Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Nutty Pie

This year for Thanksgiving, The Husband and I had the good fortune to go to my brother and sister-in-law's beautiful home to spend the day.  I was happy not to have to cook but of course offered to bring something.  My assignment which I was tickled to accept was a pecan pie.  It is one of my all time favorites and I particularly like making them, as there is no top crust to deal with.

The recipe I use is very straightforward.  Nothing too gourmet about it, though it does say in lieu of vanilla, 2 Tbsp. of bourban can be substituted.  I opted to go the vanilla route because I don't think a classic should be messed with.  I also used my new, all-time favorite pie crust recipe which has yet to fail me.  It is so malleable when rolling out and it makes a really nice, flaky crust when baked.

Pecan Pie

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup cold lard, cut into small cubes
1 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. ice cold water

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together until well combined.  Cut in the butter and lard with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Add the ice water and form into a ball.  Put in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before rolling out.  Roll out and put in a 9 inch deep dish pie plate.  Put back in fridge while making filling.

Pecan Pie Filling
1 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or 2 Tbsp. bourbon)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set an oven rack in the lowest position in oven. 

In large bowl, whisk eggs together.  Add corn syrup, sugar, butter, vanilla and salt and mix well.  Stir in pecans.  Pour this mixutre into the prepared curst and bake until the center is set and the crust is a golden brown, approximately 50-60 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature before serving.  This pie can be prepared and stored at room temperature, loosely covered with foil for up to 1 day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

'Tis The Season To Start Baking

Last year I went absolutly crazy with the holiday baking with this great idea of making all the members of my large family baskets full of cookies. Every weekend I was in the kitchen stirring and mixing, baking and frosting, until I had a freezer full of goodies. A week before Christmas with snow on the ground I put together many baskets and got them all wrapped and ready for the trip up north to Seattle.

Oh how I envisioned the cheers of delight as I passed out these treats to my loved one. What I didn't count on however was that on Christmas Eve, we came to the realization that we weren't going anywhere. We could barely get out of our driveway due to all the snow and ice, never mind 250 miles on I-5 which was even worse still. All was not lost though. I shared my baskets with co-workers for weeks and I think they were appreciated.

This year I have curbed my baking enthusiam considerably. I am still going to go with some homemade treats for the family, but limit it to two selections; a cookie and some homemade candy, a recipe I haven't not selected yet. For the cookie though, it's going to be this delicious biscotti recipe that I have made in the past called Dried Cherry Biscotti but instead of cherries, I have used dried cranberries. I think they represent the holidays better and I have also doctored the recipe a bit by dipping them in some chocolate for a little more elegance. Let the baking begin! Dried Cherry Biscotti

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1 cup ground almonds
Melted chocolate of your choice for dipping (optional)

Lightly grease one cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until dough is formed. Stir in almonds and cranberries.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead several times. Using the greased cookie sheet as a surface, divide the dough in half and form into two flat logs about 9 inches long by 3 inches wide. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

Let cool directly on baking sheet resting on a rack for 10 minutes.

Lower heat to 325 degrees. On a cutting board, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Put back in oven for 5 minutes. Turn over and bake 5 more minutes. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on a baking rack. When totally cooled, dip one end in melted chocolate and place on wax paper until chocolate solidifies. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Autumnal Soup

Sometimes I surprise even myself at my improvisation in the kitchen. Today was an example. It's Fall and there is such an abundance of squash in the stores so I picked up a couple lovelies; a small butternut and a delicato. They are two of my favorites but when I cook squash, I must eat them alone as The Husband hates them.

My usual cooking method is to roast them in a high oven with a sprinkle of olive oil, salt and pepper and eat as is. Roasting really brings out the natural sweetness in vegetables. Today I roasted the butternut squash and was going to have some for dinner as is, but then I had an inspiration to make soup. Don't they look like three butternut squash clogs?With no recipe in hand and being too lazy to go search my cookbooks or the Internet, I started in. I sauteed an onion in olive oil, white wine, salt and pepper until they were golden brown. I then pureed the roasted squash, onions and 1/2 can of low sodium chicken broth in the processor. I put this smooth, golden orange mixture into a pan, threw in about 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper, 1/2 tsp of cumin and 1/4 tsp of thyme along with 1/2 cup of cream and let it simmer away.The results were divine!! It was a creamy, smooth and delicious soup if I do say so myself. I'd better write this recipe down quickly so next time I want Butternut Squash Soup I'll know just where to look - Pie O My!

Cream of Roasted Butternut Squash and Sauteed Onion Soup

1 medium sized butternut squash, roasted, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 medium onion, sauteed until golden brown
1 can low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cream or half and half
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Puree the roasted squash , 1/2 can of chicken broth and sauteed onions in food processor until very smooth. Put mixture into a saucepan and add the rest of the chicken broth, spices and cream. Heat through on medium heat. Adjust seasonings as needed. Serve with a topping of sauteed onions and enjoy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Better Butter Part One

I have read in food magazines and seen chefs on TV make compound butters of various sorts and always thought it was a good idea but have never made any. Today I thought I would give it a try.

I was given some beautiful freshly caught salmon fillets from a co-worker recently and The Husband said he would like it prepared with butter, dill and lemon. Well, not having any dill but having a huge pot full of chives growing in the backyard I thought I would do some substituting. My compound butter consisted of finely chopped chives and lemon zest and what a wonderful addition to the salmon it was. It was also very good on the fresh broccoli cut from the garden today.There are endless possibilities for compound butter when one considers all the herbs and spices that could be added. It is important to refrigerate or freeze the butter once it is combined and rolled in a cylinder or put in a dish so the flavors all meld and it is easy to put on your finished product. No recipe today, just use your imagination and make your own compound butter creation.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Need Your Vote

Hello all my faithful food blog followers,

I have entered a contest sponsored by Bon Appetit magazine for the best holiday dessert from food bloggers across the country. It's a virtual bake off.

My entry is a recipe for Chocolate Mint sandwich cookies. I made them last year and they were divine. If you would, please go to the Bon Appetit website and vote for my recipe I would be ever so appreciative. If I win, I will get an all-expense-paid trip for two to New York City to have dinner with the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. How fun would that be?

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Last Saturday Market

I attended the last Saturday Market of the season in Salem, Oregon on Halloween. It was so festive and fun, with lot's of kids dressed up in costume. One lady had in tow 5 kids who were dressed up perfectly as the entourage from The Wizard of Oz. They were so darned cute and I was just kicking myself for not having my camera with me, as many folks were stopping them and asking them to pose.

I did purchase some colorful potatoes in red, brown and purple as well as some beautiful kale. I just had to make some soup with the kale. It is a great green for soup as it stands up so well when reheated. With no recipe in mind, I went through the cupboards/freezer and took stock looking for other ingredients to make a nice Fall soup.I came up with a white bean, sausage and kale concoction that turned out just as I'd hoped. Hearty, warm and perfect with a slice of the no knead bread and a glass of sturdy red wine. I always say I hate the Fall but I may have to change my mind on that one. It's the perfect weather for soup making!White Bean, Sausage and Kale Soup

3 medium size sausages, cut in slices
1/2 diced yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 carrot peeled and diced
1 celery stick, diced
1 1/2 cups white beans (I used Northern white beans), soaked overnight
6-8 leaves of kale, washed well and cut into bite sized pieces
1 quart chicken stock
3 cups water
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

Saute sausage pieces until just brown. Remove from pot. Add onions and saute until slightly browned. Add garlic, carrots, celery, thyme, bay leaf, chicken stock and water. Mix together. Add soaked beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, put on lid and cook until beans are softned. Add kale and sausage and simmer for another 20 minutes or so until kale is soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pyrotechnics and Dessert

A favorite dessert at our house is a creme brulee but because of the richness and decadence of it, we save it for special occasions. I deem the Mother-In-Law coming for dinner befitting such a dessert so that's what I made one Sunday.

All went along nicely as I used a new recipe found in my favorite dessert cookbook, Baking - From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. This custard recipe was so much easier to make than other creme brulee recipes I have tried and with the simplest of ingredients; cream, milk, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. What simplifies this recipe from others was that there was no cooking them in a water bath.

When dinner was completed and it was time for the piece de la resistance, I asked The Husband to get the torch so we could brulee the cremes. Unfortunately I do not own a nice hand held kitchen torch so he went to the garage and brought in the BIG propane torch. We brought the creme brulees into the dining room where the torch was ceremoniously lit. It immediately flared up into a shooting flame of approximately 2-3 feet feet while The Husband, holding said torch in his hand, bravely blew away at it trying to put out this inferno in the middle of the dining room. Disaster was barely averted as the flames subsided and went out. With shaky hands, my brave man lit up that flaming beast again (out on the driveway this time) and was able to get a manageable flame and finish up the job of caramelizing the tops of our desserts. After composing ourselves, we proceeded to enjoy the creme brulees even though the dining room had a distinct smell of singed arm hair!

Creme Brulee

1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 6 Tbsp sugar or sifted light brown sugar for topping

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200 deg F. Put 6 baking dishes (I used small custard cups) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bring the cream and the milk just to a boil.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla together until well blended but not airy. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 of the hot liquid to temper the yolks so they won't curdle. Whisking, slowly pour in the remainder of the hot liquid. Give the bowl a rap on the counter to de-bubble the content. Strain it into the baking dishes.Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes or until the centers are set-tap the sides of the dish, and the custards should hold firm. Lift the dishes onto a cooling rack and let the custards cool until they reach room temperature.

Cover each dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. When ready to serve, sprinkle 1 Tbsp of sugar on one dish at a time evenly, then brown the sugar, cooking it until it bubbles and colors. Wait until the bubbles subside before serving.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another Box of Freebies

As a member of Foodbuzz, I received a $30 coupon to shop on-line at Asian Look what I purchased! A sushi making kit complete with a beautiful cookbook with lot's of great photos. All of this for only a shipping fee. I have made sushi before, but it's been awhile. In the near future I will put all of these wonderful ingredients to good use and make a few things to post.