In the mood for Holiday Food Gifts!

I grew up in a household that was absolutely showered with food gifts during the holidays.  My father’s career in the food business guaranteed almost daily UPS and FedEx deliveries, many packed in dry ice, between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We received luscious desserts, most only available to restaurant clients, chocolates and fresh nuts, coffees and teas, huge beef rib roasts, breads and pastries, cured meats and cheeses, and our favorite, the Bryan Family Christmas Ham.

These days, the only corporate gift that comes to my door is a lone tin of ginger thins from a certain banking institution.  Unfortunately, it often sits undisturbed in the pantry, only to be replaced by an identical, albeit fresher tin exactly 12 months later.  No… the gifts that show up at my door during the holidays are of the warm and personal variety….homemade food gifts.  Wonderful pies to eat right away or freeze for later, flaky breakfast pastries, delicate cookies dusted with powdered sugar, glazed pecans and walnuts and homemade jams are just some of the treats that we have been blessed with in recent years.

Here are three food gifts that you might consider making this year.

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Toffee Sauce For Ice Cream

This is a great food gift for three reasons:
1.  You can multiply the recipe as needed to make big batches of sauce.
2.  The sauce will keep for a week in the refrigerator, and travels well.
3.  This is one of the best ice cream sauces you will ever taste.
Combine in a medium saucepan:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk (Pet or Carnation….not condensed milk!)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup light Karo syrup
dash of salt
Bring to a boil over low heat.  Boil one minute the remove from the heat and stir in:
1/2 cup chopped chocolate covered toffee bars (Heath or Skor Bars)
Let cool then refrigerate.
At this point, I like to add another handful of chopped candy to the sauce to add a bit of crunch since the candy you added earlier will have melted to become part of the sauce.  Or you could wait and sprinkle the extra candy over the ice cream when serving as shown below.  This recipe fills one medium sized jar, as shown in the photo above, and will easily serve 6-8.
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Cinnamon Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Toasted Pecan Filling

 
Possibly one of the best coffee cakes I’ve ever had and most definitely the best coffee cake that I have ever made.  A very special gift for someone during the holidays that will keep wrapped, at room temperature, for up to 5 days.  I’m copying and pasting the recipe straight from Fine Cooking because I didn’t change a thing and I don’t want to make a mistake in the precise baking measurements.  Note: If you don’t have superfine sugar, just make some by running sugar, before you measure of course, through the food processor until it is as fine as sand.
1 Tbs. softened unsalted butter
For the Streusel Topping
2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 oz. (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. table salt
For the Filling
1 cup toasted pecans
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
3 Tbs. light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. Dutch-processed or natural cocoa powder
For the Cake
11-1/4 oz. (3 cups) sifted cake flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. table salt
10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter, slightly softened
11-1/2 oz. (1-2/3 cups) superfine sugar
4 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
16 oz. (2 cups) sour cream
 

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F (325°F if using a dark nonstick pan). Generously butter a 10-inch tube pan with a removable bottom.
Make the topping: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until almost melted. Remove from the heat and cool to tepid. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter and stir until evenly moistened and crumbly.
Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the pecans, both sugars, cinnamon, and cocoa 4 to 6 times to combine and chop the pecans.
Make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugar slowly, beating until combined. Scrape the bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending each one completely before adding the next. Scrape the bowl and blend in the vanilla. On low speed, alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour cream, adding the flour in four parts and the sour cream in three parts, beginning and ending with the flour, and scraping the bowl as needed.
Layer and marble the batter and filling: Spoon 2 generous cups of the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with the back of a soupspoonsoupspoon.
Top and bake the cake: Take a handful of the streusel crumbs and squeeze firmly to form a large mass. Break up the mass into smaller clumps, distributing the streusel evenly over the batter. Repeat with the remaining streusel. Press the streusel lightly into the surface of the cake. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the sides are beginning to pull away from the pan, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least an hour before removing from the pan.

This cake keeps at room temperature, well wrapped or under a cake dome, for up to 5 days; you can freeze it for up to 3 months.

From Fine Cooking 96, pp. 70p
October 22, 2008
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Peppermint Pretzels 

You won’t really need a recipe for these addictive treats….like peppermint bark but with a salty crunchy bite.  Just buy more white chocolate than you think that you will need if you want to coat the pretzels as thickly as I did. (For example, it took 3 Ghiradelli bars to cover 12 large pretzels.)
All you need:
white chocolate
 shortening
hard peppermint candies or candy canes, finely crushed (food processor make quick work of this)
pretzels
wax paper
Melt the white chocolate slowly in a double boiler or as I do, in a stainless steel bowl set over a medium saucepan of simmering water.  Stir in just enough shortening to make the consistency thin enough for dipping.  (Start with one tablespoon and add more by teaspoons if necessary) Dip pretzels (I use a wooden or metal skewer to make dipping easier) and set on wax paper.  Sprinkle with crushed peppermints and let dry at room temperature until firm.  Although chocolate will firm up quicker in the refrigerator, I find that it makes the crushed candy sticky, so I recommend taking the time to let it set at room temp before storing.
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In the mood for new everyday recipes!

The only thing that the three recipes below have in common is that they have been in my “everyday recipes” rotation for at least 15 years!  Most of us have a rotation, don’t we?  A set of recipes or meal ideas that we rotate through weekly or monthly.
As we are in the midst of the busy holiday season, I find myself returning to some of my old standbys…meals that I don’t have to put any thought into, meals that I have made so many times I can whip them up in short order.  It’s comforting too.  My daughter took one look in the old Le Creuset pot full of Baked Chicken and Orzo and exclaimed, “Oh, I remember this!”.  She should remember it…I must have made it once a week for a good while there when she was younger.  (hint for parents: I used to chop the tomatoes into tiny pieces so as not to terrify the children)
Dishes leave my rotation, as they should, when I tire of making them (or I sense a “not that again” attitude from my eaters, who are, for the record, much too polite to actually say “not that again”)
But I eventually return to them because they are really good and they bring back memories… just as the simple Madeleine cake does for Marcel Proust in A La Recherche Du Temps Perdue.  Sorry.  French major.  Don’t get to use it very often.
Anyway, these recipes are among the “keepers” in my collection.  Enjoy!
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Spicy Vegetable Couscous

This is my idea of the perfect meatless meal (although not vegetarian, of course, with the chicken broth) It is a simplified version of the wonderful Moroccan dish that usually includes lamb, chicken and/or veal.  I found this years ago in a book published by Glamour Magazine with recipes from their Gourmet on the Run feature.  If you ever see it in a used book store be sure and pick it up as it is full of great, quick and easy recipes.
Vegetables:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 small or 1 medium turnip, diced
2 carrots, sliced diagonally
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2-3 small zucchini, sliced
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
Couscous:
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup couscous
fresh parsley or cilantro
sesame seeds
In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until tender but not brown.  Add turnip, carrots, tomatoes, salt, cumin, crushed red pepper and chicken broth.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender yet firm when tested with a fork.  Add zucchini and garbanzo beans; cook until zucchini is just tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the couscous.  Heat chicken broth and butter in a large saucepan with a lid.  When it starts to boil, add couscous, stir, cover, and remove from the heat and let sit for 15 minutes to steam.  When couscous is tender and has absorbed all of the broth, use a fork to fluff it and serve with the vegetables and broth garnished with parsley or cilantro and sesame seeds.  Serves 4-5
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Ben Moy’s Spicy Pork Tenderloin

I found this recipe from Ben Moy in the Chicago Tribune years ago.  It was published alongside an “Earthy Herb” chicken stir fry and these two dishes have been favorites ever since.  I’ll be sure and make the chicken version soon and share that as well.  I added “optional” to the Szechwan peppercorns because I made it without for years being unable to find them.  They are available at Williams Sonoma now and they add a unique flavor but the recipe is also good without them.
2 small pork tenderloins, trimmed and sliced on the bias against the grain into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cup into thin strips
1 small red onion, peeped and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 teaspoon Szechwan red peppercorns, crushed (optional)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled, crushed and chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
4 green onions, cleaned and sliced for garnish
In a bowl, combine the red pepper strips and red onion and set aside.  In a separate bowl, combine pork, garlic, jalapeno, red peppercorns, sesame oil, soy, sherry, cornstarch and chopped ginger,  Let sit 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat a large skillet or wok, until very hot.  Add 1 tablespoon oil and stir fry the vegetables until the are just beginning to soften. Remove vegetables to a colander and keep them close at hand.
Rinse skillet, wipe out and return to heat.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with the salt.  Add pork and seasonings and spread single layer to let pork brown lightly on one side before you stir fry it a bit to cook through.  You should do this in two batches if your skillet is not large enough to cook the whole lot at once.  When pork is ready, return vegetables to the pan and toss until well mixed and heated through.  Correct seasonings as desired and garnish with the fresh green onion.  4-6 servings
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Baked Chicken and Orzo

This is one of only 3 casseroles that have a place in my recipe binder.  Now, I love casseroles, I grew up on them in small town Mississippi.  But they just never went over very well with my eaters.  And if I did make a “casserole”, I was always careful to rename it.  For example, a chicken noodle casserole might become Roasted Chicken with Linguini.  This Baked Chicken with Orzo was a hit, I believe, because of the extra large pieces of chicken breast that become melt-in-your-mouth tender while baking in the silky buttered tomato sauce.  Recipe from Casseroles, Classic to Contempory, by Nina Graybill and Maxine Rapoport.
6 chicken breast halves, skinned and cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons olive oil
28-ounce can plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces, or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons butter (original recipe calls for a whole stick of butter…go for it if you dare)
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces orzo
2 cups chicken broth, heated to boiling
Brown the chicken pieces in the oil  While chicken is browning, simmer the tomatoes, butter, basil, oregano, and salt and pepper in an uncovered saucepan for about 20 minutes until somewhat thickened.
Place chicken in a 3-quart ovenproof casserole with a lid.  When tomato sauce has cooked down a bit, pour over chicken and place covered casserole in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Add orzo and boiling broth to the casserole and mix gently.  Cover and return to oven for 30 more minutes.  The recipe notes that you can add more hot broth if the dish seems dry before the orzo is tender but I have never had to do that. Serves 6
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In the mood for Baking with Apples!

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“With an apple, I will astonish Paris!” Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) Still Life with Apples

 

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“There’s small choice in rotten apples.” The Taming of the Shrew William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

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“Comfort me with Apples, for I am sick of love.” Song of Solomon 2:5

 

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Apple Crumb Nut Muffins

This recipe comes from The Muffin Lady, Muffins, Cupcakes, and Quick Breads for the Happy Soul, by Linda Fisher.
Linda has an interesting story… divorced and struggling to provide for her young son, she adapted her mothers pancake recipe into a muffin batter and began baking muffins and selling them out of her red Radio Flyer wagon on the sidewalks of Westminster, Maryland.  But soon the Health Department intervened, telling her that would have to stop as she did not have a department approved commercial kitchen.  Fortunately, the local community came together to support “The Muffin Lady” and the fire department offered her the use of their government approved kitchen.
Concerning baking with apples, she says, “Apples have a flavor, but they need some seasoning when they are baked.  Cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are key spices with apple, pumpkin, and other autumn fruits.  Summer fruits don’t need them because they tend to be pungent enough on their own.”
These muffins are a great example of this as the moist base is just softly flavored with the fresh apples and the sweet, spiced, crunchy topping provides the complimentary flavor and texture.
I think the flavor of these muffins improves with time so try to make them a bit ahead of time. They easily keep for several days.
 
Streusel Topping
 
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup flour
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
Mix all of the dry ingredients except the nuts.  Cut the butter into the mix using your hands to break into large chunks.  Mix by hand until small balls form,  Toss the nuts lightly into the mix.
For the muffins:
2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored and small diced (about 3 cups)
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Sift together the dry ingredients,  Make a well in the center.  Blend in the eggs, milk, butter, vanilla and oil.  Fold in the apples.  Spoon the batter into a wax paper lined muffin pan, filling cups almost to the top.  Top with streusel and bake until light golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.   Baking time will be 25-40 minutes depending on size of muffin tin.  Makes 12 (4-ounce muffins) or 6 (8-ounce muffins.)
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All American Apple Turnovers

I love making these turnovers.  It is best to use a combination of apples in your filling to create the best texture and flavor.  Try a combo of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, Rome or Jonathans.  Just make sure they are of the firm, cooking apple variety.  These are amazing fresh out of the oven so for entertaining, get them all ready and keep them in the refrigerator, ready to bake.  They are still good the day after baking but you will find the pasty to be softer and less flaky.  The recipe comes from Gourmet Magazine.
 
First, make the dough and chill:
 
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch slices
4 ounces cold cream cheese, pinched into small pieces
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons ice water
In a food processor, combine the 2 flours, sugar, and salt and process until blended.  Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse 10-12 times until the butter is coated with the flour and is the size of small peas.
Combine the egg yolk with 3 tablespoons of the ice water.  Pour this mixture through the feed tube and continue pulsing several times, until the dough just begins to clump together, but before it forms a ball on the blade.  (Use the remaining 1 tablespoon ice water if the dough seems too dry)
Using floured hands, pat the dough into a ball, then press it into a 4×6 inch rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Dust the dough lightly with flour and wrap in wax paper.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
To make the turnovers:
 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large apples, peeled, cored and cut in 1/4 inch dice (3 cups)
1/2 cup apple cider, or unsweetened apple juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsweetened apple butter
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of ground allspice
cream cheese dough
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add 2 cups of the diced apples and cook, stirring frequently, until the begin to color, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cider, sugar, lemon juice and salt. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook until the liquid is reduced and the apples appear almost dry but still retain their shape, about 5 minutes longer.  Remove the skillet from the heat and sir in the apple butter, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, along with the remaining cup of raw apples. Transfer the apple mixture to a medium bowl and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled completely.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the cream cheese dough to an 18-20 inch rectangle, 1/16 inch thick.  Using a 6 inch plate or bowl as a guide, cut out eight rounds as close together as possible.  Gather and re-roll the dough then cut out 2 additional rounds.
Spoon the cooled apple filling on the lower half of each of the rounds.  Lightly moisten the edges of the rounds with water and fold the dough over the filling to form semicircular turnovers.  Press down on the edges to seal, first with your fingers and then with the times of a fork.  Using the back of a small knife, press into the sealed edges a 1/2 inch intervals to create a scalloped effect.   Transfer the turnovers to a heavy, parchment paper lined baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
Bake the turnovers in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes.  Move them to the upper rack and bake for 8-10 minutes longer, or until the pastry is a deep golden brown and he filling begins to bubble.  Let cool on a rack.
Drizzle with a confectioner’s sugar glaze if desired:
 
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanille
2 or more teaspoons water
Whisk together until glaze is a nice drizzling consistency  Transfer to a zip lock sandwich bag and snip off a tiny piece of one corner and use this to pipe the glaze onto the turnovers.
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Ina’s French Apple Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream


Ina says that this just might be her favorite dessert and I just might agree.  I’ve made this a number of times and it is simply a perfect recipe.  You will find it in Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics. The only addition I made was to use a baking sheet with sides and wrap it in foil because the sugar and butter do burn on the pan , and sometimes in the oven, and create a bit of a mess to clean up.  I like to have this all ready and bake it during dinner because it is to die for warm out of the oven.  Amazing, it stays crisp and if there are leftovers, they usually disappear around breakfast time the next morning. (Wish I had gotten a photo of the whole tart but sometimes enjoyment cannot wait for photography!)


For the pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water
For the apples
4 Granny Smith Apples
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, small diced
1/2 cup apricot jelly or sieved apricot jam

2 tablespoons water

For the pastry, place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Pulse for a few seconds to combine,  Add the butter and pulse 10 to 12 times, until the butter is in small bits the size of peas.  With the motor running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse just until the dough starts to come together.  Dump onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the open to 400 degrees.  Wrap a jelly roll pan with foil then line with parchment paper. (this will help with the cleanup)

Roll the dough slightly larger than 10×14 inches.  Using a ruler and a small knife, trim the edges.  Place the dough on the prepared sheet pan and refrigerate while you prepare the apples.

Peel the apples and cut them in half through the stem.  Remove the stems and cores with a sharp knife and a melon baller.  Slice the apples crosswise in 1/4 inch thick slices.  Lay overlapping slices of apples diagonally down the middle of the tart and continue making diagonal rows on both sides of the first row until the pastry is covered with apple slices.  Sprinkle with the full 1/2 cup sugar and dot with the butter.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the pastry is browned and the edges of the apples start to brown. Rotate the pan once during cooking.  If the pastry puffs us in one area,cut a little slit with a knife to let the air out.  Don’t worry!  The apple juices will burn in the pan but the tart will be fine!  When that tart is done, heat the apricot jelly together with the water and brush the apples and the pastry completely with the jelly mixture.  Loosen the tart with a metal spatula so tit doesn’t stick to the paper.  Allow to cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serve with cinnamon ice cream or gelato, or vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon.

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In the mood for Cheese Straws!

Ten years ago I moved to the land of cheese straws.  Actually, it is the land of chicken pot pie, sugar cake, pulled pork barbecue, country ham biscuits, caramel cake, AND cheese straws.  Every person I know has either a favorite recipe or a favorite source for each of these wonderful foods.

The arrival of November got me thinking about entertaining so I thought that I would share some ideas for pre-dinner party nibbles.  I like to save the heavy hors-d’oeuvres for cocktail parties and simply serve a couple of light savory bites before a sit-down party.  We call that having “just a little something” before dinner.

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White Cheddar Cheese Straws

  On top of being light, crispy, and spicy, these are also extremely quick and easy to make.  This recipe is based on one published in Southern Living in 2007.
6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, cut into cubes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper ( I use 1/2 tsp. for spicy straws)
1 tablespoon half and half
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add red pepper flakes and half and half and process until dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
On a well floured surface, roll into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Using a pizza wheel or a big knife, trim the edges a bit to even them up and then cut the dough into straws about 1/4 inch wide.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper).
Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until ends are just slightly browned.  Cool on baking sheet on a wire rack.
Makes about 2 dozen

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Olive Straws

Just realized that these don’t really fit the category of Cheese Straws as they contain no cheese… just olives and puff pastry.  But, I’ll call it culinary license and carry on.  I tried the recipe on a whim just because it looked fun…and I happen to love olives.   If you are an olive lover too, what could be better than wrapping them up in a crispy shell?  This is adapted from Michel Roux Pastry, Savory and Sweet.  The “adaptation” is that I use Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry instead of making it from scratch!
1 sheet Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry, defrosted
about 15 large green olives, stuffed with pimentos
egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)
ruler or tape measure
On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry sheet to measure 9 1/2 x 13 inches.  Cut this rectangle into two pieces, one measuring 9 1/2 x 5 1/2 and the other measuring 7 1/2 by 9 1/2.  Don’t stress over the exact measurements…these are the ones that worked for me.  The idea is that you need two pieces of puff pastry, both the same length but with one a couple on inches wider than the other so that you can have extra room to cover and go between the olives.  Now place these two sheets of pastry on a baking sheet in the frig. for 10 minutes to chill.
Take the smaller piece of pastry and starting about 1/2 inch from the short side, lay olives end to end.  Create three rows like this, with about 1/2 inch in between.  (see photos below…kind of blurry but maybe helpful)  Now brush all of the exposed pastry between the olives with the egg wash.  Cover with the larger piece of pastry and press the whole surface of the pastry between the olives firmly with your fingertips.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  With a very sharp knife, trim and neaten the edges of the pastry and cut it crosswise into 1/4 inch slices.  The olives may slip around a bit but you can trim and reposition them on the baking tray.  Lay the straws flat on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or until lightly brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly and serve.
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Pepperoni Pinwheels

Another easy nibble using frozen puff pastry.  I like to get these all ready to pop in the oven and keep them in the frig until the guests start to arrive.  They are quite irresistible when hot out of the oven and still awfully decent at room temp.  ( From Cocktail Food, by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford)
1/2 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese
3/4 teaspoon dried sage
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
2 tablespoons honey mustard
2 ounces packaged sliced pepperoni (I like to use the extra thin sliced pepperoni)
1 egg, slightly beaten
     Mix the Gruyere, sage, oregano, and pepper together in a small bowl.  Lay the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface with a short side closest to you.  Cut in half crosswise.  Now with a long side facing you, spread half of the honey mustard onto each half, leaving a 1 inch border at the tops.  Divide the pepperoni and arrange in a single layer over the mustard.  Top each with 1/2 of the Gruyere mixture.  Brush the farthest edges with the egg.  Roll each puff pastry piece tightly from the closest edge to the egg coated edge to make 2 logs.  Lay them seam side down on a baking sheet and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare 2  parchment lined (or foil lined) baking sheets.
note:  The puff pastry can be filled and rolled up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated, or frozen up to 2 weeks in advance,  Thaw, cut, and bake as directed

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In the mood for Quick Pasta!

I’d like to dedicate this post to my friend Stewart, as we have spent many long walks dreaming of taking a week or two and attending a cooking school in Italy.  I am hoping that 2011 just might be the year that we make it happen.
These three pasta dishes are relatively quick to throw together, especially if you have the components prepped in advance.  And they all taste best if you serve them right away.  Two tips for all pasta dishes: Always reserve a cup or so of the cooking water before you drain the pasta.  It is the perfect liquid for loosening the sauce and rewarming pasta.  And, when a pasta dish calls for zest, as two of the recipes below do, try to use one of the Micoplane brand zesters.  They create a fine, snowy zest that just melts into the pasta.
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Linguine alla Carbonara di Salsiccia

(Sausage Carbonara)
     I was nervous to try Carbonara because it involves tossing eggs with hot pasta to create a luxurious, creamy sauce (or, I feared, a mess of hot pasta and scrambled eggs!) But it came together like a dream and while this is certainly a rich, special occasion dish, I am thrilled to add it to my collection.
     There are a couple of differences between my photos of this dish and the Jamie Oliver recipe that I am going to post below.  First of all, I was out of linguine so I had to use spaghetti and secondly, I didn’t have any pancetta so I made it without.  Next time I plan to use the pancetta and leave out the sausage because this decadent, creamy, lemony pasta really doesn’t need much more in my opinion (and the dish would come together even quicker).  But the little meatballs are fun for sausage lovers.
4 good quality sweet Italian sausages
olive oil
4 slices of thick cut pancetta, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dried linguine
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
zest of one lemon
a sprig of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
With a sharp knife, slit the sausage skins lengthwise an pop all the meat out.  Using wet hands, roll little balls of sausage meat about the size of large marbles and place them to one side.
Heat a large frying pan and add a good splash of olive oil.  Gently fry the sausage meatballs until golden brown all over, then add the pancetta and continue cooking fro a couple of minutes until it’s golden.  While this is cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the linguine, and cook according to the package instructions.
In a large bowl, whip up the egg yolks, cream, half the Parmesan, the lemon zest, and the parsley.  When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water, and immediately toss it quickly with the egg mixture back in the pasta pot.  Add the hot sausage meatballs and toss everything together,  The egg will cook delicately from the heat of the linguine, just enough for it to thicken and not scramble.  The sauce should be smooth and silky.  If the pasta becomes a little sticky, add a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water to loosen it slightly,  Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan, season if necessary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and serve.  Eat immediately!
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Penne with Ricotta and Spinach

 
This quick, one pot pasta dish is from Cook What You Love, by Bob and Melinda Blanchard.  I love it for a vegetarian entree but it would also make a great side dish for chicken or salmon.
1 pound penne pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces baby spinach leaves
1 cup ricotta cheese (I use whole milk ricotta)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the penne and cook until tender but still firm.  Drain and return to the pot.  (don’t forget to save a cup of the cooking water, just in case)
With the heat on very low, add the olive oil, salt, pepper, spinach, ricotta, basil, parsley, and 1 cup of the Parmesan to the penne and mix well.  Heat gently, stirring occasionally.  As soon as the spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes, remove the pot from the heat.  Serve immediately, topped with the remaining Parmesan.
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Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola

(Spaghetti with Shrimp and Arugula)
This recipe is from Jamie’s Italy, by Jamie Oliver.  I’ve made it many, many times and it is one of our favorites.  The only advice I have is to only use a wine that you would be happy to drink.  It does makes a difference.  (I found that out the hard way)
1 pound dried spaghetti
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 pound large fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined (I like to butterfly them)
1 small wineglass of white wine
2 heaping tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste (I like the one sold in a tube, for convenience)
1/2 tablespoon butter (my addition)
zest and juice of one lemon
2 handfuls of fresh arugula, roughly chopped
Cook your spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package instructions.  Meanwhile, heat 3 good glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan and toss in the garlic and chili flakes.  As the garlic begins to color, add the shrimp and saute them for a minute.  Add the white wine and the tomato puree and the butter and simmer for a couple of minutes.   When the pasta is ready, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water,  Toss the spaghetti with the sauce, squeeze in the lemon juice, and add half the chopped arugula, using a little of the reserved cooking water if you want to loosen the sauce a bit, and correct the seasoning.  Divide between four plates and sprinkle with the grated lemon zest and the rest of the arugula leaves.
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In the mood for Chicken Paillard!

In my mind, I want to be the kind of person who makes lists.  The kind of person who sits down, thinks things through, writes notes to herself, checks off each item as it is attended to, and goes to bed each night  with that peaceful feeling of accomplishment.  But try as I might, I usually end up flying by the seat of my pants and making most things up as I go along.
 Take grocery shopping, for example.  I wander the aisles and wonder…Do we need this, or that?  And then I arrive home to find that the chicken broth that I just purchased will now join the other 6 cans in the pantry and that we are completely out of milk.
      So when I am undecided about what I will feel like cooking for the family on any given week night, I always throw a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts into my cart.  Since my pantry is fairly well stocked,  (overstocked, some might say) I know that I will be able to pull off a nice meal by dressing up a chicken paillard*.  The three recipes that follow are just a few of my favorites.  They are great meals for families because you can just keep the components separate for picky kids.  For example, with the crispy panko crusted chicken (last photo below), I serve the chicken sliced with the vinaigrette as a dipping sauce for my younger ones.  I haven’t met a kid yet who didn’t love it!
*paillard (n) a slice of chicken, turkey or beef that has been pounded thinly and cooked quickly
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Chicken Paillard with Fresh Fig Salad and Blue Cheese

A Tyler Florence recipe from his book, Tyler’s Ultimate, brilliant simple food to make anytime.  I will give you Tyler’s original recipe with a couple of notes I made to cut back just a bit on the over-the-top decadence of this one.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons honey  (I use 2 tablespoons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pancetta (I find that 4 ounces, thinly sliced, is plenty)
extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound blue cheese, broken into hunks (I use only an ounce or two)
1 bunch of arugula
1 small basket seasonal figs, quartered (could use pears, peaches or apricots)
Tarragon leaves for garnish
First ,whisk together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a small bowl and set it aside.
Sandwich the chicken breasts between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound them very thin with a mallet or rolling pin.  Remove the chicken from the plastic and season them well on both sides with salt and pepper.
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat.  Unroll the pancetta slices, add them to the pan and fry like a big tangle of bacon until the fat is rendered.  Drain on paper towels
Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the pan with the pancetta drippings and pan fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes per side to brown the breasts and cook them through.  Remove the chicken to the paper towels with the pancetta.  Add the vinaigrette to the saute pan and heat for a few minutes, stirring, to deglaze the bits of pancetta and chicken fro the bottom of the pan. (I like to pour out any oil remaining in the saute pan before adding the vinaigrette, to cut down on the amount of fat in the finished dish) Remove the pan from the heat.
To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving dish and scatter the blue cheese, arugula, figs, and pancetta over. Drizzle the dressing over everything and garnish with the tarragon leaves.
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Chicken Paillard 

topped with fresh greens and pan-seared cherry tomatoes

This couldn’t-be-easier recipe comes from Simply Salads, by Jennifer Chandler.
Serves 4
1/4 cup Balsamic Grainy Mustard Dressing (see recipe below)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
5 ounces mixed field greens
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Prepare the dressing:
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl and whisk together.  Slowly add the oil in a stream, whisking to emulsify.  Season with salt and pepper.
Place a chicken breast in a large resealable heavy plastic bag.  Using a mallet or rolling pin, flatten to about 1/4 inch thick.  Remove the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with additional chicken breasts.
Warm the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until golden brown and no longer pink in the middle, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the skillet and keep warm.
Place the tomato halves in the same skillet used to cook the chicken.  Cook over medium high heat sirring often until slightly charred.
In a large salad bowl, toss together the field greens, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  Add the vinaigrette to taste and gently toss.
Place a chicken breast on each plate and top with the salad,  Serve immediately.
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Sesame Chicken Salad with Spinach, Cucumber and Cilantro

 
Another Tyler Florence recipe from Tyler’s Ultimate.  This has become a family favorite and one that almost all of my kids have actually learned to make on their own.
Serves 4
Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup soy sauce
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red chile pepper
1/4 cup sesame seeds
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
fresh baby spinach leaves
1 cucumber, un-peeled, cut crosswise into slices
handful of fresh cilantro leaves
1 scallion, chopped
cracked black pepper
In a bowl, whisk together the soy sauce,lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, ginger, sugar and red pepper flakes for the vinaigrette.
Rince the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Put a chicken breast on the cutting board and, holding a large knife parallel to the board, cup through the breast horizontally so that you get 2 thin fillets.  Repeat with the 3 remaining breasts,  Put the chicken on a platter, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette, and toss to coat.  Set the rest of the vinaigrette aside,  Let the chicken marinate for about  10 minutes.
Combine the panko and the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl and season with a little salt and pepper.  Mix with your fingers so that the seasoning is incorporated and then taste it. The panko should be well seasoned.  Dredge the chicken in the seasoned crumbs, patting the crumbs gently so that they adhere.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium hight heat.  Line a platter with paper towels and set that to the side of the stove.  Add about half of the chicken to the pan and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy.  Remove the chicken to the towel lined platter to drain while you cook the rest of the chicken.
Put the spinach in a bowl with the cucumber, cilantro and scallion and toss.  To serve, arrange a mound of greens on a plate, set a piece of chicken on top, stack a few more greens on top, and finish with another piece of chicken.  Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with cracked black pepper.

In the mood for Cupcakes!

Cupcakes are everywhere these days and I don’t have to wonder why.  They are fun to make, fun to serve and eat, and so much less intimidating than a whole cake.  When I have time to make cupcakes here at home, I want them to be something a little special.  And it doesn’t have to be hard…just a couple of extra steps and as you will see it is definitely worth the effort.  What do these three have in common?  They are all about the cake, instead of the frosting, which is how we like it around here.  But they also each have a sweet surprise on the inside!

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Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

Tender yellow cake, sweet pastry cream and a quick chocolate ganache and you have the cupcake version of Boston Cream Pie…which is actually a cake, by the way.  After several test runs (all happily devoured) I have settled on the cupcake and the glaze recipes from Gail Gand in her book, Chocolate and Vanilla.  For the pastry cream, I use the recipe from Cooks Country, published in the June 2006 issue.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
Make the pastry cream:
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of table salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch plus 1 additional teaspoon
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering,  stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl.  Add cornstarch and whisk until mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 15 seconds.
When cream reaches full simmer, slowly whisk it into yolk mixture. (Pour cream slowly and whisk quickly or you might end up with scrambled eggs!) Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thick and glossy, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla.  Transfer pastry cream to a small bowl, press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
Make the cupcakes:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cupcake liners.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.  Add the sugar and continue to whip.  Add the vanilla and gradually mix in the eggs, one by one until well combined.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk and ending with the dry ingredients.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, filling each slot three quarters full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cupcakes are puffed, firm in the center and light golden brown on top.  Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack.
To fill the cupcakes, use a small paring knife to remove a plug of cake from the top center of each cake and set the plugs aside.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of pastry cream into the cavities.  Trim each plug so that it is now a flat coin.  Replace the cake coin on top of the custard  and chill for 30 minutes.
Make the glaze:
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate, chopped
Heat the cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until almost oiling.  Meanwhile place the chocolate in a medium bowl.  Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and whisk until melted.
Dip the chilled cupcakes in the warm chocolate glaze to coat the top.  Refrigerate until serving.
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A peek inside…
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Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes

Inspired by a recipe in the book Cupcakes, by Joanna Farrow, but I had to look further for a really great white cake batter.  I found it in The Best Bake Sale Cookbook, Ever, by Barbara Grunes.   I’ll be using it as my “go to” white cake mix from now on.  No icing here…just freshly whipped cream and beautiful strawberries.
 
This will make 24 cupcakes.
 
For the cupcake batter
3 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 egg whites
2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttercup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 12-cup muffin tins with paper liners.
Sift together flour, caking soda and salt.  Set aside
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cream of tartar, and beat  until stiff, glossy peaks form.  Set aside.
In another large bowl,  using the electric mixer, cream the butter and the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar until light, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Beat in the vanilla.   With a spatula or large wooden spoon, fold in the egg whites.
Fill each cupcake tin about three-fourths of the way to the top.  Bake until tops are just firm and edges are starting to turn golden, 18 to 20 minutes.   Let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
6 tablespoons red current jelly
16 ounces small strawberries
Whip the cream with the sugar until it holds soft peaks.  Set aside 6 of the smallest strawberries and slice them in half for the center of the cupcakes.  Thinly slice the remaining strawberries.  Prepare the cooled cupcakes by removing a plug from the center of each cake.  (You won’t need these again so nibble away!)  Fill the cavity with a couple of spoonfuls of whipped cream and let it spill out onto the top of the cupcake.  Flatten a bit with the back of a spoon.  Arrange the sliced strawberries around the center of the cupcake, overlapping slightly.  Then place a strawberry half in the center of each cake.  Heat the red current jelly in a small saucepan with 2 tablespoons water until melted then brush over the strawberries gently to form a light glaze.  (a silicone pastry brush works really well for delicate glazing)  Store the cakes in a cool place until ready to serve.
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“So Much Better Than Hostess” Chocolate Cupcakes

What can I say?? Of course it is easier to run in the gas station and pick up a two pack of those chocolate marshmallow cupcakes we ate when we were kids.  But trust me…they don’t compare.  I would like to invite my nephews, who ate these exact cupcakes this summer at the farm to comment below.  Thanks guys!
 
 
Makes 12 cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/4 teaspoon Salt 
1/2 cup boiling water 
1/3 cup cocoa powder 
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
1 tablespoon instant espresso 
3/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup sour cream 
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
FILLING
3 tablespoons water 
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin 
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , softened
Pinch salt 
1 1/4 cups marshmallow créme (Fluff, or Kraft Jet Puffed Creme)
GLAZE
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 
3 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1. MAKE BATTER Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup muffin tin. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in bowl. Whisk water, cocoa, chocolate chips, and espresso in large bowl until smooth. Add sugar, sour cream, oil, eggs, and vanilla and mix until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out with few dry crumbs attached, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool -cupcakes in tin 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and cool completely.

2. PREPARE FILLING Combine water and gelatin in large bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Microwave until mixture is bubbling around edges and gelatin dissolves, about 30 seconds. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt until combined. Let mixture cool until just warm to touch, about 5 minutes, then whisk in marshmallow creme until smooth; refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes. Transfer 1/3 cup marshmallow mixture to pastry bag fitted with small plain tip; reserve remaining mixture for filling cupcakes.

3. ASSEMBLE CUPCAKES Microwave chocolate and butter in small bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Cool glaze to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Cut a deep cone from top of each cupcake (see note below) and fill cupcakes with 1 tablespoon filling each. Replace tops, frost with 2 teaspoons cooled glaze, and let sit 10 minutes. Using pastry bag, pipe curlicues across glazed cupcakes. Serve. (Cupcakes can be stored in airtight container at room temperature for 2 days.) 

 
note:  To fill the cupcake:  Insert a small paring knife into the top of the cupcake, about 1/4 inch from the edge at a 45 degree angle and work your way around to carve out a cone of cake.  Remove the cone, cut off the bottom of the cone, leaving you with a flat disk.  Fill the cupcake and replace the disk.
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In the mood for a Spicy Chinese Stirfry!

As a very amateur photographer, one of the most fun things about working on this blog has been trying to figure out how to make each dish look as good as it tastes.  So far, I am finding that meat is my biggest challenge, photography wise.  It can look so good in real life and then in the photo, it will look gray and unappetizing.  I’m working on that, but today, I found an even harder subject…Tofu!  Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the recipe name “Mapo Tofu” and was surprised to find that it means, “pockmarked face lady’s tofu”  Well, I guess that one wouldn’t expect that dish to be lovely.  But it is tasty!
The three recipes that follow are bold and spicy.  You can, of course, adjust the amounts of the chilies and peppers up or down to suit your taste.
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Mongolian Beef

I wish that you could see the Mongolian Beef page in my copy of Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok, by Jennie Low.  It is splattered, splashed and frayed.  That goes to show just how many times I have turned to this recipe over the years.  I like to use sirloin strip steaks instead of flank steak, which is what is called for in many Asian stir fry recipes.  It’s a bit more expensive, for sure, but I find that I can serve four easily with just two good-sized steaks and it has a wonderful texture when sliced very thinly and cooked quickly over very high heat.
1 1/2 pounds strip sirloin steak
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 green onions, slivered
2 fresh red chili peppers ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
Seasoning:
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon white wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons catsup
  Cut each steak crosswise into three pieces.  Trim fat from edges and slice across the grain very thinly…almost paper thin.  (a good sharp knife and cold meat will make this easier) Place in a bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients to beef.  Mix well.
Combine sauce ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Heat wok or heavy skillet and add half of the oil.  Add half of the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds over high heat.
Add half of the beef, spreading it out quickly, and let it brown nicely on one side undisturbed (about 2 minutes)  Then stir fry for another minute or two until beef is browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic and beef.  (Cooking all of the meat at once will lower the heat in the pan too much causing the meat to simmer. I sometimes have to cook this in many batches when serving a crowd but I just do it ahead of time and reheat it gently at serving time.) Remove second batch of meat to the plate while you briefly stir fry the green onions and red chili pepper for a few seconds then add all of the meat back to the pan.  Add the sauce mixture, mix thoroughly and cook for one minute, stirring.  The sauce should thicken a bit to coat the meat nicely.  Serve with rice.  (serves 4)
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Minced Chicken in Black Bean Sauce

This is a super quick stir-fry that I have been making for years.  I know that I got the recipe from a book…a paperback with Asian noodle and rice dishes….but I don’t have it anymore so I can’t give credit.  This is just so easy that I never copied the recipe.  It’s a bold sauce…kind of an Asian chicken spaghetti, if you will.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
6  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat and minced into small pieces
(you can actually buy ground chicken or turkey if you want to make this super easy…I just prefer the texture when I mince the chicken myself)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/3 cup Asian black bean sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped

Heat oil in wok or heavy skillet over high heat.  Add chicken in a single layer and sprinkle the minced garlic over the top (you may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan)  Let cook undisturbed for several minutes until golden brown on one side.  It may be almost cooked through at this point.  Add the sesame seeds.  Using two utensils (I use a metal spatula and a big spoon)  toss the chicken and the sesame seeds around, breaking up the clumps and stir-frying until no longer pink.  Add the black bean sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes and stir to combine and heat thoroughly.  Remove from heat, add the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and let rest while you make the pasta.

Cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water until just al dente.  Drain well then toss with the sesame oil.

Reheat chicken if necessary and serve over the spaghetti, sprinkled with the chopped green onions. Serves 6

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Mapo Tofu

This recipe is adapted from Potsticker Chronicles, by Stuart Chang Berman and it is new to my repertoire.  Living with three sons and a carnivore husband, I didn’t serve many meatless meals.  But I really like this dish and as the author says, the non vegetarian version is to substitute 1/2 pound sauteed ground pork for the portobello mushrooms.  The sauce is a bit fiery for sure but I just love the complexity of the heat…from three different peppercorns as well as chili paste. (Sichuan peppercorns can be found in Asian markets and specialty food shops…it is an important flavor in this dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 cup vegetable broth
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
chopped scallions or chives to garnish
brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet that has a lid.  Add the Sichuan peppercorns and black and white pepper.  Immediately add the chili paste, garlic and ginger.  Stir once.  Quickly add the soy sauce and the sherry.  Add the vegetable broth and stir.
Add the tofu cubes and portobello mushrooms.  Fold them in gently with a wooden spoon.  Add the sesame oil.  Cover the pan with a lid and braise for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Uncover.  Stir gently and slowly with the wooden spoon.  Continue to braise uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring gently until thickened.  Serve over rice and garnish with the scallions or chives. (serves 4)
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In the mood for a Spicy Chinese Stirfry!

As a very amateur photographer, one of the most fun things about working on this blog has been trying to figure out how to make each dish look as good as it tastes.  So far, I am finding that meat is my biggest challenge, photography wise.  It can look so good in real life and then in the photo, it will look gray and unappetizing.  I’m working on that, but today, I found an even harder subject…Tofu!  Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the recipe name “Mapo Tofu” and was surprised to find that it means, “pockmarked face lady’s tofu”  Well, I guess that one wouldn’t expect that dish to be lovely.  But it is tasty!

The three recipes that follow are bold and spicy.  You can, of course, adjust the amounts of the chilies and peppers up or down to suit your taste.

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Mongolian Beef

I wish that you could see the Mongolian Beef page in my copy of Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok, by Jennie Low.  It is splattered, splashed and frayed.  That goes to show just how many times I have turned to this recipe over the years.  I like to use sirloin strip steaks instead of flank steak, which is what is called for in many Asian stir fry recipes.  It’s a bit more expensive, for sure, but I find that I can serve four easily with just two good-sized steaks and it has a wonderful texture when sliced very thinly and cooked quickly over very high heat.
1 1/2 pounds strip sirloin steak
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 green onions, slivered
2 fresh red chili peppers ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
Seasoning:
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon white wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons catsup
  Cut each steak crosswise into three pieces.  Trim fat from edges and slice across the grain very thinly…almost paper thin.  (a good sharp knife and cold meat will make this easier) Place in a bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients to beef.  Mix well.
Combine sauce ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Heat wok or heavy skillet and add half of the oil.  Add half of the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds over high heat.
Add half of the beef, spreading it out quickly, and let it brown nicely on one side undisturbed (about 2 minutes)  Then stir fry for another minute or two until beef is browned on both sides.  Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic and beef.  (Cooking all of the meat at once will lower the heat in the pan too much causing the meat to simmer. I sometimes have to cook this in many batches when serving a crowd but I just do it ahead of time and reheat it gently at serving time.) Remove second batch of meat to the plate while you briefly stir fry the green onions and red chili pepper for a few seconds then add all of the meat back to the pan.  Add the sauce mixture, mix thoroughly and cook for one minute, stirring.  The sauce should thicken a bit to coat the meat nicely.  Serve with rice.  (serves 4)

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Minced Chicken in Black Bean Sauce

This is a super quick stir-fry that I have been making for years.  I know that I got the recipe from a book…a paperback with Asian noodle and rice dishes….but I don’t have it anymore so I can’t give credit.  This is just so easy that I never copied the recipe.  It’s a bold sauce…kind of an Asian chicken spaghetti, if you will.

2 tablespoons peanut oil
6  boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat and minced into small pieces
(you can actually buy ground chicken or turkey if you want to make this super easy…I just prefer the texture when I mince the chicken myself)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/3 cup Asian black bean sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped

Heat oil in wok or heavy skillet over high heat.  Add chicken in a single layer and sprinkle the minced garlic over the top (you may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan)  Let cook undisturbed for several minutes until golden brown on one side.  It may be almost cooked through at this point.  Add the sesame seeds.  Using two utensils (I use a metal spatula and a big spoon)  toss the chicken and the sesame seeds around, breaking up the clumps and stir-frying until no longer pink.  Add the black bean sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes and stir to combine and heat thoroughly.  Remove from heat, add the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and let rest while you make the pasta.

Cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water until just al dente.  Drain well then toss with the sesame oil.

Reheat chicken if necessary and serve over the spaghetti, sprinkled with the chopped green onions. Serves 6

 

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Mapo Tofu

This recipe is adapted from Potsticker Chronicles, by Stuart Chang Berman and it is new to my repertoire.  Living with three sons and a carnivore husband, I didn’t serve many meatless meals.  But I really like this dish and as the author says, the non vegetarian version is to substitute 1/2 pound sauteed ground pork for the portobello mushrooms.  The sauce is a bit fiery for sure but I just love the complexity of the heat…from three different peppercorns as well as chili paste. (Sichuan peppercorns can be found in Asian markets and specialty food shops…it is an important flavor in this dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 cup vegetable broth
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
chopped scallions or chives to garnish
brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet that has a lid.  Add the Sichuan peppercorns and black and white pepper.  Immediately add the chili paste, garlic and ginger.  Stir once.  Quickly add the soy sauce and the sherry.  Add the vegetable broth and stir.
Add the tofu cubes and portobello mushrooms.  Fold them in gently with a wooden spoon.  Add the sesame oil.  Cover the pan with a lid and braise for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Uncover.  Stir gently and slowly with the wooden spoon.  Continue to braise uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring gently until thickened.  Serve over rice and garnish with the scallions or chives. (serves 4)
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In the mood for a Midnight Snack!

All of the recipes in this post were inspired by a lovely little book called Midnight Feasts, by Charmain Ponnuthurai. ( Subtitled An Anthology of Late-night Munchies.)  The author has collected recipes and recollections of midnight snacking from chefs, food writers, and actors, among others.   I’m a bit confused by Gwyneth Paltrow’s contributions to the book, Capon, Grandma’s style, and Chinese Duck(which cooks for 3 hours!)  But I do intend on trying the chocolate cake recommended by HRH The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, although perhaps a bit earlier in the day.  She guarantees that everyone who tries it will ask for the recipe!  I’ll let you know how that turns out.  The three recipes that I have chosen to represent here are all 5 minute affairs because that would be the extent of my dedication to a late night foray into the kitchen.  And, I do believe that these quick fixes are far superior to standing in front of the freezer eating ice cream from the carton.’

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Gillian Anderson’s Peanut Butter and Banana

When I tried these little frozen treats, I got the same slightly guilty feeling that I get when I let myself pinch off a bit of cookie dough.  But it’s just peanut butter and banana…nothing else!  
 
Take a banana and slice it end to end down the middle.  Take some peanut butter, smooth or crunchy, your choice, and lather it down one side of the banana as thick as your taste desires.  Place the other half of the banana on top like a sandwich.  Slice four or five times to create little sandwiches and wrap them in plastic wrap, twisting to close and place the whole lot of them in a plastic container in the freezer.  Then, in the middle of the night, open the freezer, and there you have a surprisingly delicious snack!  
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Goat’s Cheese and Runny Honey on Toast

This snack is based on several recipes in the book that use the grilled cheese concept. I think that I could eat this at absolutely any time day or night.
Heat up a ridged grill pan on your stove top.  Drizzle olive oil onto a thick slice of good crusty bread.  Grill the bread on both sides pressing with a spatula.  Remove the pan from the heat and top bread with slices of goats cheese.  Let sit for a minute or two to let the residual heat melt the cheese then drizzle with a couple of teaspoons of honey and sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper.  Yum!
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Emergency Cheesecake

Of course it isn’t cheesecake, but it does give you a similar satisfaction.  The crunchy grahams with the sweet/tart and creamy filling and the dollop of sweet fruit preserves.  Fresh fruit or nuts might be a nice addition as well.  This is my version of Rachel Johnson’s Instant Cheesecake.  She suggests a cup of sleepytime herbal tea to accompany.
Take 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt and mix in 2-3 teaspoons of light brown sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice.  Stir well and serve in a small teacup with graham crackers and a bit of your best fruit preserves.  Serves 1
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