Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Holiday Food Orgy Aftermath-- Eat more salads like this!

I feel as though I am still digesting the Salmon En Croute, with Duxelles, that I made for our Christmas Eve Dinner. I must not forget the Beurre Blanc sauce that I made, to go with this! Of course, I served fresh green beans, with a little butter sauce-- oh, and my brother made mashed potatoes with scallions and a touch of herbs to go with it.  For dessert, I made Ina Garten's Creme Brulee'.  Why haven't I posted this yet, some of you may wonder?

I will!  But I need to focus my time and energy on more vegetables and salads.  I assume that many of you have viewed enough of those recipes, and we are all seeing the newspaper ads for gym membership.  I'm expecting the Weight Watchers Police to come pounding at my door, any minute. 

This salad is inspired by a restaurant, at Lover's Point , in the world famous area of Pacific Grove, California that we feel so blessed to live in. "The Old Bath House" carries a lot of fond memories for Craig and me.. It was my son's first job, as a busboy, when he turned 16. Many birthdays, anniversaries and special date nights were spent here. I became friends with "Dorothy", who played a large part in the smooth operation of that restaurant. My handsome cousin (who passed away at a very young age) was the Maitre d' and very knowledgeable wine sommelier.  Sadly, the restaurant closed two months before our planned wedding, that was scheduled for New Year's Day of 2004.  The Old Bath House fell victim to politics with the city of Pacific Grove and an ADA lawsuit settlement. The cost of remodeling, to meet the compliance laws was so costly,  that the owner closed the restaurant. The restaurant, to this day, sits empty against the spectaclar backdrop of Lover's Point. It has been a loss to so many loyal customers of this fine establishment.  My friends, Dorothy, plans to write a cookbook with the recipes that we loved so much-- their Lobster Bisque Soup (I know the "secret" ingredient) and this salad.

I don't have the "official recipe, but this is my take on it-- it's simple and it was the perfect starter to any meal. I serve it when we have company, and it's always a big hit! You need candied pecans.  Dorothy gave me the original recipe-- Blanche the pecans, then coat with powdered sugar. Fry in oil and then sprinkle with cayenne pepper. "Dot" used to give me a  bag of these addicting pecans, as a parting gift, after we indulged in a meal a the Old Bath House.  I have, since, found a different way of making these candied pecans-- that  I blogged about here.  You need pears and Blue Cheese (or Gorgonzola).

Fortunately, I can buy beautiful Spring Mix salads at Costco, that is locally grown.   The dressing is a simple Balsamic Vinaigrette-- my favorite. To make it, just remember that the ratio of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.  To bind the dressing, I use a little Dijon mustard. That's it!

We love this salad! 

Doesn't this look healthy? (Well, the candied pecans are a small stretch, but just a few are okay by me.)

As always, the recipes are at the very bottom of this post. If you are receiving this via email or RSS feed, please JUMP to my blog to print/view the recipes.

Counting down to the end of 2009,

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Muffins, adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Happy Boxing Day (for those of you with British heritage)!   Christmas 2009 has come to a close, with wonderful memories of time with my family, wonderful food and I hope that all of you had a festive and blessed Christmas.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm needing a break from  chocolate and Christmas cookies!  I've already dug out my copy of Cooking Light's Complete Cookbook, for inspiration on meals with more vegetables and less heavy cream, that doesn't taste bland.   I doubt I'll give up some of my favorite ingredients, forever, but I need to give my cholesterol a break!

I made a few minor adaptions to her original recipe, starting with not making the cream cheese frosting.  Am I crazy? No!  I think my taste buds have changed, because I prefer a lot less frosting on my cakes-- and I'm evolving into being a bigger fan of bundt cakes and muffins. (This comes from a person who used to jockey for position for a corner slice of white birthday cake, with a rose, thank you.) Enough chit-chat--  in the style of The Pioneer Woman, let me show you how easy these are to make:

I'm pretty sure that most of you have these ingredients, right at your fingertips. Well, maybe in the pantry!  I made my own pumpkin puree, and froze them in one cup increments. Clever, eh? Actually, it was "P-Dub" who inspired me to do this, on her blog. The rest of the ingredients-- flour, butter (1/2 stick), an egg, salt, baking powder, sugar (1/2 cup) and some evaporated milk.  Of course, you need spices-- hence the name... cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.  Golden raisins are listed as "optional", but we love them.

Sift the ingredients together.  If you don't, I won't tell Ree. It's just a habit I've gotten into. Now, here's where I took a shortcut. Ree says to cut 1/2 stick of butter into the dry ingredients, with a knife or pastry cutter.  My food processor and I have enjoyed a 30-year relationship with one another.  I figured that "pulsing" the butter would work just fine. Thank you, Cuisinart, you did the job well! The butter is incorporated...

Now, for the wet ingredients-- pumpkin puree (canned is fine) one egg, vanilla and the evaporated milk, that I whisked together.

Now, you add the wet to the dry.  I only pulsed the ingredients, because you don't want to overwork muffin batter-- unless you like them glutenous and tough-- suit yourself!  See all the bits of butter?

I gently folded the golden raisins in-- about 1/2 cup, plus the ones that spilled out of the bag.  I transferred the batter to a bowl, because the food processor would have turned these into dust particles!

I used an ice cream scoop to fill the muffin pan. I used my giant muffin pan, well-greased, that yielded six muffins.  Bake at 400F for 25 minutes, Ree says...

 Snack attack!

Our house smelled so good!  The scent is hard to describe-- other than "hurry up and be ready!" Here's a trick I learned-- tip the muffins a little, while they cook, so they don't become soggy.  After 10 minutes, I put the muffins on a cooling rack.  It's time to make coffee!
NOTE TO SELF: If you muffin pan is dark, reduce the oven temperature to 375F and check the muffins 5 minutes earlier. 

Now, you can make a cream cheese frosting for this, which I've included on the recipe card (at the very bottom of this post).  I opted for a dusting of powdered sugar...

These are very, very moist!  The ginger and cinnamon ratio is perfect.  Quite honestly, these don't need frosting.  Pumpkin muffins are a year-long treat.  We loved these, and so will you.
TASTING NOTES:  I accidentally added almond extract-- like 1/4 teaspoon, before I realized I had not grabbed the vanilla extract.  With a silent prayer, I added the vanilla, too. We liked it, but that was not intentional.  I used 2% evaporated milk.  By eliminating the frosting and the 2% milk, I'm sure we shaved off a lot of calories. Oh, the rest are in the freezer, so I won't polish them off.  I'm on holiday rich food detox!

As always, you can view the recipe by scrolling to the very bottom of the post.  If you are receiving this post via email or RSS feed, you will need to JUMP to my blog to view and/or print the recipe.

My husband and I are on vacation, until January 4th. It's noon, and we're both in our lounge clothes-- that would be sweat pants, sweatshirt and slippers.  Only five more days until our wedding anniversary, which we will celebrate in San Francisco!

Good times!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ina Garten's Sausage-Stuffed Mushrooms

It's no secret that I'm an Ina Garten (of the Barefoot Contessa) fan.   This recipe is adapted from Ina's repertoire, and it's a good one. Of course.   I made a couple of tweaks to the recipe. For starters, I made was to switch from Button Mushrooms to Portobello Mushrooms.  I think they have a "nuttier" taste--

These beauties are pretty large-- about the size of the palm of my hand.

Food Network's "Alton Brown" did an experiment, on one of his episodes, that disproved the theory that mushrooms should be wiped with a cloth.  Alton weighed his mushrooms before washing them, and afterward. The increase of water was so minute, that it didn't make a difference! Since then, I wash my mushrooms, thoroughly-- which is a lot easier, I think. (I have seen what mushrooms grow in, and I want to be sure they are very clean!)

I wipe them dry with a paper towel, pull out the stems (to be chopped) and then I like to use a melon baller to clean out those unsightly "gills".  The mushrooms are then placed into a baking dish, and marinated with a little olive oil and some sherry (or Marsala wine is good, too).  Next...

The stems are finely minced and set aside...

Green onions are a "must"-- cleaned and sliced thin...

I read the reviews for this recipe, and some folks complained that the filling was greasy. I didn't have that problem, because I used turkey sausage.   Removing the casings, I cooked the sausage, thoroughly in a cast iron skillet.  Because turkey sausage is very lean, I actually needed to add a little bit of olive oil.  There! Are we ready to build flavor?
NOTE: This recipe could easily be adapted for a vegetarian by not using sausage and using more chopped mushrooms and bread crumbs.

To the sausage, green onion is added... then finely minced garlic... next, panko crumbs and it's combined. Next...

Cheese, please!  Ina recommends Marscapone Cheese.  I happened to have some, but cream cheese would work just fine Trust me.  That's added, and is blended once the heat makes it creamy.  Next, some Parmesan cheese.  I added some fresh cracked pepper, but not additional salt. I think the Parmesan and the sausage had enough in it-- your choice.  In retrospect, I wish I had added some fresh thyme and red pepper flakes.  But, I try not to change recipes around too much-- the first go-round, which this was.

My garden has ample fresh Italian parsley.  Mince it, and then add that to the sausage filling. I grabbed a small scoop, and now...

... fill those marinated and "cleaned"  mushrooms to the brim!
 I'm getting an idea...

I diverted from the recipe, because I had a bag of shredded three-cheeses.  Why not?
NOTE: If you notice a toothpick...um, I kinda got aggressive cleaning out the mushrooms...and I "bwoke" one. I patched it back with a toothpick, which worked just fine.

The recipe says to bake these for 50 minutes at 325F.  Mine were ready in 25 minutes!
My son said that these reminded him of sausage pizza-- without the crust. I thought about it, and he's right! These were very tasty.  Because the mushrooms were so large, combined with a salad, this would make a nice lunch or supper.

I had leftover sausage filling.  I think these would be delicious mixed in with scrambled eggs.  Or, this could also be used as a pizza topping.  However, I think I'll just make these all over again for Christmas Eve. They are very easy to make.  I also think this recipe is very versatile.
TASTE NOTES:  Regular Italian sausage is an ideal ingredient. Just be sure to drain the excess fat.  Fresh thyme would be an excellent addition.  I'm not sure if panko crumbs are vital.  The moisture of the filling defeated the crunchiness of panko crumbs. I think regular bread crumbs would be fine.  You can easily make the sausage a day ahead-- which is exactly what I've done.

I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of InternetExplorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Nanaimo Bars - Quick to make (in theory) and a brief blogging hiatus

I belong to an amazing church!  We also have an amazing pastor, whose wife is one of the kindest and sweetest ladies I've ever met.  When Susie asked me if I'd be willing to make Christmas cookie for her, for a cookie exchange-- I agreed to do it.  Truth be told, I have never done any kind of cooking or baking for hire.  I figured that bar cookies would be a slam dunk-- and I remembered that, years ago, I used to make Nanaimo Bars at Christmas Time.  If you've never heard of Nanaimo Bars, then let me tell you-- these are incredibly good and a very popular dessert treat that has origins from a town in Canada-- Nanaimo, British Columbia, to be specific..

The most common version has three layers-- the bottom layer is a graham cracker and Dutch chocolate crust, glued together by butter, egg and walnuts (or pecans) and coconut.  I have never added the coconut, because coconut is a love/hate kind of ingredient that I don't want to take chances on.  I love coconut, but some of my family members don't. The middle layer-- ah, that's my favorite part. It's a buttercream.  I've seen recipes that call for vanilla pudding mix, but I only use Bird's Eye Custard-- it's a must.   (Please take note of the Bird's Eye Container -- which was unopened-- that claims "Easy to Open".)

I would like to write a letter to the person who designed this packaging!  I had a custard explosion (the lid flew off! that set the tone for the rest of this cookie making adventure... oh, let me tell you!  It began with my wanting to quadruple the recipe. I couldn't find my original recipe, so I searched the internet for a recipe hat I could print. I found one from  Sunset Magaziine's website, and read the ingredients. Everything looked just as I remembered-- yep, I was ready. I had my four professional size cookie sheets ready to go. I was all set up for the assembly line:

I love my Cuisinart food processor!  Let's see-- I start with graham crackers (turned to crumbs) and then walnuts, finely chopped-- pecan work, too.

I obediently followed the directions-- beat the eggs, add sugar, coco powder and then I paused.... bake the cookie crust?  This didn't sound right!   But, how could Sunset be wrong? So, I baked the first batch, and it came out wrong-- like really wrong-- crumbly, falling apart no-way-is-this-going-to-hold-together wrong.

The crust tasted bitter (too much cocoa and not enough sugar) so it went into the garbage-- and I do not like wasting food! So, I searched the internet again-- sure enough, the butter, egg, sugar and Dutch Cocoa should have been cooked over a double boiler (which thickens it) and then it's combined to the graham crackers and nuts.  The last photograph in the collage (above) shows the right consistency of the bottom crust.  I don't have photos to show you, of the double boiler process--because I was in a grumpy mood and I had to start all over again.  Sunset Magazine will get a comment from me, telling them that their recipe is so, so ... not authentic! But, I need to practice forgiveness!  I forged on, and made the buttercream.

This is absolutely delicious! So good!  For the love of Pete, please find Bird's Eye Custard Powder. It's so much better than instant vanilla pudding. Trust me!

It was getting late, and I had lost my natural lighting-- so these photos are not up to the quality I strive for. After the bottom layer has set (in the refrigerator), you add the layer of butter cream. That has to set (about 30 minutes) and then you melt the chocolate.  I admit, that I tempered my chocolate with both butter and cream.  You have to work fast-- and if the chocolate is super hot, it will melt the buttercream.  Now, let the bars chill until the chocolate is almost "set"-- but not completely ice cold. Why? You  risk cracking the bars-- I am speaking from experience.

Trimming the bars was a challenge, though I was glad that I made these on parchment paper. That way, you can lift them out and cut these on a solid surface.  Susie, this is the mess that you didn't see!

This piece had my husband's name on it. I didn't want to look at at Nanaimo bar, after this fiasco! Truth be told, I like chocolate but only in very small doses.

What a nightmare of cleanup!  My husband helped me out, assuring me that they were delicious.  In the end, I was happy that I got the job done. I refused to take money for my time. Considering my "Murphy's Law" experience, I wasn't going to charge for my time!   Luckily, I'm posting this recipe the right way-- and it shouldn't take long at all, should you choose to accept this mission.  I was happy to do a favor for Susie.  She was so thankful and that made it all worthwhile. I would definitely make these again, now that I have the correct recipe. They are truly a delectable cookie bar-- though very, very rich!

I haven't baked one single dessert for my Christmas Eve dinner. My family has whittled down to be very small-- like a total of five people.  I'm thankful to be on vacation, so that I can do things that bloggers have been posting for weeks-- Christmas decorations and all kinds of cookies.  I doubt I'll make many cookies, but I can assure any of you folks who haven't baked a thing-- Nanaimo bars are easy and very delicious. Just be sure to keep them refrigerated-- or freeze them to enjoy for weeks! 

I will be taking a blogging break for a few days. I'll be posting a recipe on Christmas Day. Until then--

Wishing all of you safe travels and a
blessed Christmas!

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Greek Stuffed Prosciutto & Fig Jam Pork Roast with a Port Wine Reduction Sauce

I have been anxious to share this recipe with you for several reasons.  For one, it's delicious! But, I also needed time to decipher my notes, after making this.  This is something I created based on a craving for fig jam and inspiration from what was in my refrigerator.  Humbly said, this turned out to be so delicious, that I wanted to write down how I did it and I needed time to edit the photos.  At last, here it is-- and I think think this is is worthy for serving to dinner guests. Actually, that's exactly what I did!

Ask your butcher to butterfly a pork loin roast-- this one weighed about 3 pounds. NOTE: My butcher  botched the job a bit, so I had to use tooth picks to patch it up. Arrrgh.

I went to grab a jar of my homemade fig jam, and then I spotted a jar of Dalmatia Fig Spread that I had completely forgotten about!  I took a taste, and my eyes rolled. This product is amazing!  While I like my own version, I decided to use this brand (making a mental note to buy more of this).

Excitedly, I seasoned the pork with kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper, an even layer of fig spread and a smattering of sliced garlic-- 2 cloves to be specific. NOTE: Next time, I think I'll use one clove, so the garlic doesn't overpower the rest of the flavors...your choice.

Prosciutto is a staple in my refrigerator (as is Pancetta).  I added an even layer of this...

One of the wonderful features of my new refrigerator is the deli drawer. We love cheese, and I try to keep a variety on hand.  I rummaged around, and underneath all of this I found this cheese (Mt. Vikos) that I bought at Trader Joe's...
I must buy this wonderful cheese again! It's delicious, and I started doing a happy dance. I was on to something...

When I think of Feta Cheese, I think of spinach. Unfortunately, I didn't have fresh spinach but I did find a bag of frozen chopped spinach.  Here's a little tip on how I do a quick thaw and squeeze out the excess water-- which is a very important step to do!

I rinse the frozen spinach with hot water, drain it, then I use a potato ricer (you can use a clean tea towel instead).  The potato ricer easily squeezes out all of the water.  So now I'm ready for the last layer of flavor...

I can still remember how all of these flavors worked together!  Prep time took about 30 minutes, if I deduct the time to photograph all of the steps. Many of you know are nodding your heads?

I carefully rolled the stuffed pork loin roast-- and I smiled!  This looks so promising, don't you think?

I've lost count of how many times I've watched the "pros" tie a roast with one piece of string. I can't do it (yet), so I borrowed Craig's thumb and managed to tie it up just fine. There!  Now, it's time to sear the roast...

  • Those of you who have followed my recipes for a while (and I thank you and appreciate that), know that I am a big fan of searing meat.  I love pan sauces and I love that beautiful crust that searing does, before braising or roasting.  For those of you who say you can't sear... there are just a few simple tips:
  • Make sure the meat is dry.
  • The oil (I use olive oil) needs to be HOT...shimmering hot, but not smoking yet!
  • When you add the meat, you want that chhhhhhh sound and leave it alone!  Don't touch it for at least 3 minutes!
Look at that beautiful golden crust. Yes, that's what you want!   I did all of these steps the day before our dinner guests were arriving.  This was on a Sunday, and our guests were arriving on a Monday night-- after a long day at the office.  So, I bravely did an experiment.  Once the meat was seared, I cooled it in the pan-- then covered the pan and refrigerated this overnight. Brave, huh? On Monday, I asked my husband to remove the pan and bring it to room temperature for an hour. That's when I arrived home, and found my husband and our guests waiting for me! 

Roasted at 425F for about 45 minutes (internal temperature at 165F) and let this rest for about 15 minutes. Now, for a pan sauce...

I have to say that photographing what I cook, with non food blogger dinner guests, is a challenge.  I could hear "Lou" laughing at me, in the background.  So, this is the only photo of the pan sauce that you will see!
Basically, I added Ruby Red Port Wine to the pan drippings, and then some chicken stock.  This was cooked on high heat and reduced to about half.  I made roasted asparagus and a beautiful salad (which I will upload next).
NOTE: I run a spatula through the pan sauce. If it leaves a trail, then I know it's ready to have a pat of unsalted butter whisked in and it's ready to go!

Dinner accomplished, and I was both relieved and delighted with the flavors! So were our lovely guests.

The only change I plan to make, next time, is to use less garlic. I love garlic, but I think that one sliced clove would have been just right. But, that's me!  The pan sauce was perfect!  This is so simple, once you prepare the layers of flavor. It's so worth it, and this just might be our Christmas Eve dinner.

 By the way-- since I had to wait 24 hours to eat this dinner, I made a quick snack of the feta cheese and fig spread .  Divine! 

So, it's Saturday and it's Christmas tree decoration day-- and I'm on vacation!   I hope the rest of your are racing to the finish line. I've just gotten started!

Enjoying the Holidays-- at last,

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