Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peanut Brittle From New York Magazine

My father has to be the most difficult person to give a gift to.

He has admitted, on his own accord, to having no hobbies - he works too much to really have a hobby. He loves to go with my Mom and perhaps a few friends to Tunkwa Lake for a few days of fishing, he also enjoys a bit of golf, and a beer or two on his days off - but any gifts I could purchase that have to do with those activities seem so...unpersonable.

That's when I remembered (and I hope I remembered correctly!) that he likes peanut brittle.

Peanut Brittle For My Dad

vegetable oil spray

2 cups sugar

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/3 cup light corn syrup

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tbsp salt

12 ounces dry roasted, salted peanuts (do not chop)

Spray a baking sheet lightly with vegetable oil. Add the sugar, butter, corn syrup and 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp water to a large saucepan, and stir together until all of the sugar is wet.
Cook over high heat until the mixture turns a medium golden.

Immediately remove from the heat, and carefully whisk in the baking soda followed by the salt (taking care, as the caramel will rise in the pan and bubble).

Switch to a wooden or metal spoon, and fold in the peanuts. Quickly pour the mixture onto the sheet pan, and spread it out over the pan using the back of the spoon before it starts to harden (it may not cover the whole pan).

Once the brittle is completely cool, break it into bite sized pieces with a blunt object.

Makes 24 chunks.


Monday, December 15, 2008

My Grandmother's Half Moon Cookies

My Grandmother is spectacular in the kitchen - she bakes, she cooks...and she makes it look easy. I should adjust my tenses however, as she doesn't do the things she used to since being in a car accident some years ago - it changed her and the energy just isn't there any longer.

Rather than letting some of her best creations languish in memory alone, I decided to take on a few of her recipes that were always a Christmas feature. One being these Half Moon Spice Cookies.

Filled with jam and having a very tender bite, these clove-y, cinnamon-y cookies are one of my favorites from my Grandmother's Christmas plate.

These cookie require quite a bit of time and effort as you must hand fold the dough around the jam and seal them so they keep all the sticky goodness inside. The recipe makes enough for a very large family gathering - I saved half of the dough in the freezer and still had plenty of cookies!

Grandma's Half Moon Cookies

1 cup sour cream
1 cup honey
1 cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
3 eggs
8 tsp baking powder
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cloves
5-6 cups flour

Dissolve baking soda into sour cream. Combine remaining ingredients with it. Roll out and cut circles with a water glass or cookie cutter. Dab jam of choice in center, fold over and seal using a bit of milk. Bake approximately 10 minutes at 325. Ice with icing sugar and milk mixture.

I was nervous as I took the first tray out of the oven. Would they be the same as Grandma's?

They were - and Papa Bear was able to remember his own Grandmother through these cookies too.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Applesauce Pie

I needed to make a bit of room in my freezer for all of the holiday baking I have planned, and discovered a recipe for an applesauce pie in my recipe binder.

Although quite sweet, thin slices served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream made this a lovely dessert.

Applesauce Pie

2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup applesauce
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 9 inch pie shell

Mix all ingredients and pour into pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Classic Wedge Salad

I'd become tired of the ready made, bagged garden salads that ultimately end up tasting of plastic bag after a short stay in the refrigerator.

That's when I decided we were going to try a wedge salad.

It's a very simple concept: take a head of iceberg lettuce, peel away the outer leaves. Remove the core in a fashion similar to that of removing the core of a tomato.

Cut the head of lettuce into wedges.
Set a wedge in each salad bowl, dress with your favorite dressing, add final touches of your choosing, like crisp crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, croutons, bits of hard boiled egg and sunflower seeds.

Serve with a knife and and fork, and prepare to be converted. No more soggy, limp salads tasting of the bag they came in!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Falling For Fall

The seasons have begun their subtle change in my part of the world.

I noticed it a few days ago. The air has become crisp, cool and fresh, almost - even on sunny days it's very mild outdoors.

I'm looking forward to the sweaters and coats and long sleeves and having to 'bundle up' before going outside for a walk - the autumn always makes one feel more refreshed and invigorated than in the heat of the summer.

And then the coming in from the out of doors - the comfort foods like stew that's been slow cooked all day, tenderizing chunks of beef or chicken, filling the whole house with an aroma that makes you sigh and smile when coming home after a long day.

Minestrone, full of chopped zucchini, thinly sliced leeks, chopped carrots, finely sliced cabbage, loads of garlic, and peppercorns.

Hot chili, fragrant and rich and topped with the oldest aged cheddar available, plus a piece of sourdough bread broiled till golden.

Sunday morning breakfast of French toast, prepared and soaked in an egg wash the night before so that it becomes almost custardy after baking, thick slices served up with a steaming mug of tea.

Come on in, Fall - I've got the crockpot all ready for you.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ginger's Zucchini Bread

Ginger Corsair gave me a most delicious recipe in which to use up at least one quarter of the gigantic zucchini given to us by my Aunt and Uncle - tender and moist, full of flavor, and ever so effortless to prepare.

The most difficult part?

Trying to avoid salivating as the aroma fills the house and then, waiting until the loaves are baked and cooled enough to slice.

Ginger's Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white or brown sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease & flour loaf pans.

In large bowl, beat eggs until light and frothy. Mix in oil & sugar. Stir in zucchini and vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients, then stir into egg mixture.

Divide batter into pans. Bake for 60-70 minutes.

I do suggest adding chocolate chips to the batter - decadent.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Huevos Rancheros

The easiest, most delicious way to throw together lunch or a light dinner. In a pinch, use jarred salsa.

Huevos Rancheros

olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
15 oz can whole tomatoes
1/2 6 oz can green chilies

chipotle chili powder, adobo sauce or ground cumin to taste
4 tortillas
4 eggs
2 tbsp fresh cilantro

Make the sauce first by softening the onions in a little olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Once translucent, add the tomatoes and the juice. Break up the tomatoes with your fingers as you add them. Add chopped chilies. Add either chipotle powder, adobo or cumin to taste. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and let simmer while you complete the rest of dish. Stir occasionally.

Heat the oven to 150, place serving plates in the oven to warm also.

Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large non stick skillet on medium high, coating the pan with oil. One by one, heat the tortillas in the pan, a minute or two on each side, until heated through, softened, and bubbles begin to form. Remo
ve and stack one on top of another in the oven.

Fry the eggs in the same skillet used for the tortillas, adding a little butter. Crack all four eggs into the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes for runny yolks, more for firmer eggs.

To serve, spoon a little of the sauce onto a warmed plate. Top with a tortilla, then a fried egg. Top with more sauce and sprinkle with cilantro, if desired.

Makes 2-4 servings.


Fish & Chips With Tartar Sauce

Tyler Florence's Fish & Chips

vegetable oil, for deep frying
4 large russet potatoes
2 cups flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt plus more for seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper plus more for seasoning
1 large egg, lightly beaten
12 oz soda water
1/2 cup rice flour for dredging
2 - 8 oz cod or haddock fillets, cut in half or on an angle

Tartar Sauce

1 cup mayo
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 tbsp pickles, chopped
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 dash hot sauce

Heat 3 inches of the oil in a deep fryer or a deep pot. Peel the potatoes and cut into chips, about the size of your index finger. Put the potatoes in the hot oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, they should not be crisp or fully cooked at this point. Remove using slotted spoon to drain on paper towels.

Put chips back into the fryer for about 4 to 5 minutes until crispy and brown. Remove and drain.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and the egg. Add soda water and whisk to a smooth batter.

Spread rice flour on a plate. Dredge the fish pieces in the flour and dip into batter, allowing excess to drip off.

Submerge the battered fish into the bubbling oil for 4 to 5 minutes until crispy and brown. Remove and drain with the chips on paper towels, season lightly with salt.

To make tartar sauce, combine all ingredients and chill to let flavors meld.

Serves 3-4


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Filbert Gateau With Praline Buttercream

We must challenge ourself as much as possible in order to stretch our self imposed boundaries.

"Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They're what make the instrument stretch - what makes you go beyond the norm."
- David Lyle Boren -

Therefore, after 3 days of preparation and one final day of assembly and photographs, I achieved this:

It was definitely a stretch of my talent in the kitchen, however I must say I truly enjoyed the challenge and am looking forward to the next.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chicken Pasta Salad

When you might be tired of reading from a recipe, but there's still hungry bellies to be filled, let yourself meander through your cupboards and the refrigerator, picking and choosing at random. You might be surprised at what you come up with.

Chicken Pasta Salad

1 pkg stir fry chicken (chicken that's been prepared by the butcher into strips suitable for stir fry)
1/2 a fresh lemon or lemon juice
1 cup cooked rotini noodles
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup Zesty Italian Kraft Dressing
handful diced red onion
6-8 quartered cherry tomatoes
1/2 a cucumber, peeled and quartered
1 tbsp each chopped fresh oregano and flat leaf parsley

Season chicken with salt and pepper and saute in a bit of olive oil. When nearly done, squeeze half a lemon over the chicken.

Mix all ingredients together and serve.

Serves 2 dinner sized portions.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Barefoot Contessa Chicken Parmesan With Greens & Lemon Vinaigrette

Ina Garten never fails to impress me.

She moves effortlessly about her kitchen, creating masterful dishes using fresh, fantastic ingredients that cause lucky diners to swoon.

Her Chicken Parmesan with Greens and Lemon Vinaigrette struck me as being simple yet oh so elegant, and delicious - of course.

Barefoot Contessa Chicken Parmesan With Greens & Lemon Vinaigrette

4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 extra large eggs
1 tbsp water
1 1/4 cups seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
unsalted butter
olive oil
salad greens for 6, washed and spun dry
1 recipe Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe follows

Pound the chicken breasts till they are 1/4 inch thick. Use a meat mallet or rolling pin.

Combine flour, salt and pepper on a dinner plate. On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tbsp of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread crumb mixture, pressing lightly.

Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a large saute pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken breasts on medium low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more butter and oil, and cook the rest of the chicken breasts. Toss the salad greens with the lemon vinaigrette. Place a mound of salad on each hot chicken breast, serve with extra Parmesan.

Lemon Vinaigrette

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Simple Beef Fajitas

While in the pursuit of eating better, there's nothing more satisfying than creating your own dinner, at the table.

Sliced peppers - in various colors, diced tomatoes - bright red and juicy, shredded lettuce - crisp and the usual shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream.

Tortillas that have been wrapped in a damp kitchen towel and left to heat leisurely in a low oven and strips of beef, sauteed with plenty of onion made sweet by slow cooking.

Dinner - hands on.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jamie Oliver's Pasta Bianco

There are recipes that wait patiently and quietly for their time in the light - after having made this dish, I wondered why it took me so long to do so.

Jamie Oliver describes this recipe as being the most basic dish to make, using the simplest sauce. Don't let the seemingly difficult preparation hold you back - it's really quite effortless.

It's silky, it's luxurious - the garlic butter and Parmesan literally caress the pasta.

Jamie Oliver's Pasta Bianco

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
1 1/2 ounces butter
1 lb tagliatelle or fettucine
2 or 3 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small shallow pan, slowly fry the garlic in the butter without coloring for a few minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta, and cook according to the package instructions. When it's done, drain it in a colander over a bowl so you save some of the starchy cooking water. Reserving this water and using it to finish off a pasta sauce is absolutely critical to getting any pasta sauce right, especially this one.

Get yourself a big, warmed pasta or salad bowl and pour your melted garlic butter into it so that the whole surface is covered. Then toss in your cooked pasta with about 5 or 6 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water and the Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. With tongs or two forks, toss the pasta around. The butter, garlic, water and Parmesan will form a really creamy sauce.

What you need to do next is get everyone round the table. You may have to keep feeding the pasta with a little of the reserved cooking water, so the sauce stays silky and delicate and not too sticky. Once you get the consistency right, serve the pasta into bowls and pass round a big chunk of Parmesan cheese and a grater.

There are many ways of varying this sauce - you can lay some prosciutto over, or stir some chopped tomatoes into your garlic butter before removing from the heat, or you can incorporate different cheeses, but the key is to get simple, well seasoned, delicate pasta coated in a butter cheese sauce.

Once you get this pasta exactly right, try to make it with a bit more speed the next time - the quicker you can do it and get it right, the better the pasta will be.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Best Ever Carrot Cake

There are times (a multitude, really) when a boxed cake mix will not do.

The labor involved with creating a moist, many textured cake such as this, lends a part of your soul to the end result as you chop and grate and fold.

Best Ever Carrot Cake

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 3/4 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups shredded carrot
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped walnut (optional)
8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9x13 pan. Mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Make a well in the center and add sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla. Mix till smooth. Stir in carrots, coconut, walnuts (if using) and pineapple. Pour into pan and bake for about 45 minutes, the center may sink a bit. Frost with either store bought or homemade cream cheese icing.

Chicken Gyros With Yogurt Dill Sauce

In a quest for healthier living lies fresh herbs, thick yogurt, a squeeze of fresh lemon and positively voluptuous chicken breasts.

A perfectly light lunch or dinner choice.

Chicken Gyros With Yogurt Dill Sauce

1 cup plain nonfat yogurt

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
1 large garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

4 pita bread rounds, heated

Stir yogurt, 2 tablespoons dill, garlic and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Place chicken in medium bowl. Sprinkle with oregano, 1 teaspoon dill and salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; sauté until brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add onions; sauté until beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Return chicken and any juices to skillet. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Stir until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Arrange pita rounds on plates. Top pita rounds with chicken mixture. Spoon some yogurt sauce over chicken. Serve, passing extra sauce separately.


Quesadillas With Guacamole

A recipe where there needn't be.

For a most unpretentious meal, serve these quesadillas (which have taken hardly a moment to prepare) with a cold beer and guacamole on the side.

Quesadillas With Guacamole

To make the guacamole, take 2 or 3 ripe avocados, 2 or 3 ripe deseeded tomatoes and a few deseeded red chilies.
Toss it all into a food processor with a handful of peeled and chopped spring onions and a good handful of fresh cilantro.

When it's been chopped nice and fine, add a few more chopped tomatoes, a good pinch of salt, and another avocado half, roughly chopped, to give some texture.
Put it all into a bowl and season carefully with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice or lime juice.

If you buy ready made, spruce it up a bit with a squeeze of lemon juice, a little extra salt and a bit of chili to give it a kick.

Take some soft tortilla shells.
Grab a few handfuls of grated cheeses like mozza, cheddar, or what have you. Chop a few chilies and a bit of red pepper and parsley, toss with the shredded cheeses. Lay a tortilla in a hot dry skillet and sprinkle the cheese mixture generously over the tortilla. Lay another tortilla overtop and allow to crisp for about a minute or two on each side.

Slice into wedges and serve with sour cream and guacamole.


Layered Finger Jello

There's nothing quite like watching a child's eyes light up at the presentation of this treat - adults love it too!

Layered Finger Jello

For each colored layer:

1 3 oz package jello

1 pkg or 1 tbsp unflavored gelatin

1 cup boiling water

For the white layer:

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

4 packages or 4 tbsp unflavored gelatin

2 cups boiling water

Mix each jello color separately in containers. Let stand till room temperature, stirring occasionally. Mix up white layer and also let stand till room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Pour first color into a 9x13 baking dish. Refrigerate till firm. Put 1/3 of white mixture on top of first colored layer. Refrigerate till firm. Repeat till finished.

If all mixtures are at room temperature, it should only take about 7 minutes or so to firm up each layer so you can add the next.