot from the heat (I let the initial large foaming action subside, then stirred it while it bubbled for about 30 seconds more), and stirred in butter and sea salt until the butter is melted.
   The cake is served with the sauce on the side. The cake can be stored in a cake saver or wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature, while the caramel sauce can be stored in the fridge and warmed in the microwave as needed.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken is easy,
and not at all goopy

Takeout sweet and sour chicken can often be goopy and very sugary, making for a less-than-happy culinary experience.
   But I’ve found a recipe that creates a very good version of the dish without the extra sauce and sugar.
   And it’s easy to make, hence the name, Easy Sweet and Sour Chicken (click for the recipe) from BBC Good Food magazine.
   The dish is family-friendly. Serve it with some rice (I recommend jasmine) and you’ll have a terrific weeknight meal on your hands.
   The recipe I linked to above is on the BBC Good Food website, but it differs from the recipe I used from The Good Food Cookbook in one major way.
   In the website version, the dish is cooked entirely in the microwave. In the book version, everything is cooked in a skillet.
   I suppose it would depend on your preference and whether or not you had a large enough microwave to handle the large dish needed to cook the ingredients.
   In the skillet version, the chicken, onion and red peppers are cooked in the skillet until the chicken is nearly cooked through, then the pineapple pieces and sugar snap peas are added and the ingredients cooked for another three to five minutes until the chicken is completely cooked.
   The sauce, comprised of ketchup, malt vinegar (sometimes labeled fish and chips vinegar), dark muscovado sugar (I used dark brown sugar instead) and garlic is added and the mixture cooked for another minute or two until the sauce is warm.
   The chicken can be served with a handful of salted, roasted cashew nuts on top.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Throw it all together, toss it in the oven,
and have an amazing supper with
Baked Sausages with Leeks, Apples and Cider

Throw everything into a baking dish, put it in the oven, put up your feet and relax, then have a delicious, warming supper.
   This is the rhythm of Baked Sausages with Leeks, Apples and Cider (click for the recipe) from British food writer Diana Henry.
   The dish was astoundingly easy to make. It’s really only the cutting of leeks and apples that require any effort at all.
   The recipe is included in Henry’s book, Pure Simple Cooking, which has dozens of similar recipes using the technique of cutting up ingredients, tossing them together and roasting them in the oven.
   After the arrival of her first baby, Henry no longer had the time to take hours in the kitchen preparing food, and so looked for ways to make things effortless. Pure Simple Cooking’s recipes are a result of that quest.
   We used mild Italian sausages in the dish – Italian sausages are a type of pork sausage as called for in the recipe. Instead of apple cider, we used fresh-pressed apple juice, not from concentrate.
   The recipe says to use a roasting tin (pan), which I’m sure would work well, but I used a 9x13-inch baking dish instead.
   Leeks that have been washed and cut, and apples that have been cored and cut into wedges, are scattered in the pan or baking dish, then the sausages are placed on top. After a drizzle of olive oil, the leeks, apples and sausages are tossed together.
   Butter is cut into small pieces then dotted over the main ingredients, and then cider or apple juice is poured over.
   The dish is baked for 50 minutes to one hour. About 15 minutes before it’s finished baking, wholegrain mustard is spread over the sausages and the dish returned to the oven.
   Serving this dish with mashed potatoes is a good idea – the potatoes soak up all the extra yummy pan juices and cider.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pecan Crunch Pie: Ridiculously easy

The recipe for Pecan Crunch Pie (click for it) looked just a little too easy.
   Just five ingredients mixed together and put in the oven? No crust? No tricky filling?
   I was suspicious of whether or not it would be good, but it is a recipe from Cook’s Country, which I find to be notoriously reliable. And I welcome any chance to make a pie and not fool around with a pastry pie crust.
   So I tried it late one evening.
   Of course it was terrific. Why did I doubt it may not be?
   It satisfies all cravings for pecan pie with a slim fraction of the work. It was ridiculously easy to make.
   A couple of things, though. To me, it’s not really pie. It’s more like a cake. And it’s not crunchy, either -- slightly chewy is more like it.
   It’s an absolute must to serve the pie this way. Keep the pie stored in the fridge, and when it's ready to be served, take it out to warm up for just a few minutes. Serve the wedges with vanilla ice cream.
   Make sure, too, to grind your own graham crackers for crumbs, a direction not outlined directly in the recipe. I used a food processor to grind whole graham crackers.
   I used pre-chopped pecans and toasted them for about four minutes in a small frying pan.
   The recipe I linked to above is on a newspaper website, and it is exactly the same as the one I used.
   Eggs, sugar, baking powder and vanilla extract are beaten together with an electric mixer (I used a hand mixer) until thickened and tripled in volume, about five minutes. The graham cracker crumbs and pecans are folded in with a spatula.
   The batter is poured into a greased nine-inch pie plate, then baked for 30 minutes at 350 F.
   Before serving, the pie is cooled completely, at least one hour.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A whoopie pie for fall

A whoopie pie for every season. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
   I’ve got one for fall: Whoopie Pumpkin Pies (click for the recipe), created by Pat and Gina Neely, hosts of the Food Network TV show Down Home with the Neelys.
   Canned pure pumpkin lends the slight pumpkin flavor to the creamy middle, sandwiched on either side by a billowy chocolate cookie.
   These cookies would be a fabulous treat for a Halloween party – both young and old will like them.
   Comments on the Food Network website seem to point to an error about the amount of sugar needed in the cookies when the recipe was originally posted, but it has since been corrected. The recipe is exactly the same as the one I used from the October 2011 issue of Food Network magazine.
   The whoopie pies are easy to make.
   Butter, sugar, egg, buttermilk and vanilla are beaten together, then a mixture of dry ingredients is added. The dry ingredients are flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Everything is mixed until just combined (I used an electric hand mixer rather than a stand mixer.)
   The dough is dropped by heaping tablespoons on parchment-lined baking sheets, and baked in the oven for eight minutes. The cookies are transferred to racks and left to cool completely.
   The filling is made by beating together cream cheese, butter, confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar), canned pure pumpkin (don’t use pumpkin pie filling), cinnamon and salt until smooth.
   To assemble a pie, the filling is spread on the flat side of a cookie and sandwiched with another.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bringing out the big guns
to make Butternut Squash Soup

“It’s time to bring out the big guns,” my husband said he brandished the meat cleaver in the air over the butternut squash.
   He was about to cut the squash for some soup we were preparing to make.
   Cutting through the thick squash is no easy task, requiring a “big gun” knife.
   My husband cut through the squash at the point where the slimmer top meets the bulb-like bottom, then cut the bulb-like bottom in half.
   Then he peeled the squash, took out the seeds from the bottom, and cut the flesh into pieces.
   Thank goodness my husband has developed this butternut squash-cutting technique, which allows us to enjoy a fall classic: Butternut squash soup.
   We were making Giada De Laurentiis’s Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini (click for the recipe on the Food Network website).
   The soup was terrific. The squash and its slight sweetness was allowed to speak for itself. The soup was wonderfully creamy without cream.
   The crostini on the side could be considered optional, I suppose, but the pieces were a wonderful little side to the soup, especially when dipped into it before eating.
   Making the soup was a bit labor-intensive with the squash-cutting and all, but it wasn’t difficult to make.
   Chopped onion, carrot, and garlic are cooked in a stock pot. The squash, cut in pieces, chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth) and chopped fresh sage are added and the mixture boiled for 20 minutes.
   The mixture is then puréed with a blender. My husband used an immersion or hand-held blender, which is very easy to use and doesn’t require the soup being moved out of the pot. There is also instructions at the bottom of the recipe on how to use a food processor to purée the soup.
   While the soup is boiling and before it's blended, the crostini is made. Slices of baguette are drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh sage and grated Fontina cheese. These are baked until the cheese has melted, about six to eight minutes.
   The soup is ladled into bowls and served with the crostini on the side.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jacques Pepin's apple gallette: Absolutely brilliant

My husband and I have long been fans of super-chef Jacques Pepin.
   Several years ago, we bought a copy of his Simple and Healthy Cooking book, and instantly dug his reliable recipes, which yield delicious results.
   The October 2011 issue of Food & Wine magazine includes some of the recipes from his latest book, Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food.
   I was instantly drawn to the recipe for Country Apple Gallette (click for the recipe). Rux Martin, the writer of the article on Pepin’s new book and the editor of the book itself, said the gallette recipe has officially replaced her apple pie recipe.
   As a person who struggles with pie pastry, I liked Martin’s description of the pastry dough as “foolproof.”
   I set out last weekend to make the gallette. On Friday night, I made the pastry dough, which came together quickly and easily in a food processor, and left it to chill overnight in the refrigerator (although it can be used right away.)
   Saturday morning, I cut the apples for the gallette and rolled out the pastry in a rectangle (it was more like an oval, actually). I followed the easy instructions of layering apples, honey, cinnamon, sugar and butter on the pastry, then pulling up the edge over the apples to create a border.
   After baking the gallette for one hour as the recipe directed, I took it out of the oven.
   It looked as if disaster had struck.
   While the fruit looked fine, the pastry looked too brown on one side and a little burned on the bottom. On the other side, the pastry seam had opened, allowing honey to leak out onto the baking sheet and burn ferociously.
   I left the gallette to cool on the counter and went out for lunch, telling myself that I can’t win ‘em all.
   But when we got home in the afternoon, we were in for a mighty pleasant surprise.
   I cut up the gallette into pieces, and we gave it a try.
   It was delicious, and the pastry had a perfect flaky texture.
   Jacques hadn’t let me down!
   However, that's not to say I won't watch the gallette more closely the next time I make it and likely take it out before the hour is up.
.   The introduction to the recipe says Jacques especially likes the gallette because it’s easy to slice and can be eaten pizza-style, making it ideal for a buffet.
   It was absolutely true – we picked up the pieces with our hands and ate them, savouring the sweet apple taste. Nothing drooped or fell to the ground.
   What piece of apple pie can do that?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Skillet chicken dish will be the
apple of your plate's eye

Apples fairly scream autumn.
   This time of year, I’m always attracted to a nice-looking recipe that features the starring fruit of fall (with pears running a very, very close second.)
   Skillet Chicken with Cranberries & Apples (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine is a lovely dish that puts apples to terrific work. It also contains apple cider or juice to up the apple element of the dish.
   The apple cider or juice creates a light sauce that nicely coats the chicken, soft apple pieces and cranberries.
   The recipe says dried cranberries can be substituted for fresh if a less tart flavor is desired. I certainly didn’t want to have my mouth turned inside out by unsweetened cranberries, and so opted for Craisins sweetened dried cranberries instead, using just 1/3 cup (the recipe calls for a full cup of fresh or frozen berries).
   The recipe calls for one pound of chicken tenders. Since we were unable to find this, my husband simply cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts into pieces that were longer than they were wider.
   The suggestion to serve the dish with wild rice is a good one. We used a boxed wild/white rice blend with seasonings.
   The chicken is sprinkled with dried thyme, salt and pepper, then cooked in a skillet until browned. The chicken is removed and transferred to a plate.
   Thinly-sliced crisp red apples, sliced red onion, some of the apple cider or juice, dried thyme and salt are combined in the skillet and cooked until the apples are softened.
   Fresh, frozen or dried cranberries are added, and one tablespoon of flour is sprinkled over the contents of the pan. The chicken is returned to the pan, along with the rest of the apple cider or juice.
   The mixture is covered and cooked until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chef Recipes Made Easy promises to make chef magic with less time and fewer ingredients

Although I’ve never wanted to become a chef, I occasionally wonder what it would be like to have a chef’s magical powers.
   What would it be like to know how to combine flavors and types of foods to produce magnificent meals?
   This would be a something I would like to know.
   However, I’m perfectly content with trying out recipes created by chefs and enjoying the fruits of their imagination.
   That’s why I was instantly drawn to the Food & Wine magazine special publication Chef Recipes Made Easy: 50 of America’s Favorite Restaurant Dishes, on newsstands until Dec. 30, 2011.
   This publication offers the home cook a chance to make easier versions of famous chefs’ recipes at home, with far fewer ingredients and far less preparation time.
   Lidia Bastiniach, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Daniel Boulud, Tom Collicchio, Bobby Flay, Gale Gand and Wolfgang Puck are just a few of the chefs whose recipes are featured in Chef Recipes Made Easy.
   Here are the recipes I have my eye on to try if time allows. Many of the recipes can be found on the Food & Wine website.
   - Daniel Bouloud’s Orecchiette Bolognese. Bouloud’s version: House-made orechiette with a Bolognese sauce of venison, pork butt, chicken liver, veal sauce. Topped with fresh porcini mushrooms, chestnuts and butternut squash. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Store-bought dried orecchiette, Bolognese sauce made with smoked ham and beef chuck. Topped with vacuum-packed chestnuts.
   - Andrew Carmellini’s Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu. Carmellini’s version: Fresh-made pappardelle with a ragu of house-ground lamb shoulder cooked in lamb stock. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Store-bought pappardelle and ground lamb.
   - Andrew Carmellini’s Ghocchi with Wild Mushrooms. Carmellini’s version: Homemade gnocchi is cooked in homemade mushroom stock, then tossed with porcini butter and white truffle shavings. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Store-bought gnocchi and chicken broth.
   - Nobu Matsuhisa’s Black Cod with Miso. Matsuhisa’s version: Black cod is marinated in sake-miso mixture for two to three days. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Fish marinates overnight.
   - Mourad Lahlou’s Sauteed Chicken with Celery-Root Puree and Chestnuts. Lahlou’s version: Sous-vide equipment is used to poach fresh chestnuts and chicken breasts. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Chicken breasts are sautéed in a skillet; vacuum-packed chestnuts.
   - Mark Sullivan’s Moroccan Chicken with Minty Date Couscous. Sullivan’s version: Chicken is marinated for two days; served with whole grain farro. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Bird marinates for just one hour; quick-cooking couscous.
   - Rick Bayless’s Carne Asada with Black Beans. Bayless’s version: Steak served with fried plantains and fresh guacamole. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Canned black beans are cooked in a chorizo-flavored oil; avocado slices stand in for the guacamole.
   - Jonathon Sawyer’s Grilled Steaks with Onion Sauce and Onion Relish. Sawyer’s version: Steaks are marinated overnight in fish sauce and olive oil. Housemade vinegar used to create pickled-onion relish and red onion-jalapeno sauce. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Steaks marinated for two hours; jarred cocktail onions.
   - Donald Link’s Spicy and Sticky Baby Back Ribs. Link’s version: Eight spices in the rib rub; barbecue sauce made with homemade pork stock. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Five spices in rub; canned beef broth in barbecue sauce.
   - Andrew Carmellini’s Pork Meat Loaf with Tomato-Chickpea Sauce. Carmellini’s version: Pancetta, ground pork loin and nearly 20 other ingredients comprise meatballs, which are braised in sauce. Chef Recipes Made Easy Version: Two meat loaves take place of meatballs; ground pork; loaves bake in the tomato sauce.
   - Michelle Vernier’s Lemony Semolina-Jam Cake. Vernier’s version: Cakes are baked in individual ring molds; flavored with Meyer lemon juice and Meyer lemon frozen yogurt. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Cake baked in single springform pan; regular lemons used.
   - Megan Garrelts’s Graham Cracker Pound Cake. Garrelts’s version: Cake is served with sage-glazed figs and spiced walnut gelato. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Figs and gelato are omitted.
   - Kristin Ferguson’s Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Ferguson’s version: Cake is baked as single servings and paired with homemade buttermilk ice cream. Chef Recipes Made Easy version: Cake baked in single round pan; store-bought ice cream.
   - Breanne Varela’s Chocolate-Chip-Pecan Cookie Bars. Not a lot of difference between the two versions!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Greek-Inspired lamb meatballs
make for impressive lunch leftovers

“What are you eating?” The person asked me, leaning over with interest.
   The man, a performer at the arts centre where I work, had just walked by as I was about to delve into lunch, which was leftovers from the previous night’s supper.
   “It’s lamb patties, served over naan bread, with hummus, fresh mint and cherry tomatoes,” I said.
   As it spilled out of my mouth, his eyes grew bigger and bigger. It did sound rather impressive, I must say.
   One of the rewards of cooking a good supper at night is the leftovers you can enjoy at lunch the next day and even beyond. There’s nothing quite like eating something magnificent while at work to perk up the day.
   In this case, I was eating Greek-Inspired Lamb Meatballs (click for the recipe), a recipe developed by Australia’s Donna Hay and featured on her new BBC Good Food channel show, Fast, Fresh, Simple.
   The meatballs were fresh and fantastic. Paired with the naan bread, hummus, mint and cherry tomatoes, it was a wonderful supper, then lunch.
   The meatballs are actually small patties, and the recipe even says to shape the lamb mixture into “flat patties” before cooking.
   Beware that the recipe's list of ingredients does not include the food items suggested for serving with the finished lamb patties. The flatbread, hummus, spinach, mint and cherry tomatoes aren’t mentioned until step 3 of the recipe. (We used store-bought hummus and naan bread and skipped the spinach.)
   The patties are easy to make.
   Couscous is placed in a bowl, then hot chicken stock (we used store-bought chicken broth) is poured on top. The couscous and stock are covered and left to stand until the stock has been absorbed – this took about 15 minutes.
   The couscous, ground lamb (minced lamb in the recipe means ground lamb), honey, finely-grated lemon rind (lemon peel) and chopped fresh rosemary are combined in a bowl (I used my hands), then crumbled feta cheese is added and mixed in (I used my hands again!)
   In a frying pan, the patties are cooked for four to five minutes each side.
   The patties are served on top of flatbreads spread with hummus, and topped with options of spinach, mint and halved-cherry tomatoes.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Green olives and smoked mozzarella
add cleverness to gnocchi dish

A clever recipe, to me, is one that can be made quickly and easily but still has plenty of flavor thanks to some well-selected ingredients.
   That’s why Gnocchi with Fresh Tomatoes, Green Olives and Smoked Mozzarella (click for the recipe on the Food Network website) qualifies as a clever recipe in my books. The recipe is from iconic chef Mario Batali.
   The green olives add a welcome briny saltiness, while the smoked mozzarella actually does add a mild smoky taste.
   Both flavors are absolutely perfect with the tomatoes and the sauce it creates. We were lucky enough to use fresh tomatoes from my mother’s garden in the dish.
   I wasn’t able to find smoked mozzarella, but a worker at the local gourmet cheese store handed me a suggested substitution: Smoked caciocavallo, a type of stretched curd cheese. It worked very well.
   I venture to guess that smoked gouda may also make a possible substitute, but don't hold me to that!
   Instead of making homemade gnocchi, we used store-bought.
   In the case of the green olives, we used jarred, sliced and pitted green olives.
   We substituted fresh oregano for fresh marjoram, which is hard to find.
   One pound of fresh tomatoes are chopped into ¼-inch cubes, with all juices being reserved.
   In a sauté pan, the garlic and tomatoes and its juices are cooked. Off heat, the olives are added and stirred in.
   The gnocchi is boiled, drained, and poured into the pan with the tomato mixture, which is returned to the heat and tossed gently until bubbling.
   The marjoram (we used fresh oregano instead) and ¼ cup of cubed smoked mozzarella is stirred into the mixture until the cheese is melted.
   The recipe says to pour the tomatoes and gnocchi into a heated serving dish, but we simply served it from the pan.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Italian sausage works nicely in warm fall salad

When crumbled mild Italian sausage is used in a dish, it practically guarantees its deliciousness.
   My husband and I discovered this a few years back when we made Oriecchette with Fennel, Sausage & Tomatoes, the best pasta dish we have ever eaten.
   When I saw the recipe for Warm Lentil Salad with Sausage & Apple (click for the recipe) in Eating Well magazine, I was immediately drawn to it, hoping Italian sausage was an ingredient contained within it.
   The recipe calls for sweet turkey sausage, and Italian sausage is made from pork, but it didn’t matter to me anyway. I wanted to use mild or sweet Italian sausage, because a) I thought it would taste great in the dish, and b) I had a package of it in the freezer.
   I was right about Italian sausage working in this dinner-size salad. It worked wonderfully, in fact, because it is flavored with anise, which blends nicely with the other ingredients of fennel, apple and celery.
   The recipe calls for sausage with the casings removed, but you can buy uncased, bulk Italian sausage just as you would ground beef. (Hot sausage, rather than sweet, can also be used in the dish.)
   The dish is very easy to make, and is a fine choice for a weeknight.
   Olive oil, red-wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper are whisked together to make a dressing.
   The crumbled sausage is browned in a skillet, then minced garlic and lentils are added and heated through. Some of the red-wine vinegar dressing is added, and the skillet is removed from the heat. Finely-diced fennel, Granny Smith apple and celery are stirred in.
   Six cups of arugula or mesclun greens (we used mesclun greens, sometimes labeled “spring mix” or “baby greens) are tossed with the remaining dressing.
   A thin layer of greens is placed on plate, and the warm lentil-sausage mixture is served on top.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The November Issue: Great looking recipes from the Nov. 2011 issue of Cook's Country magazine

Occasionally on Recipes That Worked I recommend a cookbook or food magazine issue that I think is or looks as if it will be positively grand.
   Today I’m writing about the November 2011 issue of Cook’s Country magazine, on newsstands now. Danish Kleiners, a type of cookie, are on the front cover.
   My mouth was watering with anticipation as I looked at the amazing-looking recipes in the magazine.
   Here are the ones I would like to try if time allows:
   - Reduced-Fat Chicken Tetrazzini – I would love to make a version that doesn’t bring me back to the cafeteria at my dorm residence in university, and this looks like it may just be it.
   - Holiday Green Beans – In this recipe, the beans are essentially steamed in a bit of water. There are four yummy-looking variations on the basic recipe: Green Beans with Apples, Pecans and Rosemary; with Browned Butter, Hazelnuts and Sage; with Caramelized Onions and Bacon and with Cranberries, Walnuts and Blue Cheese.
   - Slow Cooker Holiday Glazed Ham – In this insanely-easy looking recipe, a cured, bone-in ham is cooked in a slow cooker for five to six hours, and is brushed with a glaze of dark brown sugar, apple jelly and Dijon mustard.
   - Creamy Root Vegetable Soup – Carrots, parsnips, leeks, celery and potatoes come together in a soup that uses just ½ cup of heavy cream.
   - Honey-Wheat Dinner Rolls – I may actually attempt making something with yeast after taking a look at this recipe, which seems quite simple. The dough is left to rise in an oven that was heated then turned off.
   - Smoky Indoor Ribs – When the sudden craving for something summer-like hits in the middle of cold weather, this looks like a good solution. Liquid smoke is used in the homemade barbecue sauce.
   - Meatloaf with Mushroom Gravy – Fabulous-looking comfort food with the interesting-looking ingredients of dried porcini mushrooms and saltines.
   - Sizzling Cheese Pinwheels – A retro, fun-looking appetizer. A mixture of cream cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, finely-chopped salami, scallions (green onions), hot sauce and Dijon mustard is spread on pieces of crustless bread, which are rolled up, cut in half, then rolled in bacon and baked in the oven.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gruyère cheese the key to
Grilled Ham, Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches

On the “cheese” episode of the Food Network show The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ina Garten talked about a grilled cheese sandwich she loves at one of her favorite restaurants.
   The sandwich’s key ingredient, which the Barefoot Contessa TV show host felt was the key to its deliciousness, was Gruyère cheese.
   Garten is right about the power of Gruyère to make a grilled cheese sandwich exceptional. Gruyère is the key ingredient in this terrific recipe: Grilled Ham, Cheese and Pickle Sandwiches (click for the recipe) from Bon Appetit magazine.
   Gruyère, a hard yellow cheese, gives these sandwiches a lovely saltiness. Its flavor is backed up by mozzarella and goat cheese.
   The recipe calls for bread-and-butter pickles, and includes a recipe to make these at home. However, in the interest of time, we used store-bought bread-and-butter pickles (thinly-sliced, round pickles.)
   The recipe also calls for aged goat cheese that can be grated. Since we were unable to find this, we used regular goat cheese and crumbled it.
   It’s a must to cook these sandwiches in a buttered skillet as the recipe directs, not a sandwich or panini press. The bread will get the comforting golden color people associate with a good grilled cheese sandwich.
   Slices of sourdough or white bread are spread with mayonnaise on both sides.
   Grated mozzarella, Gruyère and goat cheese are combined in a bowl. Four slices of bread are sprinkled with half the cheese mixture, and then topped with pickles and slices of prosciutto. This is topped with the remaining cheese and covered with the remaining bread.
   Butter is melted in a skillet, and the sandwiches are cooked for nine to 10 minutes per side.