Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Loaded Potato Soup

Hi, folks.  It seems like it has been a long time since I last posted.  I hope everyone had a nice holiday.  It has been a very busy one for me, and I have been on the go most of it.  I am now back home and ready to relax for a few days before heading back to work.  I have had my fill of sweets and holiday goodies (although I do have plans for a cake made with leftover wine). 

Today was the first cool day we have had here in a while, and I had plans for some type of soup.  As I rummaged through the pantry to see what was hanging around, I found several russet potatoes crying out to be used, a small piece of cheddar cheese that looked very lonely in the cheese drawer all by itself, and a few strips of bacon from the freezer.  That sounded like the beginnings of a pot of potato soup. I am sure everyone is familiar with potato soup, but if you are anything like me, the familiar sometimes gets lost in your mental file box as you try new recipes.  So, here is reminder that potato soup is yummy and should not be forgotten.  In fact, it should be made as soon as possible! 

Sorry about the terrible picture-  this is what happens when you take a quick picture with no daylight and only a small kitchen lamp.  Anyway, focus on the soup, not the poor photography.

This soup is pure comfort food, and is the perfect quick meal following the hustle and bustle of the holidays or on a weeknight when spending hours in the kitchen is just not very appealing.  It takes about 30 minutes start to finish, and most of that is hands-off time.  It needs no more than the toppings, but it is also delicious with a grilled sandwich or a light salad and bread and butter pickles.  It is creamy with small chunks of potato and a deep potato flavor which is enhanced by a sprinkling of cheese and bacon.  You can omit the cheese and bacon, but I am warning you that they are what take it from potato soup to potato soup!!!  We enjoyed a warm bowl tonight sprinkled with cheese and bacon with sweet pickles on the side.  Yum!

This recipe is an adaptation from a Paula Deen recipe I found years ago and have been making ever since.  I leave out the shrimp and corn (which the original recipe calls for), and I cut the recipe in half because I don't need to feed an army.   I have also adapted it slightly to include a little more liquid as I found that it was a little thick the first time I made it. 

The soup is so filling that a single serving usually satisfies, and since it does not keep that well, I only make what I need.  If you are serving four or fewer, make my scaled down version (below).  If you need to feed 6 to 8 or are feeding very hungry people, you can double the ingredients very easily.  This is not low-fat food, so if you are starting a New Year's resolution, you had better make this asap so you don't ruin it.  However, made with low-fat milk and only a small bit of half-and-half, it is not as bad as some potato soups out there either. 

Loaded Potato Soup
makes approximately 5 one-cup servings

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 vegetable bouillon cube, crumbled
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 1/2 cups 2% milk
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 scallions, sliced (we don't usually have them, but if you do they are good)

In a 3 quart pot (or larger), melt the butter.  Cook the onion and carrot in the butter on medium-low until soft, about 8 minutes.  Whisk the flour and crumbled bouillon cube into the onion mixture and cook 1 minute.  Slowly whisk in the milk being careful to work out any lumps.  Add the potatoes and bring to a slight simmer.  Simmer 20 minutes until soft and easily smashed with a fork (be careful not to bring to a rolling boil to prevent the milk from curdling).  Add the salt and pepper.  Using a potato masher, lightly mash some of the softened potatoes into the soup, leaving some chunks behind.  Add the half-and-half and cook 1 minute longer.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish each serving with a sprinkling of cheese, bacon, and scallions (if using).   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gift in a Jar: Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate

I have two more days of work left, and I am feeling a little more calm and less frazzled than last time I posted.  I actually feel like I am getting some things accomplished which makes me relax a little.  I told you in the last post that I was probably not going to have time to post the goodies I am making for Christmas, but I wanted to post a couple of good food related gifts instead.  If the wine jelly wasn't your thing, maybe these cookies in a jar will be.

Jars dressed up with red and white checked ribbon and recipe cards
Actually, I was racking my brain trying to figure out what type of gift to give co-workers and room moms at my school (I'm a teacher) without making the typical baked goods.  It seems you get so many baked goods this time of year (all delicious and appreciated, of course) that sometimes you need something that can hold off until all the other sweets are gone.  In comes the cookie mix in a jar idea.  Having a pre-made cookie mix ready to make in the jar is ideal.  You can add some butter, an egg, and a little vanilla and have homemade cookies in just about the time it takes you to open a pack of store-bought cookie dough and bake it.  This is better, though, because you know the ingredients are fresh, and you know what's in it.

My favorite jars were the ones with the burlap ribbon in the left side of this picture.  They were just simple and pretty.
I realize these cookies, like any others, contain sugar.  However, I like to think of these cookies as wholesome.  Even though they have all the caloric ingredients, they are also chewy from oats and bursting with dried cranberries.  Health food, right?  Maybe not, but they are definitely better for you than some of the alternative cookies you could be eating this time of year. 

Cookies cooling- don't you just love Christmas?
So, whether you make a jar for yourself or make several jars as gifts, I think you will agree that they are easy, tasty, and pretty darn good looking all dressed up with ribbons and bows. 

Two warm cookies and a glass of cold milk- the perfect snack
I got the cookie in a jar idea and recipe online.  I am posting the recipe at the bottom of the page, but it originally came from this site.  I did change a little about the recipe including how it was layered in the jar and a few of the steps when mixing the ingredients with the butter.  I thought that the jars on this site were pretty cool looking, so I layered mine in a similar way.  I did dress them up a little differently to give them as gifts.  I just used twine to tie the recipe card (printed on cardstock) onto the neck of a quart jar.  I then tied ribbon (some red check and some burlap) around the twine to cover it. 

Of course, before you give a gift like this, you must try the recipe first.  I made a jar for myself, mixed the cookies according to the directions, and baked them.  They were chewy with a hint of cinnamon and a little sweetness from the white chocolate, and they made the house smell heavenly.  Even my husband who doesn't like cookies with cranberries couldn't get enough of these. 

I hope you enjoy whatever goodies you are making this holiday season, and most importantly, enjoy time with friends and family.  Happy Holidays!

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies with White Chocolate (in a jar)
makes approximately two dozen cookies

For Each Quart Jar:
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup white chocolate chips

For mixing the cookies:
1 stick of butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preparing the Jar:
In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together.  Use a funnel to put this mixture into the bottom of a quart jar.  Tap the jar lightly on the counter to help the flour mixture settle.  Add the brown sugar and use a spoon to pack it down a little into the jar.  Add the granulated sugar.  Add the oats into the jar and use a spoon to press them down.  Next, add the cranberries.  Press the cranberries down using a spoon or your fingers to make some room at the top of the jar.  Finally, add the white chocolate chips (you will probably have to add about 1/2 cup of the chips, press them down, and then add the rest).  The ingredients will just fit into the jar and should fill it to the top.  Place the lid on the jar.  This mix should be used within about 2 weeks to prevent the brown sugar from hardening.

For mixing the cookies:
(write on a recipe card or piece of paper when giving)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat 1 stick softened butter, 1 egg, and ½ teaspoon vanilla with an electric mixer until blended.  Add the ingredients from the jar and mix on low until moistened and combined.  Scoop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving 3 inches between each cookie.  Bake 12-16 minutes until lightly browned and set on top.  Cool on wire racks.  Store in an airtight container 2-3 days.  Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Muscadine Wine Jelly

The holidays are really creeping up on me this year, and I feel like I have so much to do and so little time.  I plan on making holiday goodies including painted cookies, gingerbread cupcakes, and cinnamon candy, but I am not going to be around to blog about any of it next week due to holiday travel plans.  Sorry.  Instead, I thought I would post several holiday gifts that are easy to make, inexpensive to give, and delicious to receive.  The very best part about these gifts is that you make them yourself which shows the recipient that you really care enough to put your time and energy into a gift.

So, without further ado, here is a wonderful jelly made from muscadine wine.  Those of you from other parts of the country (I am from NC) may not be very familiar with the muscadine grape.  Muscadines are native to America and are grown widely across the southern US in backyards as well as vineyards.  The grapes are sweeter than other grapes used for wine and produce a sweeter juice.  They are also delicious eaten fresh or made into grape jelly which is how most people tend to use them.  They can, however, be fermented into a wine that is sweet and intensely fruity.  You can purchase wine made from muscadine grapes, but I use homemade wine fermented by a friend of my uncle.  The wine is usually ready in late November and a gallon goes a long way toward making jelly and muscadine wine pound cake (I will post the recipe later).  Of course, you can also drink it. 

Before I get into making the jelly, let me tell you that the first time I ever got this wine, it was given to me by my uncle as a Christmas gift. It came with a warning.  He said that I had to open it every few hours because it was still fermenting and would explode if I didn't.  He knew this from experience as he had accidentally left a gallon in the back of his truck.  The pressure in the jug kept building until the lid could not hold, and it burst open making a bit of a mess.  Needless to say, I was very careful to open the jug regularly. 

Now, for the jelly.  This wine produces a jelly that is sweet, grapey, and very pretty.  It is not red, but more of a pinkish purple color which is gorgeous spread on fresh bread.  It would also go very nicely with a sampling of various cheeses.  If you can't get your hands on muscadine wine, I am sure you could use a red wine of your choice.  The flavor may be slightly different.  This recipe does contain a lot of sugar.  My uncle is going to try it with the no sugar added pectin and once he does, I will let you know the results. 

This jelly makes a wonderful gift for anyone who enjoys unique food items or wine, and it only takes a short time to make a batch. 

Muscadine Wine Jelly
makes approximately six half-pint jars

3 1/2 cups muscadine wine (or other red wine)
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
1 package dry pectin (such as Sure-Jell)
4 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Mix the wine and lemon juice in a large nonreactive pot.  Slowly add the pectin whisking constantly to avoid lumps.  Bring the mixture to a rapid boil, whisking constantly. 

Once boiling rapidly, slowly whisk in the sugar and continue whisking until it is dissolved.  Bring the mixture back to a rolling boil while whisking.  Once boiling again, allow it to boil for 1 minute as you stir. 

Turn the burner off and ladle the jelly into prepared half-pint jelly jars.  Leave 1/4 inch headspace at the top of each jar.  Wipe the rim of each jar with a damp cloth to remove any drips.  Top each jar with a hot sterilized lid and ring.  Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Allow jars to sit in canner with heat off for five minutes after processing time is complete.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store. 

Even though it may be tempting to make a double batch, it is best to make it one batch at a time.  Trying to make a double batch at one time may result in a looser set jelly. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chocolate Almond Pound Cake

I enjoy baking.  I also enjoy eating what I have baked.  The problem is that I enjoy it a little too much sometimes.  Having sugary sweets in the house is dangerous for me.  So, yesterday, when my husband announced that he was in the mood for something sweet (a chocolate pound cake, no less), I knew I could make it but would have to get rid of it.  I decided to make the cake, keep several slices at home, and take the rest to work.  That way other people would eat it, not me.  Right?  Wrong!  I have had two thin pieces of this cake today and one last night, and it is staring at me right now from the kitchen counter. 

I don't know that this pound cake is extremely different from other pound cakes you have made or eaten, but something about this cake is really addictive for me.  Maybe it's the hint of cocoa, maybe it's the almond extract, maybe it's the insane amount of fat and sugar that go into any pound cake.  Whatever it is, it is tasty and it is dangerous.  Therefore, I will not unwrap the pound cake.  I will not unwrap the pound cake.  I will not unwrap the pound cake.  Maybe if I repeat this enough, it will work (but I doubt it).  This is why I don't bake more often.

Just to give you a little background on this cake before giving you the recipe...this cake has been in my family for years.  I have no idea where the original recipe came from, probably either another family member or a church cookbook.  The cake is not overly chocolately, and it is extremely moist (especially the day it is made) assuming you don't overbake it.  It does contain a little shortening which I realize many people these days try to stay away from.  You can make it with all butter (just use an extra 1/2 cup butter), but I have to warn you that it is the shortening that causes it to have an extra crispy crust on the outside which is one of the things that makes it so delicious.  One more thing, the original recipe only calls for vanilla extract, but I like to add a little almond extract for more flavor.  If you prefer, leave the almond out. 

Chocolate Almond Pound Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
4 tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup milk, preferably whole (although 2% is fine)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter and flour a standard tube pan (or bundt cake pan) and set aside.  Place the rack in the middle of the oven.  Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and creamy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Sift the dry ingredients into a medium bowl.  Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the butter mixture, mixing after each addition.  Be careful not to overmix the batter at this point.  Gently stir in the extracts.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it evenly with a spatula.  Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  I usually begin checking it every 10 minutes after 1 hour just to ensure it is not overbaked. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beef Stew with Pumpkin Ale

I love pumpkin.  Anything pumpkin.  I have never tasted a dish with pumpkin  that I did not like.  I also happen to love a good pot of beef stew on a cold fall or winter evening.  I had never really thought to combine the two in any way, but several years ago I was browsing in one of my favorite stores and saw a bottle of pumpkin ale.  I am not a beer drinker but the thought of a pumpkin beer was something I could not resist.  I had to buy a bottle.  The store I was in at the time (World Market) sells it by the bottle.  Not sure what to do with the beer, it sat in the refrigerator for quite a while.  When I opened the fridge, I would see it and be reminded of the fact that I needed to do something with it.  Finally, one evening, I was planning to make beef stew and decided that rather than make it with just beef stock or red wine, I would use the pumpkin ale.  I pried the cap off the bottle and tasted it.  It tasted like pumpkin with a little hint of spice.  I had nothing to lose.

Turns out that pumpkin ale adds a lot to beef stew.  It adds a sweetness and depth that cannot be pin-pointed.  It is also a unique flavor combination with fall vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash. 

Over the course of several years I have played with this recipe making it in various ways and with various vegetables.  Almost anything works as long as you keep the liquid portion of the stew the same.  I almost always use locally grown carrots and potatoes, and then I add in other vegetables like turnips, butternut squash, or sweet potatoes depending on what I have on hand.  It is nice to add one of those three for the subtle sweetness that they provide to the stew.  If the potatoes are newly dug, I leave the peel on after scrubbing them thoroughly.  I should also say that I generally use dried thyme which I get at my local farmers' market.  If you can't get your hands on a good dried herb like that, you can definitely use fresh.  Just double the amount from the recipe.  It is also important to skim any fat off the surface of the stew.  I usually make this the night before we want to eat it and chill it in the refrigerator.  The next day, I remove it, skim any solidified fat from the surface and reheat it.  It is actually even better the next day after the flavors have mixed and mingled (that sounds like a Christmas song, doesn't it?).

Leftovers of this stew are great.  I have added barley to the broth left behind, and I have thickened the liquid of the stew up and baked it with biscuits on top for a quick pot pie.  Both are easy and delicious reinventions of the stew (especially if you are like me and are not a huge leftovers fan). 

Here is the basic recipe.  Play around with it as I do.  Really, I never make it exactly the same.  Use whatever root vegetables you have on hand and in the quantities you desire, but please don't forget the pumpkin ale (and if you happen to be a beer drinker, have a bottle alongside as well).

Beef Stew with Pumpkin Ale- 
serves 6

1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound beef chuck steak, cubed (or beef stew meat)
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp butter
3 cups cubed potatoes (1/2 inch cubes)
2 cups sliced carrots (1/4 inch slices)
2 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (1/2 inch cubes)
6 cups homemade beef stock (or good quality canned broth)
1 bottle pumpkin ale

Place flour in a zip bag.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Place the meat in the bag with the flour and shake it around.  Heat oil in a large pot on medium high.  Remove meat from flour, shaking off excess, and place the meat in the hot oil.  Brown the cubes of meat evenly on all sides.  Remove the meat from the pot and place on a plate to rest.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes until transluscent.  Add the garlic and cook 30 more seconds.  Add the tomato paste, sugar, thyme, worcestershire sauce, bay leaf, beef stock and beer and whisk to combine.  Add the meat and any juices from the plate back to the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat until it is simmering.  Cover tightly and cook 1 hour. 

In the meantime, melt the butter in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the potatoes, carrots, and butternut (or other vegetables) and saute 10 minutes until they are beginning to brown.  Set aside until ready to add to the stew.  After the stew has cooked 1 hour, add the vegetables and continue to simmer 30 minutes more (sometimes longer) until the vegetables are tender but not falling apart.  Use a spoon to skim any fat off of the surface of the stew or refrigerate the stew overnight and skim any fat the next day before reheating. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Beet Relish

I am sure most of you, like me, have had a busy weekend.  I enjoyed the Thanksgiving festivities, but I am officially finished with turkey and dressing for a while.  I am now ready to move on to Christmas.  I spent some time today decorating my tree, and I am finally sitting down for the first time this weekend with nothing to do.  All of the Christmas decorations made me think of some beet relish I recently canned, and I thought now would be a great time to post the recipe.  Of course, beets don't really have much to do with the holidays, but they are widely available right now at the market, and they are bright red and festive looking all by themselves. 

I canned beets in several ways this year.  I love beet pickles (which I will tell you about in a later post), but I tried this relish which turned out to be very tasty and great to have on hand.  It can be eaten with any number of foods from slow-cooked beans, roasted meats, hot dogs, or simply spooned alongside other vegetables.  It has a little zip from horseradish which is tempered by sugar making it very versatile and interesting.  Anywhere horseradish easily treads, so will this relish.

 It is a simple recipe of diced cooked beets and shredded red cabbage.  I like my beets cut a little chunkier in this recipe, but you can dice them smaller if you prefer.  It really just depends on your personal preference and what you plan to do with the relish.  Either way, this is a relish that is instantly intriguing and addictive. 

Beet Relish- 
makes approximately 4 pints

This recipe calls for cooked beets.  You can either boil them for 35-40 (like I do) or you can roast them in the oven until tender.  Either way works.  Just make sure that you boil or roast them whole, skin on.  This makes it easier to peel the beets and keeps them from bleeding into your water or roasting pan.

5 cups cooked, peeled, and diced beets
5 cups shredded red cabbage
3 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tbsp prepared horseradish
1 tbsp kosher salt

In a large, nonreactive pot, combine beets, cabbage, vinegar, sugar, horseradish, and salt on medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes until beets and cabbage are tender.  The cabbage will almost have the texture of sauerkraut when it is ready. 

Ladle the relish into hot, sterilized pint jars.  Ladle additional relish liquid on top to 1/2 inch headspace (you may have some liquid that you do not end up needing).  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace.  Wipe the rim of each jar.  Top each jar with a sterlized lid and ring.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Allow jars to sit in canner additional 5 minutes after processing time is complete.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Toffee Pecan Pie

Pecan pie, done right, is a wonderful thing.  Many pecan pies tend to be too jelly-like in the center with way too much filling to nuts.  I prefer a pie that is filled with pecans and tastes like more than corn syrup.  Here is a great version of pecan pie that I tried several years ago and have been making ever since.  I cannot, in any way, claim this pie as my own.  I am simply making it here to show you how wonderful it is. 

I actually saw this on Martha Stewart's tv show.  She had a lady on the episode that enters (and wins) many pie contests.  This was her version of pecan pie.  It is filled with chopped nuts and a fairly traditional filling, but what sets it apart is the use of toffee bits.  They bake into the pie making the filling taste more like a candy-bar.  You would not necessarily know that there is toffee in the pie unless someone told you, but you would know that the pie was different (and better) than most.  In addition, it has a little almond extract which gives it a unique flavor that you can't really pin-point but you know is great. 

The only thing that I do to this pie that the original recipe does not is use an all-butter pie crust.  This is my go-to crust.  It is flaky, crisp, buttery, and delicious.  The crust recipe I use is at the bottom of another recipe post.  If you choose to use the crust that I use, just skim down to the bottom of the mini spiced apple pie post.  You will find it there. 

I hope you all have a fantastic holiday filled with family, friends, good food, and good fun.   Happy Thanksgiving!

Toffee Pecan Pie- from Martha Stewart

You can use your favorite pie crust, or go to my link above to get the all-butter crust recipe that I use. 

1 unbaked pie crust
3 eggs
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup toffee bits
1 cup chopped pecans
22 pecan halves, set aside

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs, corn syrup, and brown sugar.  Slowly whisk in the melted butter.  Add the salt, vanilla, almond extract, toffee, and chopped pecans.  Mix well to combine.  Pour into an unbaked pie crust.  Place the pecan halves in two rings on top of the filling with one pecan half in the middle.  Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes.  Continue baking 20-30 minutes more, until the center jiggles only very slightly.  You may find that you need to cover the pie during the second part of the baking to keep it from browning too much.  Sometimes I need to do this, and sometimes I don't.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Pecans

No Thanksgiving meal is complete without some form of cranberry sauce.  This version is one I have been making for years.  It, in no way, resembles the canned version.  It is chock-full of whole cranberries, chunks of apple, and pecans.  It is tart and sweet with a hint of citrus, and it goes well with turkey, ham, or even casseroles that contain stuffing.  The best thing about it is that it takes about 20 minutes start to finish and can be made several days ahead of the big meal.

Even though I am calling this cranberry sauce, it is very chunky and can be used in a variety of ways after Thanksgiving passes.  If you have extra, try it heated slightly and spooned over vanilla ice cream.  It is also great spooned into store-bought puff pastry as a quick and easy turnover (preferably to be served with ice cream also).  In my family, we love pecans, so I add a little more nuts than the average person may want.  If you want just a few, go with 1/2 cup.  If you are good with a reasonable amount, go with 3/4 cup.  If you are like me and can eat pecans in anything and everything and never have enough, go with 1 cup.  Your choice.  Either way, it will be delicious.

One more thing, I have tried making this with cranberries I had frozen for several months, and it came out a little thinner than usual.  I don't know the science behind it all, but it seems fresh, unfrozen berries are best, so try that for best results.

Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Pecans- adapted from Ina Garten
makes enough to fill a 1 quart dish

If using a red apple in the sauce, do not peel. If using a lighter colored apple, peel for a prettier sauce.

1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries, picked over and bad berries removed
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tart apple (I use Arkansas Black but Granny Smith work also)
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup water

Cook cranberries, sugar, and water in a skillet or saucepan on medium low for 5-10 minutes until the berries begin to soften and pop.  Add the apple, zests and juices and cook 15 minutes or so more until the apple is tender.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the toasted nuts.  Pour into a bowl and allow to cool completely.  It will look thin at first, but it will thicken nicely as it cools.  Chill the sauce in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake

If you are trying to find a new dessert for the holidays, look no further.  I did not intend on posting this cake until closer to Thanksgiving, but I can't resist anymore.  If you are anything like me, you probably begin thinking about the dessert even before you think about the turkey, and here is a cake for you to think about from now until Thanksgiving Day when you can finally eat and savor it bite by bite. 

This recipe was originally printed in the October/November issue of Fine Cooking magazine.  I saw it last year and wanted to make it but never got around to it.  I actually made it about a month ago with the excuse that I needed to try it before Thanksgiving to make sure it was worthy.  Isn't that a great excuse?  I thought so.  The results were definitely worth making again and will very likely make it to my holiday celebration this year. 

I will say that I do not bake many layer cakes, not because I don't like them, but because they are a bit time consuming (and large) when you only have two people in the house to eat them.  Since I don't bake many layer cakes, I am not the best cake froster or decorator, but this cake came out surprisingly nice looking which I credit to simple directions and steps.  If I can make the cake look similar to the cake in the magazine, anyone can!

This cake does require several steps, and while none of the steps are difficult, they can be a bit time-consuming.  The good thing is that many of them can be done ahead including the frosting and nut topping. 

I started by toasting some pecans and pepitas in brown sugar and butter until the sugar melted and formed a candy coating.  I then added chopped dried cranberries.  The original recipe called for crystallized ginger, but when I went to the store to purchase it, they were sold out.  I am not a huge fan of it anyway, so I opted for the cranberries which still provide the chewy factor while also adding a tart element to the candied topping.  I also opted to use roasted, salted pepitas in the topping rather than raw.  Since they were salted, I left the salt (called for in the original recipe) out.

The cake layers are spiced and extra moist from the added pumpkin puree.  They cooked beautifully and came out of the pan with no problem at all.  I took part of this cake to work and we kept the rest at home.  Covered, it kept nicely for about 3 days without drying out in the least which should give you an idea of how moist these layers really are.

The frosting is made with cream cheese and brown butter.  It is creamy and nutty and could easily be eaten by the spoonful if you don't have a lot of self-control (like me).  I did read a lot of reviews about this cake before, and some people commented that they thought it needed more frosting.  I will say that there is not an overabundance of frosting.  The layer in between the two cake halves is not thick, and there is just enough to cover the outside.  I found that it was enough but there was none to spare.  If you want more, you may want to make 1 1/2 recipes of frosting to have a little wiggle room, but I don't think you need more than that because the frosting is so sweet. 

The most important thing I can say about this cake (aside from the fact that everyone who tried it loved it) is that the nuts are fantastic.  Even though the cake and frosting are delicious, the nuts make it extra special.  We made a double batch of the nuts to have enough to cover the top of the cake.  We still had a few left which made an excellent snack during the week. 

I am really making myself hungry for a slice of this right now, so I am going to end this post with the recipe.  Enjoy!

Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake- only slightly adapted from Fine Cooking
serves 8-12

Cake Layers:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pans
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)

Topping (This is doubled to cover the entire top. If you just want to decorate the edge of the cake with the nuts, make only half this amount):
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups pecan halves
1 cup hulled, roasted, and salted pepitas
4 tbsp packed brown sugar
3 tbsp chopped dried cranberries

1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

For the Cake:
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment and sides of the pans and flour the pans.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat.  Swirl the butter around in the pan until it is nutty and golden, about 4 minutes.  Pour the butter into a small bowl and set aside until cool, 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt.  In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and buttermilk.  Using a spatula, gently stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until just combined.  Gently whisk in the brown butter until just combined.  Divide the batter evenly among the two pans. 

Bake the cakes about 28 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Remove cake layers from pans and allow to cool completely on wire racks. 

For the Topping:Melt the butter in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the nuts and pepitas and cook until slightly brown, 2 minutes. Add the sugar and cook until the nuts are glazed, 2 minutes.  Add the chopped, dried cranberries.  Remove from the heat to cool completely.

For the Frosting:
Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium.  Swirl the butter until it is nutty and golden brown, about 4 minutes.  Pour into a small bowl.  Let the solids settle to the bottom of the bowl.  Carefully move the bowl to the freezer and allow it stand in the freezer 15-18 minutes.  Scrap the butter from the bowl leaving the solids at the bottom.  Discard the solids. 

Beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed using an electric mixer until it is light cream in color, 2 minutes.  Gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar until fluffy, 1-2 minutes more. 

Assemble the Cake:
Place one cake layer on a plate.  Spread 1/2 cup frosting over the cake layer.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of of the nut topping on the cake layer.  Top with the second cake layer.  Frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, and pile the remaining nut topping in the center of the cake extending out toward the edges.  (If only using half of the nut topping, arrange in a ring around the edge of the top of the cake).

Serve the cake or refrigerate 2-3 days. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Aunt Lynn's Sweet Potato Casserole

In keeping with my last post, here is another incredibly tasty Thanksgiving side dish.  This sweet potato casserole has been on the holiday table in my family for as long as I can remember.  My Aunt Lynn always makes it, and when I got married, she gave the recipe to me.  Now, no matter where I am at Thanksgiving, I try to make this casserole.  The table is just not complete without it.  It is a pretty traditional sweet potato casserole, but isn't tradition what Thanksgiving is all about?

Like other sides at Thanksgiving, many of the parts of this dish can be made ahead.  You can roast the sweet potatoes a day or so before and chop the nuts ahead of time.  At that point, the most time consuming part of this is the topping, and that only takes a matter of minutes to whip up. 

I will warn you that this is sweet, not too sweet, but sweet enough that a good sized spoonful will do you.  It is a side dish but could almost double as dessert.  You could cut some of the sugar if you wanted to make it less caloric and sweet, but what the heck, it's Thanksgiving.  I say, go all out! 

As you have noticed by now, this is a casserole with a streusel-like topping, not marshmallows.  Marshmallows, in my personal opinion, have no place on the Thanksgiving table and especially not on top of sweet potatoes.  No offense to anyone, but a nut topping is way to go.  A crackly, crunchy crust topping creamy, dreamy sweet potatoes. What could be better?

Aunt Lynn's Sweet Potato Casserole 
serves 6-8

5 medium or 3 large sweet potatoes, roasted until tender
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (any kind is fine- I use 2%)
1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, cut in small cubes
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Scoop the flesh out of the roasted sweet potatoes.  Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the remaining filling ingredients and whisk to combine until the filling is fairly smooth.  Pour the filling into a 2 quart baking dish (you can also use a 9 x 13 for a greater ratio of topping to filling). 

In a medium bowl, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in the nuts.  Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling.  Bake for 30-35 minutes*. 

*Sometimes to get a slightly darker topping, I place the dish under the broiler for a minute or two.  If you do this, watch it very closely because it will burn easily. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Thanksgiving Table: Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

It is hard to believe it is already November.  Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it is time to begin thinking about the foods that will grace the Thanksgiving table.  I decided to focus the next two weeks on foods that are traditions in my family as well as a few that aren't traditions yet but are destined to be very soon.  I promise that when Thanksgiving is over I will post several canning recipes for you food preservationists (I canned several great beet recipes recently), but for now, let's all be thankful for the holiday and celebrate with one of my favorite side dishes.

Finished Brussels sprouts-  these pictures are only of half a recipe. 
Shredded Brussels sprouts with bacon is one of those dishes that is welcome on the table anytime during the fall and winter at my house.  It is easy and comes together in no time at all.  It has been known to win adamant sprout haters with its buttery taste and cabbage-like texture.  My husband and I have it often this time of year by simply halving the recipe, and it is especially convenient since most of the items can be prepped ahead of time.  When I make this at Thanksgiving, I shred the sprouts the day before and chop and refrigerate the bacon ahead of time too. 

The shredding of the sprouts in this dish is really what makes it special and gives it an interesting texture.  Some of the pieces fall apart into ribbons and become extra soft, while other pieces are just crisp-tender.  Delicious.

I began making these years ago from a recipe in a Cooking Light magazine.  The original recipe called for hazelnuts.  I have tried it with the nuts, and it was good, but I don't always have hazelnuts around the house.  Pecans would work well if you wanted to add them.  We find that there are so many dishes at Thanksgiving that contain some type of nut, it is nice to have a dish without them sometimes. Not to mention, there is enough nuttiness around the holiday table when family gathers together.  I am sure you know what I mean.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon-  adapted from Cooking Light
serves 10-12

4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, sliced into thin ribbons
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large pot on medium high heat.  Add the bacon and cook until crisp and brown.  Remove the bacon to a towel lined plate to drain.  Add the stock to the pot.  Use a spatula to scrap up any brown bits left by the bacon.  Bring the stock to a simmer.  Add the sprouts, salt and pepper, and cook 4-6 minutes until crisp-tender.  Season to taste.  Sprinkle the bacon on top and serve.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Bacon

When I started this blog, part of the purpose of it was to keep up with great recipes that I had tried and enjoyed.  I was terrible about trying a recipe, really liking it, but forgetting about it.  So, when I tried this recipe that ran in a fairly recent Martha Stewart Living magazine, I decided I had to blog about it so that I would have a record of the recipe in an easy to find location.  While it is not a fancy-pants recipe and is certainly not difficult, it is satisfying and delicious and makes a wonderful weeknight meal-  definitely worth making over and over. 

This dish is very similar to the Orecchiette with Kale and Bacon that I posted last month, but this version is chock-full of roasted cauliflower and sweet potato.  It does contain bacon, but you could easily leave it out to make a vegetarian version. 

It begins with a few slices of bacon that are crisped up in a skillet.  Some of the drippings are reserved for tossing with the vegetables before they are roasted in the oven.  The vegetables come out perfectly tender and caramelized around the edges.  They are then tossed with the cooked pasta, a little pasta cooking liquid, and some grated parmesan cheese to make a bit of a sauce which lightly coats everything.  The recipe called for parsley, but I had some fresh sage on hand and decided to add a little for more autumn flavor.  The sage was a nice addition, adding a little more oomph to the dish.  

So, if you find yourself with some cauliflower, sweet potatoes, or even other fall veggies such as winter squash (I happen to think some roasted rutabaga would be excellent here as well), consider throwing them all together to make this tasty pasta dish.  

Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Bacon- serves 4
adapted only slightly from Martha Stewart Living 

If you decide to make this without the bacon, simply use more olive oil for tossing the vegetables before roasting.

 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 thick cut slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets (about 2 1/2 cups total)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. orecchiette
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large sage leaves, sliced into thin ribbons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Cook the onion until tender and beginning to caramelize.   Remove the onion to a small bowl.  Add the bacon to the same skillet and cook until it is crisp and browned.  Remove the bacon to a plate and reserve the drippings.

Toss the sweet potato and cauliflower with the reserved bacon drippings on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Roast 20 minutes, toss, and roast 15 minutes more until caramelized around the edges and tender.  

While the vegetables are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.  Drain the pasta.  Place the pasta back in the pot.  Toss with the roasted vegetables, grated cheese, and reserved pasta water.  Stir in the sage.  Sprinkle the bacon on top and sprinkle extra cheese over everything, if desired.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Testing My Patience with Apple Butter

I am sure many of you out there have made apple butter.  I have made pear butter and apple butter every year for several years now.  I love the comforting, spicy flavor of a great fruit butter as well as the way it mounds up on the spoon, thick and glossy.  It does not, however, get that way quickly or easily, and every year when I make fruit butter, there is a brief moment when I tell myself that that year will be the last.  This year was no different.  As I set out to make apple butter this year (and this will probably be one of my last apple preserving posts for the season), I decided to try something a little different.  You see, every year I make my butter on the stove.  It spatters and bubbles like a volcano and generally makes a bit of a mess while also taking its ever-loving time.  This year, however, I read that a slow cooker can be a fruit butter maker's best friend.

I tried it, and I must tell you, that while the process is less hands-on and a bit easier, it is no less time consuming.  This could, in large part, be due to the fact that my slow cooker is small enough to have been created for gnomes rather than humans (I have since purchased a larger slow cooker), but it still does not dismiss the fact that the butter has to cook practically all day in order to achieve the correct consistency.  Nonetheless, I did use it, and this is how it went.

I began by essentially making applesauce with a mixture of good saucing apples.  I left the peel on the apples and then removed it by pushing the pulp through a fine mesh sieve.  You could also peel the apples before cooking.  In my hurry to get this in the slow cooker, I failed to take adequate pictures (something I must get better at remembering).  

Once I had the applesauce, I cooked it with sugar and spices in my eency-weency slow cooker (my slow cooker is actually not that small, it is around 3 quarts) until it was thick, dark brown, and smelled incredible.  This is the point that always bothers me.  I have difficulty getting all of the excess liquid cooked out of the butter.  When it mounds up on a spoon, there is often a ring of juice that seeps out from under the mound.  It always seems that no matter how long I cook it, this always happens.  Since this happened to me this year also, I decided to remedy the situation by pouring the cooked butter into a large piece of cheesecloth.  My husband held the cheesecloth while the excess moisture dripped through (good man), and what remained was a thick and not-at-all watery apple butter.  True apple butter success from my personal perspective but not without plenty of effort. 

So, my verdict on the case is this...if you want great apple butter without any excess moisture, you must follow some simple guidelines. 

1.  If using a slow cooker, use one large enough to hold the butter with extra room remaining.  This will speed things up a little (not much, but a little). 

2.  Make sure you cook the butter long enough to reach a thick, moundable consistency.

3.  If you want to get rid of any extra moisture that could seep out of your butter, gently strain the butter through several layers of cheesecloth while someone you love and admire gingerly holds the cloth without dropping it.  This will still leave you with a creamy, but not at all liquidy, butter consistency.

Spiced Apple Butter- adapted only slightly from Canning for a New Generation
makes 5-6 half-pint jars (depending on whether or not you strain the butter)

If you leave the peel on the apples, you will need to use a food mill or fine mesh sieve to remove the peel from the apple pulp. If you do not want to take this step, peel the apples first.

6 pounds apples (good for saucing), peeled or peel left on, cut in 1 in. pieces
2 cups apple cider
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice

Place the apple pieces and cider in a large pot with approximately 3 cups water.  (You may need more liquid as the apples cook, but I found that the 4 cups of water called for created a very thin applesauce that was difficult to cook down in a reasonable amount of time.  Start with 3 and add more if the apples begin to stick).  Boil, approximately 30 minutes, until the apples are soft and begin to separate from the peel.  If you cooked the apples peel on, use a food mill or strainer to separate peel from pulp.  If you peeled them before cooking, puree them in a food processor. 

Pour the apple puree into a large slow cooker and stir in the sugar and spices.  Put the lid on but prop it open on one side with the handle of a wooden spoon.  Cook on low anywhere from 10-12 hours (maybe even more) until the butter is thick, dark, and mounds on a spoon without any liquid seeping out.  If it reaches the thickness desired but still has a little moisture seepage, strain it through several layers of cheesecloth to remove excess moisture. 

You can also cook the butter on the stovetop for several hours, stirring frequently until it reaches the desired consistency.  Be careful as it does spatter. 

When ready, ladle hot butter into hot, sterilized half-pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace (I am using the headspace measure required by the National Center for Food Preservation for fruit butters).  Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace, and wipe rims.  Place hot lids and rings on jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove to a towel to cool.  Check seals after 12 hours and store. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Simple Fall Supper of Roasted Chicken and Carrots

I don't know about you, but sometimes I crave a simple meal that turns out comforting results with very little effort or hands-on time.  For me, that meal is roasted chicken and vegetables.  Simple, yet satisfying, these items hardly even require recipes.  I do think, though, that sometimes these simple foods can be overlooked or forgotten about as we try new and interesting recipes that we come across.  So, today, I am taking you back to the basics with a lemon roasted chicken and honey roasted carrots.  Perfect for a crisp fall day, these two "recipes" will not let you down.  

Let's begin with the chicken.  Now, I roast chicken in several ways, but the way that we enjoy most is a lemon roasted chicken that is served over crisp, homemade croutons and drizzled with some of the oniony pan drippings.  This is an often requested dish by my husband and one that is very easy to make.  It starts with a 4 pound chicken which is nestled atop a mound of sliced onions.  The bird is then bathed in lemon juice and slathered with butter.  Salt and pepper season it inside and out, and the lemon pieces are tucked inside to perfume the bird and add extra flavor as it cooks. 

chicken ready to be roasted on top of a mound of onion slices
The chicken is then roasted in the oven until it is cooked through and the skin has become nicely browned and crispy.  The onions, although you cannot tell in the pictures, are caramelized and soft and almost melt into the pan drippings.  The drippings in the bottom of the pan are slightly lemony and very delicious. 

In my hurry to eat this chicken, I forgot to take pictures of the croutons.  They are cubes of french bread that have been toasted in a large skillet until they are crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside.  They are mounded on a platter and the sliced chicken is nestled on top of them.  The onion is smashed into the pan drippings which are then skimmed of excess fat and drizzled over the top of everything.  The "sauce" created by the drippings is flavorful and slightly lemony and finished everything off nicely.

Roasted chicken-  I forgot to take a picture of the croutons before we ate.
I like to serve this with a simple vegetable.  On this occasion, I had some lovely tri-color carrot bunches from the market.  I decided to roast them on a separate baking pan.  I realize that this hardly qualifies as a recipe, but it is delicious none the less. 

purple, orange, and white carrots
You begin by cutting the peeled carrots into three inch pieces.  Then you quarter each piece lenghtwise.  These pieces are then tossed with a mixture of melted honey and butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. 

The bowl I mixed the butter and honey in was cold and the butter solidified which is why it lookes like this.  It melted again the oven and coated everything nicely.
They are roasted, covered, which I realize is a slightly strange thing to do since what you are looking for is the caramelization of the carrots.  Roasting them covered for a short time allows them to cook throughout and become soft and tender.  Then, they are uncovered to caramelize and get crisp around the edges. 

Finished carrots-  they look burnt but they're not.  The dark ones are the purple carrots.
What you end up with are roasted carrots that are perfectly creamy on the inside and nicely browned on the outside.  The honey brings out the sweetness of the carrots while still allowing their earthiness to shine through.  All in all, a nice, simple fall meal worth making when you just want something familiar and comforting.

Lemon Chicken with Croutons- adapted slightly from Barefoot in Paris
serves 4

1 four pound chicken
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for coating the onion slices
kosher salt
black pepper
2 lemons, quartered
2 tbsp butter, melted
4 cups french bread cubes (3/4 in)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Rinse and dry the chicken.  Toss the onion in a little oil in the bottom of a roasting pan.  Sit the chicken, breast side up, on top of the onion slices.  Squeeze the lemon pieces over the chicken and then put the pieces into the cavity of the bird.  Brush the chicken with the melted butter and season the cavity and outside of the bird generously with salt and pepper.  Tuck the wings of the chicken behind its back.  Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.  Roast 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes until the juices run clear and the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to rest 15 minutes. 

In the meantime, smash the onion slices into the chicken drippings.  Using a spoon, skim the excess fat off of the drippings. Set the drippings aside.

In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until very hot.  Lower the heat to medium low and add the bread cubes.  Cook the cubes 8-10 minutes until lightly browned on the outside.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. 

To serve, place all bread cubes on a serving platter.  Slice the chicken and place it on top of the bread.  Drizzle the reserved pan drippings over everything.

Honey Roasted Carrots
serves 3-4

1 pound carrots, peeled
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey
kosher salt
black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Cut each peeled carrot into three inch pieces.  Cut each three inch piece in quarters lengthwise.  In a medium bowl, mix melted butter and honey together.  Add carrots and toss to coat.  Place carrots on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover the baking sheet with foil and roast carrots, covered, 15 minutes. Uncover the baking sheet.  Toss the carrots and drain any excess liquid from the pan.  It is important that you drain any liquid off so that the carrots can brown rather than steam for the remainder of the cooking time.  Continue to roast the carrots 30 more minutes until they are browned on the outside and completely tender on the inside.