Sunday, November 28, 2010

And the Critics Rave

Hands down the biggest success over Thanksgiving was the breakfast I prepared the next morning using leftovers from dinner.  And I had two of my harshest critics to satisfy - namely, my two nieces (ages 5 and 3).

I opted for pumpkin pancakes using some of the leftover pumpkin from my dessert (and using the caramel sauce as a 'syrup') as well as bacon sweetened ever so slightly with brown sugar.  I also had some of the pecan/vanilla butter left from the Brussels sprouts and used that as well.

After breakfast, my 3-year-old niece marched through the house chanting 'puh-kin pah-pay' AND asked for them again at dinner that night.

I'll take that as a victory.

Sugared Bacon

Bacon strips
Brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375º.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place bacon strips side-by-side on pan.  Season with pepper and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Bake about 15 minutes, or until bacon is done.  Go as light or heavy on the sugar as you'd like.  Using a solid coating of the sugar will give the bacon more of a 'candied' finish.  I went pretty light on it just to give it a hint of sweetness.

Puh-kin Pah-pay (Pumpkin Pancakes)

1 cup milk
6 Tbs. canned pumpkin puree
2 Tbs. melted butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves

In a large bowl, stir together first 4 ingredients.  On a sheet of waxed paper, sift the dry ingredients together.  Add to the wet ingredients and mix just until combined. Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat; pour in 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes about 3 minutes per side.

Mine were topped with the Vanilla-Pecan Butter and Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce.

A Quickie Thanksgiving - Pt. 2

Once again I have to thank Bobby Flay.  Don't watch him much on television, but the recipes I've tried of his always come out great.  I ate once at his Bar Americain in NYC and had a fantastic meal (and my first Manhattan).

But I digress.

I'd like to say that I spent hours, days and weeks searching for just the right Thanksgiving dessert recipe, but I'd be lying.  I did have a vague notion of a warm dessert that I could toss in the oven as we sat down to eat but only ran across this recipe for a pumpkin bread pudding a couple of days before Thanksgiving.  I did end up cooking this completely before the meal and then popped it in the oven at a low temp to keep warm.  It has a lot of components, but it was well worth it.  Unfortunately, I never managed to get a picture of the finished product with everything put together!

First, the pumpkin bread...

Pumpkin Bread

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
8 ounces (about 1 cup) canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
2/3 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350º.  Butter or lightly spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the 4 tablespoons softened butter, sugar, and oil at high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times.

Add the pumpkin puree and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until just incorporated. At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and water and mix until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 60 to 75 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a baking rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool completely.

Once the bread is cool, slice in half lengthwise, and then slice each half into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread the cubes on a large baking sheet and bake in a 325º oven until lightly toasted, turning once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

As the bread cools, prepare the custard...

Pumpkin Custard

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. molasses
1 cup pure canned pumpkin puree (I just used the remaining portion of the 15 oz. can)
2 Tbs. bourbon

Preheat the oven to 325º. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Whisk together the yolks, sugar, molasses, and pumpkin puree in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture until combined, remove the vanilla pod, and whisk in the bourbon. Strain the custard into a clean bowl.

Scatter the pumpkin bread cubes in a buttered 9 by 13-inch baking glass baking dish. Pour the custard over the bread, pressing down on the bread to totally submerge it in the custard. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard.

Place the pan in a larger roasting pan and pour hot tap water into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the glass dish. Bake until the sides are slightly puffed and the center jiggles slightly, about 1 hour.

I can't say the light I shot this in was much help.

Remove from the oven and water bath and cool on a baking rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with...

Spicy Caramel Apple Sauce

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup apple juice
1 star anise
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. hard cider

Combine the cream, apple juice, star anise, ginger, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and nutmeg in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a clean, small saucepan and place back over low heat while you make the caramel.

Combine the sugar, water and, vinegar in a medium saucepan over high heat and cook without stirring, until it's a deep amber color, about 8 minutes. Slowly whisk in the warm cream mixture a little at a time, and continue whisking until smooth. Add the hard cider and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm. The sauce can be made 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Reheat over low heat before serving.


Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise

2 cups half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup pure cane sugar

Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

Whisk together the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until at the pale ribbon stage. Slowly whisk in the hot half-and-half, return the mixture to the pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Strain into a bowl and set over an ice bath. Stir until chilled. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.

A Quickie Thanksgiving - Pt. 1

We had the Reader's Digest Condensed version of Thanksgiving this year.  About 3 hours, start to finish.  The food took longer to prepare than the actual enjoying of it.  But that's kind of how the wind blew, and it was ok.

My mom and I each created our own meal plan and brought the two pieces together.   Mom brined a turkey breast (very moist and tasty!) and also had mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, her famous rolls (at least they're famous in our family) and a pumpkin pie.

My contribution included this ham, which goes together quickly, cooks quickly and is just as good as that famous ham you spend $45 on.

Honey Glazed Ham

1 spiral sliced ham (mine was fully cooked)
1/4 - 1/2 cup honey
1/3 c brown sugar

¼ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cloves
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of allspice
Pinch of ginger

Heat oven to 325°.  Place ham on a baking dish with enough of a lip to catch the juice that will accumulate.  Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Drizzle ham with honey (or a mixture of honey and corn syrup, if you prefer).  Cover completely with sugar mixture and place in oven.  Bake in oven, glazing the ham every 10 minutes or so with the juice that accumulates at the bottom of the dish until the ham is golden and heated through, about 45 minutes.

*  *  *

My sweet potato dish was also fast and easy.  Nothing fancy here.

Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

3 - 4 lbs. sweet potatoes (or yams)
2 Tbs. butter (plus additional for greasing the baking dish)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. bourbon
1 egg
3/4 cup pecan pieces
2 cups mini marshmallows

Heat oven to 400°.  Wash potatoes and pierce skin with fork.  Place in oven and bake until tender (the amount of time will vary depending on how big your potatoes are).  Allow to cool slightly and then cut each in half and scoop meat into a bowl.  Add the butter, sugar, spices, bourbon and egg and mash together with the potatoes.  Spoon mixture into a baking dish and top with pecans and marshmallows.  Reduce heat to 375° and bake about 20 minutes, or until marshmallows are puffy and golden.

*  *  *

This was a last minute addition to the Thanksgiving menu.  I had a vague idea of a dish with Brussels sprouts and finally settled on this recipe.  I actually made it early in the day and then reheated it later, but the next time I make it, I'll serve it right away.  The pomegranate seed add a nice tart bite to the dish.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter
Adapted from Bobby Flay

6 Tbs. softened unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbs. olive oil

3 Tbs. pomegranate molasses (recipe here)
Seeds from 1/2 of a large pomegranate
1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest
1 Tbs. freshly squeezed orange juice

Combine the first 3 ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°.  Place the Brussels sprouts in a roasting pan (I use a foil covered cookie sheet).  Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast until lightly golden, about 20 - 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, add the pomegranate molasses and stir to combine.  Return to the oven and roast another 10 minutes.

Transfer the sprouts to a serving dish.  Add the pomegranate seeds, orange zest and juice.  Stir to combine.  Top with Pecan Butter.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Little Comfort on a Cold Day

So, the weather has turned...  REALLY FREAKING COLD.  According to the weather guy, the temp hasn't been this cold here before Thanksgiving in about 17 years.  And we haven't had snow before Thanksgiving in about 30.  And of course, the snow didn't last long.  But the cold is still here.

With family coming in and a lot of prep work to do, I wanted something warm but quick.  This soup was just the ticket.

Butternut Squash and Coconut Bisque with Sesame Sticks and Candied Pepitas

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 1/2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. curry powder
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 15-oz. can coconut milk (can use light if desired)
Toasted Pepitas for garnish (see recipe below)

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes and then add garlic.  Add the bay leaves, ginger nad red pepper.  Stir to combine.  Add the butternut squash and season with the salt, pepper and curry powder.  Cover with chicken stock, stir, and allow to come to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, or until squash is tender.

Remove bay leaves.  Transfer the entire mixture to a food processor or blender.  Pulse until mixture is the desired consistency.  Return to pot and add coconut milk.  Continue to cook another 10 minutes.

Garnish with toasted pepitas (see recipe) and serve with puff pasty sticks (see recipe).

Toasted Candied Pepitas

1 cup raw shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 Tbs. butter
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbs. brown sugar
Cayenne pepper to taste

Heat oven to 400º.  Place butter on a cookie sheet and allow to melt in the oven as it's heating.  When butter has melted, remove the pan from the oven and pour pumpkin seeds into pan.  Sprinkle with cinnamon, brown sugar and cayenne (I was pretty liberal with the cayenne, which made the seeds pretty spicy for just munching, but they were perfect with the soup).

Spread seeds evenly over pan and return to oven.  Allow to toast for a couple of minutes.  The seeds will start to pop and will brown quickly, so keep a close eye on them!

Puff Pastry Stix with Sesame Seeds

1 sheet of puff pastry
Garlic powder
White and black sesame seeds

Prepare surface of counter with a little flour.  Unfold puff pastry and lightly roll just to take out the creases.  Flip over and repeat.

Sprinkle with the remaining ingredients and gently press into surface.  Bake in a 400º 10 - 15 minutes, or until a golden brown.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Oh, Snap!

Or not, depending on your proclivities towards firm vs. soft cookies.  I prefer soft.  If you like them more on the firm side, leave out the extra egg yolk called for here.

I ran across this recipe and of course couldn't keep myself from tweaking it a bit.  Unfortunately, I did not have the candied ginger it called for, but I would definitely add it in next time to give it a little extra oomph.  Also, I should have rolled the dough balls in sugar but got distracted and forgot.  Regardless, these were keepers.

And very popular at work.

Chocolate Gingersnaps

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1/3 cup coarse sugar (or additional granulated sugar) for rolling

Preheat oven to 375º.
On a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and all spices.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs and molasses, the balsamic vinegar and vanilla. Gradually stir in all of the flour mixture, mixing only until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in crystallized ginger and chocolate chips.

Form dough into 1 inch balls, roll in coarse sugar and place on baking sheet. Press cookies gently to flatten slightly and bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or just until set.

Makes about 3 dozen.

When Inspiration Strikes

So, I found myself on my own.  Friday night and with the freedom to go anywhere I wanted, I naturally ended up at...  Market of Choice (also known as Mecca to me).  And because I had a VISA gift card burning a hole in my purse, I was looking around for things to pick up for Turkey Day.  But instead, I ran across this...

Yes, a real live, honest-to-goodness Oregon truffle.  And right next to that...

Mmmm.  Chanterelles.  Luckily no one was close enough to hear the little joyous gurgling sounds.

I had also snagged a can of organic butternut squash puree, and soon the wheels started turning.  I snapped up a very nice, very fresh Dungeness crab (another one of the absolute joys about living in Oregon).

All Saturday I plotted and planned, and as soon as I could, I put my plan into action.  First, I decided to tackle gnocchi.  Not something I've made before, although I've cooked with the packaged variety plenty.  This is definitely not a mid-week project.  Took me a good couple of hours to put it all together, but I had enough to make two meals (I took the finished gnocchi I didn't use, spread it out on a baking sheet, and froze them, then threw them in a freezer bag).

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
adapted from

1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled, quartered
1 cup pureed butternut squash
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all-purpose flour

Cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl (I didn't have a ricer, so I pressed mine through a strainer, and it worked just fine); cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use).

Mix squash, potato, Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour (oops - didn't do this, either). DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled.

After I started a large pot of salted water to a simmer, I started my sauce.  Add gnocchi individually to simmering water and allow to cook 15 - 17 minutes.  Even if the gnocchi float to the top of the water, continue to cook for the recommended time.

Crab and Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 lb. fresh Chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 shallot, diced finely
1/2 bulb roasted garlic (cut top off of bulb, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly with foil and bake in a 400º oven for 25 - 30 minutes)
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 pint of half and half
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Meat from a 1 lb. Dungeness crab
Freshly shaved truffle (optional)

Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan.  When butter starts to sizzle, add shallot and cook until it becomes translucent.  Add mushrooms and roasted garlic and season with a little salt and pepper.  Cook and stir until mushrooms are tender.  Deglaze pan with white wine.  When liquid reduces by half, add half and half and Parmesan cheese.  Add chopped parsley and crab and stir to combine.  Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.  Add cooked gnocchi straight from pot (a bit of the liquid from the pot will help thicken the sauce).  Carefully stir in gnocchi.  If the mixture is too thick, add more half and half or wine.  Allow to simmer a few minutes until it is of the desired consistency.

Top with freshly shaved truffle.

I think next time I will also include some cubed and roasted butternut squash for a bit more color, but I will have to say this was just really, really tasty.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Meatless... Thursday?

Ok, so maybe it doesn't quite roll off the tongue like 'Meatless Monday' does.  But it was good, anyway.  And these days there seems to be an awful lot going on, and quick and easy is just where it's at (ack - my college English prof would have a fit if he saw that sentence).

This is not a vampire friendly meal.  We do love our garlic.  But roasting it takes that strong edge off of it and makes it mellow and sweet.  Certainly you could go for a more low-cal version as well.  Just add a bit of flour right before adding in the liquid and stir it around a bit.  Then you can substitute a lower-fat milk (and leave out the butter).  But that's just not how I roll.  :-)))

Pasta with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

1 large head of garlic
1/2 lb. angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
Sea or Kosher salt
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 - 3/4 pint of half and half
6 large basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1/4 - 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat oven to 400°.  Slice garlic bulb in half and place on a piece of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Place in oven and cook for 25 - 30 minutes.

Place a large pot of water over high heat and add a generous amount of salt (couldn't really tell you how much I use but your water should taste 'like the sea' {minus the fish, hopefully}).  Try a couple of tablespoons at least.  When the water starts to boil, add your pasta and cook according to directions.  I try to time my pasta being done with my sauce being done so I can just add it directly to the pan using a pasta fork and bring a little of the pasta water along with it.  Helps to thicken the sauce.


Add the olive oil and butter to a large sauté pan and allow butter to melt over medium-high heat.  Add shallot and cook until it softens.  Squeeze the garlic from the halves into the pan and stir to break up.  Add the white wine to deglaze the pan.  When the wine reduces by about half, add the half and half (I start with the lesser amount and add more later if I need to loosen the sauce up a bit), basil and Parmesan to the pan.  Season with pepper.  Allow to come to a simmer and then add your pasta to the pan, stirring to incorporate the sauce.  Taste for salt and add more if needed (since the pasta water is salted, you probably won't need to add more).  Serve immediately.

Serving note:  Before I start the sauce, I like to add a little bit of butter to the pan and then toss in some bread crumbs and allow to toast a bit.  Remove from pan and use to top your pasta along with some fresh Italian parsley.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just Had to Share

C was kind enough to let me post the recipe and a photo of her stuffed pears from this weekend.  They were fabulous!  And I will have to agree with her that this would also make a great spread on a sandwich or crackers.

Pears with Stilton, Cream and Walnuts
(adapted from England's Heritage Food and Cooking)

1/2 cup cream cheese
4 oz Stilton cheese with apricots (available at Trader Joe's)
2-3 Tbsp half and half
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp butter
3 ripe pears
1 tbsp lemon juice
salad leaves

4 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp sugar
4 Tbsp olive oil

Cream together the cream cheese and Stilton cheese. Add a few grinds of black pepper, then 2-3 Tbsp half and half and stir until creamy. Set aside.

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat and melt the butter in the pan. Add the chopped walnuts and toast for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning. Add a dash or two of salt to the toasting nuts. Remove from heat and place in separate bowl and allow to cool. Once cool, add to cheese mixture and stir to combine.

Cover mixture and chill until ready to use.

Fill a bowl large enough to hold three pears with ice water and add 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Peel the pears, then cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the core. Place cut and peeled pear halves into the ice water to keep them from turning brown.

Whisk dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl.

Place salad leaves on plate. Drain pears from ice water and pat dry using a kitchen towel. Scoop cheese mixture into balls to fill the hollowed out cores. Spoon dressing over pears and serve.

Super Sweet

Ugh.  There's that 's' word again.

Anyway, although the sticky date pudding that I made for our British dinner was interesting, it wasn't really my 'thing'.  Think I would have enjoyed it more if it was a darker cake and the dates were more incorporated into the mix.  But the toffee sauce was yummy.  And while I generally go for more rich, rather than sweet, desserts, this did make for a pretty good (and quick) ice cream topping.  I threw some honeyed almonds on top for a bit of crunch.


Toffee Sauce

1 3/4 sticks (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over moderate heat and add brown sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, and stir in cream and vanilla. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Cool sauce to warm.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shakespeare Should Have Had It So Good

So, my friend C and I have been having these monthly themed dinners and having a blast coming up with the food for them.  This month we honored the food of Britain.  C found an awesome cookbook with recipes dating all the way back to Shakespeare's day.  Very cool.  The whole spread could definitely be termed 'hearty' and was just perfect for the rather grim and drizzly day.  I wish we had photos of everything!  She included some lovely stuffed pears (which Offspring 2 unapologetically demanded from everyone else after finishing her own), a chicken with stewed fruits (I really need to get the actual names of the dishes) and these super tasty meatballs in a broth.  All excellent.  I threw in some lemon curd and ginger biscuits for starters (definitely need to try the curd again when the Meyers are in season), along with a Steak and Guinness Pie, a Bubble and Squeak (gotta love that name) and a Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.

Now, I will have to say that dates that have been soaked to mushiness aren't exactly my cup of tea, but the toffee sauce was really pretty damn good on ice cream (and the ginger biscuits, come to think of it).  The steak pie turned out pretty well.  I mean, how can you go wrong cooking steak in some beer for a few hours??

Steak and Guinness Pie

1 1/2 lbs. chuck steak, cubed
2 Tbs. AP flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 onion, diced medium
3 cloves garlic
12 oz. bottle Guinness (I used the extra-stout variety in honour (heh... get it?) of my Brit friends who think us Yanks drink watery, piss-poor beer)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
2 Tbs. chopped capers

1 sheet puff pastry (allow to thaw in fridge according to directions)
3/4 cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese (I used white Cheddar... from England)
1 beaten egg mixed with 2 tsp. water

Dredge steak in mixture of flour, salt and pepper.  In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over med-high heat.  Sauté meat in batches (don't overcrowd the pan) until browned.  Remove to another dish until all of the steak has been browned.  Add onion to pan and sauté until starting to soften, then add garlic and stir for another few seconds (don't allow garlic to burn).  Add steak cubes back to pan (along with any juices) and then add the tomato paste, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and capers.  Stir a bit to break up the tomato paste and then add the beer and broth.  Allow to come to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about an hour and a half.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.  If there is too much liquid, bring heat back up and allow some of the liquid to cook off (you want some of that yummy sauce in your pie, but you don't want it to be soupy).

Pour meat mixture into casserole dish (mine's about 13" x 9") and allow to cool slightly while putting together top.

Heat oven to 425°.

Roll out puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface until it is big enough to cover your dish with about a 1" overhang.  Using a pastry brush (or your fingers in a pinch) rub egg wash over top edge and down about 1" on the outside of your baking dish.  Cover dish with pastry crust and roll edges under.  Press against dish.  Poke a few holes in the top to allow steam to escape and then brush the entire surface of the crust with more egg wash. 

Place pie in oven and allow to cook for 15 - 20 minutes, or until crust is golden.  Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven.  Reduce temp to 400° and continue to bake until crust is a dark golden brown and cheese melts.

Side note:  I did add peas (or pease) to half of the pie... the half that Offspring 2 and I would not be eating... and it was a perfectly acceptable addition.  If you're into that kind of thing.

Toffee recipe coming up next...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Feeling a Bit... Nutty.

All on my lonesome tonight.  With Offspring #1 off living on her own, and Offspring #2 spending more and more time away from home, I seem to spend more evenings feeding just myself.  Wanted something somewhat quick but still palatable.  And kind of 'stick to your ribs'.  Opted for a some cubed butternut squash sauteéd with some pancetta and spinach.  Tossed it with a bit of cooked gnocchi (packaged) and some mascarpone cheese for creaminess.  A friend of mine was kind enough to give me a bottle of his hazelnut oil from the nuts he grows in a small grove just north of here.  Made a nice finishing touch.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

3 Tbs olive oil, divided
3 slices of pancetta, diced (could substitute a good quality bacon)
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 of a small butternut squash, cut into 1" cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh spinach, cleaned and dried
1 package of gnocchi, cooked following package instructions
1/4 cup white wine (I used that pesky Chardonnay I had)
1/4 - 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Shaved Parmesan cheese to taste

Drizzle heavy pan (I used cast iron) with 1 Tbs. olive oil.  Sauté pancetta until almost cooked through.  Add shallot and cook and stir until shallot is translucent.  Remove to a bowl and add the remaining olive oil to the pan.  Add the butternut squash and season with salt and pepper.

Cook squash, stirring often, until it is fork tender but not mushy.  Add spinach leaves and sauté until spinach wilts.  Add the pancetta mixture back to the pan, along with the gnocchi.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine and then add the mascarpone, half and half and nutmeg.  Cook and stir until the cheese melts and creates a sauce.  Add in your Parmesan and combine well.  Serve immediately.

*I added some fried sage leaves (which I cooked in the olive oil and then removed before adding the pancetta to the pan) and drizzled with hazelnut oil.

And just to show that I didn't forget...  An ACTUAL photo of the cranberry conserve recipe, listed here.

My Comfort

There are all sorts of foods out there that I love.  And I've had some pretty amazing meals that all but made my eyes roll back into my head.  I also love challenging myself in the kitchen and trying out new recipes.

But sometimes you just want something that's the food equivalent of a warm blanket.  This is my favorite comfort food.  Don't know why.  It just is.

The night before I'd made meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  It was really more of a setup for the next night's leftovers:  a grilled meatloaf panini with Gouda and bacon and mashed potato pancakes.

Don't mock me.

The potato pancakes have no particular recipe.  I throw a beaten egg (or 2 - depending on the amount of leftovers) into the mashed potatoes, add a bit more salt and pepper, toss in some chopped chives and add a little flour to bind it together, then fry them in a bit of butter and olive oil.  Sometimes I put cheese in them.  Usually I top them with sour cream.  Tonight I wanted dressing (had Caesar in the fridge - not the actual person, BTW).

Don't mock me!

I opted for a paper plate.  Almost no dishes.  Nice...

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Thanksgiving Maybe

I wonder if all new bloggers get to a point where they feel like they're just talking to themselves and really, what's the point?  I talk to myself all the time, and it's a lot less work than writing about it.  :-))

I was in a baking mood last night, happened to have a can of organic pumpkin and some leftover streusel topping from another recipe and thus decided to piece together several recipes and come up with something new.  My official taste taster, Offspring #2, declared this to be 'good times' and suggested we add it to the menu for Thanksgiving.

Notice the dangling pecan hanging on for dear life.

Pumpkin Bread with Streusel Topping

4 eggs
1 c. canola oil
1 15 oz. can pumpkin
1/4 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
Streusel Topping (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease 2 loaf pans or 4 mini loaf pans.  In a mix stand bowl, combine eggs, oil, pumpkin, water and vanilla.  Mix thoroughly on medium speed until well combined.  Add sugar and mix thoroughly.

Combine the remaining dry ingredients.  Add in 3 batches to the wet ingredients and mix on low speed until combined thoroughly. 

Make streusel:

1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 Tbs. chilled butter

Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl.  Cut butter into mixture using a pastry cutter or a couple of knives.  Mixture will be crumbly.

Pour batter into pan(s) until about half full.  Sprinkle a bit of streusel over the top.  Then add remaining batter until filled about 3/4 of the way.  Sprinkle with remaining streusel (I also added pecan pieces to mine).

Bake in center of oven for about an hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

When Life Gives You Rotisserie Chicken

So, I'm all for the traditional big Sunday meal.  But it was a busy weekend, and I just didn't feel like spending the afternoon cooking AND THEN CLEANING.  So we opted for a store-bought rotisserie chicken with one of our favorite sauces...  Molé Poblano.  The original recipe does not call for the additional simmering at the end, but I find that it really helps deepen the flavors.  And it makes the whole house smell just incredible to boot.

Chicken Molé Poblano

2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 dried anaheim chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 dried chipotle chilies, stemmed and seeded
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 - 1/2 cup slivered or whole almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Anaheim pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 Pasilla pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only

1/2 tsp salt
1 disk Mexican chocolate (about 3 oz), chopped
1 small can low-sodium chicken broth

Tear the chiles into large pieces and toast them in a medium - large saucepan over medium heat until they change color a bit, about 2 minutes. Put them into a bowl with the raisins and cover them with hot water. In the same pan, add the almonds, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and oregano. Toast for 2 minutes, then add the sesame seeds and continue toasting until sesame seeds turn golden.  Grind in a spice grinder and set aside. In the same pan over medium-high heat add the olive oil, onions, garlic, fresh peppers and thyme. Cook until lightly browned, then add the tomatoes. Season with salt.  Cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add broth and the chocolate, along with the soaked chiles and raisins, followed by the ground spices. Tranfer half of mixture into a blender and purée until smooth. Repeat with remaining mixture.  Return to pan, reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  While the sauce cooks, start a batch of rice (I season mine with a bit of cumin) and toast some tortillas (we used corn) in a hot skillet.

Place chunks of chicken over cooked rice and top with sauce, sour cream and avocado.  Cilantro would also be a nice addition if you're one of those people that can eat it.  I can't, so I left it off.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

To Welcome a Baby Boy

The great thing about being involved in a community theater is that you get to meet really fantastic people.  I was lucky enough to meet a terrific couple, who just happened to be starting a new family, and I asked Daddy if it was ok to throw a shower.  The only real 'theme' for the party was a tie-in to their nursery décor, which happened to be Winnie the Pooh.

So, for the goodie bags, I put some honey (fresh from a friend's farm in California) in baby bottles and also included these Honeycomb Candies, which were very quick and easy to make.

Honeycomb Candy

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water
3 Tbs honey
1/3 cup light corn syrup
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
Line a cookie sheet with a silpat or non-stick aluminum foil.  Measure baking soda onto a piece wax paper or other surface and make sure there are no lumps in it.
Add sugar, water, honey and corn syrup to a large saucepan (if the pan is too small, you will be sorry later).  Gently stir and then heat mixture over medium heat, swirling the pan gently on occasion (once you start heating it, keep your spoon out of it).  Allow mixture to come to a boil and continue heating and swirling until it becomes a golden amber color.  Remove from heat and add the vanilla and then the baking soda.  The mixture will start foaming up... a LOT (thus the large pan).  Continue mixing until mixture is of the same consistency throughout and then pour onto lined baking sheet.  It will continue to expand on the pan.
Allow the mixture to cool completely and then break into pieces.
We also had chocolate fudge cupcakes, which I filled with an Oreo cookie cream mixture and topped with vanilla buttercream frosting and edible shimmer dust.  I poked lollipop sticks with gumdrop ends into them to make them resemble baby rattles.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Bad Blogger

Pretty sure I could get my blogging credentials taken away before I've barely started, but not only have I not made any preparations for Thanksgiving dinner (and thus spent weeks experimenting and blogging about all the recipes we'll be enjoying), I haven't even given much thought to WHAT we'll be having.

My family is generally not a die hard holiday bunch.  Sometimes we're all together.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes we go traditional.  Sometimes not.

But because it's November already and because I feel I SHOULD put out a holiday recipe, I will share with you the cranberry sauce recipe that, should we opt for a traditional Thanksgiving meal, will most certainly be on the table.  Oddly enough, I generally make this for me.  Most of the family prefers the stuff that comes out of the can, ridges intact...  But I prefer this.  And it's great on sandwiches, spread on crackers with a bit of mascarpone or cream cheese, etc.

I'd like to show you a picture of the finished product, but, well...  I haven't made it yet.  :-)

Cranberry Conserve

1/3 c packed brown sugar
1/3 c butter
2 t vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
4 c cranberries (roughly 2 bags)
½ c golden raisins
¼ c apple cider or juice
¼ t ground allspice
¼ t ground cloves
3 ½ c sugar
1 c toasted pecan pieces

In a soup pot, cook and stir brown sugar, butter and vinegar over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onions. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 - 12 minutes or until onions are tender, stirring often. Transfer to bowl.
In same pan, combine cranberries, raisins, apple cider, allspice and cloves. Bring to a rolling boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook 5 minutes and then add onion mixture and sugar. Return to boiling. Cook, uncovered 10 - 15 mins, stirring more frequently as mixture thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in nuts. Ladle into freezer containers, leaving ½ in headspace. Freeze up to 1 year.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Another Quickie

Today I was thinking about my girls and what beautiful young ladies they’ve become. That in turn got me to thinking about childhood and the kinds of foods that kids like to eat. My nieces, who are still little, enjoy those little breakfast in a pastry type things. And so I thought I’d put one together for Offspring #2 before she ran out the door for the evening. I opted for one large pastry, but these could certainly be cut down to more portable versions.

Breakfast Sausage Pastry

½ lb. breakfast sausage
3 eggs
2 T. fresh chopped chives
¼ c. finely chopped red bell pepper (I forgot to add this, so you won’t see it in the photo)
¼ c. half and half
Salt and Pepper to taste

Thinly sliced cheese (I used a Muenster, I think)
1 sheet thawed puff pastry dough

Heat oven to 375 º. Brown sausage on stove. Meanwhile, beat eggs with cream. Add chives and season to taste. Add bell peppers to cooked sausage and sauté until softened. Pour off any excess grease and then add egg mixture to pan. Cook and stir until eggs are cooked but still moist. Remove from heat.

Place puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll out slightly. Place slices of cheese across the middle and then add the sausage/egg mixture on top, keeping enough room around the edges for folding the dough. Using a bit of the egg mixture, or another slightly beaten egg, ‘glue’ the edges together and pinch or fold under. Lightly grease a cookie sheet and set the pastry on top. Brush with more egg mixture. Bake for 25 - 30 mins, or until the pastry is golden brown. I made a sauce using a bit of sour cream, some Dijon mustard and black pepper and also sprinkled the top of the pastry with a bit of additional sea salt.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Market of Choice Stole my Shtick

So, I've been reading (and thoroughly enjoying) other people's blogs for quite a while now, and I kept telling myself I should start my own.  Someday.  But I struggled with the best way to make it unique.  There's the theater angle (thus the name), but to be honest, when I'm working on a show, I'm not exactly cranking out high end meals.  I'm lucky to have a bowl of Cheerios before rehearsal.

While I wouldn't describe myself as a 'gourmet', I ASPIRE to cook like one.  I love to try out new recipes, and I have been so inspired by fellow bloggers.  My biggest hangup is that I don't have ready access to ingredients to satisfy the impulsive gourmand in me.  If I'm rattling around and see something I MUST TRY immediately, I'm liable to have my hopes go down in flames because my local grocery stores tend to cater more to the 'pop a Stouffers meal in the microwave' bunch than someone interested in taking fresh, local ingredients and elevating them to a higher level than gray macaroni drenched in neon orange fake cheese powder.

Eureka!  The 'angle' for my blog was going to be kind of a 'how to bring decent food to the table when you live in a WalMart (ick ptooey) world.

But before I could even cut my teeth on my new concept, Market of Choice went and opened up a brand new store just a few miles up the road from me.  And now I'm not only thinking that they've completely trashed my shtick, but I'm probably going to have to take a second job just to support my new habit.

If they put in a DSW over there, I might as well move to the Yukon.