Friday, November 30, 2007

Its-a-raining and I'm-a-baking

Lemon and regular thyme soaking in the rain
What is it about rain that's so soothing? Whenever it rains here (which isn't often during most winters), I always hope I get to spend the day IN. In the warmth of my house. In my comfortable kitchen. And most times when I have a day like this, my thoughts turn to baking. In some ways I wish it didn't, because I then eat whatever it is I bake. When we got up this morning (this is Friday) it was drizzling. It continued drizzling for several hours, then it turned to rain. Not pelting. Not a downpour. Just solid, steady rain. We so badly need the rain. After all the wildfires this Fall, we desperately need the rain. But the worry, always, is that after such a dry summer, houses on hills are subject to mud, runoff and in some areas, mudslides. We don't live in a mudslide area, but we do live on a hill. Because of problems with our sprinkler system, some of the vegetation on our hill is sparse or dead. And we always have problems with our drains.

I didn't know all about this stuff when we moved into this house on the hill. We have outside drains, on all sides of our house (a total of 13), that help funnel any water or rain runoff down the hill and into the sewer. Over the 5 years we've been here, we've had several floods in our house, in a guest bedroom that had a vulnerable wall. Not like Katrina or anything. Just water that backs up and leaks into the house. We hope all those pesky problems are repaired, so even if the drains back up, it wouldn't ever get IN the house again.

But whenever we get our first real rain of the winter - that would be today - my DH is out surveying the property, scraping leaves out of the outside drains, making sure we don't have a problem. During the 8-9 months of the year when we don't have rain, the little bit of water that goes through those outside drains (they start in the rear of our house, the uphill part) and route water underground to the main drains (the slope on the far downhill part of our property) is not a problem. It's the heavier rains that could cause us grief. Periodically tree roots wriggle their way into the joints, so we must have a Roto-rooter guy over to clear things out. Our house is about 35 years old, and those drain pipes likely have settled, perhaps, maybe even broken in places. We are, supposedly, on a regular schedule of having the drain lines cleared out. No waiting until after the rains begin. We need it done regularly, so we DON'T have a problem. Just another budget item that we didn't know about when we bought the house on the hill.

So, I'm here in the kitchen. It's chilly outside, though not stormy. It's not a thundering kind of rain, just that lovely, gentle type that usually doesn't cause problems. Maybe our slope plants will enjoy the long, steady gulp of water today. My herbs certainly will, those that have survived (Italian parsley, rosemary and thyme).

Sometimes a stay-home-to-watch-the-rain kind of day calls for soup. But we're going out to dinner (2 hours away, without traffic issues, which we likely will have) tonight. Californians generally don't know how to drive in rain, so our streets and highways become clogged with super-cautious people, or those who think the opposite - that they can still drive 75 with not a care in the world, until somebody veers, slides or has an accident. We're going to Fallbrook to celebrate our good friend Tony's birthday at his home. He didn't want any gifts, so about an hour ago I just decided to bake cookies for him instead. He's a widower, and although he cooks, I doubt he does much baking. Actually he's a very good cook (Italian by blood), but I only know that he makes big pots of soup or stews, pasta sauces, etc.

My house smells so wonderful, and the rain continues to pitter-pat outside. I'm content. Thankful for my happy life. My home. My family. Friends. And all of you, a few I know, most I don't, who read my blog. Bless you, my online friends.

My Adored Nespresso Machine

No, this isn't ebay. (Although, click here if you're interested in looking at what ebay sellers have in the Nespresso D300.) Since I had to make some espresso for my coffeecake a day or so ago, I thought you might want to know what I use. This is a very prized "baby" in my kitchen. I've had espresso machines over the years. At least 20 years ago I even saved up for a long time to buy one of the fancy Pavonis from Italy. It was a fortune, back then, nearly $500 for a hand-pull machine. I used it for several years, but it required a trip to a very inconvenient Italian type espresso machine repair store about once every 2 years for new gaskets (expensive) and I found it very messy to use. The coffee also wasn't reliably the same. I tried measuring each time, tamping just so, pulling the handle down slower, faster, etc. Nothing seemed to produce a reliably similar cup of espresso. I kind of stopped using it.

My friend Cherrie introduced me to the Nespresso. Soon after buying it, she made me a cup. Oh. My. Goodness. I was in love. I vowed to buy one, using one of my 10% off coupons from Sur la Table. These machines are pricey, so 10% off was enough to make it worthwhile (you get coupons when you attend classes there). You can buy them directly from the company, or they are available in some high-end cookware retail stores. They don't manufacture this model anymore - they have a different one with a newer, sexier shape. You can buy used, but reconditioned D300's (with warranty) for about $300 (I paid $400 new).

I've had mine, now, for about 3 years. Maybe 4. And it gets used every single day. It's so very easy to make a good always-the-same espresso each time. This machine does use pods (all their models use the same coffee pods). They're small light weight foil things, carefully constructed so the pod is pierced exactly the same each time. I always thought that buying a machine that required me to have coffee pods shipped to me would be such a big waste. Expensive. A nuisance to do. But I'm a total convert since I bought the Nespresso. The pods were about $.50 apiece (in sleeves of 10 each), but they just raised prices, so they're likely more like $.60 each. When I order them, I order a big batch of them. Cherrie and I order them together, too. Still a bargain compared to Starbucks or Peet's.
One of the other features of this machine - other than the precision in which it's made - it's a simple press of a button to make an espresso size or a somewhat larger 1/2 cup - is the fact that the Nespresso gives any cup it makes a lovely head of foam. Without using milk and the steamer nozzle. So I don't have to dirty up my steamer pot to make a latte. I just heat up the cream in the Bodum cup in my microwave, stick it under the Nespresso spout and press the button. How easy is that? This machine is a real workhorse, and has a very important place in my kitchen.

L-R: the Bodum thermal cup that's my go-to cup every morning, because it keeps the espresso hot longer (it's filled with about a tablespoon of cream); espresso streaming in; a cute little espresso cup I use sometimes; the coffee pods.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cardamom Crumb Cake

Sometimes my DH doesn't give me much notice that the guys are coming to our home the next morning for Bible Study. He knew two weeks ago but neglected to tell me. So, yesterday afternoon about 3:00 he just happened to mention it in passing. I said, when were you going to tell me about this, dearest? He said, well, I just did [big, apologetic grin].
So, wanting to do something new (the guys have had all of my regular repertoire of morning coffee cakes more than once) I swiftly turned to my latest favorite baking book, Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My House to Yours. I do love that book. Not wanting to make a trip to the grocery store, I actually found several "Morning Cakes" I could make, but settled on this one.

Out came all the ingredients and this pulled together fairly quickly. I liked the crumb topping - it's a bit different - well, similar to others - but different because of the orange zest - and the espresso powder in it. Oops, I opened my jar of espresso powder that's been languishing in the pantry for at least a year without any use, and uh, it's a solid mass. Oh, da--! Usually I'll just make some very strong espresso instead to substitute in a recipe, but this was in a dry topping, so I couldn't do that. What to do? I had no instant coffee (we don't drink the stuff). So, out came the Dutch-process cocoa. It worked just fine, although I suppose Dorie might not like my substitution. She obviously was going for a cardamom and coffee pairing here. The batter is hand mixed, which gives the finished cake a little bit of irregular texture - not a bad thing. It's not like a dessert cake that's beat with a mixer until totally smooth.
The coffeecake/crumb cake was very nice. This isn't a wow kind of cake - just good home made flavors, perfect with a hot cup of coffee. Luckily there were leftovers, so when the boys come next week I'll pop it in the oven for a little re-heat.

Cardamom Crumb Cake
Recipe By Dorie Greenspan - Baking: From My House to Yours
Servings: 9
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup walnuts -- coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest -- finely grated
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules -- preferably espresso [or cocoa]
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
4 tablespoons unsalted butter -- at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules -- preferably espresso [or cocoa]
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange zest -- finely grated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup espresso coffee -- cooled
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 400 and arrange rack in center of oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.
2. CRUMBS: Put all the ingredients except butter in a bowl and toss them together with a spatula just to blend. Add the butter, in small little pieces, and using your fingers or spatula, mix everything together until you've got crumbs of different sizes. It's nice to have a few big pieces, so don't overdo it. Set the crumbs aside (up to 3 days ahead).
3. CAKE: Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom and espresso powder in a large bowl. Turn the dry ingredients out onto a sheet of waxed paper, and put the sugar and zest in the bowl. Rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong, then return the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to blend.
4. Put the remaining ingredients in another bowl and whisk them to blend. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir - DON'T BEAT - to mix. Stir ONLY until you've got an evenly moistened batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and top with a thick, even layer of the crumbs. Pat the crumbs ever so gently into the top of the batter.
5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake has risen (it will crown the pan), the crumbs are golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Transfer to a rack to cool in the pan, before serving warm or at room temperature.
7. You can unmold the cake if you want to, but you'll lose some of the crumbs when you turn it over. I prefer to cut the cake in the pan, taking care not to nick the surface of the pan with my knife. Use a silicone spatula if possible.
NOTES : This cake is best served warm the day it's baked. If you must make it ahead, freeze it. Defrost and reheat in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes to warm it.
Per Serving: 422 Calories; 21g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 90mg Cholesterol; 195mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 4 Fat; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cranberry Orange Scones

While our whole family was here over last week, there were a lot of meals and snacks being prepared at all hours. Our grandchildren spent many, many hours in and out of our large, heated jacuzzi, and would beg for snacks like apples and cheese, soft drinks, juice (and towels, oh my, the towels). The refrigerator was bursting at the seams with leftovers and other stuff for a variety of meal types. And early on Saturday morning, our daughter Sara was already baking. She loves to bake. I mean it. SHE. LOVES. TO. BAKE. Sara usually prefers to bring desserts or baked items when we have a potluck meal. She's a very good cook in general, and her daughter Sabrina, aged 11, is already a very good baker too. She's been helping her mom since she stood next to her mom's elbow on a stool at the kitchen counter.

My standby Buttermilk Scones are more like a very rich biscuit. The ingredients, however, are very, very similar. Mine have less sugar, less butter (which surprised me), but more buttermilk. Amazing what a little addition of buttermilk can make to a baked good. Sara's have a little drier crumb (guess that's the buttermilk at work there), but they were absolutely delicious. I may try her recipe next time I bake scones. There are a precious few of these in the freezer, which we'll dole out for special occasions in the next couple of weeks. Thank you, Sara.

Sara's Cranberry Orange Scones
3 c flour
1/3 c sugar
2 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
½ t salt
3/4 c cold butter
½ c dried cranberries
zest from 1 orange
1 c buttermilk
a little cinnamon and sugar
Preheat oven to 425. Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then add the cold butter. Blend with knives or a pastry blender. Then add in the cranberries and orange zest. Pour in the cold buttermilk and gently stir dough until it holds together. Pour out onto a floured surface and press dough to about a 12 inch round and cut into shapes and place on a large baking sheet. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cool for about one minutes. Serve immediately.

Per Serving: 247 Calories; 12g Fat (43.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 389mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates. The nutrition count depends on how large you make the scones. This recipe makes about 14 or 15 large scones.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cook's Illustrated's Gravy without a Turkey

Our friends, Russ & Stacey, who live in the Bay Area, did two turkeys for their Thanksgiving crowd. One was smoked, the other baked. With lots of family and children around, Stacey wanted to make it easy on herself and prepared this all-purpose gravy that came from Cook's Illustrated. She emailed to tell me this gravy was just wonderful, and she liked it because it could be made ahead. We all know what it's like in the kitchen during the last hour before Thanksgiving dinner is ready to eat. Great idea, Stacey, and thanks for the suggestion. I'm going to add this to my Thanksgiving repertoire for next year.

With my posting yesterday about Kosher turkeys (and sometimes they're too salty to use the drippings for anything) this gravy would be a great make-ahead dish. One more menu item ticked off the list early. Here's what C.I. has to say about it:

  • This gravy can be served with almost any type of meat or poultry or with mashed potatoes. If you would like to double the recipe, use a Dutch oven to give the vegetables ample space for browning and increase the cooking times by roughly 50 percent. The finished gravy can be frozen. To thaw either a single or double recipe, place the gravy and 1 tablespoon of water in a saucepan over low heat and bring slowly to a simmer. The gravy may appear broken or curdled as it thaws, but a vigorous whisking will recombine it.

Cook's Illustrated's All-Purpose Gravy

1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small rib celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1 whole bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
5 whole peppercorns
Salt and ground black pepper
1. In food processor, pulse carrot until broken into rough 1/4-inch pieces, about five 1-second pulses. Add celery and onion; pulse until all vegetables are broken into 1/8-inch pieces, about five 1-second pulses.
2. Heat butter in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat; when foaming subsides, add vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and well browned, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually add broths; bring to boil, skimming off any foam that forms on surface. Reduce heat to medium-low and add bay leaf, thyme, and peppercorns; simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced to 3 cups, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Strain gravy through fine-mesh strainer into clean saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Make approximately 4 cups.

Per 1/2 cup serving: 82 Calories; 5g Fat (47.4% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 12mg Cholesterol; 29mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1 Fat.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why I Buy Kosher Turkeys (and Chickens)

Until a a couple of years ago I didn't know much about Kosher meats. Only that if you were Jewish and you wanted to consume meat within the dietary laws of Judaism, you purchased Kosher meat. And I thought a rabbi had been involved somehow in the butchering process, maybe that he said a prayer over it? I didn't know. We have Jewish friends who have meat shipped from somewhere in the Midwest because they believe it's much better meat than they can buy at their local deli that offers Kosher meat and foods. They don't keep a Kosher home - they even eat pork, but they really like the Kosher meat they buy.

Then, I went to a cooking class in which Tarla Fallgatter, the teacher, mentioned that the Kosher chicken at Trader Joe's was just really good. Because I'm always on the lookout for better chicken, I tried a whole chicken - Kosher - from Trader Joe's. OMGoodness. It was fantastic. It was better than any chicken I'd ever purchased before.

But still, that was the extent of what I knew about Kosher meats. Then I read an article in one of the food magazines about Kosher. About what they do to the meat. How it's butchered, and exactly what's involved in the process. It was a very interesting read, actually. And no, the rabbi doesn't pray over the meat. But had I not already tried Kosher chicken I probably wouldn't have even read the article. Since I'm not Jewish, I would have just gone right on by, not to give it another thought.

What makes Kosher chicken or turkey better is that it's already been brined or salted. The butchering process by rabinic law requires the animal to be slaughtered by a deep stroke across the neck and quickly draining the animal of its blood.
  • Jews do not eat blood because the life of the animal (literally, the soul of the animal) is contained in the blood. This applies only to the blood of birds and mammals, not to fish blood. Thus, it is necessary to remove all blood from the flesh of kosher animals.

Even after slaughtering, the animal still has some blood contained within, so they must perform a second process:

  • The remaining blood must be removed, either by broiling or soaking and salting. Liver may only be kashered by the broiling method, because it has so much blood in it and such complex blood vessels.

Since I'm a huge convert to the brining of lots of different meats, but particularly chicken and turkeys, I am relieved of having to DO the brining. The Kosher process does it for me. And since I've not perfected the ratio of water, sugar and salt so that a turkey doesn't come out too salty, I'm happy to let the Kosher butcher do all the work for me.

I will say, buying Kosher is more expensive. This year I went to Trader Joe's, who usually has them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to buy my turkeys on Monday, the 19th. They were already sold out. I was absolutely devastated. I stood there in the middle of the store, with lots of people trying to get by me, and nearly cried. I talked to any clerk I could find. Nope, no Kosher turkeys. I went to the customer service desk. And very nearly cried. They shrugged. They told me all of the TJ's stores in Orange County were sold out by 10 am that morning.

The last 2 years I've relied on TJ's Kosher turkeys. They're certainly not carried at any of my local grocery stores. Thank goodness for Whole Foods. Yes, they had Kosher turkeys, but each 14 pound bird was about $75.00. A whole lot more money than TJ's. But, these two were the most moist turkeys we'd ever eaten. And the brining was absolutely perfect - I could use the juice in the bottom of the pan - it wasn't too salty at all. Some of our guests were blown away by how juicy the breast meat was. I may have converted several people to buying Kosher next year.

So, your challenge is to find a Kosher market (or a TJ's) and try a Kosher chicken or turkey. you'll be amazed, I do believe! As a little aside, I notice that all of the Kosher chickens and turkeys I've purchased have still had some feathers attached. And the only organ meat included is the liver - no heart of gizard. That's part of the Kosher law. So, there's your little lesson today in Kosher!

Note: my Kosher info and facts for this posting came from Judaism 101.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mashed Potatoes, Make-Ahead

Do you run out of oven space on holidays? Especially Thanksgiving? Fortunately, I have 2 regular ovens AND a microwave/convection oven too. When we remomdeled our kitchen a year ago we put in 2 ovens. They are just 27" wide, so the two turkeys took up both regular ovens with no room to spare for side dishes. We baked yeast bread in the small convection oven an hour or so before dinner, and heated up one of the vegetable dishes in the microwave.

Making mashed potatoes at the last minute is not my idea of fun cooking on Thanksgiving. Recently a friend mentioned that she keeps mashed potatoes in her crockpot for holiday dinners. What a great idea, I thought. She said, as long as your potato recipe has a goodly amount of fat (butter, sour cream or something), the potatoes will hold for hours. I'm here to tell you the technique works like a charm. I'll be doing this year after year after year.

Again, I turned to Rick Rodgers' book, Thanksgiving 101, and he has a "Make Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole" in the 1998 edition. His are baked, but I used the recipe with just one substitution, then piled the 10 pounds of mashed potato mixture into the large crockpot. [I made a double batch.] The recipe below is for 5 pounds of potatoes. I have a very old crockpot - with a ceramic insert. It has the high, low and auto settings, but it's big. Good thing since we filled the pot to the brim with potatoes. These can't be called healthy in any way, but this was Thanksgiving, after all. I didn't skimp - I used full fat cream cheese, and full fat sour cream. Were they good? Abso-posi-tutely, as my dad used to say. I'm looking forward to all the leftovers for tonight's dinner. The pumpkin pie is gone and the broccoli with Hollandaise is gone, but we have lots of the other stuff: the super-moist kosher turkey, dressing, green beans, broccoli/leek puree, gravy AND mashed potatoes!

Make-Ahead Mashed Potato Casserole/Crockpot Method
Source: mostly based on a recipe from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers
Servings: 8
5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
8 ounces cream cheese, cut in chunks
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk (original recipe used milk)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1 T. butter
1. Fill a large pot with water and cut up the potatoes in quarters (or more, depending on the size of the potatoes). Simmer until potatoes are tender, but not falling apart. Drain.
2. Using a hand masher or a hand mixer, puree the potatoes until smooth, then add the cream cheese, sour cream and buttermilk. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Pour potatoes into crock pot and dot the top with about a tablespoon or butter. Put lid on and set crock pot at lowest setting. Will hold for several hours.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 391 Calories; 16g Fat (36.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 54g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 132mg Sodium. Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat.
To view a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dilled Brocoli and Leek Puree

For Thanksgving, we had 3 vegetable side dishes, plus dressing and mashed potatoes. This was one of the three vegetables. A recipe I hadn't made before, and I loved it. Very simple. And fairly low in fat besides. I wouldn't exactly call it purely healthy, but there are only 11 grams of fat per serving. Not too bad.

I've mentioned before that I use MasterCook 9 for my recipe software. It was developed by Sierra products, but now is owned by a company that doesn't provide much customer service or support. So, a couple of years ago when I was working toward printing my own cookbook, I needed more help than the help screens were offering. I found a message board kind of place, a Yahoo group, where I could post questions and get really helpful answers for some of my complicated cookbook problems. (FYI: I never did print the cookbook, having decided to start this blog instead.) In reading the boards I discovered a site that offers recipes already formatted in MasterCook (another Yahoo group called MC Taste_Tested), so it's a very easy thing to import them into my program. People from all over the country load recipes there every day. It got to be too much reading, though, so have since stopped receiving the compilation every day. But this recipe came from that source, and I have no idea to whom I owe the credit. Doing a Google search provided nothing with the same or similar name. So, I tip my hat to some unknown person who uploaded this recipe.

This can be made ahead with no difficulty, and heated up in the microwave if you're short on time. The original recipe is just warmed on the stovetop, but I didn't want to do that for our Thanksgiving dinner. So I just put it into a oil-sprayed baking dish, refrigerated it overnight, then heated in the microwave for about 4-5 minutes, with platic wrap intact. DH liked this vegetable the best.

Dilled Broccoli and Leek Puree
Servings: 8
4 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 pounds leeks -- halved, washed, sliced
1 large russet potato -- peeled, quartered
1 pound broccoli -- stems and florets
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh dill -- minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until very soft, about 20 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning. You do not want the leeks to brown.
2. Cook potato in boiling water until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in broccoli stems and cook for 5 minutes. Add broccoli florets and cook an additional 5 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Drain. Puree leeks, potato and broccoli in a food processor. Add cream and dill, then season with salt and pepper.
3. Transfer mixture to a saucepan to keep warm, or pour into an oil-sprayed baking dish. May be refrigerated at this point and kept up to 2 days. Bring to room temp before continuing.
4. Heat in microwave for 4-5 minutes, until heated through. Sprinkle top with additional dill, if desired.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 132 Calories; 11g Fat (70.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 33mg Cholesterol; 86mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 2 Fat.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Italian Spicy Sausage Dressing

I do believe, if I say so myself, that this was far and away the best dressing I've ever made. I used to buy Pepperidge Farms package cubes, and started from that relatively mild slate and made it my own with additions, etc., but this time I decided to veer way off the traditional path. Last Thanksgiving I made Rachel Ray's apple and onion stuffin' muffins. They were good. Very good, actually, but the taste didn't wow me. I didn't want apples this time, which gives dressing a real sweet taste. I did like the convenience of baking them in a muffin tin - they can be heated up in a jiffy, so you pop them into the oven when you take the turkey out to rest before you slice it up to serve. And by the time you are ready to serve, the stuffin' muffins are done.

I could have used the same muffin style, I suppose, even with this version, but it seemed easier to just make it in a big pan because of serving 16 people. (FYI: I made a double batch, so baked it in a 9x13 pan.) For the last few years I've been buying kosher turkeys. And generally they are too salty to put dressing in the bird itself. So since I discovered this super-wonderful-juicy turkey preparation, I've been baking the dressing outside the bird.

I wanted dressing with Italian sausage this year. So I turned to my favorite Thanksgiving cookbook, Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers. (As a side note, the photo at left is of Rodgers' new 2007 revised edition - I have a 1998 edition). Sure enough, I found a recipe titled Italian Stuffing with Sausage and Parmesan Cheese. I took some liberties with Rodgers' recipe, so I can't exactly give him full credit. Part of it is mine, and part thanks to Trader Joe's. I bought Trader Joe's boxed dry stuffing/dressing mix. I added many of the ingredients in Rodgers' recipe, then I added my own minor changes. So here's what it is: onion, celery (lots), bell peppers, garlic, hot Italian sausage, thyme, oregano, Trader Joe's seasoning packet, some Parmesan cheese, butter and chicken stock. We have some left over, along with some gravy. Delish that will be.
Italian Spicy Sausage Dressing
Source: loosely based on Rick Rodgers' recipe from Thanksgiving 101
Servings: 10
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
6 ribs celery, diced (including leaves)
2 bell peppers, chopped, red, orange or yellow, not greet
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound hot Italian sausage
2 t. oregano
2 t. thyme
1 package Trader Joe's stuffing mix
1 package seasoning mix, from the stuffing mix
1/3 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese
1 cube butter, unsalted
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1. Saute the onion and celery until they are translucent. Add bell peppers and garlic, and continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Add Italian sausage to the pan and cook, breaking up the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Add seasonings and dry herb packet. Drain of any fat and add to the vegetables. (At this point you can refrigerate for a day or two. When ready to complete the dressing, bring to room temp, or heat the mixture in a pan.)
2. Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add the butter. Once butter is melted, turn off the heat.
3. Preheat oven to 325. In a very large bowl place the Trader Joe's cubes. Add the onion, Italian sausage, pepper mixture and 2 spoons, fluff and mix this thoroughly.
4. Have ready a 9x9 ovenproof pan or glass dish. Gradually stir the broth/butter mixture into the bread cubes, tossing as you add. It helps to have somebody else do the pouring.
5. Pour into the 9x9 pan, cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, removing the foil for the last 5 minutes (if you remember). Serve immediately.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 19g Fat (61.2% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 720mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 3 1/2 Fat.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Thanksgiving Dinner

L-R: Sliced (kosher) turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and pearl onions, one mounded plate of food.

L-R: broccoli/leek puree, Italian sausage dressing, broccoli hollandaise, grilled orange slices.

Awesome pumpkin pie and DH and I in the kitchen just before the dinner bell.
I'll be sharing the recipes for the dressing, the mashed potatoes and the broccoli/leek puree in the next couple of days. The pumpkin pies (all 3 of them) were Libby's recipe, still considered one of the best there is.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Souffle

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. Hope you're having a great day - or had a great day, if you're reading this after Turkey day. Its only 10 am and I've been cooking since 7:30. Let us not forget to be thankful for our dinner bounty, and to happy to share it with family.

For today's dinner, I made as much as I could yesterday, but there's still a lot to be done the day of. My daughter is helping a lot, thank goodness. Helpers are so nice to have around! This post, though, was one I wrote up a day or so ago - we're having pumpkin pie today. My very favorite pie in the world. Because we have so many pumpkin pie lovers in our family, we're having 3 pumpkin and one apple, and likely they'll all be gone by the end of the day, or at the latest tomorrow morning.

Probably I've mentioned before that I'm an inveterate recipe collector. Clippings from all the magazines I subscribe to (at the moment those are: Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Cooks Illustrated, Sunset and Southern Living), notes from a restaurant meal, emailed from friends, found on the internet, and now, with food blogs, I have a whole new source of recipes. If I cooked 3 meals a day, with 4-5 recipes per meal, I still wouldn't run out of new recipes for the rest of my life, just of the ones I have in my to-try collection. I'm really trying to be more circumspect about what I clip and print out. But, it's very hard because so many things sound so wonderful.

Because I subscribe to a lot of food blogs through google reader (if you've looked at the list down my right column you'll understand what I'm saying), I have a lot of reading to do. Not only do I like to support the other food bloggers out there by reading what they have to say, but you just never know what you're going to find. After I've been away for a few short days, my google reader box is full. You can imagine that when I finally got around to looking yesterday, after 3 1/2 weeks, it says I had 997 blogs to read. Oh my. That's almost overwhelming. And yet, what if I miss some fantastic recipe? So, I'm trying to read it gradually, maybe 15-20 minutes at a time. I've already printed out 4 recipes and I'm only down to the C's (google gives them to me in alpha order). So, the task ahead of me is huge. Daunting. But I'll keep slogging through it.

So, when I saw the title of this blog posting, I was hooked, since I love all-things-pumpkin. The blogger Sassy Radish, was guest hosting at the Accidental Hedonist, and wrote up a nice list of her favorite Thanksgiving menu items, among them, this dessert. Read her original posting about this recipe here. Its origin is Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, a hugely popular restaurant in the Ferry Building, a place I'd love to visit. You can also find the recipe on Epicurious with the title of Pumpkin Souffle/Bread Pudding.

This isn't pumpkin pie. Naturally, with the main ingredient of bread, it's a different texture. The challah is a soft bread, just slightly sweet. And not something I'd ever purchased before, but figuring it was an important item, I sought it out. Finally found it at Trader Joe's, thank goodness.

Very little sugar is added, surprisingly, to the bread pudding. The pumpkin custard mixed with whipped-up egg whites provides a subtle pumpkin flavor. It's lighter, though, than most bread puddings because of the addition of whipped egg whites. I like that part. With a big dollop of whipped cream on top, yum. If and when I make this again, I think I'll add more spices (just because I can, and I like more of those pumpkin pie type spices anyway) and I'll add more pumpkin. Hopefully the custard will hold with 4 egg yolks. I made a double batch, and because I don't have enough custard cups, I made it in a 9 x 13 pan, which is what Sassy Radish did also. I baked the dish 10 minutes longer because of that. And having made this several days ago, I'll tell you that I think this tastes better after it sits overnight - so this might make a great do-ahead dessert.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Souffle
Recipe: Chef Charles Phan's recipe, via Sassy Radish, via Accidental Hedonist
Servings: 8
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
9 ounces bread -- challah, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
3 1/2 ounces butter -- (7 tablespoons)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Pinch cloves
1 Pinch nutmeg
4 large egg yolks
1 cup pumpkin purée -- at room temperature
2 whole egg whites
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a small saucepan, bring milk and cream to a simmer over low heat. Place challah cubes in bowl. Remove milk mixture from heat and pour half of the liquid over the challah.
3. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and egg yolks, beating well. Add pumpkin purée and the other half of the heated cream and milk.
4. Fold the soaked challah into the pumpkin mixture. Beat the egg whites and sugar until they form stiff peaks and gently fold into the batter. Butter and sugar 8 three-inch ramekins, then divide batter evenly among ramekins. Bake for 25 minutes, or until knife comes out clean. Baked desserts can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, then heated in the oven wrapped in foil or microwaved until warm.

Per Serving: 363 Calories; 26g Fat (63.3% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 179mg Cholesterol; 454mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 5 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Placecards

Are these not adorable? I thought it would be fun for our daughter Dana, and our granddaughter Taylor to make these little guys for the Thanksgiving Dinner table. The project was in Martha Stewart Living (magazine) this month. You can access the template and directions on Martha's website here. Dana will add here, that it takes a bit of time to make these little guys, what with the yarn wrapping, gluing here and there, and the cutting of the card stock took the most time, actually. But then, we are having 16 people for dinner tomorrow. They had to make a trip to Michael's, who had everything they needed, and it took about 3-4 hours of work to complete them, done over 2 days. But I think they're just darling, don't you?

Tomato Bisque Sip Soup

At the brunch we had last weekend, I asked Susan L. to bring some kind of pre-brunch nibble. Her choice. She brought a scrumptious soup, that she served in her grandmother's beautiful bone china teacups (see picture above). You can't see the interior of that teacup, unfortunately, with the soup nearly to the top, but it's just lovely, as were all the others. She had 10 different ones. No spoons needed, since we just sipped it from those cups. And she served the cutest little rolled up nibbly bites along side - a dough with a piece of apple inside. Delish also.

And the soup, called a Tomato Bisque Sip Soup, was so very tasty. It came from Sunset Magazine, she said. From the taste, I wouldn't have known that it was such a super-quick one, merely using canned tomatoes and a few ingredients, heated up and served. 1-2-3. Done. Don't you just love those kinds sometimes?

Tomato Bisque Sip Soup
3 14 1/2 oz cans. diced tomatoes with garlic and onion
1 Tb balsamic vinegar
1 Tb brown sugar
1 1/2 ts finely shredded orange peel
1/4 ts cracked black pepper
3/4 C whipping cream (or a combination or whipping and 1/2 and 1/2)
Place 2 cans of tomatoes in blender. Process until very smooth. Transfer to large saucepan. Process remaining tomatoes and all ingredients but cream until very smooth. Transfer to saucepan. Bring to simmer over med-low heat. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, remove from heat.
To serve, return soup to a simmer, stir in cream until combined. Garnish with additional pepper and shaved Parmesean, if desired. Makes 16 1/3 cup appetizer servings or 4 main-dish servings. This served 10 in the china teacups.
Per Serving 378 Calories; 17g Fat (37.3% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 56g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 61mg Cholesterol; 1085mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 1/2 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Creole Chicken with Tomato Cream Sauce

Here's another great chicken (breast) recipe. Another recipe from Phillis Carey's cookbook, that I've talked about before. She's just such a wizard with chicken. This could be a "regular" night dinner, although I think it should be elevated to "company" status. It isn't exactly on the low cal side - it has some heavy cream in the sauce - and it isn't exactly quick, either. Fortunately I had two helpers (Dana, my daughter, and her daughter, 10-year old Taylor). They're all visiting us for the week (my daughter - and her two children - come to join her husband who's been with us for a couple of months while he works on a project here, locally). So, chicken seemed like the best choice for dinner. Chicken breasts were defrosted, and I found I had everything on hand to make these. It's nice when you do a dinner like that and you don't have to make a trip to the grocery store.

Cajun and Creole are two different things, just in case you didn't know. The cuisines are different, and although I'm not from the south (I'm actually a California native), we've visited enough times that I've learned not to mention to the N'awlins' folks that they might appear similar to the unknowing. Since I couldn't remember what the difference was, I looked it up on Wikipedia:

  • According to an expression of the region, Cajuns live to eat, not eat to live. Outside Louisiana the distinctions between Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine have been blurred. However, Creole dishes tend to be more sophisticated continental cuisine using local produce. Cajun food is rural, more seasoned, sometimes spicy, and tends to be more hearty. Many well-known Cajun dishes were originally centered on wild game, rice and other local ingredients.

Likely the lines are a bit blurred in this recipe as well. Whatever it is, and whatever its roots, it's just gosh-darned tasty. I'd serve this to guests anytime, although I'd make double the sauce. There just never seems to be enough sauce to go around. And I like to serve this with pasta on the side, and the sauce goes just nicely with the pasta. I happened to have served it with green beans - the Green Beans with Garlic and Olive Oil that I shared a couple of months ago on the blog. This time I had some mushrooms on hand, so I added them to the Creole sauce. They weren't in the original recipe, so you decide whether you want to do that. The chicken breasts were pounded to an even thickness, then sort of stuffed with a cream cheese-green onion - Parmesan mixture, dipped in egg and bread crumbs (I used Panko), then baked for half an hour. Meanwhile you make the creole sauce and boil up some pasta. And whip up a bright green vegetable, perhaps a salad, and you're done.

Cajun Chicken Breasts with Creole Sauce
Recipe: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor
Servings: 4
4 pieces chicken breast, no skin, no bone, R-T-C
4 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup green onion -- chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese -- freshly grated
1 whole egg
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup onion -- finely diced
1/4 cup celery -- finely diced
1/4 cup green pepper -- finely diced
1 1/2 cups mushrooms -- sliced
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup dry vermouth
14 1/2 ounces diced tomatoes -- canned, drained
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon oregano -- fresh, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Trim chicken and pound to an even 1/4 inch thickness (between two sheets of plastic wrap). Season with salt and pepper. Combine the cream cheese with green onions and Parmesan cheese. Divide cheese into quarters and place one lump on each chicken breast. Fold in sides and roll up the chicken to enclose the cheese.
2. Whisk egg to combine in a bowl. Toss breadcrumbs with Cajun seasoning in another bowl. Toss breadcrumbs with Cajun spice in another bowl. Roll chicken in egg and then in bread crumbs to coat well. Transfer chicken to a shallow baking dish, seam side down and drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until cooked through. Do not overcook.
3. Sauce: melt butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add onions, celery, mushrooms and bell pepper. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in Cajun spice and sugar, then add dry vermouth. Bring to a boil, then stir in tomatoes, hot sauce and cream and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture reduces slightly and thickens, about 10 minutes. Stir in fresh herbs. Season to taste for salt, pepper and hot sauce. May cook ahead up to this point, then reheat when ready to serve. Spoon sauce over chicken.
NOTES : If you have fresh tomatoes, use them rather than canned ones.
Serving Ideas : Definitely serve this with either rice or linguine, because you want the sauce to mix with the carb. You may want to make more sauce, as it's barely enough for the chicken servings.
Per Serving: 808 Calories; 44g Fat (49.4% calories from fat); 65g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 304mg Cholesterol; 1051mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 8 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 7 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ina Garten's Lemon Cake

At our brunch on Saturday, my friend Joan L. brought the most delicious, flavorful, lemony cake imaginable. Come to find out it's Ina Garten's recipe. From her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties! (which I don't have), but the internet, being the internet, I found dozens of copies of it on multiple websites. Lots of other food bloggers have done a write-up about this, but my copy came from Oprah, when she had Ina Garten on her show some while back.

It uses the zest from 6-8 lemons plus a LOT of fresh squeezed lemon juice. Not only in the cake, but in the syrup and the frosting. No wonder it's lemony flavored. And it has the lightest texture. Most likely from the addition of buttermilk. These are made in loaf pans, then you dribble a lemony syrup all over the cakes that sinks in, and once completely cooled you drizzle it with a white icing.

No question, this is a great cake. If you're blessed with a lemon tree, this is a must-bake for you. Our Meyer lemon tree doesn't have ripe lemons yet. I have juice in the freezer, but not any zest. And have you seen the price of lemons, even here in Southern California? I think I paid 89 cents apiece for them. Joan, thank you for bringing this wonderful cake!

Ina Garten's Lemon Cake
Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Parties!
Serving Size : 16
1/2 pound unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
4 whole extra large eggs -- (at room temperature)
1/3 cup lemon zest -- (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup lemon juice -- freshly squeezed
3/4 cup buttermilk -- at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice -- freshly squeezed
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ -inch loaf pans. Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine ¼ cup lemon juice, the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
3. Combine ½ cup granulated sugar with ½ cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup. When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
4. For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.
Per Serving: 416 Calories; 14g Fat (29.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 69g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 94mg Cholesterol; 259mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 2 1/2 Fat; 3 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pink Sangria

It isn't very often than I have the occasion to make an alcohol-based punch. We've been having quite warm weather here in Southern California; warmer than usual for the season, anyway, so it sounded like a good plan to serve a refreshing drink before the brunch yesterday. I should have checked the weather forecast last week when I was planning - we've been having fog and quite cool temperatures the last 2 days. But oh well, I didn't think anyone would really mind.

Going to my recipe trove, I had sorted through about 10 different punches that I thought appropriate, and this one just sounded right. But, I call it Pink Sangria, instead of the real title, White Zinfandel Sangria. It's unfortunate that white zin has acquired this reputation for only appealing to little ladies at the book club, or sipping on the porch in the southern summer afternoon. I used to really enjoy white zin - Beringer usually - but my tastes changed about 25 years or so ago, and normally I find white zin too sweet. So, to counter that tendency (to me, anyway), I used Peach Pucker Schnapps in this punch, instead of the usual (sweeter) Peach Schnapps. It definitely has a pucker, but added a really nice depth to the drink. You might taste it before you decide whether you want added sugar, if you use the Peach Pucker Schnapps.

Maybe peaches are in season somewhere in the world, but they're darned hard to find here. I did spy some at my local grocery store, but they looked terrible, so I decided to use just the lemons and oranges. You marinate the punch for awhile, so it imparts the cinnamon and citrus flavors. Have everything all chilled, then add the club soda at the last, along with ice and you have a really special-occasion drink. The photo above shows it in its marinating stage. I added the club soda just before serving. When I make this again, I'm not going to add as much club soda - it made the punch too thin to me. But use your own discretion on that.

White Zinfandel (or Pink) Sangria
Recipe By : Bon Appetit, July 2001
Serving Size : 6
750 milliliters wine -- white zinfandel, chilled
1/2 cup peach schnapps -- or Peach Pucker Schnapps
2 tablespoons Cointreau -- or other orange liqueur
2 tablespoons sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks -- broken in half
1 whole lemon -- sliced
1 whole orange -- sliced
1 whole peach -- sliced into wedges
1 bottle club soda -- chilled, 10 ounce bottle
Ice cubes
1. Mix first 8 ingredients in tall pitcher. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Mix in club soda. Fill 6 wineglasses with ice cubes. Pour sangria over ice and serve.
NOTES : I call this Pink Sangria, just because lots of people profess to dislike white zinfandel. But with all the other ingredients, it just becomes a nice, light, summer drink. I use Peach Pucker Schnapps (because that's what I had on hand the first time I made it), which makes the drink a bit more tart than some might like).
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 152 Calories; trace Fat (2.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 84mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Fruit; 0 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates. (My recipe program doesn't recognize peach schnapps, so that's not included in the nutrition summary.)
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is a Quiche a Quiche?

Well, I'm here to tell you that not every quiche is created equal. And despite the fact that men may not admit to eating quiche, they do. And most of them like it too.

For years I used to make a quiche recipe that was good. Very good, actually, but then one day at lunch I ordered quiche at a French restaurant. After a couple of times, I determined that my recipe had to go. So a year or so ago I decided to try a different chemistry for my own home made one. More and different cheese, and whipping cream instead of half and half. Oh my. What a difference. This recipe is just really, really good. I found it on the internet somewhere, tweaked it to my own satisfaction, but I didn't make any notes, so I don't know where it came from. Sorry. Thick and creamy (well, yes, with whipping cream instead of milk or half and half). And although I enjoy other varieties of quiche - like broccoli or spinach, or mushroom, my favorite remains Lorraine (bacon).

We had a brunch here at our house today. In doing the menu planning, and after spending about 2-3 hours perusing all kinds of other recipes (to try something different) and building a menu from the entree, I kept going back to the quiche. I hadn't served it to this group before, so it was "new" to them. DH loves quiche any way, shape or form. Our gourmet gathering is a group of 4-5 couples, and we've been meeting for about 5 years or so, on a off and on basis, for a gourmet kind of dinner. We'd never done brunch. The hostess chooses the menu, and assignments are made with each couple bringing some part of the meal, so I only made the entree and the pink sangria (I'll tell you about that one in a day or so) we sipped on before we sat down to our meal. The other couples brought a soup, a vegie salad and a lettuce salad, a fruit side dish and dessert.

So, this quiche has all the "normal" ingredients of a quiche - cream, eggs, cheese, bacon in a piecrust. What's different about it? Maybe not much, except a bit of white onion, white pepper, paprika, some garlic, and the types of cheese. I used Gruyere (an imported cheese from Switzerland) and Gouda and real Parmegiano-Reggiano. This one is made in a tart pan, so the piecrust is not high - it's not a deep dish kind of quiche. I used a removable bottomed tart pan, and shhhh, I cheated and used Pillsbury's piecrust from the refrigerator case. It was quite lovely, actually. Better than the frozen shells, and very pliable, so it was easy to fit into my two different sized pans. I just trimmed some off one and pressed it into the other one. Simple really. Then you press all the grated cheese into the shells, the bacon, onion, the Italian parsley and kind of press it all down, then you whip up the custard base and pour it on. Quite simple, really. Note: if you use a different kind of pan, or regular pie crusts and traditional pie plates, you'll probably need more custard, so just add another egg and perhaps another 1/2 cup or more of cream. And another side note: if you use salty bacon, as some brands can be, you'll want to reduce the amount of salt.

So if a quiche is an appropriate item for a holiday breakfast or dinner, you'll be very happy to have tried this one. To see the tart shell recipe print out the PDF recipe. I didn't reproduce it here.

Quiche Lorraine
Servings: 16
2 Short Crust (Press-In) Tart Shells -- or use ready-made
12 ounces bacon
8 ounces Emmental cheese -- grated, or Gruyere
5 ounces Gouda cheese -- grated
3 ounces Parmesan cheese -- grated
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 whole eggs
1/2 cup white onion -- minced
1 clove garlic -- minced
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Italian parsley -- minced
1. Prepare the short crust tart shells.
2. Fry bacon pieces until just crispy done, drain on paper towels, then mince into small pieces. Pour off most of the bacon grease, then sauté the onion in the bacon fat until just translucent. Remove and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 400°. Have all ingredients prepared ahead (grate the cheese, mince the parsley, etc.) before starting to fill the shells, as you do not want the liquid portion to sit very long in the shell.
4. Mix all the cheeses together and sprinkle in the pie shells. Gently press down so cheese is compacted. Sprinkle top with the grated, cooked onion, and the bacon. Press down. In a large bowl combine the eggs, whip them some, then add the cream, garlic, white pepper, paprika, and salt. Gently pour the cream mixture into the pie shells. Fill until the cream mixture comes just barely below the top of the pastry crust. Sprinkle the top with the reserved Italian parsley.
5. Carefully place the quiches in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325° and bake another 20-25 minutes, until the top of the quiche is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool about 10 minutes, or can be served at room temperature. Remove outside rims before placing on a serving platter or pedestal cake plate.
NOTES : You can use your own choice of cheeses, but you need to have at least half of it a sharp Swiss (imported) type, like an Emmental or Gruyere. Then use some other medium bodied cheese to make up the one pound of cheese called for. Do NOT use any of the Parmesan cheese out of a can. Use the real stuff. You can prepare all of the different parts of this the day or night before, then assemble it just before putting in the oven. I use the fluted sided tart pan about 1 inch high, and because I don't have two of the same size, I make one larger and one smaller.
Per Serving : 585 Calories; 48g Fat (73.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 19g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 188mg Cholesterol; 732mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 8 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable PDF recipe (including the press-in pastry recipe I usually use) click title at top.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cranberry Relish with a zip

(I'm thrilled to say that I discovered a menu setting on my Canon PowerShot 400SD Elph, that offers me an option of "digital macro." For the 2 years I've owned it I've only used a quick set close-up setting. Amazing what you can find out if you read the manual, eh?! But the digital macro gets right in there. You'll be seeing more of these really close close-ups.)

Well, I don't know about you, but I've been planning the Thanksgiving menu the last couple of days. We're excited that we'll have all three of our children here, with all 5 grandchildren too, who range in age from one infant up to age 13. Plus some other extended family too. That will make a table for 16, which is two more than our table can accommodate, so we'll probably have to set up a small table from the children nearby.

Everyone is bringing something, so that makes my job easier. I'm grateful for the help. I've always thought that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most labor intensive there is, of the entire year. So much of it has to be done at the last minute - the potatoes, the gravy, the salad, etc. But I heard a suggestion the other day - potatoes hold real well in a crock pot. Just make them several hours ahead, preheat the crock pot and throw the entire batch in, cover, and it will hold for many hours. Sounds like a plan to me.

So, listen up . . . that's the phrase I seem to use when I'm about to share something important. I'm going to give you my prized (well, no, I haven't really won a prize for it, it's just prized by me!) recipe for cranberry relish. My mother introduced cranberry relish to our family's Thanksgiving table back in the late 1950's I think. It was just the chopped cranberries (and I was often the one who had to sit and hand chop the cranberries - very tedious, I might add), and minced orange, including some of the peel, with sugar. I made it that way for years. Until one year I saw a recipe in a magazine, I think, that mentioned adding apple and ground ginger. I love ginger and what it does for baked goods and other things too. I tried it, and it's become the regular on my Thanksgiving table ever since. Over the years I've tweaked the recipe a bit - reduced the sugar a tad, and added more ginger. And I think the original recipe called for 2 apples, but I preferred the single one. So that's why I call this a Carolyn original. I have no recollection where I first saw the recipe including the apple and ginger, so I can't given any credit for it.

This keeps for about a month, and is wonderful added to a turkey sandwich, or as a chutney type side with grilled meat. But it seems to have its strongest affinity to poultry. I can eat this straight out of the container, I like it so much. Just remember to make this a day ahead, if at all possible. It takes several hours for the flavors to blend AND for the sugar to do its magic with the fruit, drawing out the juices.

Cranberry Relish with a Zip
Recipe: This is a Carolyn original
Servings: 10
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1 large apple -- cored
1 large orange -- with peel, chopped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup sugar
1. You may use fresh cranberries, if available. If you've frozen them, just defrost before starting relish.
2. In a food processor, whiz up the cranberries first. Do not allow them to turn to mush. Scrape out into a bowl. Do the same with the apple, leaving the peel on, and add to cranberries. Cut orange into many small pieces, peel and all and do the same. Be careful there aren't any large pieces left in the workbowl. Add ginger and sugar to the mixture, stir well and refrigerate for a few hours.
2. Will keep for about a month before spoiling.
NOTES : Cranberry relish has always been a favorite of mine, and I've made a bunch of different kinds over the years. But, this is my favorite, with just a bit of tartness. It's also wonderful with grilled meats - pork chops, chicken and even steak.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 90 Calories; trace Fat (1.4% calories from fat); trace Protein; 23g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 1mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Fruit; 0 Fat; 1 Other Carbohydrates.
To print a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Brownie Thins (cookies)

It may be a bit hard to see here, but those cookies are thin. THIN. Really THIN. But chocolately, rich, just like eating the top off of a rich brownie. Or maybe the very top of a muffin, even.
Usually when we return from a European trip, I'm craving salads and greens, and vegetables. Not so this time because we had ample on the ship. In fact, Lucy and I raved about the quality of the designer lettuces they served at the salad bar every day. Absolutely fresh from the fields that very day. And delicious dressings, all home made. But what I did crave upon our return was chocolate. We had almost none on the trip. A couple of times we had chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream, and we had something similar at the dinner at Gundel. And one night they offered a chocolate terrine. I was sad to decline that but I knew the caffeine would keep me awake that night. But otherwise, chocolate didn't figure much in the shipboard menus.
So, since the cookie barrel is empty around here, I decided to make something chocolate. I was leafing through the December issue of Bon Appetit (how come I'm getting the December issue in the first or 2nd week of November, I ask you?), and spotted these chocolate thins.
These are made in a bowl, so quite easy. It couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes to complete the preparation, and another 20 minutes max to bake them all. Pretty cinchy. And, they are really delicious. But I do warn: they're very fragile. I'll have to figure out how to package these carefully so they don't break - they tend to break in half very easily. But they're very tasty.
Added note 3 days later: these cookies are so, SO thin, they're not easy to serve. You pick them up and they break apart, I'm sad to say. So, make them a bit thicker when you pat out the dough, and make sure they are getting browned around the edges. These are soft cookies - there's nothing crispy about them. But the chocolately taste is wonderful.

You whip these up in a bowl - no mixer needed. I used good Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate in these.

There they are on the Silpat before baking. It's a bit tricky spraying the plastic wrap, laying it over the little blobs of dough, then very gently patting the cookies out thin. I wonder if I made them a tad too thin? Maybe next time I'll try them a bit thicker just to see. Once you remove the plastic wrap, you add the nuts. I used walnuts because that's what I had on hand.

Brownie Thins
Recipe: Andrew Schloss, "Homemade in a Hurry" via Bon Appetit, Dec. 2007
Servings: 24
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate -- chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 piece kosher salt
1/4 cup pistachio nut -- or walnuts
1. Position rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 350. Butter 2 baking sheets. (I used a silpat in each).
2. Place butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe medium sized bowl. Microwave on medium-high power until almost completely melted, about one minutes. Whisk until smooth. Add sugar and egg and whisk until smooth, about one minute. Add flour (both quantities), both extracts and salt, stir just to blend. Let batter sit for 10 minutes.
3. Scoop rounded teaspoons batter onto prepared sheets, spacing apart (12 per pan). Spray a sheet of plastic wrap with nonstick spray and place, sprayed side down, on top of cookies. Using your fingers, press each mound into 2 1/2 to 2/3/4 inch rounds. Remove plastic wrap. Sprinkle nuts on top.
4. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until slightly darker at edges and firm in center, about 7 minutes. Cool on rack for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely. Can be made 5 days ahead and stored at room temperature.
NOTES : These taste just like the way the very top layer of a brownie tastes. They're extremely fragile until they're cool, and even then, they're still fragile. Let them cool completely and put waxed paper or plastic wrap between layers.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 69 Calories; 5g Fat (62.1% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 17mg Cholesterol; 82mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a PDF recipe, click title at top.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Apple Strudel, German style

One day on the river cruise, the pastry chef, Klaus Ungruh, gave a lecture about apple strudel. The draw, of course, was that we'd all get a slice when it was all said and done. About 60 of us gathered around a table to watch. Frank, the tour director and the chef had a very cute repartee going. As Frank listed the ingredients, the chef pulled them out of a shelf below the table. Into the very large and deep Hobart mixing bowl he placed a plastic bag of flour (sealed up), a full bottle (not pouring, just the bottle) of oil, a round box of salt and he poured in some water and literally threw in an egg - splat... We all laughed. He pretended to mix and knead it inside the bowl, then, as if by magic he reached down into the bottom of the bowl and voila, he pulled out a round disk of dough. Even more laughs. He whisked the rolling pin over the dough about 10 times, turned it over and rolled another 10 times, and the dough was done.
Then he used another bowl and to it were added: apples, raisins, cookie crumbs, cinnamon, rum, hazelnuts, sugar and lemon peel. In about 5 seconds he mounded the filling on the dough, and rolled it up. Done. Off it went to the kitchen, and they brought in an already baked one for us to sample. Delish. Whether I'd really make this or not, I don't know. I did make strudel once upon a time (when I was very young, with a woman who was a live-in cook for a neighbor), but I thought it an awful lot of work. This version seemed infinitely easier. It was served with a vanilla sauce, warm.
Viking River Cruises Apple Strudel
2 cups flour
3 T. oil
1/2 cup water
Dash salt
1 egg
10 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup raisins
1/2 pound cookie crumbs (they called it "biscuit), probably like vanilla wafer crumbs
6 T. rum (or more to your taste)
4 T. chopped hazelnuts
1 c. granulated sugar
Peel of one lemon
Dough: mix all the ingredients together. Make a ball and let it rest for 45 minutes at room temperature - 75 to 80 degrees. Roll out the dough on a cloth sprinkled with flour, approximately 16 inches by 16 inches.
Filling: Combine all the ingredients and spread over the dough in a long strip from one edge to the other, about 4-5 inches wide. Using the cloth, gently roll up the strudel. Brush the top of the strudel with some egg and bake for 40 minutes at 356 degree Fahrenheit. Probably served about 10-12.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you ever go to Budapest

Some people might think Budapest is so foreign they might not want to go. Whatever you might have thought, it's not so. Budapest is a beautiful, small city, situated on both sides of the Danube. The Buda side is the hilly side, where the castle is located (lit up spectacularly at night), and most of the tourist shopping areas, the cathedral and some lovely restaurants. The Pest (pronounced pesh to you non-Hungarians. so it's Booda-pesh) side is the flat side, where much of the business and industry is located. More commercial. It's also where Gundel is located.

Years ago, probably 10, DH and I enjoyed a dinner at Gundel. We were with a small group and the dinner had been pre-arranged. It was spectacular. We even bought some of the Gundel-labeled red wine and brought it home (as we did this time too). Hungarians make some fine wine. Inexpensive. And almost none of it is exported. You've probably heard of the label Tokaji (pronounced toe-kai), a line of sweeter wines, from 1 to 5 in sweetness. They're lovely wines and hard to find here in the U.S. We enjoyed #5 with our dessert the other night. It was really lovely. My DH doesn't drink much late harvest or sweet wines, so I didn't buy any, although I really wanted to. But, I'd be drinking it all, so decided not to.

So earlier last week I asked one of the ship's crew to make a reservation for us at Gundel for Saturday night, our last night there. No problem. We took a taxi - and had the nicest driver - he even came to pick us up at 9:30 at the conclusion of our dinner, AND he picked us up the next morning and drove us to the airport. A very nice man - an Hungarian. With a son in dental school.

Gundel requires men to wear coats (ties not required). It's a very formal place, but not stuffy, really. I was charmed, even more so this time. Last time we were served in a private room upstairs. I liked eating in the main dining room. The ambiance was not to be missed. Lucy and I just ate it up. From the bottled water to the multiple forks and knives lined up on each side of the plates.

We'd been warned the dinner would be expensive. One guide told us to expect to pay about 80,000 Hungarian florins (approx. $300) apiece. Fortunately, it was nowhere close to that. The 6 course meal, including wine for 5 of the courses, was 82,000 florins. So, about $75 per person. To our minds, it was a bargain, considering the fabulous food we had, and the lovely wines they served along with. Hungary, although in the EU, won't convert to the euro until 2012. But most places we went accepted euros with no difficulty. They even took American dollars too.

So, here's what we had:

The Traditional and new
Gundel Creation Dinner:

Torte of foie Gras with Cranberry
Kir Royale

Smoked Ham of Z selic Roe-Deer
with Porcini Mushroom Mousse
Belatonbolglari Chardonnay 2006, Legli Otto

Tarragon scented Venison Ragout Soup
with Sour Apple and Chestnut

Slice of River Catfish served with
Pumpkin Seed Strudel and Red Pepper Sauce
Egri Pinot Noir 2002, Gundel Winery

Rack of Mangalic Pork served with
Spinach-Serviettenknodel and colorful onions
Egri Bikaver Gold Selection Barrique 2000, Gundel Winery

The Classic Crepe a la Gundel
Tokaji Aszu 5 butts 2000, Gundel Winery

The foie gras torte. Amazing.

Sinfully delicious soup, with venison, apple and chestnut. Slurp.

The charming table, chock-a-block full of dishes, wine glasses, utensils, little bowls, butter dishes, salt and paprika (no pepper, just paprika), dinner plates and bread plates

The fried catfish in the foreground, with the very different and delicious pumpkin seed strudel at the back.

The amazingly tender pork chops with onions and a spinach strudel.

And, last but not least, this scrumptious crepe filled with a ground and chunky walnut, raisin, rum filling, topped with a dreamy chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. A stunner to look at and to devour.

Here we are, l-r: me, my DH, Lucy and Wayne.