12/30/2011

Black-Eyed Pea and Collard Green Soup

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The New Year is upon us and for me that means having black-eyed peas and greens on the menu in various forms.  As a reader you may know that my background is of Southern heritage.  All though I no longer live below the Mason-Dixon Line, I still take part in many of the wonderful foods and traditions.  If you are not familiar with the eating of peas and greens at the start of the New Year, the peas, once swollen in size, represent prosperity and the greens represent good fortune.  

The dried black-eyed peas can be soaked overnight or quick soaked if you are pressed for time.  Once soaked, I cook the beans with a few veggies  like garlic, onion, celery, and carrots, a ham hock for good flavor, and the collard greens.  Unlike the original recipe that adds the greens at the end of the cooking time, I like to cook the greens for a longer period of time with the beans to remove the bitter flavor and for a tender bite.  Opposite goes for adding the diced ham.  I use the ham hock to flavor the broth and then add the ham right before serving along with any meat from the hock.  That way the ham stays moist and tender, but the soup still has that deep ham flavor.

This is a great recipe for those of you who enjoy your black-eyed peas and greens, but without all the work of a full menu of Hoppin' John, Southern Cooked Greens, and Glazed Ham (that comes Sunday).


Although we are ending the year in Chicago without any accumulated snow (is that possible?!), the air is chilly and a body-warming bowl of goodness with a dash or two or three of hot sauce is still a welcome thought.  And what could be better than ending the year with a bowl full of prosperity and good fortune?  The great taste is just a bonus!  

12/29/2011

Scotcheroo Popcorn Balls

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Holiday baking-- whether it is trying to get rid of the abundance of seasonal Hershey Kisses that I bought or trying out a new bagel flavor, I am still in it full swing and loving it.  However, I am sure there are a few of you that have put away the baking pans and mixers for a while.  But with the next round of festivities just days away, I thought you would like to a have a fun and delicious no-bake treat.  

This treat is certainly the love child of two popular treats-- the standard popcorn ball and the well-loved Scotcheroos.  Mmm-- popcorn, peanut butter, butterscotch, and chocolate.  Is there much else to say?!  Not really, except that these little beauties are also on a stick.  Good food, fun food-- it's all there.  


The recipe makes 12 three inch diameter balls. They would be fun to pass out and share with a small gathering of people as you watch the count down on the big screen, or you can make them smaller for a finger size bite for those passing by the buffet/cocktail table as they mingle about.  Whether you serve them casually or wrap them up as gifts, these will make for a "sweet" way to end the year with friends and family.

12/28/2011

Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

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Although I did not post my usual Sunday dinner menu this past Sunday, we still enjoyed a meal with family beginning with this tasty appetizer.  While it may look like the traditional picnic finger food, upon closer inspection (and tasting) you'll find that it is an elegant spin on the classic.  Instead of the usual mayo and mustard yolk mixture, this recipe uses crème fraîche and cream cheese.  The original recipe used sour cream, but I find that crème fraîche lends a note of sophistication and it is an excellent pairing with the smoked salmon.  The original recipe also called for salmon roe, but I like the briny bite of capers and a mince of red onion with my smoked salmon.  I also reduced the amount of some of the ingredients because I did not want to mask any of the egg and salmon flavor (and the original amounts filled all of the eggs with plenty of filling leftover).


Serve some as per recipe and garnish the rest with the caper and onions.  Either way they will surely disappear!

12/27/2011

Cranberry Vanilla Coconut Coffee Cake

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Although cranberry season is no longer at its peak, there are still berries to be found at the market. One of our favorite breakfast treats this time of year is this coffee cake.  First a vanilla sugar is made by blending granulated sugar with the seeds scraped from a vanilla bean pod.  The cranberries are finely chopped with some of the sugar and then layered between the batter.  As good as the combination of sweet vanilla and tart cranberry are I figured one more step would really round out the cake.  I accomplished this by adding coconut extract to the batter and coconut flakes to the crumb topping.  It is a nice tropical twist that is perfect for this time of year when you are looking to escape the cold and snow.

12/23/2011

Chocolate and Peppermint Whipped Cream Tart

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Many of us will be celebrating Christmas this weekend.  I will hosting a Christmas Eve dinner in my home as we have done many times in the past, but this time it will be little different.  The crowd will be a little smaller since my parents have gone South this year for the winter.  Normally, I serve the All-American Peppermint Stick Torte with Fudge Sauce, but since there will be fewer mouths at the table, I thought I would change things up with this festive tart.  Yes, another tart. Don't get me wrong, I love my cakes and cookies, but tarts hold a special place in my heart, or should I say, my belly:) 

I found this recipe five years ago in Bon Appétit.  I was smitten with it then and still am today.  I make my favorite tart dough, then fill it with a luscious chocolate filling to which just a touch of espresso powder and peppermint extract are added.  Candy canes are crushed and sprinkled over the top of the chocolate lending a bit of texture and obvious minty flavor.  The original recipe called for 3 1/2 cups of whipping cream for the top!?!  That seemed a little excessive in my opinion.  I reduced it by more than half and there is still plenty of whipped cream for it to hold the title of whipped cream tart.  Top it with a few more crushed candy canes and you just might hear sleigh bells in the distance.


If you are a reader, you know that I enjoy sharing my Sunday dinner menus along with a recipe. Since this Sunday is Christmas, I will be backing away from the computer and camera (o.k. maybe not the camera) to spend quality time with my family and yes, there will be a Sunday dinner with a good recipe or two that I will eventually share.  So, in lieu of a Sunday dinner menu, I will leave you with our Christmas Eve menu.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Hot Onion and Cheese Soufflé Dip with Crostini
Prosciutto Rolls

Aged Top Sirloin Roast with Herb Butter Sauce
Roquefort Potato Gratin
Mushrooms Sautéed with Garlic, Herbs, and Bread Crumbs

Chocolate and Peppermint Whipped Cream Tart

12/22/2011

Potato and Cheese Purée with Horseradish Cream

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This is a dish of potatoes worthy of a holiday table.  It is a rich and savory dish full of compelling flavors  The potatoes are cooked and riced and then whipped with the usuals like butter and milk.  Ah, but then comes the Gruyère cheese.  Mmmm--cheesy potatoes.  And if that wasn't enough, heavy cream is whipped and flavored with a bit of horseradish and then spread on top of the potatoes.  Then the entire dish is brûléed under the broiler.


It's hard to see form the photos how creamy and cheesy these potatoes are (I had a hungry crowd to feed on Sunday night, so I was pressed for photo time).  But rest assured, these will put a whole new spin on the classic comfort food of mashed potatoes.  I know a slice of holiday roast would love to have these as company on a plate.

*Note-- The original recipe served 6?!  Well, we can only get through half for the 5 of us, so I say it serves 10.  With all the richness, you may want to scale back on the portions for everyone a bit, too.

12/21/2011

Christmas Salad with Red and Green Vinaigrette

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I have been making this salad for Christmas for many years.  Our meal wouldn't be complete without it.  The reds and greens from the lettuce leaves and the vinaigrette make it a festive dish to serve.  As summer tomatoes are no longer available, the vinaigrette is made with sun-dried tomatoes, making it a seasonal salad as well.


I have listed amounts for the salad greens, but feel free to use as much or as little as you like.  The vinaigrette makes about 1 cup.  Oh, as you read through the ingredients you'll see-- anchovy?  Yes.  It offers a salty note, nothing fishy.  The bonus-- this dressing can be made days in advance (I did so this past Sunday).  In fact, I think the flavors improve with a little age. Get ahead in your holiday prep and make some today!

12/20/2011

Cranberry Eggnog Tart

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We enjoyed this tart a few Sundays ago.  I used my favorite tart crust and filled it with a lightly flavored eggnog cream cheese mixture. Once baked and cooled, I topped it with a thin, jewel-like layer of cranberry jam.  It is refrigerated until completely chilled, then sliced and served with a generous dollop of  lightly sweetened whipped cream.  The original recipe didn't call for the whipped cream, but in my book it is a must:)

The reviews-- Does the filling taste like eggnog?  A bit.  Can you taste the cranberry jam?  Kinda.  That's two main flavors only somewhat showing up on the palate.  Somehow it still works, leaving me to type one more question into the ether---Is this a festive and downright delicious cream cheese tart to have at your holiday table?  As they say north of the Illinois border, "You betcha"!

12/18/2011

Sunday Dinner

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Pancetta and Parmesan Tassies




Tonight is a Sunday dinner that I have been craving.  Chicken and potatoes-- comfort food.  The bonus part to this meal is that I am getting some prep work done for our Christmas Eve meal.  I am making a big batch of our favorite Christmas salad dressing and I am making a double batch of tart dough.  In the meantime, we will be enjoying these tasty tassies before the main event.

Tassies are "little cups" made of cream cheese dough.  Normally one sees them as a sweet mini tart, but this recipe goes the savory route.  The dough is pressed into a mini muffin pan to form the "cups".  Then they are filled with cooked pancetta, parmesan cheese, and a mixture of egg and half-and-half.  Baked until golden brown, the dough is tender and almost flaky and the filling is reminiscent of a quiche.  Add a dash of cayenne for some zip. These are a warm beginning to our Sunday meal, but they would certainly be welcome at a brunch or luncheon.  The first time I made these we had a few leftover and they warmed up nicely in a preheated oven for a quick weekday breakfast.  Fresh or leftover-- they are delicious and satisfying.

12/16/2011

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Brownies

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I had intended to share the tart from this past Sunday dinner, but I really wanted to get these out there for any holiday parties or cookie exchanges that will be going on this weekend.  These brownies are a cool and minty treat with flavors that are perfect for the holiday season.  Here we have a fudgy brownie layer topped with a sweet peppermint layer.  As if that weren't enough, a thin chocolate layer studded with peppermint bits caps off this brownie indulgence.  I'd call that four layers of flavor explosion!  


Now that you're all amped up, I'll give you the particulars. To the original recipe, I swapped chocolate chips in the brownie instead of nuts and added a bit of espresso powder.  I doubled up on the peppermint layer and added the crushed candy canes for a festive look and a little crunch.  You can serve them at room temperature, but I think they are particularly nice with a little chill on them.  Either way you serve them, they will almost certainly be devoured.

12/15/2011

Albóndigas Soup

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This is Albóndigas Soup, a.k.a Mexican Meatball Soup.  The deeply flavored broth is spiked with chipotles and adobo sauce.  You can certainly add as much or as little of this as you like.  You can even omit the chipotle, but don't skip out on the adobo sauce.  It adds a wonderful smoky kick.  The meatballs are made from a mixture of beef and pork to which crushed tortilla chips and an egg are added as binders.  I baked the meatballs instead of par-boiling them to achieve a nice crust.  Simmer the broth and meatballs together with added carrots, zucchini, and rice.  There is so much going on in each spoonful that you may not taste the same flavor combination twice in one bowl.  You'll find the red broth pulling you back for more.    

12/14/2011

Kitchen Tip

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How to Store Leftover Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

I have quite a few recipes that require chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, but I do not have a single recipe that uses the entire can.  Most of the recipes I have call for 1-2 chipotles and/or a teaspoon or more of adobo sauce.  That leaves me with extra peppers and sauce.  To make sure the leftover peppers and sauce don't go bad before the next time I need them, I freeze them separately.

For the peppers, I remove any excess sauce and lay them on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze.  


For the sauce, I place a teaspoon in each well of a small ice cube tray (I found this one at The Container Store) and freeze.


Once they are completely frozen, I place them in labeled freezer bags until ready to use.  I find that the peppers are easier to chop in their frozen state.


Stay tuned for a recipe...

12/13/2011

Sun-Dried Tomato and Spinach Torta

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The holidays bring houses filled with people.  Hungry people.  That makes this time of year the perfect time to share this recipe.  You can make it the day before then leave it out for your guests to serve themselves-- perfect for entertaining!

A mixture of cream cheese, parmesan, and feta make up the main body of the torta.  Part of the cheese mixture is mixed with spinach and layered in the middle with sun-dried tomatoes.  The edges are covered with toasted pine nuts.  The whole torta is then topped with a basil pesto and a few extra sun-dried tomatoes for garnish.  The layers of red, white and green make it festive for the holidays, but the real beauty is in the flavor.  Serve with crackers or crostini-- I highly recommend the crostini.


The recipe makes a large 8-inch torta--enough to keep a hungry crowd at bay for a while.  As we are a family of five, I cut the recipe in half and used a mini spring-form pan from my children's baking kit.  Even though I halved the recipe, we still had some for leftovers.  Not wanting to waste, I turned the leftovers into a hearty panini.  I will certainly be making the torta again.  It does the job as an appetizer.  The leftovers go the extra mile.


Let's see-- basil pesto, roasted chicken breast, pancetta, fresh baby spinach, and a good schmear of the leftover torta.  Not sure what to call it other than good stuff!  I have included the panini suggestion in the recipe below.  Just add the amounts according to your own taste. 

12/11/2011

Sunday Dinner

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Fresh and Smoked Polish Sausage
Braised Sauerkraut
Sautéed Potatoes with Onion Confit
Homemade Cabbage and Beet Pierogi
Rye Bread



My son received his bottom braces this week and is still recovering from the pain and soreness.  Poor child has been living on cream of wheat, mashed potatoes, and applesauce because his jaw can't handle much else.  So I needed a Sunday dinner that we could all enjoy that didn't require a steak knife.

After reading the menu, I know what you are thinking-- cabbage pierogi and sauerkraut?  Let's just say we like our cruciferous vegetables.  Since we have had sauerkraut already this season (hence the photo), it is the recipe I am sharing today.  This isn't sauerkraut that you mound on a corned beef sandwich.  This is braised long and slow with lots of good ingredients.  Bacon, onion, and wine to name a few. There is a whole lot of flavor that comes together in this dish.

12/09/2011

Candy Cane Biscotti

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I thought I had my holiday baking list narrowed down and finalized when I came upon these little lovelies.  I made them that night and have made two more batches since:)  These are wonderful dipped in your morning cup of mocha or as a treat with afternoon coffee.  In my opinion, the perfect pairing for these is to have them with a cup of homemade cocoa (I should probably get to that recipe at some point).

I have to admit, I am not the biggest fan of peppermint.  I can handle small doses, but you won't ever see me eating a plain candy cane.  These cookies are just right for me.  The flavor is subtle, but you know it is there.  For the first batch, I tried drizzling these with white chocolate and dark chocolate.  Oddly, the dark chocolate seemed to overpower the light peppermint flavor, but the white chocolate really enhanced it. 


These are wonderful to give as gifts to family, friends, neighbors, teachers or anyone who likes crunchy, yummy treats.  Even though I have already made three batches, I think I will change up the usual milk and cookies this year and leave the Jolly Ol' Man a tin of these with a cup of hot cocoa to go:)

12/08/2011

Eggnog Cheesecake Bars

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I drank way too much eggnog as a kid (with help from my Dad).  And I am talking about the full fat-full flavor kind.  I can probably attribute the fact that I can no longer stomach that rich seasonal beverage to this overindulgence.  However, I do still enjoy the flavor and smell of eggnog.  As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I was going to be able to enjoy eggnog again, albeit in a different form.

These are called eggnog cheesecake bars, but really they are more like eggnog pudding bars.  The milk-cream-yolk mixture is set with gelatin instead of being baked in a water bath like a traditional cheesecake.  In my opinion this makes them lighter in texture, not dense and dry like some cheesecake bars.  The only drawback to this is that you can easily polish off more than one at a time:)


For the crust, the original recipe called for two sleeves (about 18 whole crackers) of graham cracker crumbs, but I used a mixture of graham cracker crumbs and gingerbread crumbs because I wanted a little spice.  The cheesecake part comes from the addition of cream cheese and mascarpone cheese (good pairing) while the eggnog like flavor comes from the addition of rum and brandy from which the alcohol is cooked out once heated.  Once chilled, the bars are cut and garnished with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.  Once cut into bars (the recipe makes twenty-four nice-sized bars), these are ready to eat with a fork.  Cut them smaller and they make for a tasty addition to a holiday dessert table where guests can simply enjoy a bite-sized treat.

12/07/2011

Green Salad with Apples and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

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I have several variations of this salad, but the vinaigrette is always the same.  I love a good creamy blue cheese dressing, but sometimes the heaviness doesn't work.  We had this salad a couple of Sundays ago.  It was hit even with those who are not fans of the blue-veined cheese.  Buttery Bibb lettuce joins a blend of tender mixed greens tossed with apples and the vinaigrette.  It is a light and delicious, sweet and savory combination.  This salad makes for a nice break from the heavy, cold weather comfort foods.


Normally I cut the apples into matchsticks, but for photo purposes (so you could see that there were apples in there) I thinly sliced them.  Please cut them in any shape or form you desire.  The are several variations that can be made to this salad as well.  You can add nuts, dried fruits (cranberries are nice), or other fresh fruits, like pears.  Like I have said before, "make it for you, make it your own".  

12/06/2011

French Toast

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French toast-- it's a Sunday morning favorite in our house and after years of tinkering with egg to milk to sugar ratios, I am finally sharing "the one".  I like my french toast thick with a good texture; crunchy on the outside and tender, but not soggy on the inside.  The bread that soaks up the custard makes a big difference as well.  The best bread I have found is challah.  If you are a regular reader, you might have already figured that I use my homemade challah.  It bakes up big, with a buttery, sweet flavor and a crumb that soaks up the custard just right.  I add some vanilla, brown sugar, and a touch of ground cinnamon for sweetness and spice.  Since we are a family of five, I fry up a large batch and refrigerate or freeze any leftovers for a quick weekday breakfast that warms up nicely in the toaster.   If you do not want a large batch, you can certainly halve the recipe.


I like to use a cast-iron skillet to fry up the soaked bread slices.  It makes for a golden, crunchy crust. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with a good drizzle of real maple syrup.  Oh and don't forget bacon on the side.

12/04/2011

Sunday Dinner

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Salted Chocolate Caramel Tart


Soccer season is over, but basketball season is just beginning.  The first game is today, so I needed a Sunday dinner that could be made in advance.  The good thing is the Sugo we are having has that "next day better" goodness.  The torta and vinaigrette were also made yesterday and the bread baked fresh this morning.  Since the tart was also made and I know how good it is, it is the recipe that I am sharing today.

This tart has the look of a winner.  The sheen of the chocolate ganache catches the eye and hints at the luxurious layer of caramel lurking below.  These two flavors are held in a crust infused with Dutch process cocoa.  That's three levels of dessert enjoyment on one fork.  Sprinkle some sea salt flakes on top to intensify the chocolate and caramel.  

12/02/2011

Gingerbread Latte

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I am not much of a coffee drinker.   My caffeine tolerance is too low to handle the kind at that well- known coffee establishment.  That stuff can really pack a punch.  However, every once in a while I do enjoy a good cup of coffee, especially if there is cream and sugar involved.  If you follow my Facebook page, you will remember that the other night I was planning holiday menus and I needed a little something to get me in the mood.  This cup of coffee certainly did the trick.  It starts with a homemade gingerbread syrup that is made with fresh ginger, whole spices, sugar, and a bit of molasses for a true gingerbread flavor.  I keep mine in the refrigerator in a glass bottle with an easy pour spout.  When a holiday coffee craving strikes, just pour as much or as little of the syrup into your coffee mug as you like,  then fill it with a good shot of espresso and some steamed milk.  To really take it up a notch, place a good dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of ground cinnamon on top.  Homemade Gingerbread Latte-- it is quick, economical (save your dollars for the holiday presents), and so good!

12/01/2011

Red Cabbage Slaw with Cranberry Vinaigrette

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After the gluttonous consumption of last week's feast and the deep fried croquettes for leftovers, I should probably take a healthy break before the onslaught of holiday goodies.  Light, but full of flavor, this is a seasonal slaw that tastes great and comes together quickly.  


Fresh cranberries are puréed to form the base of the vinaigrette.  Maple syrup (the real stuff, please) is added for sweetness while minced shallots are added for a mild onion flavor.  A little parsley is tossed in the mix for some color and additional fresh flavor.  The only hard part of this recipe is letting the slaw rest in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.  After a few hours it's good, but if left to age overnight it's even better.

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