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.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Quick Christmas Braid

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
~Norman Vincent Peale
This is a double recipe, shaped slightly differently than Nana's recipe indicates

A few posts back I started poking around in my Great Grandmother Hook's recipe box.
This recipe card caught my eye.
Great Grandmother Hook is the little girl on the right, circa 1894

As far back as I can remember, we used to go to my grandmother's house at 11 a.m. on a Christmas morn.
Me and Nana, Christmas '83, her last one
This Christmas braid, made by Nana Hook, was always there.  It was always braided into a ring and decorated with red and green cherries and pecan halves.  We would start the festivities with a slice and a teacup of eggnog.  I was shocked and sort of pleased to see that it actually starts with frozen bread dough.  That was rather progressive for back then, but Nana would have been in her eighties and early nineties, so I bet that convenience made all the difference.  You never would have guessed.  You need to let the frozen dough thaw either overnight or for 4 hours in a warm spot in your house.  I wouldn't call it quick, but I sure would call it easy!  
Viola (Nana) Hook 1927
The recipe called for a 1 pound piece of frozen bread dough to be thawed thoroughly, rolled out 12 inches square, cut into 3 strips, spread with filling, dough sealed over filling, then braided.  I doubled the recipe and found it MUCH easier to roll the dough into a 13x9 in rectangle, spread with filling, make one big roll, seal in a ring and then cut with scissors, as shown here.  I'll give you the recipe as she wrote it.  It makes a small braid, which you can also shape into a ring.  It's a pretty easy recipe for a Christmas tradition that will leave an impression.  It sure did for me!

Quick Christmas Braid (or Wreath)
Viola Hook 1892-1984

One 1-pound loaf of frozen bread dough
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
4 or 5 tablespoons milk
red sugar
pecan halves and maraschino cherry halves for decoration

Thaw dough thoroughly [in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, either overnight or for 4 hours].  Roll

 12 inches square.  Cut into 3 equal strips.  Spread butter down center of each strip.  Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped pecans.  Sprinkle this mixture over butter down center of each strip.  Bring dough around filling and seal edges to form 3 ropes.  Place on a greased cookie sheet and loosely braid.  [Either leave as a strip, or shape into a ring; your choice]  Let rise until double in bulk, about 30 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes.  Cover loosely with foil during last few minutes to prevent over-browning, if necessary.  Cool completely.

Combine confectioner's sugar and milk, adding milk a little at a time until icing is the right consistency to drizzle.  Drizzle icing over cooled braid.  Decorate with pecan and cherry halves and sprinkle with red sugar.  Enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette

"The beet is the most intense of the vegetables.  The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fever of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion.  Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity.  Beets are deadly serious."
~Tom Robbins

I love Thanksgiving, don't get me wrong...but after a week of turkey, turkey leftovers and an enormous vat of turkey soup, the Mister and I were ready for some bold flavors.  This salad fit the bill perfectly.  We had it alone on a bed of chopped romaine (in lieu of arugula) as a light supper, but it would make a nice accompaniment to a roast beef dinner.  That the vegetables can be roasted hours ahead of time makes it a wonderful side dish during the holidays when oven space is at a premium.  We were crazy for this, but had a disagreement regarding the addition of pears.  The Mister loved them, but I thought I may have preferred the dish solidly savory.  You can decide for yourself.  
This recipe is inspired by one that appeared in Southern Living a year ago.  That one used sweet potatoes, parsnips and beets.  My version uses beets, turnip, carrot and cipollini onions, along with chopped pears, chopped smoked almonds and Gorgonzola cheese.  Their horseradish vinaigrette was brilliant though, and my only tampering was to add a teaspoon of honey. 
If you are unused to handling fresh beets, here is a tip.  You should prepare them separately and roast them on their own baking sheet.  You may want to wear dish-washing gloves while you peel them and chop them, and keep them away from the other vegetables or they will bleed all over everything and make all a homogeneous red, which takes away from the pleasing colorful look of the dish.  
The other vegetables can all be roasted together on a second baking sheet.  Set them aside at room temperature for up to 3 hours and assemble the right before serving.  We really loved this dish.  Even though I made it last week, we are ready to have it again.  It is a symphony of flavors that all make sense together (with or without the pears) and make your palate sing!  

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette
Serves 2-3 as a main dish salad, or 6-8 as a side dish

1 medium turnip (about 1 pound) peeled and chopped into bite-size cubes
3 large carrots (about 3/4 pound) sliced into 1/2 pieces.  If they are very big, slice them in half.
3 or 4 large fresh beets, peeled and chopped into bite-size cubes
12 - 15 small cipollini onions, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 chopped pear
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/3 cup smoked toasted almonds, roughly chopped
1 small bag of arugula, mescalin greens or 1 head of romaine, chopped
Horseradish Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil.  Peel and chop the beets, then toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, half the salt and half the pepper.  Spread on one of the baking sheets.  Clean surfaces and bowl, then toss the remaining vegetables in the bowl with the remainder of the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread on the second baking sheet.  Place both in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through roasting time.  Test one of the larger chunks to make sure the vegetables are tender before you remove them.  Set aside and let cool completely and for up to 3 hours.

Assemble salad:
Right before serving, slice or chop unpeeled, cored pear as desired.  Toss with lemon juice.
Place vegetables in a large bowl, add pears.  Drizzle with desired amount of dressing and toss carefully.  To serve family style, spread chilled greens in the bottom of a large serving platter or shallow bowl.  Pile vegetables (with pear) on top in a mound.  Sprinkle with Gorgonzola and then nuts.  Serve at room temperature immediately with any additional dressing.

Horseradish Vinaigrette

1/2 cup bottled olive oil and vinegar dressing
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey

Whisk together all ingredients.

If you like this, you might also be interested in:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pistachio Cookies

"You must crack the nuts before you can eat the kernel"
~Irish Proverb
I'm excited to share these quick and delicious treats with you!  For the return you get on these cookies in the form of joyous appreciation, their ease of preparation is truly criminal.  From start to finish you can have the entire batch baked and cleaned up in half an hour.  Not kidding.  But when your family and friends taste them and then proceed to inhale them, you may want to double your efforts so you actually have some left for your Christmas cookie tray!

About 6 years ago, in a bout of crazed organization, I decided to type up my mess of a lifetime of collected recipe cards and clippings into a binder.  But last year, when I wanted to make these cookies, I couldn't find the recipe.  Probably because it was under B, for Best Ever, instead of P for Pistachio.  So much for being organized :-/.  Unfortunately, I've had this recipe so long I have no recollection of where it originated.  Over the years, a little tweaking has improved them with the addition of toasted nuts, green food color and almond extract.  Soft and chewy with that adored pistachio ice cream flavor, they are sure to please.  I hope you get a chance to try them.  And if you have an extra minute or two, check out this virtual cookie swap at The Farmer's Wife:

Best Ever Pistachio Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

1 box white cake mix
1 box instant pistachio pudding mix
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup nuts (almond or pistachio), toasted and roughly chopped 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
6 drops green food coloring.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place first four ingredients into a large bowl.  In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients. Pour contents of the small bowl into the large bowl and stir together until combined. Batter will be stiff.  Drop tablespoons size dollops of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake for 11-12 minutes, until lightly browned.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fennel Stuffed Pork Loin

"All great change in America begins at the dinner table."
~Ronald Reagan

Talk about food to get excited about.  This delicious dinner first ended up on our table several years ago after I'd been inspired by an episode of The Barefoot Contessa.  It is a fabulous roast that looks more complicated than it actually is.  I tweaked it a tiny bit and added a rub on the pork and some gravy that we all decided is essential.   Even though this is just a regular weekday and no company was expected, we noshed on it tonight.  The Mister was in hog heaven...get it?...heh  heh.  All the ingredients were inexpensive (the loin only cost $6.00), and in fifteen minutes I had the stuffing made and the pork loin butterflied, stuffed and trussed.  Generally, I would serve this on a holiday, or as a Sunday dinner, but I thought I'd toss it out there in case any of you were looking for holiday dinner ideas.  The nice thing about it is, any leftovers can be chopped up and tossed in a slow cooker with some cream of celery soup and a splash of sherry.  We liked that as much as the original dinner! 

Fennel Stuffed Pork Loin
serves 6
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Family Style, 2006

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups sliced onion
2 cups sliced fennel (1 large bulb)
salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon white wine
1 small can chicken broth (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1/3 cup flour
3 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 (3-1/2 to 4 pound) loin of pork, butterflied

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

For the stuffing, heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet.  Add the onions and fennel with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Cook over low to medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until the onions and fennel are tender and lightly browned.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the white wine and bread crumbs.  Cool slightly.
Butterfly the roast.  Using a very sharp knife, with the loin lengthwise, make a cut just less than 1/3 of the way down and cut straight across to within about an inch of slicing straight through.  Then cut down about an inch and back the opposite way.  You can open the roast as you go.
Spread the stuffing evenly over the pork and roll up lengthwise, ending with the fat on the top of the roll.  
Tie with kitchen string.
Rub roast with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. [I make a rub with 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder and rub the entire roast with this.]
Place in a roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes.  Lower heat to 350 degrees F and roast for another 30-35 minutes [add 1/2 cup white wine and can of chicken broth to roasting pan when there is 20 minutes left of cooking time], until the interior of the pork is 137 degrees F on a meat thermometer (if the thermometer hits stuffing rather than pork, it will register a higher temperature, so test the meat in several places.) Remove from the oven, transfer roast to carving board and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  allow to rest for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, make the gravy.  Place roasting pan (unless it is ceramic) on range over med-high heat.  Bring drippings to a boil and boil, scraping pan with spatula.  Strain drippings if needed.  In a small bowl, whisk flour with 3/4 cup ice cold water.  Slowly add to pan drippings (on med-high), adding slowly and whisking constantly until gravy is the desired thickness.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove the strings from roast, slice thickly, and serve.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Candy Cane Cookies, Our Very First Tradition

"Once in a young lifetime one should be allowed to have as much sweetness as one can possibly want and hold."
~Judith Olney

Today I was invited to participate in a virtual cookie exhange by the lovely Di, of Di's kitchen notebook.  I'm honored to be included and will share my most special Christmas cookie for the event!
Back in the Paleolithic age, when I was first married, my sister-in-law gave me a Christmas Keepsake book that contained this recipe.  I made the cookies that year, we loved them and they became the very first Christmas tradition all our own.  These were the days when I was Little Miss Organization, and would make all the Christmas cookies early, when I had time, and stick them in the upright freezer downstairs.  More than a few times, I caught the Mister coming up the stairs with one or two of these cookies sticking out of his shirt pocket.  He liked them so much he was willing to eat them frozen...and as the kids grew up, they followed suit.  Go figure.  
They can be a bit of a pain to make, rolling out all those little logs of dough to put together and shape.  Make sure your dough is chilled, because it can get sticky, and try to recruit someone to help you.  It is best to roll them out on cold granite or marble, but you can do it on a very lightly floured cutting board, if need be.  To crush the candy canes, I just put the wrapped canes in a Ziploc bag and smash them with a hammer.  The plastic wrapper lifts away in one piece, leaving all the glistening crushed candy.  It only takes 30 seconds.  Have this done and at the ready so you can sprinkle the cookies with it immediately after removing them from the oven.  They need to be hot so the candy will stick.  The problem with these cookies is they taste so darn good!  Just like almond shortbread.  Everyone wants to snarf them down, but I'm willing to do the work but once a year!  Hope I haven't scared you away from them, they really are delicious, festive and worth it!
Check out the virtual cookie swap at The Farmer's Wife:

Candy Cane Cookies
Makes 15-18 cookies

1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring 
3 standard size candy canes, crushed

Blend butter and shortening; beat in confectioner's sugar, egg and flavorings.  Sift flour with salt;  stir into creamed mixture.  Divide dough in half.  Add red food coloring to one half.  Wrap both half in plastic wrap and chill at least 45 minutes.  Roll 2-teaspoon size pieces of dough into logs about 6 inches long. Place a white strip and a red strip side by side, press together lightly and twist like a rope.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet, curving the top to resemble a candy cane.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10-11 minutes until lightly browned.  Remove cookies from oven and immediately sprinkle hot cookies with crushed candy canes.  Let cool 5 minutes, then very carefully remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.  

Store in an airtight container.  Cookies freeze well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Butterscotch Haystacks, Ala My Great Grandmother

"Grandmother - A wonderful mother with lots of practice."
When I was a child, there were a few things you could count on at my grandmother's house for Christmas.  There was always ribbon candy and fudge, laughter, warmth, and haystacks.  My great-grandmother, Viola Hook (aka Nana) always made haystacks.  
The child is my grandmother,  the woman, my great-grandmother, Viola Hook.
Nana made haystacks the old fashioned way.  No peanut butter or marshmallows; just butterscotch, peanuts and chow mein noodles.  I grew up on them, so it's the only way I like them.  For us, they were always a part of the Christmas cookie tray, even though they are really more of a candy.  In all my years, I've never seen them anywhere else, although when googled, recipes and variations abounded, and for the first time that I've ever noticed, there was a recipe for them on the back of the bag of butterscotch morsels.  I've been making them for 30 years and never needed a recipe since they are so incredibly easy, but out of curiosity, I got out Nana's old file box of recipes and poked through it.
Apparently she never needed to write it down either, but there were some curiosities in there worth trying soon.  My husband never had them til he met me, but he LOVES them.  In fact, when we were first married, for years I would make a tin of them and give them to him for Christmas and he'd eat the whole thing.  They are funny looking little things, yet addictingly good!  Once the ingredients are stirred together, it is fun for kids to get involved and help shape them and drop them on the wax paper.  They're pretty fool-proof and are already a bit goofy-looking, so you can't go wrong!

I am the last American without a microwave, so I'll give you the old-school recipe (the way I make them), followed by a microwave method.

Nana Hook's Haystacks
makes 18-24 

One 11 ounce bag Nestle Butterscotch Morsels
One 8.5 ounce can Chow Mein Noodles (I use LaChoy brand). 
1/2 cup lightly salted peanuts (I used the Planter's Sea Salt ones)

Stove-top method:
Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.  Place a medium saucepan half filled with water on the stove on medium high.  Bring to a low simmer.  Turn down heat a little and place a heat-proof bowl on top of saucepan (or use a double-boiler).  Make sure the bowl is completely dry and that no water gets in it (or the candy will seize).  Pour morsels in the bowl.  Leave it uncovered.  When most of the morsels are shiny, stir just until melted.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in the chow mein noodles and peanuts.  Place small blobs of the mixture on the cookie sheet lined with wax paper.  Allow to cool completely and place in cookie tins.  Store in a cool dry place, or the refrigerator.

Microwave method:
Microwave morsels in a large, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on medium-high (70%) power for 1 minute; stir.  If necessary, microwave at additional 10 second intervals, just until melted.  Stir in chow mein noodles and peanuts and toss until all ingredients are coated.  Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. Cool completely and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fleur de Sel Caramels

"It was an instinct to put the world in order that powered her mending split infinitives and snipping off dangling participles, smoothing away the knots and bumps until the prose took a sheen, like perfect caramel."
~David Leavitt
These were on my to-do list last holiday season, but I never got to them.  So when the cook at work recently asked for the recipe, it was a good nudge to dig it out and whip up a batch.  Plus the timing is great to share it with you while you still have time to find or order the fleur de Sel  (mine was ordered from My Spice Sage), and make them for gifts or parties.  
The original recipe comes from Ina Garten, and you can find it here.  Reading the comments after the recipe is very helpful. Taking reader's advice, I decided not to oil the parchment paper, and it was no trouble to remove the caramels.  I also cooked mine a tiny bit longer because I prefer a harder caramel, and cut them into squares instead of rolling them.  My dentist will love me for posting this, because these babies could pull all your crowns out (just the way I like 'em).  They are really delicious.  If you make the softer ones, you could dip them in chocolate to make them extra special, and sprinkle a little fleur de sel on the chocolate instead of the caramel.  
Take note that you will need a candy thermometer if you decide to attempt these and you should pay close attention to the recipe and follow it exactly.  Whatever you do, don't walk away from the boiling sugar, because when it starts to turn color it will go quickly and there is no remedy for burnt caramel.  Have your heated cream and butter at the ready and make sure the pot you use is big enough, as it will boil up 4 or 5 inches high.  Lastly, be really careful not to get any on you.   It will burn you quickly...therefore, it is not an appropriate project for kids to participate in.  Stay tuned and soon I'll post a candy recipe that is.  One that's been a Christmas tradition in my family for decades.  Enjoy the season, my friends!
Fleur de Sel Caramels
makes approximately 18 pieces
Recipe by Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Line a 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing it to drape over 2 sides.  Brush the paper lightly with oil [I didn't - but I lightly butter the sides of the pan not covered with the paper].

In a deep heavy saucepan (6 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches deep), combine 1/4 cup water, the sugar and corn syrup and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until the mixture is a warm golden brown.  Don't stir - just swirl the pan.

In the meantime, in a small pot, bring the cream, butter and 1 teaspoon of fleur de sel to a simmer over medium heat.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the sugar mixture reaches the warm golden brown, turn off the heat and slowly add the warmed cream mixture.  Be careful - it will bubble up violently.  Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches 248 degrees F (firm ball) on a candy thermometer.

Very carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and refrigerate for a few hours [I sprinkled my caramel with extra fleur de sel right away and it was fine.  Plus, one hour was enough for cooling - then I removed it from pan and cut into squares], until firm. 

When the caramel is cold, pry the sheet from the pan onto a cutting board.  Cut the square in half.
Roll it up.  Starting with a long side, roll the caramel up tightly into an 8-inch log.
Cut into pieces.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel, trim the ends and cut into 8 pieces.  It's easier to cut the caramels if you brush the knife with a flavorless oil such as corn or canola.

Cut parchment paper into 4x5 inch pieces and wrap each caramel individually, twisting the ends.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Italian Spumoni Cookies

"Cookies are made of butter and love"
~Norwegian proverb
This one is for all of my friends who work long hours, yet still want to whip up something special.  You start with Pillsbury sugar cookie dough that you doctor up, shape and refrigerate overnight.  The next day you have this beautiful slice and bake.  It's really easy and is the last of the recipes I raided from my mother's Taste of Home magazines.  Generally I have the time and inclination to cook from scratch.  It's my hobby, after all...but I appreciate a good shortcut as much as anyone.  The thing is, you have to be careful because shortcuts are only worthwhile if the end product doesn't suffer from it.  In this case, it doesn't, and these cookies would hold their own at any cookie exchange or party.
When it comes to baked goods, I'm really picky but I LOVED these cookies, and the Mister did too!  If you're a purest, by all means, make a batch of your favorite sugar cookie dough and use 2 pounds of it to complete the recipe (don't add the extra flour in that case).  Knock yourself out...OR use the Pillsbury cookie dough to make it fun, easy, quick...with no sacrifice in taste or texture....and no one will ever guess....MWA-HA-HA-HA!

The recipe called for pistachios for the green dough, but I didn't have any, so I substituted chopped toasted almonds.  I think a couple drops of almond extract would make them even better!  A few tips:  let the dough come to room temperature for a least an hour so it will be easy to work with.  When dividing into three pieces, do your best to make them as equal as possible.  That goes miles toward making the three pieces fit together correctly in the end steps.  Remember to start these cookies the night before!

Italian Spumoni Cookies
makes 30 cookies
A Taste of Home Recipe

2 16-ounce tubes Pillsbury sugar cookie dough
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup chopped maraschino cherries
red food color
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 teaspoons hazelnut liquor
1/3 cup chopped pistachios (or almonds)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
green food color

Allow cookie dough to come to room temperature (at least an hour).  Empty both rolls into a large mixing bowl.  Using an electric mixer, beat in 3/4 cup of flour.  Divide dough into 3 equal parts.
Place one of the 1/3 portions of dough back into bowl.  Beat in 1/4 cup of flour, then 6 drops red food coloring and the 1/4 cup of chopped maraschino cherries.  Shape dough into a ball and set aside.  

Wipe inside of bowl with paper towel, then place another 1/3 portion of dough in.  Beat in 2 tablespoons of cocoa and 2 teaspoons of hazelnut liquor.  Shape dough into ball and set aside.
Wipe inside of bowl with a paper towel and add last 1/3 portion of dough.  Beat in 1/3 cup chopped nuts, 5 drops of green food coloring and almond flavoring (if desired).

Shape each ball of dough into an equal length log...about 15 inches long.  Place log on a piece of plastic wrap and using a rolling pin, flatten into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle.  Pat sides and end square with a spatula.

Repeat with each portion of dough, then stack them in this order; cherry, chocolate, then pistachio.  Pat ends and sides with spatula to ease them to fit together. 
Wrap rectangle of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove dough from fridge, cut in half, re-wrapping and returning half to fridge (or freezer to use later).  Slice dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Cool 2 minutes, then using a spatula, carefully place cookies on cooling rack.  Cool completely, then store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Veal Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Mushroom-Parmesan Bechamel

"Sometimes I pray to Cod for the veal-power to stop playing with my food-words, but I fear it's too bread into me.  For all I know, the wurst may be yet to come."
~Mark Morton (Gastromica '06)
When I was a kid, cheese-stuffed shells were a go-to recipe in my family.  If it wasn't a holiday and family was visiting, you can bet we had stuffed shells.  You can make them ahead, they freeze well, AND they're delicious.  Perfect for my working mom.
The first time I had the veal-stuffed variety was over 20 years ago when my sister-in-law Joy made them for us.  I've never forgotten about it and have been meaning to make the dish for years.  I mean, you know something is good if you're still thinking about it 20 years later.  I have her recipe somewhere, but couldn't find it, so I located one by Emiril Lagasse and played with it a little until it was sort-of as remembered.  This time I made it for my sister-in-law and she (and everyone else) enthusiastically approved.  They were an all-around hit.  The great thing was making them the day ahead, storing them in the fridge for 24 hours, and then just popping them in the oven the night of the dinner-party (since I worked all day).   For that reason alone, it's a great recipe for the busy holiday season.  

Veal Stuffed Jumbo Shells with Mushroom-Parmesan Bechamel
Serves 6
Inspired by Joy Murphy and adapted from a recipe by Emeril Lagasse.  

Stuffed Shells:
24 jumbo shells, about 1/2 pound
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork 
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 large egg

Mushroom-Parmesan Bechamel:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup white wine 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese

Start a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  Season with salt and when it comes to a rolling boil, add dried shells.  Cook until pliable, but not fully cooked, about 8 minutes.  Remove the shells from the water and place shells in a single layer on a sheet pan.

While the shells cool, make the stuffing.  Set a large saute pan over medium heat and add the olive oil to the pan.  Add the onions and garlic and cook about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, combine the veal, pork, seasonings, bread crumbs, cheese, cooked onions and garlic, heavy cream and egg.  Do not over-mix.

Grease 13x9 inch baking dish.  Place 2 tablespoons of the stuffing mix into each of the jumbo shells and place open side down in baking dish.  When completed, wrap the casserole with plastic wrap and set aside in fridge while you prepare the bechamel.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Set a one or two-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and add the butter.  Once melted, add the mushrooms and thyme.  Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.  Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Sprinkle flour into the pan, stirring to combine and cook the roux, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Whisk in the milk and wine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bring bechamel to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring until sauce is thickened, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Stir in 3/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and pour over the shells in the baking dish.  Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan over the top of the sauce.  Cover dish with tin foil.  Bake, covered for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake 20 minutes more until bubbling and browned.

If you are baking shells that have been stored in the fridge overnight, bake covered for 45 minutes, then uncover an continue baking another 20 minutes until bubbling and browned.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stuffed Acorn Squash

"You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook's year.  I get more excited by that than anything else."
~Mario Batali
Most great recipes come from our mothers, don't they?  Well, this one came from my mom's house, anyway.  I jotted it down along with a few others when I raided her magazines.  There is a really easy stuffed zucchini recipe that I grew up on (and love!) and it is posted on this blog.  I make it at least a half dozen times a year.  In that sense, mom set the stage for my love of sausage-stuffed squashy things.

In this version, from Taste of Home magazine, the stuffing is loaded with vegetables and is bound by an easy, yet surprisingly elegant-tasting sauce.  I tweaked a few things, including the cooking time.  The recipe called to be baked 30 minutes, but from the get-go I knew that would not be enough to cook the squash, so I planned to cook it an hour, withholding the application of cheese until 20" before the end, so it wouldn't brown.  Sure enough, at 30 minutes, the squash was still quite hard.  Another 20 or 30 minutes did the trick and it became tender enough to scoop out of the skin and enjoy....because acorn squash is way too good to simply be a vessel for stuffing!  This was really delicious and crave-worthy.  I loved the croutons in it.  A nice twist away from traditional bread crumbs.  Easy and inexpensive enough for every day, yet good enough for company.  But if you want to make it, you'll have to act fast, because (at least in CT) acorn squash is only seasonally available!

Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adapted from a recipe in Taste of Home magazine
serves 4

2 fresh medium acorn squash, cut in half
1 pound uncooked bulk sausage (I used Jones's)
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced (I used baby Portabellas)
1 onion, diced
1 celery rib, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup Ceasar croutons
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  After cutting acorn squash in half (lengthwise), scoop out the seeds and pulp, then slice a bit off the rounded side to create a flat "bottom" so it won't wobble.  Place each half on a cookie sheet.  Season squash with a little salt and pepper.

In a large skillet on medium-high, cook crumbled bulk sausage, mushrooms, onion, celery and garlic together.

After the sausage is brown and the vegetables softened, add wine, mushroom soup, croutons, Parmesan and 1/2 cup of the cheddar cheese.  Spoon into acorn "cups" and pile extra stuffing on top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining cheddar cheese.  Place back in oven and bake an additional 20 minutes, until cheese is melted well and you are able to pierce squash easily with a knife.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cheddar Cheese Thumbprints with Hot Pepper Jelly

"The smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us."
~Marcel Proust
Making pepper jelly has been a tradition here for years.  I always have a few jars around.  So, when I purchased the book, 250 Home Preserving Favorites and saw this use for it, I got excited.  Cheddar cookies are, after all,  one of my most popular cocktail hors d'oeuvres and this twist on the popular thumbprint cookies marries two things simply meant for each other; sharp cheddar and sweet/spicy hot pepper jelly. 
They look beautiful, are delicious, and easy to eat with one hand, making them perfect for cocktail hour.  A delectable savory treat.  Cheers!
As an added bonus, they also may be baked ahead and frozen for up to 3 months.  The results of today's labors are in the freezer right now, awaiting their appearance on Thanksgiving.  I let the fam each try one and they loved them, each asking "just one more?"  

NO!  No touchy!  Hands-off!  These are saving me valuable time on Thanksgiving day!
To crisp, heat thawed cookies on a baking sheet for 3 minutes at 350 degrees to re-crisp them.  If you don't make your own pepper jelly, NO PROBLEM!  It is pretty easy to find and Stonewall Kitchens has a nice one.  You could also substitute wine jelly, but I like the heat of the hot pepper jelly.  The sharpness of the cheddar contrasted to the sweet and spicy jelly makes a tantalizing bite.  

Cheddar Cheese Thumbprints with Hot Pepper Jelly
Makes 20 cookies
Recipe from Yvonne Tremblay in 250 Home Preserving Favorites

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne pepper
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups finely shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup hot pepper jelly

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, salt and cayenne.  Add butter; pulse several times to combine.  Add cheese; pulse until flour is all moistened and mixture begins to stick together.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and gather together and knead a couple times to form a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls, using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each ball.  Place at least 2 inches apart on baking sheets.  Using a wooden spoon handle or your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each ball.

Bake in preheated oven for 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, press indentation slightly again, and place a small amount of hot pepper jelly in the indentation.  Not too don't want it to spill over.
Return to oven and bake 6 minutes more.  Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely.

Variations: If desired, roll balls of dough in finely chopped nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, or lightly toasted sesame seeds.

Add 1/2 teaspoon paprika or 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard powder to the flour mixture.

If you don't have a food processor:  Combine the butter and cheese in a medium bowl; stir with a wooden spoon to blend well.  In a small bowl, combine flour, salt and cayenne pepper; stir into cheese mixture until flour is moistened and mixture begins to stick together.  Proceed to the step where you roll the dough into balls (above).

Tips: For nicely shaped, deep indentations, use the end of a wooden spoon instead of your thumb.
If you're going to freeze them, freeze them initially on a single layer in a cookie sheet.  You can then place frozen cookies in a shallow a piece of wax paper in-between layers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

White Chocolate-Macadamia Snowballs with a Dough Shortcut!

"Put "eat chocolate" at the top of your list of things to do today!  That way, at least you'll get one thing done."
~Little Truths

Oh my gosh...I LOVED these!  This is one of the easiest, excellent cookies you will ever have.  They take two minutes to mix together and they were fantastic.  You can thank my mother for the recipe. 

My mother has always had great magazine subscriptions.  Ever since leaving home, one of the first things I do when on a visit is plop on her couch and start pouring through her magazines...many of them filled with recipes.  The golf ones get tossed aside.

This is what golf does to my brain
So last week on a visit, as per the usual routine, I took a look at her Taste of Home and a few recipes jumped out and bit me.   This was one of them.  They start with a log of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough.  A few changes and they were all that I imagined. 
 The original recipe called for the dough to be wrapped around a Hersey's White Chocolate Bliss candy.  That was a problem.  They have a "meltaway" center and I don't go for things with gooey centers.  You couldn't pay me to eat a Cadbury egg, for instance.  
A little substitution of white chocolate chips and they came out great.  Instead of icing the cookies as the recipe dictated, I dipped them in melted white chocolate chips before dipping them in the coconut.  I wanted the cookies to remain crisp on the outside and sometimes icing softens them.
For such a great result, these were amazingly easy.  They look pretty and most important...they tasted GREAT!  We were gobbling them up all night.  Good enough to give as gifts.  In fact, I left some without the topping because Mom doesn't like coconut and I want to give her some.  
She loves white chocolate.   Thanks, Mom!  

White Chocolate Macadamia Snowballs
Inspired by a Taste of Home recipe
Makes 18 2-inch cookies  

One 16 ounce log of Pillsbury sugar cookie dough
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup white chocolate chips, divided (half for cookies, half for frosting)
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Let dough sit at room temperature for one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Slice open log of dough and empty into a large bowl.  With an electric mixer, beat in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.  Beat in chopped nuts and 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips.  Dough may look crumbly.  With your hands, gather it together a little, but don't overwork it.

Shape tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and place 2 inches apart on the parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 for 10 - 12 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks.
Melt remaining 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips in a glass bowl over a small pot of simmering water.
Pour 1/2 cup coconut into a small shallow bowl.  Spread tops of cookies with a little white chocolate and then press tops into loose coconut.  Let set for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gratin of Leeks and Lentils

"Better to eat vegetables and fear no creditors, than to eat duck and hide from them."
~Hebrew Proverb

No matter how funky a dish sounds, if it comes recommended highly enough, it's worth a try.  This is one of those recipes.  Lentils and leeks...huh?   But the dish, conceived at the Old Mill restaurant at the Temple Bar in Dublin, has gotten such raving accolades that it piqued my interest.  The fact that I had a half a bag of lentils left over from the soup I made last week was just the little nudge I needed to give it a try.

The original recipe was posted on Too Many Chefs, by Barrett Bus of Chicago nearly 8 years ago.  It's remarkably tasty with great texture.  A wonderful and interesting vegetarian meal or a nice side dish for fish, pork or veal.  We loved it, and I can't wait for an excuse to make it for guests!

Gratin of Leeks and Lentils
dinner for two, or side dish for 4-6
Adapted from a recipe by The Old Mill Restaurant at the Temple Bar in Dublin

1/2 cup dry lentils
2 cups water
3 leeks, trimmed and rinsed
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese

For sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/2 cup chicken broth (Barret's version uses clam juice; original uses broth from poaching mussels)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup heavy cream

Place lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil, cover and lower to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until tender, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, cut leeks into 1-inch bands, then cut bands in half so you can separate the layers and wash them thoroughly.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet.  Add leeks and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until leeks become limp.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat.

Check lentils.  If they are tender, drain and add to the leeks and mix well.  If not, let them cook a few more minutes until they soften.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare sauce:  In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter.  Add 1 tablespoon flour, salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  Whisk in wine, chicken broth and cream, then reduce heat to simmer and thicken sauce, stirring continuously.

Butter a small, shallow baking or gratin dish.  Add lentil and leek mixture.  Pour sauce over.  Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle with  Parmesan cheese, return to oven and bake 10 minutes more until bubbly and golden.