Sunday, December 14, 2008

Family Traditions in Food....

The not quite a cookie exchange cookie exchange party!

So, every year I host a cookie exchange, and everyone brings anywhere from 8-12 dozen cookies to be exchanged, and everyone leaves with a variety of goodies to take home. This year, I was going to have a party, but not ask everyone to bring cookies...just an informal gathering of friends and family to celebrate the upcoming holidays and being together. I'd serve appetizer type foods, and a dessert, and that would be that. Well, since I had to make dessert anyway, I decided to go ahead and make cookies (ok, well, certain people who shall remain unnamed were begging me for cookies! lol). Next thing I knew, Mom was making cookies too (my favorites!), and my sister in law was making fudge, and my friend brought over more appetizers...we ended up with a whole lot of goodies! So, in the spirit of giving inspired by the season, here are some recipes for you! Merry Christmas!

First up: Artichoke Dip. I came up with this version, because all of the recipes I found called for spinach, and I wanted a dip that focused solely on the delectible artichoke hearts. It's a quick mix and bake recipe that everyone loves.
  • 1 cup mayo (I used the olive oil kind)
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 2 small jars marinated artichoke hearts
  • 1 cup Quattro Fromaggio (a 4 cheese blend: parmesan, asiago, provolone & fontina)
  • 1 1/2 tsp fine ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
Combine everything except the paprika and spread into a baking dish. I used a 6x9" glass dish. Bake at 350* for 30 min. Sprinkle with paprika, and serve with thinly sliced pieces of baguette, tortilla chips, or crackers (or all of them!)

This is a Veggie 'Pizza'. It's a really simple appetizer to make. You just use Pillsbury crescent rolls, baked flat in a single sheet. Combine 8 ounces each sour cream and cream cheese with your favorite ranch dip/dressing seasoning and spread that over the crescent roll base, then top with an assortment of fresh veggies. Tasty and simple, what more could you want? :)

Here we have a dip that is a family tradition going back a couple generations. It's an easy take on pate that my Mom made every year on New Year's Eve, and my family loves it too!
  • 8 ounces braunschweiger
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup chopped green olives (with pimientos)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
Combine the braunschweiger and cream cheese until thoroughly mixed. (I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer for this). Add in olives, green onions, and worcestershire to taste. Transfer to a crock, cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours to allow flavors to meld. This can be made a couple days in advance. Remove from fridge 15-20 min prior to serving.

Next up, Cappuccino Love Bites! These are a buttery cookie that's been rolled in a combination of turbinado sugar and instant espresso, baked, then topped with a Hershey's Hugs. Tastes like a drink from your favorite coffee house!

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp espresso or milk
  • 2 1/4 c flour (all purpose)
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup instant coffee or espresso
  • 48 Hershey's Hugs, unwrapped
Cream butter & sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk together flour, baking powder, & salt. To the butter, add the egg, vanilla, and milk or espresso; beat just until combined. Add dry ingredients; beat just until combined. Don't over-mix. Spoon dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and roll like a log. Chill 1 hour or until firm. Divide dough into 1" balls. Combine turbinado sugar and instant coffee; roll balls in mixture. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet (spray is fine), and bake at 350*f for 10 min. Tops will crack slightly. Don't allow sides to color. Immediately top each cookie with a Hug, and, if desired, swirl the hug with the tip of a spoon or knife while still warm.

Candy Cane meringues are something I started making a few years back, and they are hugely popular with our clan! Make a basic meringue and flavor it with peppermint extract. Be sure to use extract, not oil. Pipe onto parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Put into a 225*f oven for about 90 min, or until perfectly dry. When completely cooled, dip bottoms into melted dark chocolate. That's it!
Next to the meringues: Lacies. A simple mixture of 1/2 c brown sugar, 7 tbsp of butter, 3/4 c flour and 1 cup chopped almonds. Spoon onto buttered cookie sheet and bake at 375*f until thin and deep golden, about 10 min. Sandwich cooled cookies with melted chocolate..yum!

Last but definitely *not* least! I saved them for last because they are the best! French Christmas Cookies. These little morsels are decadent and delicious. The combination of flavors works so perfectly together, you'll wonder why you hadn't thought of it sooner! And the best part about making them at Christmas is the recipe makes dozens and dozens of cookies, so you have lots to share with your family and friends!

  • 40 Graham cracker singles (2 packs from a box)
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups finely chopped pecans
  • 1 (12 ounce) bag mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup half & half
Heat oven to 375*f. Line a baking sheet with candy cups (smaller than mini-muffin cups, these are available at crafts stores like Michael's or at candy/cake making supply stores).
Place the graham crackers into a ziploc bag, and roll over them with a rolling pin. You want them crushed, but not to a powder.
Cream butter and sugar. Add crushed grahams; mix. Add pecans & mini chips; mix. Add half & half, mix until thoroughly combined. Fill each candy cup 3/4 full. Bake for 10-12 minutes; just until set. Do not overbake!
For the icing:
  • 1 (12 oz) pkg chocolate chips
  • 1 (12 oz) pkg butterscotch chips
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
Combine and melt together, stirring often, until completely melted and smooth (except for nuts if using chunky peanut butter! lol). For ease and speed, fill a baggie with this mixture and snip a small hole on one corner and pipe the icing onto the cookies.

There you have it! Recipes for some of our traditional family favorites for the holiday season! I hope everyone has a wonderfully Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hannukah...just a Joyous Season! Oh, and Happy New Year too!! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas....

....And if it keeps up the way it was today where I'm headed, it looks like I will have one! FINALLY! After 20 some odd years in California for Christmases, GREEN Christmases. I know this isn't really food related, but to make it up to you, I will share a recipe that I love at the end of this post. In the meantime....doesn't it look beautiful???

When I was a kid, every Christmas was a white one and I didn't really know that it could be any other way for a long time. It takes some getting used to, these green Christmases. One year, it was 78 degrees! On Christmas! Crazy, I tell you! Some people thrive on it, I know...but I like the Norman Rockwell, Bing Crosby, White Christmas! Ok enough about that. As promised, here is a recipe, one that will surely become a family favorite for many, as it has for us.

Rocky Road Bars
1 (12 ounce) pkg semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 ounce) pkg butterscotch chips
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 bag mini marshmallows (white or, for the holidays, they often have colors)

Line a 9x13" baking pan with aluminum foil, and spread a very thin sheen of butter.
Melt the chips carefully in the microwave or in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir in the peanut butter until thoroughly combined. Stir in the marshmallows. Immediately pour into the buttered pan, spreading to the edges evenly. Chill to set, 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator at least 20 minutes prior to cutting, or you will be there all day! :) Cut into small squares, this is rich stuff! But it is a tasty alternative to fudge (or accompaniment, depending on your sweet tooth!), and everyone who tries it usually ends up asking for more!

Happy Holidays! More recipes to come!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Apple Pom Pie by Alexis

Alexis Bakes Her First Pie

Here is the recipe as requested by several people for the Apple-Pom Pie that Alexis baked on Thanksgiving. It was her first pie that was all her own from start to finish, and I'm very proud of her for trying something completely new. The pie was delicious warm, with a scoop of ice cream (cinnamon, yay!). It was also delicious warmed up the next day! The pie crust recipe below is my standard go-to crust that I got from my mom and it works for almost any pie.

2 1/2 cups pastry or all purpose flour
1 cup cold butter, lard, or Smart Balance shortening
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2-4 Tbsp ice cold water

Whisk together the flour, salt & sugar, then cut in the butter. You can use a pastry cutter, two knives, or a processor...whichever method you're most comfortable with, until the mixture is crumbly and the pieces are no bigger than a pea. Add 2 tbsp water, and mix lightly with a fork. If needed, add more water, 1 tsp at a time, until the dough comes together when squeezed in your palm. Shape into a disk and refrigerate.

Apple-Pom Pie
8-10 apples (see **note), peeled, cored and sliced
1/4 cup fresh pomegranate juice
1 tsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
4 tbsp quick cooking tapioca
2 tsp cinnamon

**Note: For the best results, use a variety of apples like Granny Smith, Empire, Pink Lady, Ida Red...local apples are terrific in pies!

Combine all of the filling ingredients, tossing with your hands or a large spoon. We used a fresh pomegranate, pressed through a fine mesh strainer, to get the juice, but a bottled juice would work if you don't have fresh available.

Prepare crust as directed. After 20 min chill time, roll crust to fit a 9" - 9.5" pie plate, with enough around the rim to create a nice fluted pattern. This will not only look good, but also help keep everything *in* the pie! Fill with apple mixture, then prepare topping as below:

for the topping:
3/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1 stick butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats

Combine with your fingertips, rubbing the butter in, until it resembles coarse crumbs. Carefully top the pie, lightly pressing with the palm of your hands to keep in place.

Place pie in the oven at 400*f for 15 min, then reduce heat to 325*f and bake for another 40-55 min, or until top is deep golden brown and apples are fork tender. Place on a wire rack and let set for at least 30 min before serving.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coconut Dream Pie

1 recipe 9" pie crust (use your favorite), baked & cooled
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half & half
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup cream of coconut
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp coconut extract
2 cups coconut, toasted (350*f oven for 7-10 min)
8 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces chocolate, chopped

In a small dish, melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring until smooth. "Paint" the chocolate all over the inside of the baked pie crust. This will not only make a decadent addition to your pie, it will keep the crust crisp and flaky after it's filled! Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the toasted coconut, and allow chocolate to set.

Next, make your filling. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow in color, and fluffy. Add cornstarch and melted butter, mix to combine. Heat milk and half & half to scalding, and whisk in vanilla, coconut extract, and cream of coconut. Slowly add to the egg yolks, with mixer on low (or while whisking). Return to the pan over med heat until it reaches a full boil. Cook 1 minute, and remove from heat. Press through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps, cover with plastic wrap (directly on the custard), and chill. It will seem very thick, but don't worry, that's deliberate! When it is completely cooled, whip 1 cup of the heavy cream to soft peaks, and fold into the custard until well combined. Next, fold in 3/4 cup of the toasted coconut. Gently scoop into the pie crust; cover and chill.

Just before serving, whip remaining heavy cream, adding 1 tbsp sugar when it reaches soft peaks. Spread over custard, and top with remaining toasted coconut. Serve chilled.

A Lot to be Thankful For

Thanksgiving is all about being thankful, and I have a lot to be thankful for. My family is not the least amongst those things. They are amazing, every one of them.
This year, due to circumstances beyond our control, my daughter and I were unable to be with her Daddy for Thanksgiving, so instead we did something I haven't done in a long, long time...we went to my parents' house for the holiday. We weren't alone, my brother Jim and his family, my brother Rick and his wife, and my brother Brian and his girlfriend were all there as well. And though it was an exhausting, busy day (heck, week!), it was also a lot of fun, and very filling!

Another reason to love Thanksgiving is the food. The Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and more is one that I look forward to each year. It is a lot of work, and worth every second when things go as they should! Now, as I mentioned before, I am a gravy loving girl, so the gravy is a hugely important part of the meal for me! So, I want to do it right. I went to my butcher (Iowa Meat Farms), and got my hands on some turkey necks and wings, which were added to a stock pot with some onion, celery, and carrots to make our turkey stock. Everything was roasted before simmering, for extra flavor, and I used chicken broth instead of water, so the flavor was rich and heady.

My sister in law, Carrie, made a mashed butternut squash dish which was similar in texture to mashed potatoes, and decadent with melted butter and fresh ground pepper. Mashed yukon gold potatoes were also given a butter and black pepper treatment before being served.

Of course, the star of the show is the turkey! A roasting bag helped to ensure this turkey was moist and flavorful. Look at that yummy golden skin! I know, I know, it isn't good for me...but it sure tastes delicious! Didn't Dad do a great job of carving and serving the turkey? I thought it looked terrific! And what's turkey without the dressing? Next to the gravy, the dressing is my favorite. We are'll find no fruit or oysters in this dressing. Bread, celery, onion, and turkey stock are the basis of this luscious side.

And then, there are the pies. We had a total of 7 pies! I know it sounds like a lot, but believe me, everyone wants pie to take home, so it's not too much. Pumpkin and apple, traditional choices, were just the tip of the iceberg! Cherry was next on the list, being a favorite of both mine and my brothers. And this year was a special treat because this was the first time my daughter made a pie. She did everything herself, with the sole exception of the crust, which we got at Trader Joe's (very good, by the way!). She made an apple crumb pie, but added a secret ingredient: fresh pomegranate juice! It added a tart-sweet flavor that was such a great contrast to the crumb topping! It was equally good, hot and cold- I should know! I tried it both ways :)

Also served: Coconut Dream Pie, my own invention (which I'll be posting, both recipe and pics) and fruit salad, plus both fresh and jellied cranberry sauce. It was enough food to feed an army, and the leftovers are terrific! And the best part is, later this week I get another of my favorite comfort foods: Turkey Pot Pie! Don't worry, there will be pics and recipe forthcoming for that one too!

Here's hoping you all had an amazing, delicious Thanksgiving and that you had a lot to be thankful for on this special day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Family that Cooks Together....

Looks delicious, doesn't it? Not too long ago, we went to my brother's house for my niece's birthday and dinner was one of my all time favorite meals: Stuffed Shells! Luscious ricotta cheese, mozzarella, parmesan, pasta, tomato sauce...what is not to love?!
Stuffed shells are one of those meals that look terrifically complicated when done and give the impression that you spent hours in the kitchen...yet they're simple to make and so easy to change up to suit whatever mood you happen to be in that day. A basic cheese stuffed shell can be made ahead as well, so when you're ready to serve them, you just pop them in the oven and bake until all the cheesy goodness gets hot and yummy!
To make a simple ricotta filling, you'll need:
  • 1 tub (pint size) ricotta cheese (whole or skim milk)
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup asiago cheese, divided
  • 1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
  • salt & freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • pkg dried large pasta shells, cooked al dente and drained
  • 6 cups or more meat sauce
In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 1 3/4 cups of the mozzarella, 3/4 cup parmesan, 3/4 cup asiago, and the parsley. Add a little salt and some fesh ground pepper. I like white pepper for this, as I do for cream sauces. Stir in the eggs until thoroughly combined. Place the mixture into a piping bag (the kind used for cake decorating) or a quart size zip loc bag, and snip the corner.
In your baking pan (I like to use a glass baking dish for this, sprayed with olive oil spray, but you can use a regular baking pan as well) put about a cup and a half of the meat sauce in the bottom...just enough to create a thin layer that covers the entire bottom of the dish or pan. Holding a shell in your palm, use the piping bag (or baggie) to pipe in the cheese filling. Place into the sauce and repeat until you've filled enough to fill the entire baking dish in a single layer. Add more sauce over the top of the shells, being sure to cover the pasta. Combine the remaining cheeses, and sprinkle over the top of the sauce covered shells.

At this point you can cover with both plastic wrap and foil and freeze, or you can put directly into a 375*f oven for about 35-40 min, or until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and golden. I like to put a little extra sauce on when I am plating, but you don't have to..I'm just a fan of Italian tomato sauces. Serve with a salad and your favorite bread for an easy meal that's both fun to make and delicious to eat!

And if you're curious, the salad was a simple mixture of greens (lettuce & spinach), heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, and julienned red and orange bell peppers, dressed simply with a balsamic vinaigrette. Taste and quick, what more could you want? Enjoy!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hello, Again, Hello

Hello, Friends! I am so sorry it's been so long since I's been a busy couple of weeks with lots of back and forth, so I haven't had a lot of time to myself at all. I am here to tell you, that's over! I will be posting new reviews soon: Antique Row Cafe, Ciao!, and more. I will also be posting some of my favorite recipes for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday this week. Dry-brined turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, Aussie pie and more! I am looking forward to sharing again, and I promise not to go so long again without an update!! Well, unless I can't help it :P

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eat, Drink, and Be Scary....

Happy Halloween 2008!!

Just a few glances around my yard and it is easy to see that Halloween is one holiday that we take seriously around here! There are ghouls and goblins galore, spread throughout a yard that, suiting us perfectly, seems to have been made for Halloween and all that is scary. Cactus flowers set off hideous hanging heads while spike Sago palms reveal their own treasures. One even has a giant spider crawling from it's depths!

These are a few of my favorite friends, which you can find in their resting places throughout our yard and on the front porch. On Halloween night, the dead come to life and our monsters are freed for an evening of havoc wreaking fun! It is a blast to watch peoples faces as the fog rolls around, hiding one monster only to reveal another even more horrifying than the first.
Seen in all it's glory with the lighting and the fog on the scariest night of the year, it is something to behold. Like my brother Rick once said to me, "It's all in the atmosphere!"
A couple of my favorite Halloween recipes:

Brains on Crackers
8 ounces regular cream cheese (not whipped or spread)
8 ounces braunschweiger
3/4 cup chopped green olives (with pimiento)
1/2 cup finely minced green onion
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients until thoroughly mixed. For an extra special Halloween treat, scoop 1/2 of the pate into a ziploc or decorators bag and cut off the corner. Mound the remaining pate on a plate in an oblong dome shape, and then pipe the pate in the bag in squiggly lines to resemble a brain. Add 2 whole olives (with pimientos) for eyeballs near the base. Serve with a variety of crackers.

Don't It Make My Buckeyes Blue:
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
6 ounces white chocolate chips
2 tablespoons shortening
chocolate chips

Line baking sheet with wax paper. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and sugar with hands to
form a smooth stiff dough. Shape into balls using 2 teaspoons of dough for each ball.
Place on prepared pan and refrigerate.
Melt shortening and chocolate in the top pot of a double boiler over simmering (not
boiling) water. When chocolate mixture is smooth, pour into small bowl. Remove balls
from refrigerator. Insert wooden toothpick into each ball and dip into melted chocolate.
(not all the way) Return to wax paper, chocolate side down and remove toothpick, replacing
with a chocolate chip, pointy side down, for the pupil.

If you like, a toothpick dipped in red gel food coloring is great for adding veins!

Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

20 minutes to Tasty

Kimberly's House Special Stir-Fry
One of my favorite meals is stir-fry. Fast, easy, and delicious...that's the trifecta, right? With so many variations, it never gets boring, and by playing mix & match with the ingredients you can get a new dish almost every time you make it! Mom & I came up with the idea for making this Wednesday when my brother and his kids were joining us for dinner, rounding out the total number of people to 10...another reason stir-fry is such a great meal: add some rice and you can feed plenty of people for a reasonable cost.

I like to use whatever veggies sound good on any given day :) No hard and fast rules here! This time we used snap peas, water chestnuts, and broccoli "slaw", which is really just shredded broccoli and carrots. I would have preferred more water chestnuts, but that is just because they are my favorite stir-fry veggie! So crisp! Next was the sauce. Now, there will already be plenty of flavor because the meat is marinated for a time in equal parts hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and soy sauce....but I love a good sauce, as I've said before, so I made a quick Chinese style brown sauce to go with the stir-fry and rice (and chow mein noodles, gotta have those!!). The sauce is easy:
6 tbsp light brown sugar
6 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp corn starch
3 cups water or chicken broth
That's it! Just combine in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally so the cornstarch doesn't clump and form a lumpy sauce. Boil 1 minute, then remove from heat. This is spooned over the stir-fry or the rice, or both. I prefer to have the stir-fry atop the rice, then a bit of sauce atop that. Oh, and then sprinkle on the chow mein noodles. Liberally, please :)

Ok, as I mentioned the meat was marinated with the trio of sauces. You don't have to do this for long, just 20 min. or so will be plenty. You can use just about any meat you like...this night we used both chicken (boneless, skinless breasts) and pork (loin chops). Stir fry quickly, in batches so you don't overcrowd the pan. When all the meat is done, stir fry the vegetables, adding a bit of soy sauce and a bit of sesame oil. This adds a lot of flavor very simply. Once tender-crisp, toss with the meats. Here is how it looked when finished:

And there you have it! Easy, fast, and delicious! I didn't take pics of the rice and chow mein noodles, because I'm sure you've seen them before :) You can also serve this with Yakisoba (stir fried soba noodles), in place of the rice or along with the rice, your choice. Enjoy!