Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Energizer Bunny Hits a Brick Wall

And yes, I am referring to myself.  I know that sometimes I just go and go and go like that little rabbit, and yes, I have been referred to as 'Super Mom'.  But last night that all came to a screeching halt.

Not that I was all caught up and finally ready to catch my breath.  The List That Never Ends still needs to be addressed.  But after a very frustrating trip to The Store I Hate Walking Into (ptooie) and a quick dash through the living room with the vacuum, followed by a stroll to the store for a few items (it was crisp, but dry, something I like to take advantage of during the monsoon season here), I just...  dropped.  I think I just needed some time to regroup.  And make soup.

There is nothing terribly exciting about this soup EXCEPT for the fact that it went together in about 15 minutes and as an added bonus, I managed a quick batch of chicken stock to boot.  But it was still tasty, warm and required relatively little cleanup.

Chicken Tortellini Soup

1/2 cup chopped leeks (you can substitute shallot or onion)
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 32-oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
1 package refrigerated tortellini
2 Tbs chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbs dried parsley
1 cup shredded rotisserie chicken
1/2 cup milk (I used 2%)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add leeks and sauté a couple of minutes.  Pour the entire carton of chicken broth over the leeks and allow to come to a simmer.  Add tortellini.   Cook for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, melt butter over medium heat and add flour.  Stir to combine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the roux is lightly toasted.

Add sun-dried tomatoes, the herbs and chicken to the tortellini.  Slowly stir in roux, allowing the soup to come back to a simmer and thicken.  Stir in milk.  Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sugar Coma

After the last couple of weeks, I should probably have the C & H logo stamped on my forehead.

My diet regimen over the holidays is to produce so much in the way of candy and baked goods that I can't look a stick of butter squarely without feeling the need to take a 20 minute hike.  Luckily, I have coworkers who are more than happy to alleviate me of any confectionary items I may put together.

Two weekends before it was all about the baking.  Last week I was giving my digital thermometer a proper workout in preparation for a work party and a holiday party at a friend's house.  The end result of my efforts being CANDY.  Lots of CANDY.

The nice thing about candy is you can whip up a batch in about the same amount of time it takes to put a cookie dough together.  And then you don't have to spend time baking.  In spite of the quantity, I did put this together fairly quickly.  In addition to the ever-present caramel corn, there was Pumpkin Seed Brittle...

Peppermint fudge (which I won't include the recipe for here as they were the standard Special Magic Fudge, or whatever the heck they call the stuff on the back of the marshmallow fluff container)....

Almond Roca (and yes, it tastes just like the real thing, but better)....

Two kinds of truffles....  Amaretto with silver sprinkles, and Frangelico with toasted hazelnuts.

And the thing I believe elicited the most 'Oh. My. Gawd.'s were the Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel

Oh.  My.  Gawd.

I feel like the next post should be all about lettuce.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup raw, green (hulled) pumpkin seeds
1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Place a foil-lined cookie sheet on a flat surface (I use the non-stick variety - if you're using plain Jane foil, you might want to butter it a bit).  Bring sugar, water and salt to a boil in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook mixture, without stirring, and only washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in a bit of water if sugar crystals form, until the syrup reaches 238º (about 10 - 15 minutes).  The syrup will have little or no color to it.  Remove from heat and stir in seeds until sugar crystals form (don't panic - this is supposed to happen).  It should resemble course sand.

Return pan back to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sugar melts completely and turns a deep caramel color, about 5 minutes or so.  Carefully pour brittle out onto cookie sheet, as thinly as possible.  Cool completely and then break into pieces.

Almond Roca

1 cup unsalted butter (omit salt from recipe if butter is salted)
1 cup sugar
9 oz. sliced almonds, toasted slightly
2 cups chocolate chips

Combine butter and sugar in a heavy saucepan and melt over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved.  Turn heat up to medium and stir gently as mixture comes to a boil.  Once the mixture boils, continue to stir gently until it reaches a temperature of 300º on the candy thermometer and becomes a toffee color.  Try not to scrape the sides of the pan as you stir.

When it comes to temperature, immediately remove from heat.  Crumble in about a third of the toasted almonds and pour mixture out evenly onto a lined cookie sheet.

Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over hot toffee and tent the pan with a piece of foil.  Allow the chips to melt for 2 - 3 minutes, and then spread them evenly over the toffee.  Sprinkle top with remaining almonds and allow to cool.  Once cool, break into pieces.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, choppped
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs heavy cream
1 Tbs liquor (I used Amaretto for one and Frangelico for the other)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Toasted and finely chopped hazelnuts, sprinkles, cocoa powder, or something else to roll the truffles in

Place chocolate in a medium bowl (make sure it is at room temp).  Bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan and then pour over the chocolate.  Allow to stand for about 5 minutes, then add the liquor and vanilla and mix until the liquid is completely incorporated into the chocolate.  Allow to cool for about 1/2 an hour.

Using an electric mixer, beat the chocolate mixture until fluffy and lighter in color, about 4 minutes.  Cover and refrigerate until firm, about an hour or so.

Line a dish with waxed paper.  Place your coating in a small dish.  Using a melon baller or a couple of spoons, scoop truffle mixture out and roll in coating, using your hands to form the truffle into a ball.  Place on prepared dish.  When all of the truffles are prepared, cover the dish and refrigerate another hour.

Vanilla Bean Caramels with Fleur de Sel
from Annie's Eats

1 cup heavy cream
5 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 1/4 tsp fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water

Line the bottom and sides of an 8" square baking dish with parchment paper.  Lightly butter the parchment.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cookie Baking Extravaganza - The Cookies Pt. 2

In my quest to be ultra-organized this holiday season, I managed to put away the recipes from our cookie party.  Unfortunately, I'm not so well organized that I can actually remember WHERE that is.  So I had to go back to the source.


Some more of the offerings from our little venture.

These are the quintessential holiday cookie.  Perfect for decorating.  But rather than a really firm, crunchy version of a sugar cookie, these are just really soft and tender.  And SO tasty.

Buttermilk Sugar Cookies

1 ½ cups margarine
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

Heat oven to 450º.

Cream margarine and sugar; add egg and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to the sugar mixture and mix well.. Add buttermilk and vanilla and mix well. Refrigerate until chilled - about 2 hours, or overnight. Coat board with 1 c. flour when rolling out. Roll at least a 1/4 inch thick, cut and sprinkle with sugar before baking. Bake about 6 minutes. Moist and cake-like.

And, because we didn't want to exclude our four-legged friends, Offspring decided to make peanut butter treats.  Our taste tester proclaimed them to be excellent.

The canine version of a sugar coma.

Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits

½ cups water (add more water later if required)
½ cup oil
2 eggs
3 Tbs peanut butter
2 cups soy flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ cup oats

Blend wet ingredients together. Whisk dry ingredients together and mix into wet mixture to form a ball of dough. Roll out and shape. Put onto a non-stick cookie tray or lightly greased one. Cook 20 minutes at 400º.  Turn off oven and allow the biscuits to cool in oven until crisp and hard. Store in airtight container.

To show how versatile these next cookies were, after making them the traditional way called forth in the recipe, we then descended on the dough for these wonderfully spicy cookies and started cutting them into shapes, which we added to the EXTENSIVE pile of cookies-to-be-decorated.


3 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cinnamon
1 tsp each cloves and nutmeg
1/2 tsp each ground aniseed, salt and ginger or white pepper
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 Tbs milk, dark rum or brandy
Blanched almonds
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375º.

Into a bowl, sift the dry ingredients.  In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Stir in liquid.  Gradually add flour mixture, stirring until well combined and form the dough into a ball.  Knead the dough on a board sprinkled with about 1/4 cup flour and roll into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick.  With a sharp knife or cutter, cut the dough into rectangles, 2 1/2" x 1 1/2".  Put the rectangles on a buttered cookie sheet and decorate with blanched almonds, then brush with egg white.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until browned and firm.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cookie Baking Extravaganza - The Cookies

Looking back over all of the photos from last weekend (Thanks, C!), I'm wondering if I'll ever get all of these posted.

First off, here's only PART of the haul...

I don't think the Kahlua Brownies (which were VERY yummy) made an appearance until a little later.  Also, the Peanut Butter Doggie Treats that were one of Offspring's offerings didn't make it onto the cookie plate going to work (although there was really nothing in them that would be objectionable to a human palate).

One of the first items up to the plate (Heh.  Get it?) were these Chocolate Orange Shortbread cookies, which 'C' supplied (Seems odd to refer to people by a letter, but safety first.  Also, I was going to use 'CHP' instead, but then I had visions of Erik Estrada.  If you're my age, you TOTALLY got that.  Admit it.)

Anyway...  Shortbread is always a fabulous choice for holiday cookies, and these were just wonderful with the slight hint of orange.

Chocolate Chip Orange Shortbread

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 Tbs. grated orange peel
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325º.  In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar; beat until light and fluffy.  Add orange peel; blend well.  Add flour and cornstarch; mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide dough into four parts.  Shape each part into a ball.  On a floured surface, roll each round into a 6" circle, about 1/4" thick.  Cut into shapes and transfer to a baking sheet.  Bake about 17 minutes, until edges are a light golden brown.  Let cool slightly and then remove from baking sheet.

My contributions included two recipes I had never tried before (that'll learn me), Lavender Honey Biscotti with a Rose Glaze and Raivas, which are a Portuguese cookie (kinda like me).  I would make both again, but change the amount of lavender I used in the Biscotti (I'd cut it in half), and cut the amount of rosewater I used in the glaze WAAAAY back.  They were kind of like eating potpourri.  So I want to make another go of it, some other time.

As for the Raivas, I'd make them again but add salt (which the original recipe didn't call for but again, I should have known better).  They were just kind of bland.  But I had fun making the traditional shapes, which were something like this...

And yes, those are the ill-fated biscotti in the background.

My third recipe was tried and true.  Very little flour in the mix, so they're gooey and fudgy with crisp outsides.  Everything a girl could want in a cookie.

Giant Chocolate-Toffee Cookies

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cups (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
5 1.4-ounce chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl; whisk to blend. Stir chocolate and butter in top of double boiler set over simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Cool mixture to lukewarm.

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and eggs in bowl until thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, then toffee and nuts. Chill batter until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto sheets, spacing 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake just until tops are dry and cracked but cookies are still soft to touch, about 15 minutes. Cool on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Next post...  These wonderfully tender buttermilk sugar cookies and Offspring's Doggie Biscuits.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Cookie Baking Extravaganza - The Lunch

So, as I mentioned, some friends and I, and Offspring 2, got together last weekend to do a cookie baking and exchange party.  We had a blast, and there are a ton of recipes to share, but I thought I would start with lunch.  We all agreed ahead of time that there should be some 'real' food there to offset all of the sugar.  And what a feast we had!  Veggies and dip, sandwich fixings (and on some delicious homemade bread to boot), soup, and penguins-on-a-stick.

{screech}  "What was that???" you say?  Well, I figure blogs are out there for people to glean info from and shamelessly copy great ideas.  And what I found were these....

Easy to put together, and how cute are they?  Found them on one of my favorite blogs, Once Upon a Plate.  Basically, carrot coins with a wedge cut out of them for the feet, which acts as a base for cream cheese stuffed jumbo olives.  Top that with a small olive and use that carrot 'wedge' as a beak, then shove a toothpick down through the little guy and voila!  A penguin.  :-)

I had also volunteered to make a soup but didn't want anything terribly heavy.  So, cream soup was out, and a broth based soup was in.  Remember when I made this broth?  Well, here's how I put it to good use.

But first the meatballs...

So, I didn't get a photo of the finished product, but we all know what meatballs look like, right?

Sun-dried Tomato Meatballs

1 1/4 lbs good quality ground beef (mine was 7% fat, I believe)
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely (I used the 'dry' variety, not the kind in oil)
1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbs. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated, or shredded, Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400º.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix together until well blended (your hands are really your best tool here).  Roll mixture into balls (ping-pong ball size, roughly) and place on a cookie sheet lined with foil, about an inch apart.

Bake 20 minutes, or until browned.

These can be made a day or two in advance and then just kept refrigerated until the big day.  Putting this together was a snap.

Meatball Tortellini Soup

1 1/2 quarts GOOD QUALITY chicken stock (using homemade makes all the difference here)
1 recipe sun-dried tomato meatballs (see above)
1 package cheese filled tortellini, cooked to package instructions (I think I used cheese and roasted garlic because, really, can you EVER have too much garlic???)
3 - 4 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
Optional garnishes:  Shaved parmesan and Black Pepper Biscotti

Pour chicken stock into a large soup pot and turn heat to medium.  Add meatballs.  When stock is heated through, add tortellini.

To serve, place a handful of spinach leaves at the bottom of a bowl, ladle soup on top and add garnishes.

How easy is that??

Light but filling at the same time.  I will have to say that it was a good thing we had so much baking ahead of us, or we would have all opted for a nap.

Even the penguins were tired.

A Recipe on the Fly

Some days things are so chaotic at work that I'm halfway home, trying to decompress, and realize, "I have no idea what to make for dinner".  Yesterday was one of those days.  I started ticking through ingredients I knew I had on hand at home, made a quick swing by the store near me and managed to get everything on the table fairly quickly.

My inspiration was this...

This is the jalapeño popper dip I make for Offspring 2 when she begs (it's good leverage to get her to clean the bathroom).  Not terribly healthy, so I don't make it all that often.  Anyway, I was thinking of this but not wanting to go full-on chips and dip.  So I decided on an alternative.  We'll call it...  Popper Stuffed Chicken.  Eh.  Name doesn't do much for me.  How about JalaPopper Chicken? {sigh}  Ok, I'll work on it.

Basically, I ended up with this...

JalaPopper Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
4 oz light cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 strip bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 egg mixed with an equal amount of milk (I had buttermilk on hand and that's what I used)
1 cup finely crushed crackers

Heat oven to 400º.  Line a small baking sheet with foil (I'm partial to the non-stick variety, but you could also use the regular stuff and just use a bit of cooking spray).

Pound the chicken breasts thin.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place egg mixture in one bowl and the crushed cracker crumbs in another dish.  Set aside 4 toothpicks (trust me, if you already have them out of their package and placed nearby, it will save you some time having to wash your hands later).

Combine cream cheese, Cheddar, jalapeño and crumbled bacon.  Add a bit of pepper if desired.

Spread mixture evenly on each chicken breast, leaving about 1/2" all around to keep the mixture from escaping during cooking.

Beginning at smaller end, roll the chicken up tightly.  Secure with toothpicks (See?  If you didn't have them set aside already, you'd have to stop, wash your hands, then go right back to the chicken.  Just saved you a step.  You're welcome.)  Dip each piece in egg mixture and then in crumbs, pressing crumbs into the chicken and including each end (this will also help keep the cheese mixture inside).  Place seam-side down on baking sheet.

I'd like to say that I accurately timed how long this took to cook.  But...  didn't.  It was in the neighborhood of 20 minutes, and the coating was crisp and brown.  Allow to sit for about 5 minutes and then slice into roulades.

Oh, and the creamed corn at the bottom?  Another one of Offspring's favorites and super simple. 

Bourbon Creamed Corn

3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 shallot, finely diced
2 Tbs. jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced (I actually used one large pepper for both dishes and just shared between the two)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small package frozen corn
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs (?) bourbon (it was 2 'glugs', so I'm guesstimating)
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half

After cooking bacon, drain off all but about 1 tsp of the bacon grease.  Add olive oil, shallot and pepper and sauté about 5 minutes, or until shallot is tender.  Add frozen corn and turn temperature up to medium high.  Cook and stir 5 - 10 minutes, or just until there's some color on the corn.  Season with parsley, salt and pepper.  Add bacon.

Deglaze pan with bourbon and allow to cook until the liquid is almost evaporated.  Stir in milk and half and half.  Reduce heat to medium.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until milk is reduced and thickened.

This was pre-dairy, so it's not 'creamed' just yet.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just a Little Between Your Teeth and Gums

If last week was all about cookies (which I realize I have yet to post about but soon will!), then this week is about the candy.  Maybe it's my last ditch attempt to avoid the Christmas shopping that still needs to be done (sigh).

This is a recipe that has been floating around my family since, gosh, way back when I was in college?  {Ahem} We'll dispense with the discussion of how long ago THAT was.  Anyway, I remember it being on this faded old card with a Jiffy Pop logo.  WAY before microwave popcorn became the norm.

During the course of the holiday season, I probably make 3 - 4 gallons of this stuff.  I even sold it at work one year to help raise money for something Offspring 2 was doing.

Here in the Northwest, this recipe can get tricky at times.  Not because it's in any way difficult to make.  It's the humidity.  With all of the rain we get in the winter, our humidity levels are really high, and the sugar in this tends to crystallize, which is did with this batch.  Still delicious.  Just doesn't cover as well or come out as smooth.

I like to put a big bag of this in the conference room, which sits directly across from my office, and watch people sneak in and out and surreptitiously grab a bite here and a bite there.  I'm telling you, it is seriously addictive.

Caramel Corn

24 cups popped popcorn (if you want to dispense with the stovetop popping, use 3 bags of NATURAL microwave popcorn - no butter or salt), remove kernels

2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup corn syrup
½ - 1 tsp salt (use less if you're using salted butter)
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla

Put popcorn in one or more large baking pans (or use an aluminum turkey roaster, which has the added benefit of being able to be tossed after - not very ecologically sound, but a big timesaver).

Heat oven to 250º.

In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Stir constantly until mixture comes to a full boil. Continue to boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add baking soda and vanilla and stir until the mixture is an equal consistency throughout. Pour over popcorn and stir to combine.

After adding the baking soda and vanilla, see how it foams up?

Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Allow to cool a bit so that the caramel hardens (and so you don't give yourself 3rd degree burns), then break up with your hands.

A Savory Biscotti

Last weekend some friends and I (along with Offspring 2) had a cookie baking extravaganza.  Which I'll be posting more about later.

To keep from going into sugar comas, we figured we should also have some lunch.  To go along with my soup (again, more later), I also made these...

Peppery, cheesy and crunchy enough to withstand a good soup soaking.  Definitely something I'll be making over and over again.  Actually had some for breakfast this morning, too.

I think the only thing I changed from the original recipe was adding all of the pepper into the mix ('cuz I wasn't readin' very closely).  So I ended up sprinkling more on top.  They are pretty peppery, so adjust if you need to.  Also, I used a Grana Padano cheese.  No particular reason.  It's just what I happened to have.

Make these.  Then make some soup.  Go on.  I'll wait.

Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti

1½ Tbs black peppercorns, ground
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
4½ ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (2¼ cups)
1½ sticks (¾ cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk

Put oven racks and upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 2 cups of the cheese, and 1 Tablespoon ground black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk 3 eggs with milk and add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and quarter dough. Using well-floured hands, form each piece into a slightly flattened 12-inch-long log (about 2 inches wide and ¾-inch high). Transfer logs to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging logs about 3 inches apart.

Whisk remaining egg and brush some over logs, then sprinkle tops of logs evenly with remaining ¼ cup cheese and ½ Tablespoon ground pepper. Bake, rotating sheets 180 degrees and switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until logs are pale golden and firm, about 30 minutes total. Cool logs to warm on sheets on a rack, about 10 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 300°.

Carefully transfer one warm log to a cutting board and cut diagonally into ½-inch-thick slices with a serrated knife. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining logs, transferring slices to sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool biscotti on baking sheets on racks, about 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Lemon That Tastes More Like an Orange

So, I'm not much of a citrus fruit person.  Nothing against them, and of course, I do use them on occasion for cooking, but I have this strange little topical allergy to anything acidic.  I break out if I get any of the juice on me, so I have to be careful and use a juicer.

Anyway, you're not HERE to HEAR about my odd little ailments.  My point is that I never gave much thought to things like marmalade.  But I kept hearing chefs who were extolling the virtues of Meyer lemons, which are sweeter than regular lemons and have a bit of an orange flavor to them.  So I was intrigued enough to go hunting for recipes, and I ran across this one.  And truthfully, I'm kind of mad about the stuff.

The Meyers don't have a long growing season, and they're usually available in this area in the late fall and early winter months.  The first time I made this, I went strictly by the directions, just making thin slices and throwing everything in but the seeds.  This year I wanted to see if it would make any difference to cut away just the skin and leave the pith of the fruit after juicing it.  Truthfully, the only real difference I could tell was that it was runnier because I would have needed way more lemons that what I had bought to make up for the missing 'bulk'.  So next time I'll go back to the recipe as it was originally written.

The vanilla bean adds a nice note to this.  I am especially fond of it slathered on a bagel with mascarpone cheese.

Meyer Lemon and Vanilla Bean Marmalade
from Bon Appétit

1 1/4 pounds Meyer lemons
5 cups water
5 1/2 cups (about) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Pinch of salt

Working on large plate to catch juice, cut lemons in half lengthwise, then very thinly crosswise. Discard seeds. Pack enough lemons and any juice to measure 2 1/2 cups. Transfer to large nonreactive pot. Add 5 cups water; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand uncovered overnight.

Measure lemon mixture (there should be about 5 1/2 cups). Return to same pot. Add equal amount of sugar (about 5 1/2 cups). Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Add pinch of salt. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Attach clip-on candy thermometer.

Maintaining active boil and adjusting heat to prevent boiling over, cook until temperature reaches 230°F, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Transfer to jars. Cover and chill. (Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Keep refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Makes about 4 ½ cups.

Fruitcake. Yeah, Yeah, I Know.

So, at least hear me out.  Me?  Not a big fan of the fruitcake.  My parents on the other hand...  HUGE fans.  And several years ago I could no longer bear watching them eat the oversugared, store-bought variety with the unnaturally colored fruits.  So I decided to try my hand at making them.

And oddly enough, they were a huge hit and have been appearing in stockings ever since.  I don't impose them on others.  Just my folks.  That's what they get for not giving me that pony I asked for when I was 6.

But to be really, really honest...  the stuff's just not half bad.  I do eat around the raisins.  But aside from that, how bad can booze soaked cake and fruit be???

After about a week of soaking up the good stuff.

A Simple Fruitcake
Adapted from Dave Lieberman

1 cup golden raisins
1 cup dates, chopped
1 small orange, zested
1 cup brandy
2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups light brown sugar
3 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup finely chopped dried pineapple
1 1/2 cups chopped raw pecans

Preheat oven to 250º.

Combine raisins, dates and orange rind and juice in a microwaveable bowl and pour over the brandy. Microwave for 2 minutes then let it sit while you prepare the batter.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time.  Sift dry ingredients together onto a sheet of wax paper, then add to the mixer.  Mix just until combined.

Strain the brandy from the raisins and dates and reserve. Stir the raisin mixture, pineapple, and pecans into the batter.

Grease two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans (I used 4 mini pans) and line the bottom and sides with a piece of waxed paper. Spoon the batter evenly into pans.

Bake 3 hours. Let cool and remove from pan. Poke holes with a large skewer all over the cake.  Pour brandly slowly and evenly over cakes and allow to soak in.  Pull cakes out of pans and allow to cool.

Soak a large piece of cheesecloth in more brandy. Wrap cooled cakes in cheesecloth, place in large plastic bag and store in a cool, dry place.*

Me, I had no cheesecloth.  I wrapped mine in the wax paper 'wrappers' that they cooked in, and wrapped THOSE in a couple of layers of plastic wrap.  I also give mine another dose of brandy after a week.  I store them on a shelf in the garage.

And happy fruitcake to all, and to all a good night.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Multi-tasking up a Storm

I always thought of myself as pretty low-key.  Then when I made that comment to a friend and the response I got was a choking sound followed by peals of laughter, I thought... well, maybe not.  I do know that I'm at my best when I'm busy.  And the busier I get, the more laser-focused I am.

Not to be daunted by the 500 tasks all needing to be completed this week, I decided to do a little multi-tasking by making a simple dinner and chicken stock for the soup I'm making this weekend (more on that later).  Homemade chicken stock is so very easy to make and tastes 500x better than the canned stuff.  Not that I don't use the canned stuff.  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, Offspring 2 had a big grin on her face when she wandered into the kitchen and saw a dish of enchiladas about to go into the oven.  Sometimes making a teen happy is no easy feat.  I'll consider it a victory.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas

1 rotisserie chicken
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 - 3 Tbs. diced green chiles (canned)
2/3 - 3/4 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese (I used a cheddar/jack blend this time), divided
10 - 12 corn tortillas*
1 32 oz. can enchilada sauce
Crumbled cotija cheese (optional)

Heat oven to 375º.

Heat the olive oil in a small pan, then add the onions and garlic.  Sauté for a couple of minutes and then add the cumin.  Continue to sauté just until the onions are soft.

In a large bowl, shred the meat from the chicken.  Keep the carcass for the stock!

Add the onion mixture, chiles, sour cream and 1 cup of shredded cheese.  Mix thoroughly. **

(You could also add a little cilantro to this mixture, but I'm one of those people it doesn't agree with, taste-wise, so I leave it out).

Pour just enough of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of a glass baking dish to cover.  Fill each tortilla with a heaping spoon of the chicken mixture and place it seam-side down in the dish.  You can pack these in very tightly.

Cover the tortillas with more sauce (You may have more than what you need in the can.  You want to give them a good coating of it but not have them swimming in the stuff).  Cover with remaining cheese (including the cotija if using).  Bake for about 30 minutes, or just until it is bubbly, and the cheese is melted and golden.

*Note:  Rather than buying a nationally branded tortilla, I use a local brand sold in independent stores.  They seem to not only taste better, but they're not as dry and don't tend to fall apart when you roll them.

**Note:  I don't add salt to this because I find that between the chicken and the enchilada sauce, there's usually more than enough, but you may need to adjust seasoning accordingly.

Now for that chicken carcass we were talking about...

Homemade Chicken Stock

Carcass (including skin) of one rotisserie chicken
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks
1/2 large onion, cut into large chunks
2 stalks celery, including leaves, cut into large chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
5 - 6 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 Tbs. whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp. salt
2 bay leaves
1 Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
1/4 cup white wine
2 quarts water

Toss all ingredients in a large stock pot.  Pour in wine and water.  Bring to boil and then lower heat to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for about an hour.  Cool in pan and then strain at least twice through a small-mesh strainer or cheesecloth.  Pour into storage containers.  Freeze if desired.