My Motto

May the muffin rise to greet you, may your friends be always at your door, and until we meet again, warm a single-malt in the palm of your hand and make something homemade for someone you love.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sausage Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

"Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see how they are made."
~Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898)
This is something that I've been wanting to make for years.  I like stuffed mushrooms so much that I often order the appetizer as an entrĂ©e.  This dish takes care of that craving, and then some!  The recipe came mainly from Emeril Lagasse, with some tweaking by me.  But whatever you do, if you have any left over, DON'T let the dog eat the scraps.  TRUST ME HERE.   
No, he's not drinking the water...
These made a great light dinner.  The portobello mushroom caps were quite large, so one per person was enough.  I rounded out the meal with some steamed asparagus and crusty bread.  Tons of flavor without the rich decadence that much of the foods of this season hold.

Sausage Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

4 large portobello mushrooms (4 or 5 inches in diameter) stems removed, and minced, 1/2 cup reserved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1/3 cup minced fresh onion
1/4 cup finely chopped bell pepper (red or green)
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2  cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon Emeril's Essence Creole Seasoning (optional)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Using your hands, rub 1/2 tablespoon olive oil into each mushroom...on the outside of the cap.
Squeeze sausage from the casings and place in a skillet.  Cook the sausage in a medium skillet until browned, about 4 minutes, using a spatula to break up the meat as you go.  Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and mushroom stems and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat.

Transfer sausage-vegetable mixture to a bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of the parmesan, the parsley, the Essence and the egg.  Stir until well combined.

Divide the filling among the caps, about 1/2 cup each mushroom.  Place the filled mushrooms on a baking sheet.  Combine the remaining bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.  Divide the bread crumb mixture evenly among the tops of the mushrooms.  Bake about 20 - 25 minutes until the tops are golden brown and the mushrooms are tender.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cheddar Cookies (AKA The World's Best Cheezits!)

"If I had to give up cheese or chocolate, I'd give up chocolate in a heartbeat."
~Amanda Peet

This post is for my friend Kate, who tweets as @CoastalKate and was looking for a finger food for a holiday office party.  It was just the kick in the pants I needed to try this recipe which has been tucked in my Christmas cookbook for, well, who knows how long.  It is handwritten, and says "Cheddar Cookies AKA June's Secret Cocktail  Cookies" at the top.  I have no idea who June is, don't know a June and cannot remember when I wrote this down or where I obtained it.  Many apologies to June, but apparently it was no longer a secret, since I must have gotten it somewhere!  I thought of them for Kate, but would never recommend a recipe with actually trying it, so I made them today.  Oh, fortunate me! (munch, munch, munch)
Let me just say....THEY ARE AMAZING!  If you like sharp cheddar, then I think it is virtually impossible to dislike these cookies....which, by the way, are light, flaky, crisp and cheesy with just the perfect amount of heat.  Kind of like the cheese straws you sometimes find in gourmet baskets, but better.  They are traditionally served at cocktail parties and would be great at a holiday party, as they are simply elegant.  I tucked some in the box of treats I'm mailing off tomorrow to Curtis for final exam snacks.  He loves Cheezits, so c'mon, why not?  These are some serious home-made cheezits!  For these you will want to buy a nice sharp cheddar, I used Vermont Sharp white cheddar, grated it myself and they were perfect.  I find that when I grate the cheese myself, it melts much better than the pre-grated stuff in the bags.

Cheddar Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup flour
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add the flour, cayenne pepper and salt and mix in.  It will look crumbly.  Mix with your hands, just a little, until it starts to clump, then mix in the cheddar with your hands.  Roll into balls (about 2 teaspoons of dough) and place on cookie sheet.  Find a glass with a flat bottom and use it to flatten the balls.  Dip bottom of glass in flour, and press all the dough balls down, periodically flouring the bottom of the glass, so the cookies won't stick.

Bake for 15 minutes.  Makes 30 cookies.  Serve at room temperature and store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bourbon Pecan Pound Cake, Three Ways

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough."
~Mark Twain
There were lots of things my mother traditionally baked in the weeks before Christmas, and one of them is Bourbon Pound Cake.  I was always intrigued by this off-limits cake that was wrapped up and secreted away to be tended and aged.  I would sneak peeks at it, and it smelled sooo good!  A great treat at Christmas that was worth the wait, even though us kids were only allowed a thin slice.
"Oh holy cow....., this bourbon cake is AWE-some!"
(sung to the tune of "Oh Holy Night")
There are some things to note that are important to your success with this.  Always have your butter, cream cheese and eggs at room temperature before you begin.  If you neglect this step, your cake will lose height (in other words - be a brick).
Pass the pound cake
It is also important to beat the butter and cream cheese together for the full 7 minutes.  There is no other leavening agent in the cake other than the air you beat into the butter and egg whites, so skimping on these steps will really alter the results, trust me!
This versatile recipe can be done three ways; pecan, pineapple-pecan-cherry and coconut-pecan.  The pineapple-pecan-cherry one tastes like pineapple upside-down cake, and is so good.  I've dubbed it Christmas Cake.  It's not your grandma's fruitcake.  If you're not keen on spirits, you can substitute milk for the bourbon and still have a really delicious pound cake that you won't have to wait weeks for.  I made the coconut-pecan one like this for my daughter, and it was great.  A completely different animal, but delicious.  Also, it can be doubled and baked in a tube pan (that's the way my mother always did).  If you do that, make sure you up the baking time to about 1 1/2 hours.  The cake keeps beautifully over the 2-4 weeks that you store it and it also is a great cake to ship to a loved one.  It's sturdy, keeps well, stays moist and just gets better over the course of the month!

Bourbon Pecan Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter (one and a half sticks), softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/3 cup bourbon
1 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a large loaf pan and set aside.

Sift some cake flour onto a plate.  Carefully measure 1and 1/2 cups into a bowl, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, then re-sift that and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer for 7 minutes.  SEVEN MINUTES. Scraping down sides of bowl occasionally.  Gradually add sugar, beating constantly, until light and fluffy.
In a small bowl, whisk the 4 egg yolks with the bourbon and almond extract.  With the beaters running, slowly add bourbon mixture to the sugar/butter mixture, pouring a thin stream and beating constantly.  When the eggs are all in, scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat 2 more minutes.
In a medium bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are glossy and hold stiff peaks.

Sift 1/3 of the flour/salt mixture over the butter/egg mixture.  Gently fold in the flour until it is evenly distributed, but not completely mixed in.  Add half the beaten egg whites and fold in.  
Sift on another 1/3 of flour mixture and fold in, followed by the rest of the beaten egg whites and fold them in.  Sift on the last of the flour mixture and the chopped toasted pecans and fold into batter until it is completely mixed.  It is important to add the pecans (or any add-ins) now, because the coating of flour prevents them from sinking to the bottom while it bakes.

Pour batter into prepared pan and level the top.  Bake until golden brown and a long wooden pick comes out clean, 45-60 minutes, depending on your oven.  Mine needed the full 60 minutes.
Allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning out.  When almost cool, brush loaf (or cake) with bourbon, being careful not to soak it, because you don't want it to end up soggy.  Wrap loaf in bourbon dampened cheesecloth, then with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight, then unwrap and again brush loaf heavil with bourbon,  re-wrap loaf with cheesecloth and plastic wrap then wrap with foil and store for 2 weeks (but will keep as many as 4) in a cool, dry place.

Bourbon Pineapple Pecan Cherry Pound Cake (aka Christmas Cake):
During the last step of recipe, when you would add the chopped pecans, also add 3/4 cup drained crushed pineapple and 3/4 cup chopped maraschino cherries.

Bourbon Coconut Pecan Pound Cake:
During last step of recipe, add 1 cup coconut along with the 3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Beaumond Bread

"Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love."
~M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf (1942)
"Wow"  "Oh wow"  Those were the only words I heard for the five minutes this bread was on the table before we inhaled it.  The inspiration for the recipe came from one I found in a cookbook called Old Fashioned Country Christmas.  The page has been dog-eared for 10 years.  Why does it take me so long to try these things?  It was easy, too.  If you like Swiss cheese, you WANT to try this.  Now it will probably be making a weekly appearance here until we get sick of it.  This could be an appetizer, paired with soup or salad for a light meal, or a fun snack anytime.  

I bought a 9 ounce loaf of French bread, but the amount of spread the recipe makes is enough for a 12-15 ounce loaf.  One last thing; a couple teaspoons of minced fresh rosemary added to the butter mixture or sprinkled on top before baking is a nice twist.

Beaumond Bread

1 loaf French bread (9 to 15 ounces)
8 to 12 ounces of Swiss cheese slices
3 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 teaspoon beaumond seasoning*
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 t. lemon juice
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, onion, beaumond seasoning, dry mustard lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. *If you cannot find beaumond seasoning at your local market, you can make it yourself by combining equal parts onion powder and celery salt.

Place French bread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil.  Without cutting all the way through, make diagonal cuts in the French bread all the way across and then back the opposite way.
 Stuff the cuts with Swiss cheese.
Spread butter mixture all over the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.  Have everyone pull the bread apart.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Challah Bread

"Oh, God above, if heaven has a taste it must be an egg with butter and salt, and after the egg is there anything in the world lovelier than fresh warm bread and a mug of sweet golden tea?"
~Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes
If someone were to ask me what my signature recipe was, this would have to be it.  The recipe was given to me 20 years ago by an acquaintance from church.  Since then I've made it countless times.  My extended family all love it and request it frequently, so it shows up at most family dinners.  A friend of mine even had me make it for her son's bar mitzvah, which is saying a lot, since I'm not even Jewish.  Basically, when this is in the house, it's the only thing anyone wants to eat.  Plain, toasted or turned into fat French toast slabs, this slightly sweet bread is fabulous slathered with real butter and paired with a tall cold glass of milk.  
Since today is the first day of Hanukkah, and challah is the traditional braided bread used for the Jewish Shabbat and celebrations, I figured this post would be fitting.  A very Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends and relatives.

Challah Bread

2 packages dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs
1 stick butter (1/2 cup), melted
1 3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon salt
6 or 7 cups of unbleached flour
1 egg, beaten
sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

In a large bowl, combine yeast, honey and salt.  Whisk in butter, eggs, water and 3 cups flour.  Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.  Knead on a flour surface for 10 minutes.  
Place dough in an oiled bowl and turn to thoroughly coat dough with oil.  Cover bowl with a damp cloth and let dough rise for about an hour and a quarter or until doubled in bulk.  
Punch down dough.  Cut dough in half.  Set one half aside.  Take the other half and cut 1/3 off of it.  Cut the 1/3 into 3 equal portions and make 3 ropes, 8-10 inches long.  Braid. Cut the large 2/3 piece of dough into 3 equal portions and make 3 ropes, 12-14 inches long.  Braid.  Place the large braid on a greased cookie sheet.  Place the smaller braid on top and gently press down.  
Follow the same procedure with the other half of the dough.  Cover with a slightly damp towel or linen cloth and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour or until double in bulk.
Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Bread is done when you tap it and it sounds hollow.
Yields two large loaves.
For an extra treat, spread with honey butter:
Soften 1 stick of sweet, unsalted butter.  Add 3/4 cup honey and 1/8 teaspoon vanilla.  Whisk together.  Store in fridge, but soften a bit before serving.

This post was submitted to Yeast Spotting and selected for publication in their Holiday 2010 Edition