Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lentil and Sausage Soup

This isn't about perfect health, its about moderation and living healthier, or at least I tell myself so as I slice up a kielbasa into the stock to put the "sausage" in the title of the soup. Seriously, if you don't watch what you do in that Holiday period starting with Thanksgiving and ending with your New Years feast you'll have a hard time maintaining your weight. I don't advocated giving up the feasting on the Holidays, quite contrary I advocate celebrating them and then eat healthier and lower cal/fat/carbs on the days between each of the Holidays.

This soup makes it possible to celebrate the Holidays and not feel guilty for your feasting. Its full of good whole legumes and vegies with just enough sausage to add some protein to the soup.

I have learned the hard way that lentils need to soak prior to cooking if you don''t want a bowl of gravel in broth as the end result. Hardy little buggers that they are if you skip the soaking in boiling water part you will end up with exactly that. Not appetizing at all.

I took the Barefoot Contessa's TV lessons to heart regarding cleaning leeks. They add flavor and if not cleaned properly you will have sand in your soup. Cleaning is easy. Slice lengthwise then dice them. Put them all in a bowl of water and agitate gently. The leeks will float and the sand will fall to the bottom. Carefully scoop out the leeks and put into a colander to drain off the excess water before sauteing. Look at the water remaining in the bowl, it will be full of sandy bits.

Lentil and Sausage Soup
  • 12 oz lentils
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 1 c diced celery
  • 1 c diced carrot
  • 1 T thyme
  • 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 2 qrts chicken broth
  • 1 lb smoke sausage such as kielbasa
  • salt

Pour the lentils into the boiling water. Remove from heat and cover for 30 minutes.

Slice leek lengthwise. Cut each piece into 1/2 inch slices. Clean and drain well. Give onion a coarse dice. Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add leeks,onion, celery and carrot. Saute about 15-20 minutes until onion is translucent.

Add spices and broth. Drain lentils and add to soup. Simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Slice sausage into 1/4-1/2" thick slices. Add to soup and simmer additional 15 minutes. Test seasoning and add salt as needed. (I found that saltiness of broth and sausage vary greatly and its best to test salt after the sausage has cooked into the soup rather than try to add it at the beginning of the cooking process).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spritz cookies

This is one of those standby recipes that is part of our Christmas traditions. Spritz have been enjoyed since I was a kid and this is the same recipe has used for more years than I'll ever admit too. Figured as long as I was experimenting with an orange version I might as well share the original that I have used all the years I've been continuing the tradition.

My one word of caution is not to skrimp on buying a cheap "imitation flavor"or "almond flavor" as you get a bitter aftertaste. Splurge on the real almond extract and reward yourself with a depth and purity of flavor as a reward for your efforts.

Spritz Cookies
2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking powder
1 cup butter
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 t almond extract
1/2 t vanilla extract
1-5 drops food color (optional)
decorating sprinkles or sugars
Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and extracts beating until well blended. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and slowly add to the creamed mixture.

Load your cookie press per the manufacturers directions.

Bake 350F 8-10 minutes until set but not browning.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Orange Spritz Cookies

I knew I had a hit with the Orange Spritz cookie when my wife confessed that she really liked them better than the regular version. I tested it out last night on some additional family members who all opined as well that they thought I had gotten the right balance of orange in. Not bad for a first try, certainly not often I get it the first time. Of course it helps that the bottle suggested you use 1/2 t per cup of dry ingredients.

Part of the testing last night included 3 versions. Absolutely plain, chocolate sprinkles (as we know how well chocolate plays with citrus) and the last with simple sugar sprinkles. There really was no difference on the palate between the three, I had thought possibly the plain version would need something, but I was wrong as those were the first to disappear off the plate. I may yet take the plain version and dip them in chocolate, semi or bitter sweet just to dress them up a bit for the holidays, not that they don't stand alone quite well as it is.

I thought briefly about coloring them orange since they were orange flavored, but opted not too as those with chocolate sprinkles would look more like they were ready for Halloween not Christmas. Something to consider still? DK for sure.

Orange Spritz
  • 1 c butter
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1 t orange oil (I use Boyajian)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t baking powder

Combine dry ingredients and set aside. Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and orange oil. Add egg and beat until smooth. Sift in the dry ingredients and stir in until just mixed.

Load your cookie press per the manufacturers directions. Bake at 350F, 9-10 minutes until just set but not browning.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Fudge

Plain and simple I love fudge, but given the calories involved I make it once a year and give most of it away as gifts.

Earlier this year I discovered at Surfas an interesting product, orange oil. Not an extract or "flavoring" but oil obtained by squeezing oranges. Its called Boyajian Orange Oil and can be found HERE. The stuff has a warning label "use sparingly" and that I did, as one taste obtained from the tip of my finger was extremely orangey.

Rather than re-invent the wheel I opted to start with my favorite fudge recipe, "Stupid Easy Fudge" and added flavor from there. I've known for some time that citrus and chocolate play together well in ones mouth (ever have a chocolate dipped orange slice?) so the idea to make an Orange Fudge wasn't completely out of the blue, but had as basis in real world flavors. I used zest as well as the oil so I would have texture, visual clues and of course a true orange taste.

It worked really, really well in my not so humble opinion.

Orange Fudge
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 6 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used a Valrhona 66% cacao)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • zest of one orange divided
  • 1/4 t orange oil

Chop the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate and add to mixing bowl. Add 1/2 of the orange zest and the orange oil. Add sweetened condensed milk. Heat in microwave 1 minute and stir, if not enough to melt all of the chocolate zap again in 30 second increments.

When smooth transfer to a plastic wrap (cling film?) lined dish. Smooth over and sprinkle remaining zest over the top of the fudge. Carefully pull the plastic wrap over the top of the fudge and lightly press to seal the orange zest into the fudge. Chill overnight before cutting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving and a recipe for dressing too!

So when it comes to Thanksgiving and the other holidays I stay pretty true to tradition and include the usual turkey, stuffing and the rest of the goodies.

I got hooked on Ina Garten's "Herb Roasted Turkey" Breast a few years ago and its a staple. Why? Well its is absolutely phenomenal to start and there is no carcass left to deal with the day after (no one in my house 'cept me is a dark meat eater). For cranberry sauce I absolutely love Nigella's "Redder than Red" cranberry sauce...who knew a shot of cherry brandy could do so much for a simple sauce.

Years ago, 21 to be precise as a wedding gift my dear friend in Minnesota sent me a wild rice cook book and there I got hooked on the stuff. Cranberry, wild rice are a perfect combo fresh from the northern swamps and quite tasty together. I got the wild idea I don't know how many years ago to include cooked wild rice in my stuffing. It with cranberry give the stuffing a nice nutty and tart taste all at the same time.

Wild rice is an aquatic grass native to the Northern US and has a nice nutty flavor and slightly chewy texture when cooked right. You do have to cook it longer than regular rice to get through the thick hull. Under cook it and its like chewing on gravel, something you really don't want in stuffing. The age of the rice and how long it was roasted affects cooking time and how much water it needs to cook properly. Pay close attention to the directions on this one.

Wild Rice and Cranberry Stuffing
1 12 oz box seasoned stuffing mix
1 can chicken broth
1/2 c wild rice
1/2 c dried cranberry
1 c chopped celery
1 c chopped onion
1 t sage, divided
1 T garlic - minced
1/2 c butter (1 stick)
1 egg

Place broth, wild rice and 1/2 t sage in sauce pot. Bring to boil then reduce heat to barely a simmer. Simmer 1 hour covered, stirring occasionally. Add additional water if the rice absorbs too much and starts to look dry. At the end of the hour, turn off the heat and allow the rice to steep another hour until cool. (I usually make the rice the day before the stuffing). Strain out the rice reserving what cooking liquid is left.

Dice the celery and onion. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat until butter starts to sizzle. Add the onion, celery and 1/2 sage. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute until onion is translucent, add garlic and cook one minute longer.

In large mixing bowl add dry stuffing mix. Add cooled drained wild rice and cranberry and toss lightly. Add onion mixture and toss lightly again. Take reserved cooking liquid and enough water to measure 2 cups. Stir egg into the cooking mixture then pour evenly over stuffing mixture. Toss lightly until evenly moistened.

Use as stuffing or pour into large casserole dish and bake 1 hour at 325F

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Arroz Caldo

Every nation and culture has its version of chicken soup. In the Philippines it is called "Arroz Caldo" and I got the base recipe from my friend Caroline Paras who made it one day earlier this week to help her get over a cold. (See every nation uses chicken soup to get over the common cold too...or its just great comfort food).

In her recipe it called for less liquid with the notation to add more liquid if it got too thick. Well it got too thick very quickly so I monitored how much extra stock I needed for the soup and it was substantial. The stock listed in my recipe is what I actually used and it probably could have used a bit more liquid at the end as that rice sure absorbs it all fast!

In the area of garnish I deviated and instead of using lemon as a "garnish" I added it too the soup direct to give it an extra zip of flavor. That little bit of acid and lemon really played well with the ginger in the soup and will continue to incorporate it in the base soup instead of using as just a garnish. Its that good with it.

In terms of garnish I used simple chopped green onion as was listed in the recipe from Caroline. I think the next time I make this soup, which will be very soon, I'll include chopped cilantro with the green onion. Probably straying a bit from what the Philippine version would call for as a garnish, but it would be quite tasty with the ginger and lemon.

Arroz Caldo
  • approx 1 ½ lbs chicken thigh, cut into 1"cubes
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 knobs of ginger peeled, chopped 1/4" inches (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 cloves of garlic (chopped roughly)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 2 cups of sweet or jasmine rice (uncooked)
  • 1 quart of chicken stock (fat free, sodium free)
  • 2 tablespoons patis (fish sauce)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • optional:
  • green onions, chopped
  • roasted or fried garlic pieces
  • boiled eggs
  • calamansi juice

In a dutch oven, heat oil. Add chicken pieces. Brown on one side. When pieces are ready to flip, add garlic, onions and ginger and sauteed until chicken pieces are browned.

Add rice. Give a quick toss. Add chicken stock and patis. Bring to a boil, stirring the rice and chicken mixture. Lower heat to simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover. Every so often, stir the pot so rice does not stick to the bottom and to check for the tenderness of rice. If the mixture becomes too thick, add more chicken stock or water.

When rice is very tender, serve. Garnish with green onions, roasted garlic pieces, boiled eggs. Add calamansi juice as an option to add more flavor.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spicy Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Love, love, love me some butternut squash soup. Its such a versatile gourd you can't help but come up with a hundred iterations of the basic soup.

This time around I took a cue from Ina Garten and roasted the squash. I found that it concentrated the flavor nicely plus took on a nice roasted flavor as some of the flesh caramelized.

To continue with the smokey roasted theme I used chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. They brought on some nice heat as well as a hint of smoke that played nice nice with the butternut squash.

Finally, I have finally gotten it through my head to season at each step of the process as its so much easier to "get it right" when you do it that way rather than try to do an entire batch at the end. Funny how that works, but there is little left to do salt wise at the end if you do it as you go along and you don't have to worry about over salting either.

Spice Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
  • approx 4 lb butternut squash
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1 c chopped carrot
  • 1T chopped garlic
  • 2 chipotle peppers packed in adobo
  • 1 t adobo sauce
  • 3 14 oz cans chicken broth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Split the butternut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and add 1t salt to each half. Add 1/4 t fresh ground black pepper to each half. Place on baking sheet and bake in 325F oven for one hour and test for doneness. (It took 1hour 20 minutes to test done for me tonight). It will pierce with a fork with no resistance when done. Cool and scoop out flesh into a bowl.

Add 1T olive oil to sauce pot. Add carrots and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat until onion is translucent. Stirring occasionally to cook evenly. Add chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Add garlic and stir in cooking for 1 minute longer.

Put onion mixture in blender with 1 can broth. Run on puree until smooth and return to sauce pan. Add 1/2 of squash to blender with 1 can broth, puree and add to onion mixture in sauce pan. Repeat with remaining squash and can of broth. Over low heat bring to simmer.

Serve hot with a garnish of thinly sliced hot peppers and cilantro. (If you are one of those who can't deal with cilantro you can use flat leaf parsley).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Honey Mustard Salmon over couscous

Salmon. A go to food source rich in omega 3's and something 4/5 in my house will eat for dinner without a snivel or grumble. I keep bags of the Costco frozen fillets in my freezer for those last minute dinners where the day got away from me and I needed to get something on the table fast.

Couscous is one of those stupid easy food stuffs that makes a perfect side with no effort. If you can bring water to a boil you can make couscous. I use chicken stock for a bit more flavor, but you can use water if you don't have a can of stock handy. Add some herbage or other green matter to the couscous before you put the lid on to let it steep and you are set with an easy side.

The salmon does take a little bit of prep, not much and a few minutes to marinade in the dry rub. Even then you have it ready in no time as the fillets don't need that much time in the marinade, say 10-15 minutes at most.

Honey Mustard Salmon
4 Salmon fillets
onion salt
2 t dill weed
4 T honey mustard
olive oil

Pat salmon fillets dry. Add Onion salt and pepper to own taste preference. Use 1/4 teaspoon dill weed per salmon side. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinade for 10-15 minutes.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter. When butter sizzles add the salmon fillets. Cook on first side about 4-5 minutes. Turn over and spread 1 tablespoon honey mustard on each fillet. Cook another 4-5 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily.

Serve over bed of couscous or herbed rice.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Black Bean Chipotle Chili

I've had this can of chipotle chili's in adobo sauce hanging around for a bit as I picked it up for making this kick butt shrimp dish.

With cooler than normal, outright Novemberish weather the last few days I decided I wanted to make chili and experiment a bit with the chipotle.

Chipotle is a smoked dried ripe jalapeno. When packed in adobo sauce it becomes soft again. As it is a ripe jalapeno to start with it is higher in natural sugars, slightly sweeter than the green variety. As it was smoke dried it imparts this wonderful smokey flavor to the dish. Not a bad combo to work with in the kitchen when it comes to chili makin'.

The amount of chipotle you add to the chili determines the heat. If you want a mild tang go with fewer, if you want full on burn where your ears burn and you break into a cold sweat add more. I strongly recommend you sample a bit of the chipotle BEFORE you get all crazy and add it to your other ingredients as there is no going back once in. Seriously...the burn sneaks up on you once you get past the smokey sweetness of the chipotle.

Black Bean Chipotle Chili
  • 1.5 lbs ground beef (I use coarse ground chuck)
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion - chopped
  • 1 T garlic - minced
  • 2-6 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 can diced tomato
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • bay leaf
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 T cilantro
  • salt

In large sauce pot add enough olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Over medium high heat crumble in the ground beef. Cook until well browned. Add onion, cook about 5 minutes longer until onion is translucent. Add garlic and stir in cooking 1 minute.

Add remaining ingredients. Check for salt and season to taste.

Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour with cover ajar to allow some steam to escape and the chili to cook down concentrating flavors.

Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese as garnish.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Beer Braised Short Ribs version 2

Quite a while back I posted a recipe for beer braised short ribs that was quite tasty, this version is even tastier.
The crock pot is a life saver when it comes to braising low and slow. Especially on a hot day as it emits very little heat compared to stove top or oven braising. It may take longer but that's fine when you are in no hurry or have stuff to do at the normal time one needs to be preparing dinner.

This version I cheated to move the depth of flavor. I suppose I could have made my own stock and onion soup for the base, but why bother when you sometimes can use "store bought" to make it easier on yourself. I mean, surely Martha Stewart takes short cuts when no one is looking AND there are plenty of others out there who do and aren't ashamed of them. Count me in with the latter group.

Beer Braised Short Ribs

  • 3 1/2-4 lbs beef boneless beef short ribs
  • 1 onion - diced
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 3 bay leaf
  • 1 12 oz bottle beer
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomato
  • 1 t pepper
  • 1 t salt
  • 4T corn starch
  • 1/2 c water

Cut short ribs into serving piece size. Season with salt and pepper. Heat heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and brown ribs in batches searing all sides well...about 3-4 minutes per side. Put each seared beef into crock pot as you finish each batch.

When you are done searing the ribs add onion to skillet and brown off scraping up the browned bits from the pan bottom. When onions are translucent, about 5-7 minutes add garlic and cook 1 minute longer, stirring constantly so as not to burn garlic. Add bottle of beer and scrape up all remaining brown bits from bottom of pan. Stir in onion soup mix until dissolved and pour over the seared ribs in the crock pot. Toss gently until all is well distributed.

Add can of undrained tomatoes and beef broth to the crock pot. Cover and simmer on low 6-8 hours. Just before serving test seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed. Mix corn starch and water and pour into the crock pot stirring constantly until it begins to thicken and create a "gravy".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tomato and Black Bean Salad

Its super seasonal, and I'm lucky enough to have a neighbor who over planted heirloom tomatoes so I've been reaping the bounty the last few days. Tonight's side dish was stupid easy for prep and quite tasty too.

Tomato and Black Bean Salad
3 tomatoes - diced
1 can black beans - drained
1/2 red onion - small dice
3 T red wine vinegar
6 T olive oil
1 T chopped parsley
1 T chopped cilantro

Add all the ingredients to serving bowl. Toss lightly until evenly distributed. Add Salt and Pepper to taste. Cover and marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving. Serve chilled or at room temp.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Individual Peach Crisps

Sometimes I know instinctively what to do when someone says "bring dessert for brunch" other times I agonize not knowing what to bring. Its fresh fruit season so it made sense to do something seasonal and simple since it is summer. I thought about it for a few days and then inspiration wishes from a friend told me what to do. Take the bounty of fresh peaches at the farmers market and turn them into "Individual Peach Crisps". Hence this recipe idea was born.

You'll note I have the individual crisps on a baking sheet to catch any potential boil over and spare myself some oven cleaning. I highly recommend you do the same.

Individual Peach Crisp

3 pounds fresh peaches, peeled, pitted
2 T corn starch
1/2 c sugar
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/3 c old fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon salt - divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon - divided
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375°.
Place slice peeled, pitted peaches into mixing bowl. Add sugar, corn starch, 1/4 t salt, 1/2 t cinnamon. Toss until well coated. Put aside while mixing topping.

Mix together the flour, oat meal, brown sugar, 1/4 t salt and and 1/2 t cinnamon into a medium bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Divide peaches among 8 ramekins. Divide topping and sprinkle crumbs evenly over peaches. Place ramekins on a baking sheet to catch boil over.Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes, until topping is golden brown and peaches are tender. Serve peach crisp warm with cream or whipped topping.

Seriously, try to divide your peaches evenly as possible. You certainly don't want your guests to suffer dessert envy now do we?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Low Fat Blueberry Muffins

As one with a genetic predisposition to cholesterol problems I do what I can with diet to help keep it under control. I'm no monk and have been known to splurge on the full fat stuff every now and then to satiate the hedonist within, but not always, certainly not for daily living.

The problem with most low and no fat cookery is that it has a definite lack of texture coupled with a certain blandness. It should be no secret that fat is a flavor (and vitamin) transporter so when you reduce fat you need to up the flavor quotient to still get the desired effect in the mouth.

This muffin recipe is an adaptation of one of those cardboard varieties I was passed along as being good. Meh. They were pretty bland and lacked a lot of moisture and taste. To up the taste factor I added a hint of nutmeg, some cinnamon and vanilla which is a blueberries favorite playmate in the kitchen. To combat the moisture loss from all the fat normally found in a recipe I increased the amount of blueberries from 1 cup to 1 pint. (Besides...who picks or purchases blueberries by the cup anyway?)

So here you go. A low fat Blueberry Muffin recipe that still is moist and flavorful with just the tiniest smidge of fat in them.

Low Fat Blueberry Muffins
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2 t cinnamon
  • 1 cup non-fat milk
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 T oil (I use vegetable oil, but canola oil would work fine)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • turbinado sugar (optional for sprinkling on tops)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line muffin tin with 12 paper liners.

Combine all the dry ingredients in mixing bowl and stir to disperse evenly.

In a small bowl combine the liquid ingredients and beat in the egg. Stir into the dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in Blueberries. Distribute batter evenly between paper cup lined muffin tins. Sprinkle tops with the turbinado sugar. Bake 20-22 minutes until lightly browned and they test clean with a tooth pick.

A couple of things to note. Metal foil cup liners work better than paper variety. The lack of fat in the recipe makes for a wetter batter that soaks into the paper variety and makes them just a bit harder to remove.

Don't over beat your muffin mix either. A spoon and doing it by hand until just moistened yields a muffin that will rise correctly yet have a nice crumb texture. Over beating can cause them to not rise and forms the gluten in the flour so you have a tough texture.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Salty Sweet Pretzel Dessert

I can't lay claim to this and I've seen several variations to it. My version is not that dissimilar from the others, just has a few minor tweaks to make it my own. This dessert has that whole luscious sweet and salty thing going for it on top of the tartness of the berry's and the sweet cream layer in the middle. This is perfect for parties as it needs to be made a day ahead so it all sets up right.

Salty Sweet Pretzel Dessert
  • 1 1/2 c. crushed pretzels
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 8 oz. Cool Whip
  • 1 (6 oz.) pkg. raspberry Jello
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 2 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen raspberries
Mix pretzels, butter and sugar together. Press into 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake 3 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool to room temp.

Beat cream cheese, vanilla and sugar together. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread onto pretzel mix. Chill 30 minutes.

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add frozen raspberries and stir until thawed. Pour over other layers. Refrigerate over night.

The texture of this is a bit coarse compared to your usual crumb crust so be sure to press in tightly so it doesn't fall apart when serving. Learned this the hard way.
Chilling the second layer makes it easier to put and even out the Jello/berry layer. Take the 30 minutes off to do something else and let it chill.

Variations...and there can be many. Jello matching fruit is the easiest thing you can do, or mix/match flavors. Use the same size Jello box and fruit weight and you are good to go. Here are a few I've used over the years.

Raspberry Jello and frozen peaches.

Pineapple Jello and pineapple chunks.

White Grape Jello and canned pear chunks.

Strawberry Jello and frozen strawberries.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Drowned Shrimp

Mmmm...butter. Not for those of us who diet regularly or watch our cholesterol, but every once in a while its nice to fall off the wagon. Leaving the tails on leaves you with a nifty handle and it becomes finger food in the process! How fun is that...playing with your food at the dinner table and not getting in trouble.

If you are using frozen shrimp instead of fresh here's a tip for easy thawing and keeping them from smelling fishy in the process. Pour your shrimp into a bowl with cold water and one sliced lemon. The shrimp will defrost in no time and the acid from the lemon will keep them smelling fresh like the sea instead of getting a chance to oxidize and smell "fishy".

Drowned Shrimp

  • 3 lbs peeled and de-veined raw shrimp
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 t chopped garlic
  • 1 lb unsalted butter
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 C white wine (optional)
  • Salt to taste.

Melt butter and add garlic, peppers, wine and lemon juice. Place shrimp in a 9X13 inch baking dish. Pour butter mixture over the shrimp. Bake in 400F oven 15-20 minutes until bubbly and shrimp are no longer pink. Serve with a loaf of sourdough or french bread for dunking in the broth!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Beef Tamale Casserole

It was Iron Chef night in my neighborhood this past weekend. Rather than pick a secret ingredient we opted for a theme. We chose "Mexican" in honor of the coming cinqo de mayo celebrations. I came up with this casserole and took 3rd place out of 20 entries. Not bad, eh!?

Beef Tamale Casserole

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 c onion chopped
  • 1 4 0z can diced green chiles-drained
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 2.25 oz can sliced olives
  • 2 cups frozen corn - thawed
  • 3 T taco seasoning
  • 1 1/2 c milk
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 eggs - beaten
  • 2 c shredded cheese (I use a cheddar/jack blend)

Heat oven to 350F. Spray a 9 X 13 pan with nonstick cooking oil spray.

In large skillet brown ground beef and onion. Cook until beef is well browned and onion is translucent. Off the heat add chiles, tomatoes, olives, corn and taco seasoning. Stir well to blend.

In bowl add milk, corn meal and eggs stirring well to combine. Pour over meat mixture and fold in.

Pour into prepared baking dish and even out. Bake for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on the cheese. Return to oven and bake another 5 minutes until cheese is melted. Let set on wire rack 10 minutes to set when done baking.
Cut and serve with a dollop of salsa fresca on top and some refried beans on the side.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Limoncello Marinated Fruit....pic in action to follow

My twist on the California dream includes citrus trees in the back yard. Had to do it and now I have a bounty of fruit.

Lemons, Meyer Lemons to be exact is among my many plantings. What to do with the bounty? Aside from the obvious "make lemonade" I make limoncello. Hands down the best Limoncello recipe belongs to Mario Batali of "Molto Mario" fame from FoodTV. The link to the recipe is HERE. The lemons left after the zesting of the lemons is ample for making Plus Perfect Lemonade...nothing wasted here!

The stuff is amazing. Straight up it will knock your socks off and get you twisted toot suite as it involves nearly 50% vodka. Good stuff. Cut it 50/50 with Ginger Ale or Sparkling Water and you have quite the refreshing cocktail for the patio on a warm summers day. After that you still will have plenty left over for other uses.

My favorite other use is to take seasonal fresh fruit and cover it with the limoncello and let it marinate for a few hours before serving. The fruit juices macerate (how's that for a $5 buck word) in with the limoncello and you have a dessert topping perfect for ice cream or pound cake. The former is my entry in the dessert category for tonight's Iron Chef night in my 'hood.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Buster Bars

Lordy be I can't claim this one, its my Mom's recipe but it is pretty terrific. It has the whole salty/sweet thing going with the rich caramel and Spanish peanuts.

Buster Bars

1 lb. Oreos or Hydrox cookies-crushed

1/2 cup melted butter. Add to oreos, mix well and pat into bottom of a 9x13 pan.
Soften 1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream and spread over oreo mixture. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups Spanish peanuts over ice cream. Put in freezer.

2cups powder sugar
1 large can evaporated milk
2/3 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter.
Combine and bring to a boil in heavy bottom pan. Boil for 8 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat add 1 tsp. vanilla. Let this mixture cool over night before pouring over the ice cream. Freeze. Serve

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Plus perfect Lemonade

The secret which I'm about to give up is elementary my dear Watson. Everyone knows the zest contains oils that are so flavorful only a tiny bit will flavor an entire cake. I got to thinking and figured that since I make a simple syrup for lemonade I could take it over the top in terms of lemony flavor by adding zest to the syrup and let it steep. I was right, more perfect than perfect lemonade, PLUPERFECT to be precise.

Several years ago I planted a lemon tree and after debating and discussing with the local garden center I settled on the Myer Lemon as it is lemonier and sweeter than say the standard supermarket variety, usually a Eureka. I'm glad that I opted for the Myer as it has lived up to its reputation in the garden centers as the lemoniest of the lemons.

Plus perfect Lemonade
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 c water
  • 10 lemons
  • 2 c ice cubes
  • additional cold water

Using vegetable peeler peel the zest off of 2 lemons. Place in heavy sauce pan with sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer stirring until sugar is dissolved. Turn off and cover. Let steep 10 minutes.

Juice the lemons, including the 2 you zested (should yield about 1 1/4-1 1/2c juice). Take a 2 quart pitcher and add the ice and juice. Strain the lemon zest from the syrup and add to pitcher. Add enough water to make 2 quarts of lemonade. Stir and chill until ready to serve.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mexican Rice Soup

I cheated. I admit it, I buy industrial sized taco seasoning as its cheaper and easier to grab it at Costco than concoct my own from scratch. It is definitely way cheaper than buying those little packets of taco seasoning from the grocery store. Prolly wouldn't be that difficult, but what the heck sometimes it has to be about convenience.

The soup itself is inspired by a chicken and rice soup I had years ago as a starter at a Mexican joint in old Tuscon AZ. The addition of the corn was my idea to add some sweetness to calm the otherwise spicy-ish soup. Worked quite well if I say so myself.

Mexican Rice Soup

  • 1 yellow onion finely diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 1 T garlic minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 C mixed rice (white, brown, wild or substitute all white)
  • 2 14 oz cans chicken broth
  • 3 T taco seasoning
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 12 oz cooked chicken diced
  • 8 oz frozen corn

Add olive oil to coat the bottom of a stock pot over medium-low heat. Cook onion and bell pepper and 1/4 t salt, saute until onions are caramelized. Add rice and garlic, cook 1 minute stirring constantly so as to not burn the garlic.

Add chicken, broth, taco seasoning and black pepper to the pot. Increase heat and bring to boil. Test seasoning and add more salt if needed. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour covered until rice is cooked through. Add corn at end and stir in until thawed and heated through, should take only a minute or two. (You don't want to over cook the corn so it looses its tender crisp texture).

Butternut and Red Pepper Soup

In continuance of my living in a healthier way goal for the New Year here is another version of my tried and true Butternut Squash soup. Just enough zing and extra sweetness to make this variation stand on its own as its own recipe. This is one that tastes as good if not a bit better on the second day.

After a whiz in the blender there isn't much left to do with this soup except bring to a simmer and let it cook away for another 10-15 minutes or so to let the flavors really blend together. Swapping out vegetable stock for the chicken broth would also turn this into a "vegan delight". You would never know from its creamy texture that it is in fact lacking cream which makes this a very heart healthy soup and great for any reduced calorie dieting. Adding in a salad and some garlic bread rounds out the soup to be a complete meal.
The secret if there is one is allowing the onions and red pepper to caramelize together so you get the full sweetness off of both to stand out in the soup without the raw onion or pepper bite. It takes a good 10-15 minutes over med-low heat to achieve the caramelization but it is worth it in the final product.

Butternut and Red Pepper Soup

  • 1 medium butternut squash - large dice
  • 1 yellow onion coarse diced
  • 1 red bell pepper coarse diced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 t ground ginger
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 14oz cans chicken broth

In microwave safe dish with a lid add the butternut squash and micro cook 15 minutes or until the squash is soft. (I use a 1200 watt nuker so you will need to adjust time to match your machine).

Place onions and bell pepper in large stock pot with just enough evoo to coat the bottom of the pan. Add about 1/4 t salt and cook slowly, stirring often until caramelized about 10-15 minutes.

Add the onion and bell pepper with about 1/3 of the cooked squash with 1 can chicken broth and blend until pureed. Add to stock pot. Repeat with remaining squash and can of broth. Add ginger and cayenne pepper. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes to warm soup through and meld the flavors. Serve hot as an appetizer or with bread and salad for a full meal.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thanks for all the visits...

The stats only tell me that what I cook, and sometimes invent are a hit with a few people as time progresses. The most common search is "Potica" which was the subject of a single post. A labor intensive process in making a traditional slovene treat. I think I'll twist it up a bit and add in a recipe for an easier "Apple Potica" and "Blueberry Potica" if I can decipher down the photocopy of my grandmothers recipe.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thai Corn Chowder

This recipe is a great one for something fast with minimal steps. Not quite stupid easy and does make a bit of a mess as you need the blender and its just one more thing that needs to be washed. Not a pain in the backside kind of mess, just extra clean up but well worth it.

I use the already minced lemon grass, but the dried stuff can be used just as well. I think the minced in the tube just has a bit more of a lemon back note that is easier to detect and adds a fresher grassiness to the dish that is absent in the dried. Not everyone can easily find the already minced, including me, so the dried is a good enough substitute.

Thai Corn Chowder

  • 2 16 oz bags frozen corn - thawed
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 red jalapeno pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 2 T lemon grass puree (or equal dried)
  • 2 T cilantro finely chopped
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly coat bottom of pan with olive oil and sweat the onions until translucent. Add onion to blender with 1 can broth, 1 bag of corn and cilantro. Process until nearly smooth.

Add a little more oil to the bottom of the pan, add lemon grass, jalapeno slices and garlic. Cook over low heat 30 seconds until the garlic is just starting to turn clear. Stir constantly so as to not burn the garlic. Add the corn puree, cayenne and remaining bag of corn to the pan. Increase heat and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Add remaining broth to thin to consistency you like in a chowder. (Starch content of the corn varies so you may need the entire can to get it to the right consistency). Test for salt and pepper. Simmer 5-10 minutes until heated through.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Vegetable Beef and Noodle Soup

Soups are the indicated food option for a chilly winter night. I know, whining here but to us in So Cal the 50's are a chilly day its just how we are wired. Regardless of your definition of "Chilly" this soup hits the right spot when you want a light but fulfilling comfort food dinner. Add in a salad or bread and its complete.

Also, this soup is a great way to sneak in some of the less used vegetables, like rutabaga into the family diet. Sneak as in its got a mild but distinctive flavor that adds that little something extra to the soup but you don't have to tell them you did it. Do a nice small dice and no one is the wiser that it isn't a bit of some other veg that they actually do it. Its a Machiavellian approach to cooking, tell them only what they need to know and let the rest just happen. Works for me as I rarely get busted for sneaking something new in on them while getting to eat a veg I happen to like like the oft maligned rutabaga.
Vegetable Beef and Noodle Soup
  • 1 lb sirloin or top round - sliced into small bite sized strips
  • 1 large white onion - diced
  • 2 carrots - sliced
  • 2 stalks celery-sliced
  • 1 rutabaga - fine diced
  • 8 oz button mushroom, sliced
  • 1 t oregano
  • 1 t thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 28 oz cans beef broth
  • 3 c wide egg noodles
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Prep all the meat and vegetables. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large stock pot. Heat over medium high heat and add beef. Stir fry until well browned. Add vegetables and cook until onion is translucent. Add dried herbs and broth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil then reduce heat to simmer. Simmer 15-20 minutes until carrots and rutabaga are tender crisp. Add egg noodles and cook 8-10 minutes until soft. Serve hot with fresh cracked pepper or a dash of hot sauce.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spicy Sausage and Kale Soup

Sometimes I just have to cook and come up with something that his healthy and comforting that suit my tastes at the moment. Kids can fend for themselves if they can't get into what I was yearning for. That's what left overs are for.

I picked up a trick from Ina Garten on a show she did last week using lentils. Pour boiling water on them and just let them soak for a half hour to soften them up. Doing that you don't have to simmer your soup that long and turn the veggies and stuff into mush along with softening the lentils.

This soup is similar to one I did a week ago except I stepped up the heat and spices a bit by using spicy Italian sausage along with red pepper flakes. Just enough to make it a different soup, of course adding in Kale gets you tons of beta carotene, vitamin K and some powerful antioxidants into your system making a basic soup extra healthy. That's a good thing and a postive step towards living healthy.

Spicy Sausage and Kale Soup
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage
  • 1 bunch kale -coarse chopped (about 8 cups)
  • 2 28 oz cans chicken broth
  • 1 cup lentils -pre-soaked 30 min in boiling water.
  • 1 onion -coarse chopped
  • 2 carrots -sliced
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 T parsley
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove sausage from casing and fry until well browned. Add onion and carrot. Reduce heat and saute until onion are clear. Scrape up browned bits from bottom of pan.

Add spices, lentils and canned broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes until carrots are tender crisp. Add kale, cook 5 minutes until wilted with the ribs still tender crisp. Serve with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year Foodies and Followers

You can't start the New Year off without wishing everyone the joy, prosperity and peace for the New Year, and in this Decade, so there you go my wish for you.

My house it includes a nice brunch and watching the Rose Parade, often going down to check out the floats after it is all done and over with (parade end is about 5 miles from where I sit at the moment). This year isn't much different, 'cept I've been lazy and instead of float viewing up close and personal it will be about taking down Christmas.

For those of you who haven't tried mimosa's yet, I'd strongly suggest you do so. Its a 50/50 mix of orange juice and champagne. Forget the champagne and go for Proseco the Italian version. A much better sparkling wine in my book than traditional champagne. Not as dry and mixes better with the orange juice or peach nectar than the champagne does. Something to do with the soil and climate makes it a bit sweeter and blendable with the juices. Just a little fyi...and it is cheaper than traditional champagne by a lot.
Happy New Year all!