Monday, December 29, 2014

Perfect Easy-To-Peel Hard Boiled Eggs & Deviled Eggs Recipe (with some help from my Pressure Cooker)

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday, as we did. I think I've burned myself out with my all the sugar and carbs that crossed my lips. I'm ready to get back to healthier dinner fare with a lot more vegetables and fruits, that's for sure!  That plan might have to wait until after New Year's Eve, however. The last day of 2014 will be our last chance to party a bit more, and enjoy appetizers and champagne. So here's an appetizer that is sure to please your guests, and I've got some great tips to share.

Every Christmas Eve, my mother always made a tray of deviled eggs.  They always looked perfect.  I never quite got the knack of making them the way that she did.  I tried the ice bath trick, but most of my egg shells would stick, and my eggs looked like a cat's claws peeled them. They weren't a pretty sight.

Last Easter,  I discovered a really cool way to cook eggs in my pressure cooker on Frieda's blog "Frieda Loves Bread". (Incidentally, if you don't own a pressure cooker, America's Test Kitchen has a stovetop technique that works great, and I'll provide those directions as well.)

Since using her technique, this the only way that I cook hard boiled eggs.  It's fool-proof, as I've done this more than once.  I like that I don't have to babysit the pot, on the stove.  Frieda's suggestion that I use the cardboard egg carton to prevent any of the eggs from breaking is absolutely brilliant!  So far, not one egg has broken.

In my pressure cooker, I place a trivet and then add one cup of water.  I cut the cardboard egg carton to fit inside my pressure cooker (mine is an 8-quart oval shape, so I can hold up to 15 eggs).  NOTE: Sadly this particular model of pressure cooker is no longer made and I dread the day it might actually break. (I perish the thought.)

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Creamy Dark Chocolate Caramels or Salted Vanilla Bean Caramels-- Two recipes to pick from (or make both!)

I am really excited to share two recipe variations from the "Black Licorice Caramels" that I posted a few days ago. I'm excited for several reasons. The biggest reason is that these are delicious, and exceeded my wildest expectations. Seriously!

If you were to ask me if I prefer Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate, I would give an enthusiastic nod to Milk.  Hands down.  These dark chocolate caramels have converted me.  I adapted the recipe for "Black Licorice Caramels" by omitting the Anise extract.

Instead, I used Trader Joe's Brand of excellent Dark Chocolate $4.99 a pound), that cooked along with water, sugar, butter and sweetened condensed milk.  The aroma of chocolate filled every nook and cranny of our kitchen/dining room area, in a very good way.
NOTE: You might be wondering if you can use chocolate chips. My answer is "I'm not sure".  I recommend using bar chocolates, and the best quality you can afford.  It will be worth it.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Peppermint Cream Pie

Well, my wonderful regular readers and friends--savory recipes might be on hold for just a while longer. It's Christmas time, and that means that I'm baking treats and candies as gifts, and planning our family Christmas dinner.  On Christmas Eve, I always have to make a dessert that looks pretty, and tastes good, too (like this red velvet cake with white chocolate frosting)!

For last year's Christmas Eve family gathering, I opted to make Prime Rib instead of our traditional German Menu. The prime rib was a total success, along with all the side dishes. So, it was a good thing that I opted to make this Peppermint Cream Pie, for dessert.   I thought the pie looked pretty, and it was light and refreshing.  So did my family and dinner guests.

Peppermint and chocolate is one of my favorite dessert combinations.  This pie starts with a very simple chocolate crust, and is filled with real whipped cream that has been flavored with melted peppermints, and a dab of peppermint extract.  Unflavored gelatin binds the light filling together.

The most work involved, really, was unwrapping all of the peppermint candy canes.  I like to use my food processor to crush them, but you can take out your aggressions by putting the candies in a zip-loc bag, and smashing the candies with a rolling pin.

For the crust, I used Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, combined with some sugar and crushed to a fine crumb.  Of course, you need to add melted butter-- and press it all into a prepared pie pan.  Bake the crust for 7-8 minutes and allow to cool.

In the meantime, I "bloomed" some unflavored gelatin...

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Black Licorice Caramels

It is no secret, to anyone who knows me, that I adore caramel. Years ago, I discovered an English brand of licorice caramels that converted me from a non-loving black licorice eater to one who loved licorice caramels. One day, I discovered they were no longer on the shelves of the store where I found them. Over the years, I've searched in vain for them. Nothin'.  They were nowhere to be found.

Once day I discovered, via Pinterest, that there were several bloggers who had posted a recipe for Black Licorice Caramels.  I settled on "Mel's Kitchen Cafe", because I feel connected to her recipe collection. They all look so good!  Oh, this was a year ago, by the way.  To make these caramels, I had to order, on Amazon, the recommended Star Kay White brand of Anise extract.   It was sold out, so I had to wait--and so the ghost of Christmas past prevented me from making these, last year.

But this year, I was ready!  I even ordered the Americolor Super Black #101 Gel paste.  What? Black? Well, yes... that is, if you want black colored caramels!  Why not? I'll be adding Anise extract, so I decided to go all out.

Making caramels isn't super difficult, if you've never done it before. There are just some common sense things that will help make this a fun project, with great results.  For one, a clip-on candy thermometer is something I can't be without. 

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread

I originally published this recipe in 2008, when I first started this food blog. The photos were awful, which explains why I had only one comment (and that only my friends and family were reading my blog, at that time) I make these Christmas cookies every year, so it was time for new photos!

I love shortbread, anything that has almond flavor and maraschino cherries. So, when I found this recipe I knew I had to try it. I know... I've heard the Red Dye scare about maraschino cherries, but I don't care! I doubt I eat these often enough to risk the "danger"! These bright red cherries bring back childhood memories of Shirley Temples when my mother would take me out to dinner. My son loves them, too. So, when I tasted the dough to this recipe, I knew I had a winner. I saw this recipe in Fine Cooking, on several food blogs and Better Homes and Garden Magazine-- so I decided to make them.

I ended up making the dough, rolling it into a log and then slicing them 2 days later-- now that I am on vacation. They are really good and I think that they would be fun to make for Valentine's Day. My son keeps trying to swipe them, so I need to hurry up and wrap them as party favors for our Christmas Eve Dinner guests.

This weekend, I hope to make cookie dough for some Christmas baking. I hope your holiday plans are going great!

Here's the recipe:

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Orange Sweet Rolls with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Wow! Thanksgiving whizzed right by me, like a speed train. I saw it coming, and then, it was gone! Christmas is barreling down the tracks, full speed ahead. I need to get serious about making cookie dough, and planning our Christmas Eve dinner. In the meantime, I've been obsessing about making these Orange Sweet Rolls, ever since I spotted them on "Mel's Kitchen Cafe".

During the holidays, I enjoy baking Cinnamon Rolls or Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls on a chilly wintery day.   The idea of making sweet rolls with a buttery orange filling was too much for me to resist.  I made the dough, per Mel's recipe, using my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.

I added one of my favorite ingredients to the dough recipe-- King Arthur Flour's Buttery Sweet Dough Emulsion (that I buy online).  This ingredient adds that buttery, citrusy, vanilla bakery flavor that never fails me. This dough uses buttermilk, melted butter, sugar and eggs.  I used SAF Instant Yeast, which is mixed in with the dry ingredients. I only use King Arthur Unbleached Flour, and for this recipe I used their unbleached bread flour. The dough mixed easily, and I let the stand mixer knead it for ten minutes. Placing the dough into a greased bucket, I closed the lid and then placed it into my oven.  I find that turning my oven to WARM for two minutes, then shutting it off (while the dough is kneading), makes a warm and cozy place that speeds up the process of proofing the dough-- like in half the time!

In the meantime, I softened butter and whisked in sugar, orange zest and freshly squeezed orange juice. I wanted to increase the orange flavor, so I added this Pure Orange Oil (which tastes much better than orange extract).

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Easy Candied Yams/Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes. I love them baked, mashed, fried-- and especially "candied". I also love yams. What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. Ever wonder?  After doing some internet sleuthing, the consensus seems to be:

Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the label "yam" always be accompanied by "sweet potato." (Source)
So, for simplicity's sake, I'll refer to these as Candied Sweet Potatoes.  I should also add that these are rich, and incredibly good!
Peeled sweet potatoes are cooked until fork tender, then sliced.  One stick of butter is melted, and one cup of confectioner's sugar is whisked in.  I added a pinch of pumpkin pie spice and a small splash of vanilla-- which is optional, but I was glad that I did.  This is poured over the sweet potatoes, and then baked for about 30 minutes. As the whole thing bakes, the sugar melts and caramelizes, becoming a brittle and crunchy shell covering the soft orange potatoes within.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast and Gravy (that almost makes itself!)

There are only eight days until the aroma of roasting turkeys are wafting from our ovens.  My family could happily eat turkey year-round. Give me two pieces of whole wheat breads, a small schmear of mayo and some cranberry sauce... it's my favorite brown bag lunch to bring to work.

It always seems that leftover turkey breast (my favorite) is the first to disappear. I find myself longing for more turkey.  Then, there are some fine folks whose families are all grown, and maybe moved far away. Or, sometimes, people choose to go out for dinner, or are dinner guests? There are not leftovers!

Well, American's Test Kitchen has a recipe in a cookbook I've been using a lot, as of late. It's called "America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution".   I love the idea of slow cooker turkey!

I picked up a fresh Turkey Half Breast at Trader Joe's, and decided to test their recipe for a slow cooker turkey breast, that makes it's own gravy.  ATK's recipe is written for a 6-7 pound turkey breast.

However, I decided that a 2 1/2 pound turkey breast would be a great way to test drive this recipe.  Season with salt & pepper.

The prep work didn't take long. I coarsely chopped one carrot, one medium onion and a stalk of celery, garlic cloves, and added it to a skillet with melted butter.  They were cooked until lightly browned, then flour is added and cooked until golden brown.

Next, add chicken broth, water and some white wine (which is totally optional, but I love the flavor white wine imparts to turkey gravy).  For aromatics, I added Bay leaves,  and a couple springs of thyme.  Add the liquid to the slow cooker, and nestle the turkey (skin side up) into the slow cooker.  For a 2-1/2 pound turkey breast, I cooked this on low for just under 3 hours...until an instant read thermometer registered 165F.  Remove the turkey breast and tent with foil.

I strained the braising liquid, and let it settle for five minutes-- that way, I could skim off any excess fat. Then, I let the liquid simmer for about 15 minutes. The gravy was a bit thin, and I tasted it for seasoning...since I used low-sodium chicken broth, I added a bit more salt and pepper.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Peach & Whiskey Barbecue Chicken (adapted for a pressure cooker)

My five weeks of medical leave comes to an official end, as of today. (For those of you who didn't know, I had knee surgery on October 15th.) Thankfully, all went well, and I'm ready to get back to work. My ability to stand, for longer stretches of time, is starting to improve.

I don't know what I would do without my pressure cooker.  Since standing, initially, was an issue I used my pressure cooker just about every day to make quick dinner recipes-- like this delicious chicken recipe.  This recipe is adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Food Network show.  I thought the dish looked easy to make, and I had all the ingredients.  Sold!  "Ree" made this recipe in the oven, which took 1-1/2 hours.  The beauty of a pressure cooker, is that the cooking time was 10 minutes!

NOTE: If you don't own a pressure cooker, or are afraid of them (which is totally unnecessary), I'll explain how to make this the conventional way. 

The first thing I did, was to cut the recipe to be for two people, instead of six.  In my electric pressure cooker, I browned boneless, skinless, chicken thighs in a little butter and oil.  (Yes, electric pressure cookers have a browning cycle.)  Naturally, you can do this in a Dutch oven.

Flip 'em over. Them remove onto a plate and set aside.

Let's talk about cooking with hard liquor.  I don't drink whiskey. I've never liked the taste of it, no matter how hard I tried. However, cooking with whiskey (or bourbon) is a whole different topic.  I especially like whiskey in sauces, and I don't buy the higher end pricey brand names.  I also use whiskey when making my "Candied Sweet Potatoes-- kicked up".  Love.


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Monday, November 3, 2014

Meatballs and Marinara - Pressure Cooker Style (or slow cooker)

We are just a tad over three weeks away from Thanksgiving, canyoubelieveit?  The odds are, I won't be cooking this year.  That is, unless I can figure out how to make a turkey in my beloved pressure cooker, because my knee can't stand for that many hours at a time. In the meantime, I've been making a lot of meals in my slow cooker or pressure cooker, because I can handle about thirty minutes of standing...tops! 

My pressure cooker has been a blessing for me, while I'm slowing regaining the ability to stand and walk around in my kitchen.  I made this Spaghetti & Meatballs recipe before my most recent surgery. I wanted to wait until cooler weather, before posting it here, and because I want to make it again.

This recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen "Pressure Cooker Perfection".  I've posted several recipes from this book, and there are a few more to come.  I don't make meatballs very often, but if I do, I like the idea of using a panade.

A what, you ask?  Prounced, Pa-Nod. With this recipe, panko crumbs and milk are combined to make a paste.  This will not only bind the meat together, but will prevent dry meatballs. Win.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Homemade Cracker Jack® Caramel Corn

Before I talk about this addictive Caramel Corn (which is easier to make than I thought it would be), I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of you who have prayed for me, and wished me well in my surgery #5 on my knee. The great news is that this one was successful. My brilliant surgeon was able to remove enough scar tissue so that my knee is actually bending! I almost cried, the first time I could actually sit in chair, with both feet on the floor, to eat my hospital lunch.  I'm on medical leave for a few weeks, so that I can be a model patient, by doing my physical therapy several times a day. I can finally appreciate the benefit of having a total knee replacement, and there are no regrets. Amen.

As a kid, I loved Cracker Jack®.  I would load up my hand with a heaping mound of candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize... (remember that jingle?) Oh, and back then, the prizes could be as fun as a real plastic whistle.  Nowadays, the prizes are less choke hazards made of paper, and just not the same.  Still, I admit that I've been known to toss in a bag of Cracker Jack® into my grocery cart, during a weak moment, that I see them clipped onto a grocery store shelf.

Craig and I enjoy sharing a big bowl of popcorn, while we watch a movie at home-- Kettle Corn being our favorite.  For years, I've toyed with making caramel corn but I never got around to it. 

Recently, I decided to buy a Whirley Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper.  The first time I used this, I was smitten.  The popcorn tastes like real theater popcorn!  Tastewise, I prefer using coconut oil, vs. vegetable oil.  But either one is fine. Not only was it easy to use, it was fun and a lot easier than shaking a pot back and forth. In 3 minutes, we enjoyed a big bowl of popcorn. All I have to do is wipe the pot with a paper towel (no soap and water) and I wash the lid with the popcorn stirrer with soap and water. Easy peasy!

I looked at a lot of recipes on the internet, for Homemade Cracker Jack®.  The common theme was, the ratio of molasses vs. corn syrup.  Using the Whirley Pop, 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels made just over 15 cups of popcorn in three minutes!  Craig was on the sidelines, happily eating the extra popcorn that was exceeded 15 cups.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

I have seen dozens of recipes for Loaded Baked Potato Soup, so I know that my recipe isn't an entirely "original". However, this recipe is my own take on this hearty and creamy soup-- and it really does taste like a baked potato. Just ask my husband. 

Most of October has brought our traditional Indian Summer hot weather.  One day, we were blessed with brief rain showers (which we are in dire need of), and it seemed like just the right time to make soup.  I plugged in my pressure cooker, to steam diced Russet potatoes in 5 minutes, while preparing the soup base of butter, flour, milk, and chicken broth.  If you don't own a pressure cooker, you can cook the diced potatoes on the stove in about 15-20 minutes.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Coffee Cake

I have to say that I'm always surprised (and maybe a bit disappointed) when someone tells me they don't like pumpkin. This does not compute, in my mind. Then again, I don't like watermelon. For most people, that doesn't compute.  To each his/her own, they say. For me, pumpkin will remain at the top of my list of "food loves.

With Fall officially being here, I know that I'll be making recipes with pumpkin, and fortunately, my family loves it as much as I do. 

I love a good coffee cake, and when sour cream is part of the equation-- I just can't resist.  But, adding a layer of pumpkin in between, with a pecan topping... I was on a mission to make this cake.  I saw the recipe on Bunny's Warm Oven (who got it from, but decided to make a couple of minor tweaks.  Oh, and if you have a sweet tooth, and love baking-- Bunny is your gal.  She can bake some crazy delicious looking treats!

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

5-Minute Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes and a Panko Herb crust (Pressure Cooker Style)

Before I talk about this creamy, dreamy homemade Macaroni and Cheese that I made last night, I want to say that I am deeply touched, and encouraged, by all the supportive comments I received on my "Spaghetti Pie" post, and on my Facebook Fan Page. Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I shared some health issues I've been dealing with, and that I'm going to be a bit scarce. I'm still struggling with fatigue, but I'm starting to feel better.  Your encouragement really lifted my spirits and I'm starting to think a lot more about getting back into the kitchen.
So, with a slow resurgence of energy, I am wanting to make easy (but delicious) dinners for my wonderful husband, who is always appreciative of whatever I make. I do enjoy sharing a meal together, and talking about our day at work.

A while ago, I had bookmarked this recipe from one of my most used books on pressure cooking: "Pressure Cooking Perfection".  When my son was a little boy, he'd beg me to bring home those "Blue Boxes" of mac 'n cheese.  Now that he's all grown, he doesn't eat those any longer (thank goodness).  So, I don't make Mac 'N Cheese often. But this recipe got my attention because it looked so easy, and it sounded really good. I liked their variation of adding tomatoes, so I set my mind to making this for dinner.
NOTE: If you don't own a pressure cooker, please know you can still make this recipe on a stove top. It'll just take a bit more time, but it's worth it.  

I've written several recipe posts on pressure cooking, and I hope that I can convince more folks that there is nothing to fear about pressure cookers.  I wish I could hold your hand, and show you how easy it is to plug in an electric pressure cooker.  This macaroni and cheese recipe is the perfect "starter" way to personally learn how fool-proof pressure cooking is.

The first thing you do is measure out 8 ounces (two cups) of macaroni, and 2 cups of water.  There's no pot of salted water to bring to a cooked pasta to drain. No-siree!

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Easy Spaghetti Pie-- and my brief food blog leave of absence

This recipe for Spaghetti Pie is something I would often make for my son, when he was a little boy. He loved it, and I appreciated that it was fast to make.  This photo, I admit, doesn't begin to do justice to the flavor of the meat filling-- which is not made from bottled spaghetti sauce.  The crust is made with cooked pasta, eggs and Parmesan cheese, with a layer of fresh ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese). The topping has plenty of melted, gooey mozzarella.  I'm going to share this recipe, for Spaghetti Pie in the next few paragraphs. Pinkie promise. After all, that's why you're here, isn't it? 

I wasn't going to post this recipe, because I was underwhelmed by the photographs that I took.   I did share it on the website where I store all of my recipe cards, so that I would have it as a quick reference. I was surprised at how popular the recipe card became! So, I decided to share it with all of you-- and as a segue for me to explain why my recipe posts have become so few and far between.

I'll try to keep food blog etiquette, by trying not to write super long paragraphs. Though, please indulge me, this one time. I have something really important I need to tell my readers and internet friends. I'll try and break up the paragraphs with photos of this recipe. Then, I'll tie the whole thing together. Okay?

Thank you. Truly.

So, here's what's been going on, with me. (Deep breath): Until recently, I've been blessed with pretty good health. Granted, I've struggled with a bum left knee, ever since I had my first major surgery at the age of 14. The short explanation is that I have "loose connective tissue". That is, when I least expected (or wanted) it, my knee would go the opposite direction where I was headed. Ouch. Over the last few decades, I had two more surgeries, to try and improve my knee  Still,  it never stopped me from my years as an equestrian and a few ski trips.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Vanilla Bean Snickerdoodles

I remember the first time I ate a Snickerdoodle Cookie. It was in the mid 60's (not 1800, thank you very much). The reason I remember is that my mother, being German, rarely baked any kind of "American" recipe. A co-worker had brought some to her job, and she was smitten. She handed the recipe to me, and the rest is history.

It's interesting that when I googled "who invented the Snickerdoodle cookie" the most common answer is that, perhaps, the name snickerdoodle is a hybrid of the German word schneckennudeln, a type of cinnamon dusted sweet roll.   Who knew? I thought the recipe came from Betty Crocker, because I have always made that version-- which has a combination of butter and shortening.  It's a great recipe, and a true classic.

What? You've never had a Snickerdoodle?  Impossible!  They're made with the basic of ingredients-- butter, flour, eggs.  One cannot forget to add the cream of tartar, salt or baking soda. Or, it just wouldn't be a Snickerdoodle cookie, right?  Last, but not least, you roll the cookie dough into a ball and give it a generous dusting of cinnamon sugar. This, my friends, is what makes this cookie so irresistible.

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