Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! International Traditions to Ring in the New Year

It's time to ring in 2009. What are your New Year's traditions?

Of course, many of us raise a glass of bubbly and give our best wishes for a wonderful new year.

And in the South, New Year's Day isn't New Year's Day without a big pot of black-eyed peas. (I'll post a couple of recipes in a few days for the inevitable leftovers...)

But here are some other traditions you might adopt.

Pretend you're in Portugal and eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes midnight. You'll have a year of good luck.

In Peru, folks walk around the block with an empty suitcase to guarantee travel in the upcoming year.

Scots make sure and deliver whisky and fruitcake as they visit friends and loved ones

And as if black-eyed peas don't guarantee enough fortune, the Danes and Southerners eat cabbage also. Since it resembles money, eating it promises prosperity.

And, of course, kiss the person next to you as the clock strikes twelve.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Recipe Using Stouffer's Spinach Souffle: Spinach Puff Pastry Pinwheels

If you're like me, you always have a couple of boxes of Stouffer's Spinach Souffle in the freezer. (I usually have their Corn Souffle as well.) It's an easy and somewhat elegant side when you don't feel like making something more complicated. I ran across an article from The Dallas Morning News recently that provided more than twenty recipes incorporating the souffle. Tried a couple fo them for a holiday happy hour we had. Both were quite yummy. I'm going to look to try some of the others and will let you know what I think.

In the meantime, here's the first. It was a HUGE hit at our party.

Spinach Puff Pastry Pinwheels
Makes approximately 40 appetizers.

1 (12 ounce) box Stouffer's Spinach Souffle
1 box puff pastry sheets, thawed in refrigerator according to directions
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook spinach souffle according to directions on box. (Note: Do NOT want it easy to spread.) Unfold pastry sheets and spread half of the souffle on each sheet. Sprinkle with cheese and roll. Wrap each roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 or more hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With serrated knife, slice rolls in 1/4 inch slices. Place on cookie sheet (pre-sprayed with cooking spray) 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until golden.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Year's Eve Cocktail: The White Lady

I think that New Year's Eve calls for a special cocktail. Not just a gin and tonic or margarita. Not even a martini. Something elegant. Something somewhat unexpected.

Here's one that fits the bill. The White Lady. A truly "retro" drink invented in 1919. It's tart and refreshing with a nice gin kick. This adapted recipe comes from New York's hip Pegu Club. (Don't omit the egg adds a nice smoothness.)

Make several to ring in the New Year!

White Lady
Makes one cocktail.

1/4 cup gin (something good and junipery like Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire)
2 tablespoons triple sec
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon egg white

Combine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
1 tablespoon egg white

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Year's Eve Appetizer: Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive Puree and Prosciutto

This is a starter from the multi-course wine dinner I fixed for my family last week. I'll post details on it soon, but wanted to go ahead and get this recipe out there so you could try it for New Year's Eve. It's really yummy. Lots of layers of flavor: creamy ricotta, toastiness from the bagel chip and almonds in the chive oil, and bracing tang from chives and prosciutto. Perfect accompanied by a glass of your favorite bubbly.

Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive Puree and Prosciutto
Makes 48 canapes.
From Food and Wine magazine.

1/2 cup snipped chives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons marcona almonds
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
48 small plain bagel chips (1 1/2 inches)
12 thin slices prosciutto (about 4 ounces), cut into 3-inch-wide strips

In a blender or mini food chopper, combine the chives, olive oil, almonds and a pinch of salt and pulse to a coarse puree.

In a small bowl, lightly season the ricotta with salt and spread about 1 teaspoon onto each bagel chip. Carefully spoon a small dollop of the chive puree on top of each chip and garnish each with a loosely rolled up slice of prosciutto. Transfer the bagel chips to a platter and serve.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Year's Toasts: Sparklers to Ring in the New Year

It's time to buy your sparkling wine for New Year's Eve. I am a big fan of the bubbles...from all over the world. So I've tried quite a few and will take the opportunity to share some of my favorites. Any or all would be perfect to welcome in 2009...whether you're having a low-key evening at home or a full-out blast with a cast of thousands.

When in France...
Of course the grande dame of sparkling wines is Champagne. To be a true Champagne, the wine must be produced in the Champagne region of France. This is the wine with names you're familiar with like Dom Perignon. Although usually pricier than other sparkling options, it's usually worth it...especially when you're going to savor it along with an elegant meal like this one I've blogged about previously. Here are some of my favorites. All on the affordable side.

Moet and Chandon White Star
This is one of my perennial favorites...and was my go-to Champagne year in and year out until I started getting more adventurous. It is a wonderfully balanced wine with nice acidity and rich finesse. I always find just enough toastiness in this one. It will cost you somewhere between $30 and $40, although you're likely to find it on sale at this time of year.

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
This one is also well-structured and at right at $40 a bottle a pretty good value.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Blancs
This French sparkler isn't a true Champagne, but a nice substitute. It retails for around $20 and I always associate the "Cremant" in its name with the creaminess I get when I drink it. It has one of the biggest "mouthfeels" for any of the wines on this list.

Some Spanish Options...
Sparkling wines from Spain (aka "cava" from the caves in which they are aged) are excellent sparkling options. Probably the best values you can find.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

I've blogged about this wonderful wine from Spain several times. And it's been a go-to-gift for me many times...delicious and the bottle with its pewter embellishments is always impressive. As for the wine itself, it's fruity and just delicate enough without being sweet. Clean and food-friendly with its creamy toastiness, it retails for just under $20.

Segura Viudas Brut Rosé

I love Segura Viudas' brut so much that I've been drinking their rosé as well. It's nice and "zingy" with strawberries on the palate. It's delicious with mild cheeses and other light appetizers.

And if you need a sparkling wine in volume for your party, you can't go wrong with two other Spanish cavas, the Segura Viudas Aria or the Freixenet Cordon Negro. Both are steals at around $10 and will satisfy even the discerning palates on your guest list.

Some Homegrown Options

There are plenty of sparkling options from right here in the United States as well. Of course there are several from California, but my American list includes an option from New Mexico if you can believe it.

I know you can find Domaine Chandon, a California cuvee from the folks who bring us Moet and Chandon, in your local wine store or even grocery. It's non-vintage brut goes for around $25 and scored 88 points in Wine Spectator. It's rich with nice pear and apple scents and taste. All-around yummy.Also look for American labels Gloria Ferrer (California) and Domaine Ste. Michelle (Washington). They score well with critics and are good values at less than $20. And the New Mexican option is Gruet Brut, a nice quaff with both citrus and toasty notes. I like serving it with something with green these tasty appetizers. Only fitting, don't you think?

And don't forget Prosecco, the Italian version. It's usually slightly sweeter than the others, but the driest versions are still great sips or food wines. I served Zardetto Prosecco at a mutli-course wine dinner last week. More on that later...

In the meantime, cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Oyster Nachos

I know it sounds counterintuitive, but oysters are a winter food for me. Maybe it's the overwhelming fear that's been beat into us about spoiled oysters and only eating them in months with "r." (Silly given the advances in food technology.) Regardless, oysters aren't a bracing sea breeze on a hot summer day. But a bracing icy blast.

And I love oysters in all forms. Raw with horesradish-rich cocktail sauce, a little mignonette or just a squeeze of fresh lemon. Roasted ala Oysters Rockefeller. Stewed in a traditional pan roast or bisque. And especially fried.

Some friends took me to a wonderful new seafood restaurant here in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. I saw this specialty on the menu and couldn't resist. It's a contrasting combination of tastes and textures that I'm going to serve as an appetizer at our traditional Christmas Eve Tex-Mex feast.

Oyster Nachos
Makes one dozen.

12 tortilla chips (try for ones with a little thicker texture so they don't fall apart)
12 oysters, shucked
Vegetable oil for frying
1/3 cup mayonaise
1/2 tablespoon sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce (or more to taste) (You might be able to substitute chipotle Tabasco sauce if you need to.)
1 cup fresh pico de gallo

Mix mayonnaise and chipotle sauce together.

In a deep fryer or frying pan, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, drain the oysters and dredge in cornmeal.

Fry in batches until golden brown, about two minutes. Drain on paper towel lined plate and season with salt.

To asssemble nachos, spoon a teaspoon of the chipotle mayonnaise onto a tortilla chip. Top with a fried oyster. Spoon a tablespoonful of pico de gallo on top. Repeat until you have a dozen prepared.

Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Easy Triscuit Appetizers

This is the time of the year when we're all looking for quick and easy appetizer recipes. Something we can fix quickly for drop-by visitors...or that we can take to parties. I ripped an ad out of a magazine a while back. Although disguised as recipe pages from a food magazine, it was an obvious shill for Nabisco to sell their "new" Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil Triscuit. While I don't usually succumb to such ploys, these looked interesting. I tried all three recipes for a casual happy hour this past week. Two of them were definite hits. (And they fit my definition of a good canape...base, "glue," and topping.)

Here they are:

Tomato Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Canapes
This is a nice complex combination of salty, sweet and tangy.

4 ounces fresh goat cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into 24 thin slices
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 24 pieces
24 Triscuit Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil
24 cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the tomatoes in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly shriveled. Let cool.

Spread about 1 teaspoon goat cheese on each cracker. Place a slice of prosciutto on top of the cheese followed by a Parmesan slice. Top with a tomato and serve.

Italian Salami and Cheese Canapes
This is deliciously salty...almost bar food. Yummy for those partygoers who are drinking a good cold beer.

8 ounces sharp Provolone cheese, cut into 24 slices
24 Triscuit Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil
Thinly sliced dry Italian salami, cut into 24 cracker size pieces
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Preheat the broiler. Place the crackers on a baking sheet. Put a piece of cheese on each cracker and top with salami. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let cool slightly. Put an olive half on top of each cracker and serve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Microwave Peanut Brittle

Here's what I'm making as homemade holiday gifts this year. It's been a staple of our next door neighbor's kitchen for years...finally I begged her for the recipe. In cellophane-lined tins, it's a perfect gift. And easy enough that you still have time to make it for neighbors and last-minute guests. Maybe even stocking stuffers...

Microwave Peanut Brittle
(Note: You may have to adjust cooking times depending on the power of your microwave. Watch your first batch carefully and record those times for future cooking.)

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and 1/4 cup light corn syrup.

Microwave for four minutes.

Add one cup peanuts (or substitute pecans or almonds) and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Microwave for another four minutes.

Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon butter.

Microwave for one to two minutes.

Add 1 teaspoon baking soda. Stir until frothy. Working quickly, pour onto a buttered or parchment-lined (a Silpat also works nicely) cookie sheet. Spread by shaking pan or with offset spatula. (Take care not to flatten the bubbles.)

Allow to cool completely and then break into pieces.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Quick and Hearty Breakfast: Oatmeal Smoothie

Sure...a piping hot bowl of oatmeal is a great breakfast on a winter day. But sometimes even that takes too long to fix...especially when we're in the rush of getting ready for the holidays. So, while it's not hot, this smoothie is definitely hearty. A quick and healthy way to start your day.

Oatmeal Smoothie
Makes one smoothie.

1 cup oatmeal
1 banana
1 to 1 1/2 cups milk (or soy milk)
1 cup crushed ice
1 scoop vanilla protein powder
Drizzle of honey
(You can also add 1 tablespoon peanut butter if you'd like.)

Put the oatmeal in your blender and pulse until powdery. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Romaine Wedges with Tangy Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

The Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy includes a major simplicity quotient. There's nothing wrong with quality prepared products from the grocery store shelf. And salad dressings fit that bill perfectly. Especially some of the ones you can find these ingredients with no preservatives.

But sometimes a special occasion calls for something homemade. And that special occasion can be nothing else than a beautiful rib-eye steak on the grill with a glass of great Cabernet. That calls for a special salad. It would be perfect with your Christmas rib roast or prime rib. Here it is....

Romaine Wedges with Tangy Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
From Bon Appetit magazine.
Serves four.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 cup crumbled Maytag blue cheese (about 4 ounces)
2 small hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

Combine first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Whisk in cheese, leaving some whole pieces. Season with salt and generous amount of cracked pepper. Place romaine wedges on plates. Drizzle 1/4 cup dressing over center of each. Top with onion.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Corn Fritter Casserole

I've been collecting corn pudding recipes for years. It's soothing comfort food and was one of the highlights of the staff potluck dinner at my previous job. I love it.

But I never make it. This recipe has changed that. The perfect blend of dense pudding and flaky cornbread, here's a side dish for the ages.

Corn Fritter Casserole
From Cooking Light.
Makes nine servings.

3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 large egg whites
1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 (15 1/4-ounce) can whole-kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8 1/2-ounce) package corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Stir in onion, bell pepper, whole-kernel corn, and cream-style corn; mix well. Add muffin mix and black pepper, stirring until well combined. Pour into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Cocktail of the Week: Briar Patch

Happy repeal of Prohibition Day! Seventy-five year ago, Congress got smart and let us drink celebrate with this.

This is a simply yummy drink. With sweetness, richness and a slight undercurrent of spiciness, it's the perfect cocktail to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter evening.

Briar Patch
From Gourmet.
Makes one cocktail.

1 1/2 oz (3 tbsp) bourbon
1/2 oz (1 tablespoon) chile blackberry syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
About 1/4 cup chilled club soda or seltzer
Mint sprig for garnish

Combine bourbon and chile blackberry syrup by shaking in a cocktail shaker (without ice) or whisking together in a glass measuring cup.

Fill an 8 ounce glass with ice, then pour bourbon mixture over ice.

Add lemon juice and top off with club soda.

Garnish with mint sprig.

Chile Blackberry Syrup
I love the combination of flavors in this. I am furiously thinking of other uses for the syrup...maybe a Tom Collins. Or as glaze for a pork chop even....

4 dried pasilla chiles (1 oz) wiped clean
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup blackberries (3 1/2 oz)

Discard stems from chiles. Break chiles (with seeds) into a medium saucepan, then boil with sugar, water, and lemon juice, stirring until sugar is dissolved and until mixture is reduced to about 2 cups, 10 to 15 minutes.

Purée blackberries in a blender then force through fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl, discarding seeds (do not clean blender).

Purée chile mixture in blender (use caution when blending hot liquids), then strain through sieve into heatproof bowl, pressing on and discarding solids. Whisk chile purée into puréed berries and cool syrup to room temperature.

Syrup keeps, covered and chilled, one month.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

Who needs Ranch? Make your own tangy creamy dressing with this recipe. You can pour it over shredded Napa cabbage as the recipe calls for...or just use on your favorite salad mixture. It's a nice refreshing break from Thanksgiving feasting.

Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
From Gourmet magazine.
Serves 4 to 6.

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
1 pound Napa cabbage, cored and thinly sliced crosswise (4 cups)
6 radishes, diced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced diagonally

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, shallot, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Toss cabbage, radishes, and celery with dressing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Cocktail: Black Tie Martinis

By now, the turkey is roasting (or resting), the dressing is dressed and the cranberries are sauced. Isn't it time for you to be sauced also? (Come know your relatives are finally getting on your nerves.) Here's a bracing cocktail that you can make with things already in your liquor cabinet and kitchen pantry.

In all seriousness, it's time to lift a glass to all you have to be thankful for. Even in tough economic times, there is lots about life that is beautiful...

Black-Tie Martinis
From Gourmet.
Makes three cocktails. (Two for you and one to grow on.)

9 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) gin or vodka (I woosed out and used vodka.)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Lemon twist for garnish

Combine gin (or vodka) and peppercorns, then let stand 15 minutes.
Stir together 1/2 teaspoon finely ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt on a plate. Wet rim of one cocktail glass with your fingertip and dip in salt mixture, rotating glass to coat rim. Repeat with two more glasses.

Strain gin through a fine-mesh sieve into a 16-oz cocktail shaker three-fourths full of ice. Add vermouth and bitters and stir 15 seconds. Strain into cocktail glasses.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Turn Turkey Leftovers into Turkey Tortilla Casserole

Here's an easy way to put the leftover turkey to good use. It's the classic "mix and dump" casserole. But it's delicious...especially with good homemade guacamole on the side.

Turkey Tortilla Casserole
Serves ten.

3 cups chopped cooked turkey (about 1 pound)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 can (4.5 ounce) shopped green chiles
2 cans (14.5 ounce each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
(Note: I think the final product could use a little more spice. If you like things hot, you might use two cans of Rotel style tomatoes and chiles in a hotter version as a substitute for both the chiles and fire-roasted tomatoes. Or just add a diced jalapeno pepper or two to the mix.)
14 ounces tortilla chips or tostada shells
One can (14.5 ounces) chicken broth (or use homemade if you have it)
4 cups (about one pound) grated Mexican cheese blend
Sour cream for serving (Note: This is not really optional. The perfect crowning touch.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine turkey, onion, chiles and tomatoes. Blend well. Crush chips slightly and mix in. Pour into sprayed 9 by 12 inch casserole dish. Pour broth over and top with cheese.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until cheese is browned around the edges. Serve with sour cream.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Cranberry Sauce...Theme and Variations

Cranberry sauce is one of few exceptions to my standard rule of no fruit on the main course plate. The overwhelming combination of dense textures and rich flavors that appear on the Turkey Day table make my palate scream for something tangy, tart and refreshing before I dive in for the next forkful.

But no canned stuff for me. (Although I giggle when I think about my grandmother's Thanksgiving table...gorgeous crystal and china, vintage relish trays...and a perfectly formed can-shaped block of jellied cranberry sauce in a Fostoria dish. She didn't even bother slicing it up to disguise its origins.)

It's too simple to dump ingredients into a saucepan. My standard version is one package cranberries, one cup water and one cup sugar simmered until most of the cranberries have popped open. The sauce thickens as it cools.

But here are a couple of recipes for cranberry sauces that are only slightly more complicated to make, but even more delicious. Make several for your feast table...

(And while cranberries are so readily available in the grocery store, buy some extra bags and freeze them. All you have to do is put the bag into a freezer bag. Then you'll have them on hand for relishes, baking and cocktails.)

Cranberry Grape Compote
In this version, the grapes temper the tanginess of the cranberries for a slightly sweeter sauce.
From Everyday Food.
Makes four cups.

1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
3 cups seedless red grapes
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan over medium-high, bring cranberries, grapes, sugar, and 1/2 cup water to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and grapes are falling apart, 10 to 15 minutes. (Note: I used a potato masher to crush the grapes a bit to help them pop.)

Remove from heat; add salt and stir to combine. Let cool to room temperature (compote will thicken as it cools). Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.

Cranberry-Ginger Relish
This is a strongly flavored relish...and I loved it.
From Everyday Food.
Makes four cups.

1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red-wine vinegar

In a large saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, ginger, and 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until most of the cranberries have popped, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar.

Remove relish from heat. Let cool to room temperature, and serve (or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Make Your Own Chicken Stock

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving and it seems like cold air is settling all over the country. So why not spend a few minutes in the kitchen and make your own chicken stock? You'll need it next week for your stuffing, could use it for the gravy and then can incorporate it into one of the leftover Thanksgiving recipes like this. It's easy and you'll be able to take control of the quality of your ingredients plus probably save a buck or two when you don't have to buy cans and cans of salty stuff at the grocery.

Some recipes call for deboning the chicken and roasting the bones before putting them in water with the aromatics. I make it easy on myself and just poach a whole chicken. It results in a rich, but not overpowering, stock. (Plus you'll have the chicken you need to make chicken salads like these.) Here's my tried and true method.

Homemade Chicken Stock
Makes approximately sixteen cups of stock.

1 roasting chicken, giblets removed from cavity (You can actually make a separate smaller, but richer batch of stock from the giblets if you'd like. Be careful though...the liver can add an unwanted bitterness.)
2 carrots, peeled and cut into several large chunks
3 ribs celery, cut into large pieces
1 onion, peeled and quartered
8-10 peppercorns or generous pinch of black pepper or generous pinch of garlic pepper
If you have them, a bay leaf or two and a couple sprigs fresh thyme

Place all ingredients in large stock pot. Cover with water. Simmer over low heat for one hour. (If you'd like and are worried about overcooking chicken, you can take it out after thirty minutes. I leave it in.) Periodically, skim top of broth for impurities. After one hour, strain stock through sieve, reserving chicken and discarding vegetables.

To remove fat, place stock in refrigerator overnight. Fat will congeal in thin layer on top and be easier to discard.

Use within three or four days or freeze. I always make plenty and freeze in one cup measures; then I can take out exactly what I need as I need it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Turkey and Potato Soup with Bacon

Here's another use for that leftover turkey (and this one even gives you something to do with the leftover mashed potatoes).

I adapted the recipe slightly, mashing one baking potato and leaving the other one in chunks. The mashed potatoes give the soup a nice thickness, but you still get the added texture of the potato pieces. The original recipe (Cooking Light style) also calls for Canadian bacon, but I used some regular bacon I had on hand. You could also substitute pancetta. Just be sure to use one of the's a central flavor in the final product.

Turkey and Potato Soup with Bacon
Adapted from Cooking Light.
Serves six.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 1 large onion)
1 cup chopped celery
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 ounce bacon (or pancetta or Canadian bacon), chopped
3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 cups chopped cooked turkey (about 1 pound)
2 peeled baking potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and simmered until tender
1 cut fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, and bacon; cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, cook potatoes and drain. Reserve half of the pieces and mash the other half.

Add broth, turkey, potatoes, corn and chopped sage to vegetable-bacon mixture, stirring with a whisk until blended; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in pepper. Garnish with sage sprigs, if desired.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Topping

I only make cheesecakes from scratch about twice a year. They are incredibly involved, requiring a significant investment of time and ingredients. Certainly a special occasion undertaking.

And Thanksgiving is the perfect special occasion to make this decadent treat. It's another "twofer"--cheesecake and sauce are sublime together, but could also stand on their own. (I am dreaming of the pecan praline topping over roasted bananas or even just (just!) vanilla ice cream.)

This dessert holds well, so you could even make it a couple of days in advance. You might wait until the last minute on the sauce; when I reheated it, it separated a bit. But no worries...if that happens to you also, just strain some of the butter off the top and mix in a bit more brown sugar.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan Praline Topping
From Food and Wine magazine.
Serves 12.

One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (1 3/4 cups)
8 whole graham crackers, broken
1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups cream cheese (14 ounces), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pecan Praline Topping and whipped cream, for serving

Set a rack over a baking sheet and line the rack with 2 layers of paper towels. Spread the pumpkin puree over the paper towels and let drain for 2 hours, until the puree is fairly dry.

Preheat the oven to 500°. Butter the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers until finely ground. Add the pecans and brown sugar and pulse until finely ground. Add the melted butter and pulse just until incorporated. Press the crumbs onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for about 8 minutes, just until it is fragrant and lightly browned. Let the crust cool completely.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese until it is very smooth. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. With the machine on, add the spiced sugar to the cream cheese and beat until creamy, scraping the bottom and side of the bowl. Carefully add the drained pumpkin puree and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in the heavy cream, lemon juice and vanilla until the cheesecake mixture is smooth.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the cooled crust and bake for 12 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 225° and bake the cheesecake for about 3 hours, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°; the center will be very jiggly but not liquidy. Let the cheesecake cool on a rack, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Run a hot knife around the cheesecake and loosen the springform ring. Carefully remove the ring and transfer the cake to a plate. Using a warm knife, cut the cake into wedges and serve with the Pecan Praline Topping and whipped cream.

Pecan Praline Topping
1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large saucepan, combine the butter and brown sugar and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream and salt and bring to a boil. Simmer just until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Let the caramel cool.

Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until they are lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer the pecans to a work surface and let them cool. Coarsely chop the nuts, stir them into the cooled caramel and serve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Don't be afraid of this recipe. It is NOT pasta with a sickly sweet pumpkin pie sauce. It's a deliciously rich pasta dish with the taste of creamy winter squash with the salty tang of Parmesan cheese. I made it with whole wheat pasta...which kicked up both the richness and healthy factors. It certainly can hold its own alongside your roast turkey, but was also delicious with a simply baked chicken.

Penne with Pumpkin Cream Sauce
From Everyday with Rachael Ray.
Serves eight as a side dish.

1 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat and loved it.)
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
One 15-ounce can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream (I used half and half and it was wonderful. You can probably make it even healthier and just use milk,)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.

In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Return the pasta to the pot along with the reserved pasta cooking water and toss. Stir in the parmesan; season with salt and pepper.

Top the pasta with the parsley and more parmesan.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Holiday Brunch...Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted Vegetable Hash

You know you're going to have to have a brunch recipe in your repertoire for your Thanksgiving guests. Probably not the day itself...everyone will be saving their calories...but perhaps the day before or the day after. Might as well be one with autumnal flair. This is a twofer...both parts of the recipe would stand on their own quite well. The baked eggs with a side of bacon, or topped with pesto or salsa. The vegetable hash would be a great side dish with pork or chicken...or spooned over soft polenta for a rustic meal.

And these eggs are TRULY fluffy! I wasn't so sure at the beginning of the cooking process, but they puffed up huge at the end. They lost a little bit of height after they came out of the oven, but still impressive.

Fluffy Baked Eggs with Roasted Vegetable Hash
From Gourmet.
Serves six.

Butter for greasing dish
10 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 cups)
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
1 large sweet potato (8 to 10 oz), peeled and coarsely chopped (1/4-inch pieces)
1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 450°F. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish (about 2 inches deep).

Whisk together eggs, milk, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until smooth, then whisk in cheese. Pour into baking dish. Bake in upper third of oven until puffed, golden, and set, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together mushrooms, sweet potato, shallot, oil, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 17- by 13- by 1-inch baking pan. Spread vegetables in an even layer, then roast in lower third of oven while eggs are baking, stirring twice after 10 minutes, until tender and golden brown, about 18 minutes.

Serve eggs with roasted vegetables spooned on top.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Butternut Squash and Leek Gratins

Here's another rich side dish that combines a couple of great autumn ingredients. You could probably even make these a day or two before and reheat them while the turkey awaits carving. But even though this is great for the feast, you won't want to limit this recipe to the holiday. It would be a great accompaniment any night you're serving roasted chicken or pork.

(Note: The Parmesan is a nice touch, but really not needed. The gratin is rich and complex on its own. Frankly, I thought the cheese made things a bit salty.)

Butternut Squash and Leek Gratins
From Cooking Light
Serves six to ten depending on the size of your ramekins.

1 (2-pound) butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon butter
4 cups finely chopped leek (about 6 large leeks)
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground nutmeg
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Place squash halves, cut sides down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until tender. Cool 30 minutes. Scoop out pulp, and mash with a potato masher or fork until smooth.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Melt butter in pan. Add leek; cover and cook 20 minutes or until tender, stirring once. (Note: Be careful to keep heat low and not to let the leeks get too brown too soon. I found it necessary to add a couple tablespoons water to help the leeks steam.) Reduce heat to medium-low; uncover and cook 10 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.

Combine sugar and next 5 ingredients (through egg yolk) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add squash and leek; stir until well combined. Divide the squash mixture evenly among 6 (6-ounce) ramekins or custard cups coated with cooking spray. Place ramekins in a 13 x 9-inch baking pan; add hot water to pan to a depth of 1 inch. Cover pan with foil; bake at 325° for 25 minutes. Uncover and cook an additional 15 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven, and place the ramekins on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese over each ramekin.

Preheat broiler.

Broil gratins for 2 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Maybe you've settled Battle Potato and selected sweet potatoes for your Thanksgiving table. But who says they have to be mashed or casseroled. As a matter of fact, who says that ALL the food has to be on one plate at one time. Rebel and serve your feast in courses. Start with this wonderfully complex soup. Then move on to the turkey...and of course a smorgasbord of desserts as the finale.

This delicious soup has a lot going for it. So much in fact that I wasn't sure it would be "bloggable." But it is. The orange juice and honey accent the sweetness of the potatoes. The chipotle in adobo sauce provides a subtle spicy backnote. (I also wondered about adding a little Spanish smoked paprika--the secret ingredient in my mashed sweet potatoes. Might have to try it one of the servings.) And the bacon on top is the perfect smoky accent. I won't even begrudge the fact that the recipe came from Rachael Ray...

(Serving note: After having this as a main course the other night, I served the leftovers in tiny appetizer portions as a starter for an impromptu dinner party we had with some neighbors a couple nights later. Poured into shot glasses, topped with the sour cream and bacon and then accompanied by demitasse spoons, it was lots of fun.)

Smoky-Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
From Everyday with Rachael Ray.
Serves eight.

4 sweet potatoes (2½ pounds), peeled and sliced 1 inch thick
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 slices smoky bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
5 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
One 32-ounce container chicken broth
1 teaspoon grated peel and juice of 1 orange
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Honey or maple syrup, for drizzling
1 cup sour cream, for passing around the table

In a large saucepan, add the sweet potatoes and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, salt the water and cook until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.

While the potatoes are working, in a medium pot, heat the olive oil. Add the bacon and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Add the onion, carrot, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, thyme sprigs and bay leaf and cook until the onions are softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, orange peel, orange juice and cinnamon; drizzle with honey and season with salt and pepper. Simmer about 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaf.

Add the broth mixture to the sweet potatoes in the pot and puree with an immersion blender (alternatively, puree in batches in a blender or food processor). Serve the soup with the sour cream and bacon on top.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: The Secret Ingredient...Grating Whole Nutmeg

There is an ingredient ubiquitous to the Thanksgiving table. Nutmeg. It's in pumpkin pies and cakes and cookies. And it's often included in gratins, scalloped potatoes or other dishes that include cream (or even Parmesan cheese).

But there's simply no reason to buy an expensive jar of ground nutmeg to sit in your cabinet and gradually lose its flavor on a daily basis (and ground, it didn't have much flavor to begin with). Do yourself a favor and grate your own. You can buy whole nutmegs in the spice section of your grocery store. Or check out the bulk section of someplace like Whole Foods or Central can buy just a couple of whole nutmegs. It will serve you for months for less than a dollar. to grate? Buy a microplane grater like this. You can grate off just enough nutmeg for your recipe and keep the rest fresh in its whole form. (Whole nutmeg keeps indefinitely in a cool dark place.)

And once you've started you shouldn't stop. You'll learn that a little freshly grated nutmeg adds much to your cooking. I add a bit to most cream sauces...especially alfredo. It also goes into scalloped potatoes and creamed spinach. I've even heard of it used as a salt substitute for sauteed green beans or roasted cauliflower.

And of course it's great in baked goods like zucchini or pumpkin bread...or grated over your cappuccino.

Check it out...and post your favorite uses of nutmeg in the Comments section below.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Balsamic Vinegar

What does everyone have against Brussels sprouts? Serve the naysayers this and see what they have to say. It's a beautifully complex vegetable dish that will stand up to anything on your Turkey Day table.

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Balsamic Vinegar
Serves eight to ten. (I halved the recipe and it was a perfect side dish for six of us.)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds brussels sprouts. trimmed and halved
6 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Coat baking dish with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place halved brussels sprouts in large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and add pancetta and garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir to coat.

Spread mixture in single layer in baking dish. Roast until brussels sprouts are tender and brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

Drizzle brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with thyme. Stir to coat. Return to 450 degree oven and roast until heated through, about five minutes. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Using Leftovers...Thanksgiving Salad

Several of the tips I'll be posting in the next couple of weeks leading up to Turkey Day will help you deal with the invariable leftovers. Most concentrate on the turkey meat you always seem to have hanging around, but this utilizes several characters from the feast.

Thanksgiving Salad

Cut cold cornbread dressing into one-inch cubes. Place on a lightly greased aluminum foil-lined backing sheet. Broil dressing cubes 6 inches from heat 3 to 4 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and turn dressing cubes onto other side. Broil 2 to 3 more minutes or until golden.

Serve these croutons over a bed of mixed baby greens with leftover turkey. For dressing, whisk some cranberry sauce into a basic vinaigrette.

Try it.... it's even better than the traditional turkey and dressing sandwich.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

There are several classic battles at the Thanksgiving feast. Pecan pie vs. pumpkin. Plain cornbread dressing or gussied up with sausage, apples or (gasp) oysters. Whole berry vs. jellied cranberry sauce. And perhaps the mother of them all...Battle Potatoes: Sweet or Regular.

In the spirit of post-election bipartisanship, why not compromise and serve both? But no worries, you won't be working twice as hard...this delicious and creative recipe combines both in the same decadent casserole. And the hardest thing about its preparation is slicing the potatoes. For that, do yourself a favor and get one of these.

Once you've tried this twist on scalloped potatoes, you'll want to serve it year-round.

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin
From Bon Appetit.
Makes twelve servings.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, room temperature, divided
2 1/4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed
1 1/2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled
2 cups whole milk
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Coat 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter or cooking spray. Thinly slice all potatoes; place in prepared dish.

Bring milk and next five ingredients to boil in medium saucepan; pour over potatoes. Dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Cover with foil. Bake until potatoes are tender and milk is almost absorbed, about 50 minutes.

Bring cream to boil in saucepan. Uncover potatoes, pour cream over, and dot with 2 tablespoons butter. Bake uncovered until top is golden brown in spots, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Countdown to Thanksgiving: Turtle Pumpkin Pie

One of my big projects this weekend was reorganizing the thousands (literally) of recipes I've ripped out of magazines and found on the Internet. In the process, I found lots of things perfect for Thanksgiving. Desserts. Vegetable dishes. Every kind of potatoes imaginable. Ways to use turkey leftovers. Even a cocktail or two. And some simple decorating ideas. So, in the seventeen days we have left before Turkey Day, I'll be posting daily. It will be a cornucopia of great ideas for you to harvest. (Couldn't resist.)

Let's start with something that comes at the end of the feast...and is most people's favorite parts of the day. Dessert. This one is a decadent twist on pumpkin pie. And it's REALLY simple to make.

Stay tuned...this is but one of many variations on traditional Thanksgiving desserts you'll see here over the next couple of weeks.

Turtle Pumpkin Pie
Makes ten servings.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping, divided
1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons pecan pieces, divided
1 cup cold milk
2 packages (3.4 ounces each) vanilla instant pudding
1 can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tub (8 ounces) whipped topping, thawed, divided

Pour 1/4 cup caramel topping into crust; sprinkle with 1/2 cup pecan pieces.

Beat milk, pudding mixes, pumpkins and spices with whisk until blended. Stir in 1 1/2 cups whipped topping. Spread into crust.

Refrigerate at least one hour. Top with remaining whipped topping, caramel topping and pecans just before serving.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho

Regular readers of this blog know that I love things Spanish. Bracing manzanilla sherry. Tangy shrimp with garlic tapas. Saffron. Smoked paprika. Crusty rich paella studded with chicken and shrimp. Austere, but rich wines from Rioja. And I haven't even mentioned Picasso, Miro, Barcelona or Gaudi.

And gazpacho is one of the most wonderful things that those non-Spanish among us can claim as out own. Bracing in its acidity, but comforting in its richness, it's a great cold soup--even for those of us who don't love soup.

So how excited was I to find this recipe? With the same brightness of traditional gazpacho, but also an additional bonus richness thank to the grilling of the veggies, it's a great soup to take us from summer to autumn.

Grilled Vegetable Gazpacho
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes ten servings.

4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 large red bell peppers, cored and quartered
2 large yellow bell peppers, cored and quartered
2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise 1/2 inch thick
1 large white onion, cut into 1/2-inch slabs
2 ears of corn, husked
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced

Light a grill. Thread the garlic cloves onto a skewer. Lightly brush the garlic, bell peppers, zucchini, onion and corn with the vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the vegetables over moderately high heat, turning frequently, until lightly charred and crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic and let steam for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the garlic cloves from the skewers, peel them and transfer to a large bowl. Using a large serrated knife, cut the charred corn kernels into the bowl. Peel the peppers and add them to the bowl along with the zucchini, onion, cumin, crushed red pepper, tomato juice, orange juice, lemon juice and vinegar.

Working in batches, puree the vegetable mixture in a blender or food processor. Pour the gazpacho into a clean bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

Just before serving, stir the cilantro into the gazpacho. Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with the cucumber and serve.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Spicy Pickled Carrots

My family and I were reminiscing the other day about my Tex-Mex childhood. Back then in the 70's, El Chico was about the only option here in North Texas. But I still have several indelible memories: super nachos topped with sour cream and guacamole (ubiqutious now, but incredibly inventive then), thick rich bean soup spiked with bacon and epazote, and of course having my placemat signed by the Dallas Cowboys players and coaches who regularly stopped by. (My Tom Landry and Dan Reeves autographs are still, no doubt, somewhere in my archives.) Another memory is the spicy pickled relish that was on the table with the chips and salsa. Not just jalapeno slices, but also onions, carrots and even cauliflower.

So when I ran across this recipe in Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, I was intrigued. And upon preparation, I was blasted back thrity years. These are wonderfully tangy and spicy. Certainly perfect next to enchiladas or tacos. But also a great accompaniment for burgers, grilled chicken or even fried catfish. Versatile and simple, they're worth a try.

Spicy Pickled Carrots
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.

2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 jalapeno chiles, ribs and seeds removed
1 small yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 cup white-wine vinegar
1 packed tablespoon fresh oregano, or 3/4 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until onion is crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mexican Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Crock pots have been good to me. Simple recipes like this pot roast. Complex recipes made simple like this risotto. And one of the most Googled recipe on this easy way to make carnitas.

This recipe is a lot like that carnitas recipe...a pot roast that's got great traditionally Mexican flavors. It's perfect served in soft tortillas with sour cream and avocado on top. It could also serve as a great base for quesadillas. And I'm going to try a big bowl of the leftovers served over rice for lunch tomorrow.

Mexican Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Serves ten to twelve.

3/4 teaspoon salt (divided use)
1 teaspoon pepper (divided use)
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes (petite cut), drained
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chiles (like Rotel), with juices
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (2 1/2 to 3 pound) eye of round roast (or substitute chuck roast)
2 cans (16 ounces each) pinto beans, rinsed
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed
Sour cream, avocado, pickled jalapeno slices for garnish.

Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, diced tomatoes, diced tomatoes and green chiles, onion and chili powder in a medium bowl.

Meanwhile, heat oil until hot in a Dutch oven. Sprinkle roast evenly with remaining salt and pepper. Brown roast on all sides. Transfer to slow cooker.

Pour tomato mixture over roast. Cover and cook on High for five to six hours until meat shreds easily with a fork. Remove roast from slow cooker and cut into large chunks; keep warm.

Mash 1 1/2 cans pinto beans; stir into slow cooker. Stir in remaining pinto beans and black beans. Add roast pieces back to cooker; cover and cook on High an additional 20 to 25 minutes.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halibut with Barbecue Tomato Sauce and Polenta

The recipe for the "sauce" on this fish dish was super intriguing to me. Honestly, I wasn't sure it would work. But I fixed it last weekend for some friends and family and it was a big hit. I adapted it slightly--the grape tomatoes the original called for really didn't work well. So I used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes I had on hand. And it has uses far beyond topping fish. It's a fresh take on more traditional barbecue sauce that you could serve alongside pork (maybe even on a pulled pork sandwich), chicken or grilled vegetables.

Halibut with Barbecue Tomato Sauce and Polenta
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
Serves four.

1 pint grape tomatoes (I added a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, and will simply substitute for grape tomatoes in the future.)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Four 1-inch-thick halibut steaks (6-8 ounces each) (To save money, use any white flaky fish. Mine was delicious with orange roughy fillets.)
4 slices center-cut bacon or black pepper bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Cooked polenta to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast until charred, about 15 minutes.

Season fish with salt and pepper and olive oil and roast in oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes or until done.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 3 minutes. Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Add the tomatoes.

Top the fish with the tomato sauce and serve with the polenta.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Superfast Japanese Salt and Sugar Pickles

I don't think I knew it, but the Japanese are into pickles. (I know because it's been in magazines and on Martha Stewart!) Now apparently, not the kind of pickles that this Southern boy is used to. Like bread and butter pickles. Or even pickled beets. The Japanese version is simple, simple, simple. Vegetables sprinkled with a sea salt and sugar mixture that pulls out some of the liquid and crisps them quickly. And the sugar has the added benefit of taming some of the radishes' heat.

(Note: This would be a wonderfully simple snack to take to work. Put the prepped veggies into a tupperware-type container and pack the sugar/salt mixture in a baggie or smaller container. When ready to eat, throw the sugar and salt on top of the veggies, put the lid back on and shake a bit. Let sit for ten minutes and then enjoy.)

Superfast Japanese Salt and Sugar Pickles
From Food & Wine.

1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 very large radishes, halved and sliced into thin wedges (1 1/2 cups)
2 thin daikon radishes, sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
2 Kirby cucumbers, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
2 pounds seedless watermelon—rind removed, flesh sliced 1/3 inch thick and cut into 2-inch wedges (Blog note: I didn't use watermelon...sounded too complcated.)

In a small bowl, combine the salt and sugar. Arrange the radishes, daikon, cucumbers and watermelon in separate bowls; sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt mixture over each and toss. Let the pickles stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Summer Squash Casserole summer is over. But even though we can't get fresh yellow crookneck squash at the farmers market (or out of your own garden, you overachiever), that's no reason to stop eating veggies. In this day and time, you can get fresh (even organic) vegetables year-round. So hit the grocery and make this casserole anytime you want. Thumb your nose at Mother Nature. We're having squash...even in January.

With the stuffing mix angle, you could even stir things up and serve this as a part of your Thanksgiving feast!

(Note: Use fat-free, low-sodium soup and fat-free sour cream and this casserole is pretty healthy...except for that pesky stick of butter.)

Summer Squash Casserole
From Southern Living magazine.
Serves 8-12.

1 1/2 pounds yellow squash
1 pound zucchini
1 small sweet onion, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup grated carrots
1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1 (8-oz.) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 (8-oz.) package herb-seasoned stuffing
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut squash and zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place in a Dutch oven. Add chopped onion, 2 tsp. salt, and water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook 5 minutes; drain well.

Stir together 1 cup grated carrots, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt in a large bowl; fold in squash mixture. Stir together stuffing and 1/2 cup melted butter, and spoon half of stuffing mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Spoon squash mixture over stuffing mixture, and top with remaining stuffing mixture.

Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown, shielding with aluminum foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oat Bran Applesauce Mini Muffins

I really need to get back on the program. I've been working out faithfully, but not eating well at all. Corny dogs at the State Fair. Late night Whataburger runs. And Sonic onion rings for a snack yesterday. It's all adding up...around my waist.

So it's back to my plan. I know how to do it. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Eating six meals a day. Revving up the metabolism. It's worked before.

And here's a recipe that I made today to start things off right. These yummy double-bite muffins are packed with healthy ingredients and easy to grab when I don't feel like cooking an egg or even making whole wheat toast.

I have to admit that I thought that these might taste like mini bales of hay as healthy as they sounded. But they're wonderfully moist and very flavorful.

Oat Bran Applesauce Mini Muffins
From Martha Stewart Living.
Makes two dozen mini-muffins.

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 ounces dates, pitted and chopped (1/2 cup)
1 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 2 mini-muffin tins with cooking spray. Place applesauce and dates in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely.

Transfer to a large bowl, and stir in bran, buttermilk, egg, honey, ginger, and vanilla. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, allspice, and 1/4 cup oats. Stir into bran mixture.

Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling to the brims. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon oats over muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of 1 comes out clean, 21 to 23 minutes. Let cool completely in pans on wire racks. (Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crispy Black Bean Cakes with Sour Cream and Avocado

This recipe came from an interesting article in Food & Wine magazine (my favorite!) on "Canned Bean Cuisine." Recipes that demonstrated ways to "gussy up" canned beans into something more substantial, more delicious, and...dare I say it?...more gourmet. An interesting option was spinach salad with cannelini beans and shrimp. But I was most intrigued by THIS idea...crispy, creamy pan-fried cakes with a Southwestern twist. And, honestly, they turned out even FAR better than that. So good, in fact, that they're on the short list (probably topped with a spicy grilled shrimp) for an upcoming wine pairing dinner...with either a creamy Chardonnay or a tangy rosé. But, I digress...on to this wonderfully delicious and easy to fix recipe.

Crispy Black Bean Cakes with Sour Cream and Avocado
From Food & Wine magazine.
Serves four.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Two 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
1 1/4 cups plain dry bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
Sour cream, avocado, scallions and lime wedges, for serving

In a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat just until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Scrape the onion mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 1/2 cups of the beans and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but not smooth. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. Mix in the remaining whole beans and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into twelve 1/4-cup patties, about 1/2 inch thick.

Put the flour, beaten eggs and the remaining 3/4 cup of bread crumbs into 3 shallow bowls. Dust each black bean cake with the flour, tapping off the excess. Dip the cakes in the egg and then in the bread crumbs, pressing so that the bread crumbs adhere.

In a very large skillet, heat 1/8 inch of oil until shimmering. Add the cakes and fry over moderate heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve the black bean cakes with sour cream, avocado, scallions and lime wedges.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mustard Green and Sweet Onion Frittata

Here's another recipe in the parade of hors d'ouerves I've been testing. It's easy enough and can be made a day or two ahead. It reminds me of the traditional Spanish tapa tortilla espagnola. So I added a little garlic pepper to mayonnaise to serve alongside, much as a traditional Andalucian taverna might serve some aioli alongside your tortilla and cold copita of sherry. The frittata can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.

(Note: I substituted collard greens since my grocery store was out of mustard greens. They still add plenty of a nice bite--and actually I wonder if the mustard greens would make the finished product overly bitter. But whatever greens you use, make sure you chop them fairly finely if you're planning to serve this in canape-size bites. Otherwise, you end up with lots of bits hanging out...not the most attractive presentation.)

Mustard Green and Sweet Onion Frittata
From Food & Wine magazine.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds mustard greens (or other greens), stems discarded and leaves fairly finely chopped 16 large eggs, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large ovenproof nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown, 10 minutes. Add the greens and cook until wilted.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour the eggs into the skillet and cook over moderate heat until the bottom and sides begin to set. Lift the sides of the frittata to allow the uncooked eggs to seep under. Continue cooking until the bottom is set and the top is still runny, 3 minutes. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for about 8 minutes, until the center of the frittata is set. Slide the frittata onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pecan Cheesecake Pie

Pecan pie is sacred at Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house. I'm always supposed to bring it, but NEVER allowed to experiment. Not even a splash of bourbon for richness. And I was almost banished permanently from the county for bringing one with chocolate as a major part of the recipe.'s the Better Homes and Gardens recipe that's required. Just eggs, butter, corn syrup, sugar and pecans. Nothing else. Period.

But I have a devious plan for this year. I tore this recipe out of last year's Southern Living. Finally got around to trying it last week. It's delicious. Creamier than the traditional. But just as full of pecan flavor. It's what I'm taking to the Thanksgiving feast this year. Whether they're ready for it or not. Shhhhhh...don't tell my mother.

Pecan Cheesecake Pie
From Southern Living.
Serves eight.

1/2 (15-oz.) package refrigerated piecrusts
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
1 cup light corn syrup

Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions. Fold edges under, and crimp.

Beat cream cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into piecrust; sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans.

Whisk together corn syrup and remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; pour mixture over pecans. Place pie on a baking sheet.

Bake at 350° on lowest oven rack 50 to 55 minutes or until pie is set. Cool on a wire rack 1 hour or until completely cool. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 2 days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sauteed Corn, Spinach and Green Beans

This is one of those "duh" recipes. Something that we all could come up with...but we didn't, did we? I keep frozen veggies on hand at all times, but hadn't ever thought to put this particular combination together. And of course, Martha's minions make it really delicious with the addition of thyme and a splash of vinegar. It's an easy and healthy side dish. (And hearty enough that we made it the centerpiece of our all veggie meal the other night.)

Sauteed Corn, Spinach and Green Beans
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.

Serves four.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 box (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels
1 box (10 ounces) frozen cut green beans
5 ounces baby spinach (equivalent to one pre-packed container in produce section)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add corn and green beans, and cook until green beans are warmed through, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add spinach and thyme. Cook, tossing, until spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar; season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms with Bread Crumbs

I'm already testing appetizer recipes for the upcoming party season. From our Halloween shindig in a couple of weeks straight through to New Year's, I fix lots of nibbles and snacks for a variety of occasions. Here's one that's a keeper. It's easy to assemble and can be made ahead. And each little bite is packed with flavor with nice contrasting texture.

(One note: I thought the browned cremini mushrooms got a little dark and looked a bit unappetizing. One of my guests disagreed, saying she liked the contrasting colors of the mushrooms and the goat cheese. Regardless, I might use white button mushrooms next time.)

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms with Bread Crumbs
From Food & Wine
Makes 24 pieces.

24 large cremini mushrooms (1 1/2 pounds), stems discarded
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, plus one 3-inch sprig of rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into 24 pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a bowl, toss the mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of the oil and the rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a baking sheet, rounded side up. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender and browned around the edges. Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the rosemary sprig and cook over moderately high heat until the leaves are crisp, 30 seconds. Drain on paper towels, then strip off the leaves. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the rosemary oil and reserve it for another use.
Add the bread crumbs to the skillet and toast over moderate heat until golden and crisp, 2 minutes. Stir in the fried rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Gently press a piece of goat cheese in the center of each mushroom, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve.

Note: You can stuff the mushrooms a day ahead and refrigerate. Before serving, let come to room temperature and sprinkle with the bread crumbs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cocktail of the Week: Spiked Peach Limeade Granita

I'm not sure you can still find fresh peaches at the farmer's market, like I did when I tried this recipe six weeks or so ago...but frozen peaches would work just fine. I skipped the freeze and scrape steps for this and just froze it in the bowl and then threw it in a blender. Delicious. A last hurrah to summer here in the South...

Spiked Peach Limeade Granita
From Cooking Light magazine.
Makes eight one-cup servings.

4 cups water
3 cups peach slices (about 3 medium) (or use frozen)
1 1/3 cups sugar
6 mint leaves
1 1/3 cups fresh lime juice
3/4 cup rum
Peach slices and fresh mint sprigs .for garnish

Combine first 4 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 5 minutes. Cool, and discard mint.

Place half of peach mixture in a blender; process until smooth. Pour pureed peach mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish. Combine remaining peach mixture, juice, and rum in blender; process until smooth. Add to baking dish.

Freeze 8 hours or until firm. Remove mixture from freezer; scrape entire mixture with a fork until fluffy. Serve immediately. Garnish with peach slices and mint sprigs, if desired.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Buttermilk Breakfast Cake with Buttermilk Vanilla Glaze

This week's Sweet Sunday feature is great at night for dessert...and delicious for breakfast, as the name says. The buttermilk in both cake and glaze add an interesting tang to an easy-to-mix cake.

Buttermilk Breakfast Cake
From Southern Living.
Makes 10-12 servings.

1 (18.25-oz.) package white cake mix
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup melted butter
5 large eggs
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer 1 1/2 minutes or until thoroughly blended; add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.

Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan with shortening; sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar.

Spoon one-third of batter into prepared pan; sprinkle brown sugar mixture evenly over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack, and cool 20 minutes. Drizzle Buttermilk-Vanilla Glaze over slightly warm cake.

Buttermilk-Vanilla Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 Tbsp. buttermilk

Stir together first 3 ingredients and 1 Tbsp. buttermilk until smooth, adding additional 1 Tbsp. buttermilk, if necessary, for desired consistency.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins

White bread. Peanut Butter (chunky of course). And strawberry jam. THAT's the perfect sammich. So when rolled into a muffin recipe, of course it must be tried. And it was quite successful. A little "wheaty," (Cooking Light of course) but yummy. And sure to be a favorite of your kids. You might actually be able to get them to eat a healthy breakfast...

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins
From Cooking Light magazine.
Makes one dozen muffins.

1 cup all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (about 3 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups fat-free milk
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup egg substitute
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray
1/4 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 400°.

Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture. Combine milk and next 4 ingredients (through vanilla); add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.
Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Fill each cup half full with batter. Spoon 1 teaspoon jam into each cup. Spoon remaining batter on top to cover jam. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Let cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seared Scallops over Bacon and Spinach Salad with Cider Vinaigrette

Here in Dallas, we were kissed by a couple of autumnal days last week. The light has changed and the nights are cooler (even if oh so slightly). So, while salads are still in vogue, they begin to call for a little more heft...a little more spice, a little more heat.

This one fits the bill perfectly. And it calls for a layering of the most autumnal of ingredients--sliced apples, apple cider and apple cider vinegar. It was great the first night with scallops as called for. The second night with curry-dusted grilled shrimp. And even the third day as a salad on its own. Add this one to your file.

Seared Scallops over Bacon and Spinach Salad with Cider Vinaigrette
From Cooking Light.
Makes four servings.

1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons sugar
4 slices center-cut bacon
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced Granny Smith apple (about one)
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
20 sea scallops (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 teaspoons olive oil

Combine cider and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; cook until reduced to 1/4 cup (about 9 minutes). Remove from heat.

Cook bacon in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 teaspoon drippings in pan; set bacon aside. Add chopped shallots to drippings in pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; stir in cider mixture, cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper.

Crumble reserved bacon. Combine bacon, Granny Smith apple, onion, and spinach in a large bowl.

Combine remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, curry powder, and red pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle salt mixture evenly over both sides of scallops. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add scallops to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done.

Drizzle cider mixture over spinach mixture; toss gently to coat. Place about 2 1/2 cups salad mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 5 scallops.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Strawberries Romanoff

Here's another Sweet Sunday.

The word for the day is "macerate." M-A-C-E-R-A-T-E. It means marinating fruit in liquid. It's a wonderful way to make a quick dessert. And when the macerating is done in a classic liqueur like Grand Marnier, it has to be a winner.

This is delicious just topped with a bit of whipped cream, but would also be great over pound cake or ice cream.

Strawberries Romanoff
From Cooking Light.
Serves four.

4 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 cup Cointreau or Grand Marnier (orange-flavored liqueur)
1/3 cup whipping cream, chilled
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mint sprigs (optional)

Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl. Cover and chill 3 1/2 hours.

Place cream, 3 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon over strawberry mixture. Garnish with mint, if desired. Serve immediately.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Slow Cooker Sausage and Vegetable Risotto

I am a big fan of risotto. But I've never made it. My regular white rice hasn't turned out wonderfully lately for some reason, so the idea of stranding over a pan and stirring for an hour or more is simply not appealing.

So how excited was I to find this recipe? While I have to admit I was skeptical, I had faith in my fave Food & I tried it over Hurricane Ike weekend. It was incredible. I don't know that I will ever fix risotto the traditional way.

Slow Cooker Sausage and Vegetable Risotto
From Food & Wine magazine.
Serves six.

4 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
3 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups arborio rice (14 ounces)
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon kosher salt (Note: I cut this back to 1 teaspoon with wonderful results. The Parmesan adds plenty of salt.)
5 cups baby spinach (5 ounces)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Freshly ground pepper

Turn a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker to high.

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer.

In a skillet, cook the sausage with the water over moderately high heat, breaking it up with a spoon until the water has evaporated and the sausage is browned, 10 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the slow cooker.

In the same skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until translucent, 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits until the wine is reduced by half, 2 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook until all of the wine has been absorbed.

Scrape the rice into the slow cooker. Add the hot broth, zucchini and salt and cover. Cook for 1 hour, stirring once halfway through. The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Turn off the slow cooker.

Stir the spinach into the risotto until just wilted. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the grated cheese, season with pepper and serve immediately, passing additional cheese at the table.

Food/Wine Pairing: You can go white OR red here. Maybe a fruity Italian white like Masi Masianco. Or a simple European red from Italy or France. This dish will stand up to almost everything.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bayou Shrimp Stew

Well...Hurricane Ike was a disappointment. In a good way, certainly. Even here in Dallas they were predicting fifty mile an hour winds, six inches of rain, etcetera, etcetera. So I was ready. I perused the recipe files. Hit Central Market for all the necessary ingredients. And got ready to cook.

Not much rain and not much wind, but plenty of cooking this weekend. Here's one of the successful recipes. Although I'd make a change. We're not a big fan of tarragon...which was a big part of the herb mix I had on hand. So next time, I'd substitute Italian herb seasoning and its prevailing oregano for the perfect dish.

The breadcrumb topping (again with the Italian herb seasoning substitution from now on) is wonderful. Could stand on its own on fish, steamed veggies or roast pork tenderloin.

Bayou Shrimp Stew
From Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine.
Serves eight.

6 tablespoons butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup bread crumbs
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence (As I've said, I'd substitute Italian herb seasoning.)
Salt and pepper
12 ounces andouille sausage, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 onions, finely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1/3 cup flour
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
Two 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a medium skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add half the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in the bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove from the heat.

In a Dutch oven, cook the sausage over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 7 minutes; transfer to a plate. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, remaining garlic and 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence, the onions and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually stir in 2 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and edamame and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Add the white beans and bring to a simmer. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until firm and opaque, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the seasoned crumbs over each portion.

Food/Wine Pairing: Try a fruity red with this one. A Syrah. An Oregon Pinot Noir. Or a rustic Rioja from Spain.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cherry Sour Cream Coffee Cake

I have folders and folders of recipes for desserts and baked goods. I never get to them. No one in this house has much of a sweet, after a big meal (that we usually eat too late), there no time nor appetite. But I am going to make a concerted effort to try some of these recipes out. I always need good desserts for company or parties. So, welcome to the first edition of my weekly "Sweet Sunday."

This one isn't exactly a dessert...although it would fit the bill perfectly with a dollop of whipped cream on top. It's a great coffee cake though...try it for breakfast soon.

Cherry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
From Cooking Light.
Makes 16 servings.

1/2 cup whole wheat flour (about 2 1/4 ounces)
1/2 cup regular oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons chopped pecans
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 tablespoon canola oil

Cooking spray
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg white
2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fat-free sour cream
2 cups pitted fresh cherries, coarsely chopped (about 10 ounces) (Note: I HATE pitting cherries, so took a shortcut and bought a can of cherries in water. However, I made the mistake of chopping them in the food made them too runny to provide chunks of cherry in the final cake. They gave it a great flavor though.)

To prepare streusel, lightly spoon whole wheat flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine whole wheat flour and next 4 ingredients. Add concentrate and 1 tablespoon oil; stir until crumbly.

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat a 9-inch tube pan with cooking spray. Combine 1/4 cup oil and melted butter in a medium bowl. Add granulated sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg white; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.

Lightly spoon all-purpose flour in dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine all-purpose flour and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl. Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately to egg mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Stir in cherries.

Spoon half of batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with half of streusel. Spoon in remaining batter; top with remaining streusel. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; run a knife around outside edge. Cool completely in pan.