Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stocking Envy and Decadent Holiday Potatoes

We had a wonderful Christmas around here and I hope yours was jolly and bright too. The Colorado weather even held out quite nicely for this Texas transplant with unseasonably warm temperatures. On Christmas day it managed to soar to the low 50s which around here feels more like a late summer’s day than the beginning of winter. We have also had a very dry winter at the lower elevations and record snow in the mountains; so all of you Coloradoans complaining about the lack of snow in the Denver area this winter head up hill there’s plenty of it waiting for you there.

Personally, I really haven’t missed a magnesium chloride glazed car or news about flight delays one little bit thank you very much. I’m so sorry for all those people in the Northeast dealing with the blizzard of 2010, but better you than me.

Even though I revelled in the warmish weather, I must admit getting into the Christmas spirit took a little bit more doing because of it; even decking our halls didn’t help much. I think that Christmas finally started to take root when I hit Walgreens for stocking stuffers.

When I was a kid, I don’t think my parents even did stockings that I can remember. All I know is that I don’t have one of those ancient artifacts from my childhood like my husband. His stocking has been used since his very first Christmas. I’m not saying that it is old or anything but I swear if you look very closely on the back you can barely make out the words “Designed by Betsy Ross”.

It is made of red felt and lovingly appliqued with hand cut white seasonal symbols. You know the ones, the singing angel, the double ringing bells, the slightly lopsided snowman, and Santa’s favorite reindeer, all accented with thoughtfully placed sequins that have now been dulled with the passage of time. The only problem with this quaint little stocking is that it was originally engineered to hold only a handful of treats, not the bonanza of odds and ends that Santa delivers today, so the excess is carefully annexed on the mantle above.

The once modest offering of a candy cane, a new toothbrush and an orange in the toe have now been replaced by our over the top generation with gift cards, Godiva chocolates, and new cell phones. No wonder my husband experiences stocking envy every year seeing his scrawny little stocking hanging next to our sparkling supersized ones brimming with gifts. His just simply can’t hold the amount of booty that ours can.

He does make a good point; even the dog’s stocking holds more goodies than his. If he wants to go out and buy himself a big glitzy new one more power to him, but personally every time I hang his well-loved antique my Christmas spirit soars, which brings me to the realization that maybe he’s not the only one with stocking envy around here.

Shortly after we empty our stockings, the great feast begins. Since we aren’t with our extended family and our numbers are small, we try to make our dinner something really special on Christmas Day. In years past we have had lobster bisque, tenderloins (beef and pork) and Cornish hens. This year I decided on an herb encrusted beef rib eye roast. I have done this before a couple of years ago and since I sorely misjudged the time it would take to cook, that year we didn’t eat Christmas lunch until 3 in the afternoon.

This year, I was armed with the knowledge that my roast was going to easily take 2 hours to achieve medium rare so I planned accordingly. In addition to the slow cooked roast, I also decided to make my almost famous three cheese au gratin potatoes. Made with a combination of bleu, Parmesan and cheddar cheeses with a generous sprinkling of bacon, it has a smooth flavor that is subtly sharp and slightly smoky. Served with beef or ham it is close to perfection. I also sautéed some tiny Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions in a light balsamic glaze that was a delicious accompaniment to the potatoes and beef.

Decadent Three Cheese and Bacon Au Gratin Potatoes

6 medium to large size russet potatoes (approximately 2 pounds, 1 kilo), thinly sliced
1 medium size sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 – 6 slices smoked bacon, chopped and fried until almost crispy
Salt and Pepper
Granulated garlic
1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cup grated medium cheddar cheese
1 – 1/2 cups heavy cream (this is why they are called decadent)
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 2 quart (2 liter) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Layer 1/3 of the sliced potatoes in the bottom of the prepared dish (leave a few “holes” so the cream can seep between the layers), followed by 1/2 of the onions. Add salt and pepper and granulated garlic to taste before topping with 1/2 of the blue and Parmesan cheeses and 1/2 of the bacon. Top that with 1/3 of the cheddar cheese. Repeat the layers with the remaining ingredients ending with the remaining 1/3 of the cheddar topping the last layer. Slowly pour the cream over the top allowing it to seep down to the bottom between the layers. Dot the top with butter, cover and cook for 1 – 1 -1/2 hours until the potatoes are fork tender. For those of you at higher altitudes like me it takes closer to 2 hours. Remove the foil covering and brown for the last 15 minutes of cooking time. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8 – 10.

Monday, December 20, 2010

All I Want for Christmas

It is just a few days before Christmas and the really hard part for me has arrived. I’m not talking about what to get my husband, my son or my daughter. I’m talking about making my own Christmas list so my poor family can get their shopping done. I’ve tried the “don’t get me anything, my present is making you happy” thing and they just don’t buy it. I don’t blame them, why should I be the only one that gets to experience the joy of giving? So here I am, again this year, sitting at my keyboard with my thinking cap on, trying to conjure up something. This always makes me feel incredibly lucky that I don’t need new crutches or a hip operation or food for my cupboard. What a problem to have, to need to come up with a list of things that a group of people who love me can go out and buy and lovingly wrap and present to me in the warmth of our beautiful home on Christmas morning. I rest my case, I don’t need anything that I don’t already have, but that just isn’t good enough for them. Well, after much consternation, I have managed to come up with a few things that would make me happy but as you can tell, they might not be so easy to find at Macy’s. So, dear family, here’s my list in no particular order of importance. Happy shopping!

Mom’s Christmas List for 2010:

1. A good $40 bra that’s straps won’t constantly slide off of my shoulders with underwires that poke me in the armpits. I know that Oprah endorses some really good $100 ones but you shouldn’t have to mortgage the farm to comfortably hold up the girls.

2. A washer proof cell phone. I want one that can go through the whole heavy duty cycle and still work. They put a man on the moon in 1969; you would think that 41 years later something like this wouldn’t be such a big problem.

3. Universal cell phone chargers so you don’t have to buy a new car charger every time you wash your cell phone and have to buy a new one.

4. A family dinner at that intriguing looking little Middle Eastern restaurant on the sketchy side of town without any complaining by any teenage boys.

5. Never having to hear the words Heidi, Spencer or Kardashian ever again.

6. A winning lottery ticket wouldn’t hurt.

7. Age appropriate clothing for Cher.

8. A new meat thermometer since my old one was used to check aquarium water temperature last year while I was in England.

9. A good therapist for a couple of members of my extended family (don’t laugh, everybody has ‘em).

10. Osama Bin Laden’s head on a stick.

Well, that’s about it. See I’m not so hard to shop for, although I’ll admit some of these things are going to be really hard to wrap, but remember you asked.

To repay my sweet little family for all of their hard work and shopping, I’m going to cook one of their favorite soups. I started making this one day when all I had to work with was the dregs of my vegetable crisper and a store bought rotisserie chicken carcass. With just a splash of cream, which can easily be omitted if desired, it will give you a nice little break from all the rich holiday food that seems to be everywhere now days.

Creamy Chicken Soup

I always save my roast chicken scraps for soups. Throwing away all of those flavorful bones to me is like throwing away the change from a $5 bill. I’d never dream of being so wasteful. Whether you make this recipe or throw in some vegetables with some rice or noodles, you will definitely get a bonus meal for four people out of what you once thought to be nothing.

1 leftover rotisserie chicken carcass or reserved cooked or uncooked chicken bones (turkey works well too)
6 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium size onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 cup cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Place chicken, water, bouillon granules, celery, onion, carrots and bay leaf in a large stockpot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove chicken bones and transfer to a cutting board to cool; discard bay leaf.

If you have an emersion blender, blend vegetables and stock until creamy in the stockpot. If you are using a countertop blender, remove from the heat and cool mixture. Working in 2 or 3 batches, blend until creamy. Set aside 1/2 cup of the stock and return the remainder to stockpot; set aside.

Remove chicken meat from the bones and discard bones. Chop the meat into small bite size pieces. Add meat to the broth in the stockpot and heat through over medium heat. Add parsley, sage, cream and salt and pepper to taste.

Place the 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour in a small bowl and slowly whisk in the 1/2 cup reserved broth to form a paste. Add to the hot stock in the pot and bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly, whisk in the flour mixture, cook for approximately 2-3 minutes.

Serve immediately or cover, cool and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Serves 4

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oh Fudge!

I love this time of year. Once I tear the November page off my calendar, Christmas is on. I can't wait to get out our decorations and unwrap the old friends that patiently wait for our return year after year. I even love our tattered artificial garland that was once proud and pert, but is now limp and wobbly and sheds all over our house like an old shorthaired terrier. Once my husband pulls the boxes out of the crawlspace, our family triage unit gets to work and carefully combs through the bags and boxes searching for casualties and sadly discarding the mortally wounded. Our dining room ER set-up is where the salvageable are taken and rehabilitated with an assortment of glues, silver polishing clothes, nail polish and glitter. We would never consider replacing these old friends by buying new just for a crack or paint scrape so they are lovingly repaired and put back into action. We look upon purchases such as garland and ornaments as an investment that you make but once and are only thrown away as a last resort. The only exception to this philosophy of generosity and kindness being those damned twinkle lights. I honestly think that somewhere in those 8’ wires is a miniscule brain that has two functions; shine beautifully and brightly to instill a false sense of security, and go black as soon as they have been firmly mounted on a tree or worse yet, the eves of a house. It never fails that it is usually lights out as we stand back to survey our finished handiwork.

A few years back I was forced to purchase a new artificial tree when the branches of our old one began to fall off out of sheer exhaustion. At an after Christmas clearance at a high end department store I was thrilled to be the lucky “winner” of a 75% off pre-lit simulated Norfolk pine that was no doubt made of quality material, or so I thought. The first year I pulled it out of the box; I easily assembled it and plugged it in with no less than magnificent results. Its twinkle lights were designed with magnified lenses on the end to give them an almost blinding shine. I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back every time I passed by it, congratulating myself on such a great bargain. The following year, the first section went out on us a couple of hours after firing it up leaving us to wonder what the hell goes on in that box when we aren’t looking? I mean it was working perfectly when we packed it away. By the end of that second season, no less than 1/3 of that tree was as dark as Broadway on a Monday night. We turned the dark side of the tree to the wall and carried on. The third year my awesome husband worked his magic on our tree using his special combination of profanity, ohm meters and electrical tape and got the lights working again. This year, when we plugged it in, things were different, only 1/4 of the tree would even light up. Feeling totally betrayed by “that big green piece of @*&!” in the corner, he turned his back on us both suggesting that I either buy new or get creative. Since it is so close to Christmas and I have been hemorrhaging more money than I care to admit to him, I chose the latter. I went and purchased a couple of new strings of lights (I believe that this is what my mom called “throwing good money after bad”) and wound them around the branches of my big bargain, problem solved . . . kind of. As I write I am now sitting here looking at my patient wondering if I now need to buy a few new ornaments to cover up the wires from all of those aftermarket lights. Oh shoot, I don’t know, I think I’ll just go with it this year and maybe look for another one of those fabulous pre-lit clearance bargains in a few weeks. Always an optimist, I can’t help but thinking that I’ll have better luck next time.

Life, like those crazy lights, is full of uncertainties, but thank goodness there are some things that we can all depend on year after year. One of my favorite constants is preparing the tons of Christmas goodies that my family loves so much. A few Christmases ago my friend Kim delivered the most delicious tin of fudge to us that I had ever eaten. Unlike my own gritty squares of chocolate that I had been making for years, hers was rich, smooth and creamy without a hint of grit. She was happy to share her recipe with me and I have been making it to the delight of my friends and family ever since. We sadly lost Kim almost a year ago but she is still very much alive in our hearts. In her memory I am happily passing her recipe on for you to enjoy too. I think she’d really like that, so here’s to you my dear friend! I am also including a recipe from another friend for her almond butter toffee. It comes highly recommended by my husband. He just can't stay out of this stuff hence the reason there are only a couple of pieces left in the candy bowl in my photo.

To all of you who are reading this, if you still have the ones you love and care about around you this Christmas let them know how much you love them, for their presence in your life is your greatest gift of all. I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Creamy Chocolate Fudge

7 ounces (210g) mini marshmallows
1 – 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 ounces (147ml) evaporated milk
4 tablespoons (56g) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces (340g) milk chocolate chips or chopped milk chocolate bar
8 ounces (240g) plain chocolate chips or chopped plain chocolate bar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces (60g) nuts (optional)

Line an 8 x 8” pan with waxed paper or foil then spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium high heat, combine the marshmallows, sugar, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate, vanilla extract and nuts. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Pour into the prepared pan. Cool in pan for 2 hours or until firm before slicing and eating.

Vanilla Fudge

7 ounces (210g) miniature marshmallows
1 – 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup (147ml) evaporated milk
4 tablespoons (56g) butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces (340g) white chocolate chips or chopped white chocolate bar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons maple flavoring (optional)
2 ounces (60g) walnuts

Line an 8 x 8” baking dish with waxed paper or foil then spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
In a large saucepan set over medium high heat, combine the sugar, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the white chocolate and stir until it is melted. Stir in the vanilla and maple flavorings. Pour into the prepared pan. Cool for 2 hours or until it is firm before slicing.

Almond Butter Toffee and How to Salvage It When Things Go Wrong

I have to be honest this isn’t my friend’s recipe. Because I’ve asked her for it on several different occasions, I was embarrassed to admit that I had misplaced it once again, so I found this one on the internet. It went pretty well until the second five minute timing when it separated and got grainy, and despite the encouragement in the recipe, it didn’t come back. I have read different reasons as to why this happens: heat is too high, stirring it too vigorously or crystallized sugar from the side of the pan falls into the boiling toffee. Whatever the reason it is frustrating and disappointing.

Since I didn’t want to throw away $7.00 worth of butter, sugar and almonds, I turned the temperature down to medium and slowly stirred in some hot water a tablespoon at a time until it equaled about 1/4 cup and the butter slowly started to blend in again (please be careful if you have to do this as the hot mixture might spit out of the pan when the water is added). I got out my candy thermometer because the almonds didn’t pop like they were supposed to. I quit the constant stirring and let my mixture slowly boil until it reached 300 degrees (hard crack stage), only stirring very gently every now and then just to make sure it didn’t burn on the bottom. This took a good long time (probably 40 minutes) but what did I have to lose? The good news is that with a little patience and perseverance I managed to salvage my toffee and it is delicious. My toffee is a rich walnut brown and has a depth of flavor that may be the best I’ve ever had. So, if your toffee turns out the first time, good for you! If not, try my salvage method and you still might be alright.

As simple as it delicious, you’ll need about 15 uninterrupted minutes. Don't answer the phone; don't answer the door. And you need a good-sized (3-1/2 to 4-quart) heavy saucepan -- the heavier the better -- and a stout wooden spoon. Ideally, you should have an 11-inch by 17-inch jellyroll pan with a 1-inch lip on it. If you don't have that, then two flat cookie sheets will do. Line the pan or cookie sheets with aluminum foil, letting the excess hang over the edges, and set them on a heatproof surface. Sprinkle each cookie sheet with a tablespoon of finely chopped almonds. Have a candy thermometer handy just in case things go peared shaped on you.

2 cups (4 sticks or 454g) butter
2 cups (400g) sugar
3 cups (675g) coarsely chopped almonds (I reserve 1/2 cup and finely chopped them to sprinkle on the pans and chocolate)
1 - 12-ounce (340g) package milk or plain chocolate chips or chopped chocolate bars(optional)

Put the butter and sugar in the saucepan and, over medium high heat, stir while the butter melts. Stir constantly while sugar dissolves, and let mixture come to a boil. When a uniform boil is reached, set your timer for 5 minutes. Keep stirring.
At the 5-minute mark, the mixture will start to look light and creamy. Add the almonds all at once, and start stirring them in. The almonds will cause the mixture to cool, so it will immediately get thick and some of the butter will separate, and you may think you've made some terrible error, but persevere. Just keep stirring slowly with that stout wooden spoon.

When the mixture comes to a boil, again set your timer for 5 minutes. However, you don't really need the timer because -- and this is the best part -- the almonds will tell you when the toffee is ready. That's right.

As you continue to stir, the mixture will really start to come together. The butter that separated out will get stirred back in, and the mixture will begin to darken as the sugar caramelizes. At or around the 5-minute mark, you will begin to hear the almonds popping. The heat causes them to expand, which causes a low, dull popping sound. And then you know that your toffee is ready! (If graininess appears, refer to my salvage method above and say a little prayer).

Pour the toffee out evenly into the foil-lined pan or cookie sheets. Be very careful; it is extremely hot. If you are topping the toffee with a chocolate layer, wait 5 minutes and when the toffee has begun to set, and sprinkle the chocolate chips over the hot surface. They will quickly melt and become spreadable. Spread the chocolate in an even layer over the toffee. At this point sprinkle with the reserved almonds over the warm chocolate. When toffee has cooled completely, it can be broken apart. Store in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Karen's 2 Days of Christmas Extravaganza and a CSN Giveaway

It seems like all I do lately is whine, and I’m sorry about that but I’m at it again. I hope you’ll give me this one because I have just spent no less than 15 minutes trying to figure out my username and password for my Domino’s Pizza account… really??? I finally just gave up and made a grilled cheese. Why does everyone think they need to complicate things by asking for a login?

I’m not stupid; I know that you aren’t supposed to use the same password for everything just in case someone cracks your top secret code. Then, heaven forbid, the crook could for instance have access to all of your Domino’s information and order pizzas without permission. Just the thought of that makes me shiver with fear. To keep the identity thieves as confused as I am, I have several different passwords that I shuffle around. I am beginning to believe that the only person that this clever system of mine confounds is me; which leaves me spending precious moments of my life entering every possible combination of letters and numbers until something, anything works. . . or not.

The only problem with this is now I am sometimes limited to the number of times I can fumble around and try the wrong password before I am locked out. In sheer frustration I have considered hiring an identity thief to help me break into my own online accounts. I guess if nothing else, I’ll just write all my passwords down and carry them around in a briefcase handcuffed to my wrist. Sheesh! This is progress?

Moving on, the other thing on my mind are all these Favorite Things and 12 Days of Christmas extravaganza shows that Oprah and Ellen Degeneres do every year. I’m really sick and tired of seeing the audience jump up and down and scream because they get to take home a new car and two week vacation to Australia. I mean I’m happy for them and all (no, let’s get real, I hate them) but I’m tired of feeling like the bridesmaid and never the bride. Now Oprah has done her last Favorite Things show and I never did make it (damn!). Ellen does hers for 12 days but something tells me I’m not going to make it there this year either.

I know that most of you have never gotten to go either so I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to have another giveaway this month and I’m going to call it Part 2 of Karen’s 2 Days of Christmas Extravaganza. My big prize is a very generous $65.00 online gift code to the CSN stores. Take that Oprah and Ellen! So, let’s make everyone else watch us jump up and down with glee at our good fortune. Oh yeah, since I only have one to give away, I’m treating the rest of my “audience” to the consolation prize of a really great chewy bar cookie recipe that is patterned after a fabulous old Italian almond cake recipe. These cookies are so addictive you won’t be able to keep them it the house. These are definitely on the list of my favorite things.

My 2 Days of Christmas, CSN $65.00 giveaway is open to all of my followers in the US and Canada, one entry per person please. On December 10th around noon, I’ll have select my winner so you have plenty of time to make your selection from one of CSN’s 200+ online stores in time for Christmas.

Italian Almond Cookies

3/4 cup (170g) butter, melted
1-1/2 cups (300g) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups (225g) all-purpose flour
2 ounces (60g) sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, combine butter and 1-1/2 cups of the sugar; stir until creamy. Add the eggs, salt, vanilla extract, almond extract and flour; stir well.
Spray a 9” pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread dough in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top, followed by the remaining tablespoon of the sugar.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 35 – 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for approximately 10 minutes before carefully turning out onto a large flat plate or cookie sheet. Carefully invert onto a cutting board and slice into 2” square cookies. Slice again diagonally for bite size cookies if desired.

Makes 16 – 2” cookies

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Blues and Tate's Bake Shop Giveaway chose "ohkeeka" as the winner of this wonderful giveaway from Tate's Bake Shop. Thanks to everyone who entered and please leave a comment on my "Karen's 2 Days of Christmas Extravanganza" post to win my next giveaway for a $65.00 CSN online gift code.

What the heck are we Americans thinking? This Christmas shopping thing has gotten totally out of control. Not only do we have people in our neighborhood decorating for Christmas a couple of days after Halloween, but Black Friday has now bled into Thanksgiving Day. In case you didn’t know it, Sears was open on Thanksgiving from 7 – 12 so you could pick up a new fridge on the way to grandma’s house for lunch. Kohl’s opened their doors at 3 am on Friday. 3 AM?! What could Kohl’s have in stock that gets people to interrupt their tryptophan coma and crawl out of their warm beds in the middle of the night only to stand in line for hours? Industrial diamond rings for $39.00 or quesadilla makers for $9.99? Sorry, I’ll pass and pay the extra 10% on Cyber Monday. I admit that several years ago I got up and was at Target at 4:45 am. With my tired turkey baking muscles burning and blood shot eyes feeling like someone had thrown a handful of sand in them; I took my place in line to buy two $29.00 Kawasaki (I should have known better) 7” compact video players for the kids. Long story short, I managed to beat some old woman with a walker and two pregnant ladies in a foot race to the electronics department (losers!) and got two of the last few players. Karma caught up with me a week after Christmas when my daughter’s player stopped working. I promptly took it back to Target only to find out that it was part of their limited seasonal stock that they only carry for Black Friday. I landed up paying full price on a brand name replacement. Lesson learned, no more off brand Black Friday specials for me. You can keep your Windex power tools and Keebler televisions; the man is no longer tempting me with his pseudo bargains.

I have a beautiful box of cookies and one of Tate Bake Shop's glorious cookbooks to give away to one of my readers. If you’d like a chance to win, all you have to do is be one of my followers and leave a comment to be entered. If you would like an extra entry, “Like” Tate’s Bakeshop on their Facebook page and state so in your comment. In the meantime if you’d like to order some of these special cookies, Tate’s is offering my readers a 15% discount on their online orders at from now until December 31st. Just enter the coupon code “cookie” at checkout. Good luck and happy shopping! Of course, if you’d rather stand in line for that industrial diamond, don’t let me discourage you. Oh by the way, I will let choose my winner on December 6th so hurry and get those entries in!

I decided to bake something from Tate's beautiful cookbook for you here today. It was a hard decision but I finally decided on the blueberry buckle. It came out beautifully as written even though I prepared it above 6,000 feet so high altitude bakers, this one's for you. It is soft and fluffy and not overly sweet. The crunchy cinnamon crumb topping is just perfect. This will definitely be on my Christmas brunch table.

Blueberry Buckle

Cake Batter:
1/2 cup salted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 – 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup firmly packed dark or light brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup salted butter, chilled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until they are well combined. Add the egg, milk, baking powder, and salt. Mix the ingredients well. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions. Fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and set it aside.

To make the topping: Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Mix them with a pastry blender or your hands until they are combined and crumble. Sprinkle it evenly on top of the cake batter.

Bake the cake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Yield: 1 – 9” square buckle.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hot Stuff

I will never forget my first run in with a hot chile pepper. I was seven and it was an innocent and fun looking little garnish on the side of my plate of cheese enchiladas. Thinking it would surely just taste like lime green, I took a big bite only to have it take a big bite right back out of me. Smoke shot from my ears accompanied by what I can only describe as a blasting train whistle sound. I don’t remember what happened next because everything went black, but as you can tell I survived, with no less than a true respect for anything that looked like a pepper no matter what the color. It took me several years but my memory of that first chile pepper experience faded a bit and I decided to give them another try. Slowly I began to really like them. I think part of their appeal is that they come with a built-in sense of adventure. You never know exactly how hot or mild most of them will be until you take a bite. They are kind of like dating a “bad boy," you know that you are probably going to get hurt, but you just can’t resist going back for more. One thing is for sure; the addition of chile peppers can make even the most bland of recipes really interesting.

A little over a week ago I took Marx Foods up on their "A Chile and a Spoon" blogger challenge and agreed to make a dish using at least one of the six types of chile peppers that they furnished me with. The sample box that arrived was stuffed with an intriguing selection of dried peppers. It included the round and plump looking Cascabel and the large Guajillo chilies, both with a mild flavor. On the medium side of the scale were the long and thin Puya chilies and one of my absolute favorites, smoked Serranos. The two hot chilies in the box were dried Thai chilies (that were actually labeled as “extremely hot”) and the less lethal little round red Tepin chilies that while still hot, were labeled as “powerful but brief heat.” I liked that idea, so the Tepins were the ones I decided to work with. The only other stipulation of this challenge was that the prepared dish be one that was to be eaten with a spoon. Hmmm, as I see it that pretty much limits it to a soup or a squidgy dessert. Well, after going back and forth between the two, dessert finally won out. After baking and tweaking for the best part of a day, the end result is one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. It is a sweet and spicy combination of buttery goodness that provides a pleasantly powerful spark of heat at the end. This little pepper is perfectly complimented by the cinnamon and cherry flavors and produces no less than an exciting dish for lack of a better description. Even though I used cherries in my recipe, I can only imagine how good it would be with apples, peaches, berries or any other fruit you might have available.

My pepper selection.

Clockwise from top left: Cascabel, Guajillo, Smoked Serrano, Puya, Tepin and Thai.

Sizzling Cherry Almond Crumb Cobbler with Almond Scented Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Almond Scented Ice Cream:
4 cups best quality vanilla bean ice cream, softened slightly
1-1/2 teaspoons almond extract

Crumb Topping:
3/4 - 1 teaspoon crushed dried Tepin peppers
1/4 cup quick cooking oats
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
1 ounce coarsely chopped almonds

6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1 – 15 ounce can cherries in syrup (or juice if preferred)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place softened ice cream and almond extract in a large bowl, stir well to combine. Return to freezer to refreeze for later use.

In a large bowl combine Tepin peppers, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in butter with a fork. Mix in almonds, set aside in refrigerator until ready to use.

In a large bowl combine sugar, flour, baking powder, milk, vanilla and almond extract stir well and set aside.

Pour melted butter in the bottom of a 9 x 9” glass baking dish. Pour cobbler batter over the butter in the baking dish, do not stir; spoon cherries and a couple of tablespoons of the juice evenly over the batter.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle crumb topping evenly over the top (some of the topping may sink during baking, but it will still be delicious). Return to the oven and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until it is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving with ice cream.

Serves 8

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Master Cleanser and a Trip to Korea without a Passport

I started the Master Cleanser this morning. It is now 8:30 a.m. and I am starving. Never mind that on a normal day I frequently don’t eat anything until 11 or 12, but this morning even that crappy Halloween candy that no one wants in the bottom of the drawer looks pretty good. Boy, it’s going to be a long ten days. I have to admit (because I know that you won’t tell anyone) that I’ve already cheated by drinking a cup of coffee and taking three ibuprofen. Starving is bad enough. Starving with a headache is more than I can bear.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with this regimen it is no more than liquid torture. It is basically lemonade made from water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Well wait a minute; I might be going a little too far by saying that, because this “diet” is not without its treats. Every morning you are allowed a cup of dieter’s laxative tea (with mint for your dining enjoyment) or a good old saltwater flush with a warning not to leave the house for at least 1-1/2 hours after you drink it. Sounds fun huh? By now you must be asking yourself why in the hell I’m doing this? Well, I really have no other recourse. I have indulged myself right to Pudgyville. When your favorite jeans are too tight you can write it off to shrinkage, but when your wedding ring and shoes are too tight, something must be done and done fast, hence the Master Cleanser. In preparation for this torture, I’ve been storing up some photos to keep us going here at Eat Drink Wash Up for the next week or so. Please include me in your prayers. I’ll need ‘em.

A few years ago at one of my son’s basketball games, one of the dads who is a real foodie told me about a Korean market here in Denver that he really liked. I filed this in my “someday I have to do that” folder and kept pushing it to the back. Well, armed with a what the hell attitude one pretty afternoon, I got on the internet and mapped it and headed out. Oh, my gosh! What I found was one of the most fascinating and delightful markets I have ever been to anywhere. Once you get past the wafting faint smell of rotting fish when you first walk in, keep winding through the mini flea market and the Asian video rental kiosk and you will find your reward, a produce section like no other. I have never seen so many intriguing and foreign looking fruits and vegetables in my life and I’ve been around the food block a time or two my friends. Well, I’ll just let you see for yourself by the following photos I managed to snap while I was there.

The not so grand entrance. Beware, every trolley has a wonky wheel or two.

Produce section

Baby eggplants

Birds eye chilies

Indian Bitter Melon. I have never cooked with these but I plan to!


Dried purple stuff in jars

Asia's answer to Spotted Dick

Asian candy that was all $4.99 a bag.

The most intimidating aisle of soy sauce that I have ever seen.


Acres and acres of peeled garlic and bean sprouts

Semi-frozen (yes, that's what I said) baby squids


Well, this is usually where I add my recipe and I did make one with some of the birds eye chilies. Between them and the green curry powder that I mixed them with, my Thai Green Curry Chicken was so hot that I had to call the fire department to put out my husband's mouth. I promise I'll give it another try when I can eat again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What's Eating You?

Why is it that almost every day we are delivered a new food warning through the media only to have it retracted a couple of years later? I don’t know if it is because the researchers doing the study are so excited to get their news out that they release it before it’s actually finished, or it is such a slow news day that someone just makes it up.

Case in point, this morning on the news they announced that the Omega 3 oils in salmon are no longer believed to ward off Alzheimer’s disease. Well, crap! My poor mother in law has been buying salmon and vitamin supplements for years in hopes that she will retain all her marbles to the grave. All of her poached fish eating, vitamin taking and passing on grilled hamburgers and dessert might have done some good, but tomorrow we might just find out that not eating them is killing us too. Poor dear, I guess she should have saved her money and bought herself a new car. Personally, I think maybe her wine drinking has preserved her heath more than anything else. I don’t know about you, but that gives me some hope.

Speaking of food and health, I also got a chance to see an author on TV this morning that has written a book on the secrets of people who never get sick. Well, I’m betting that you will never guess what keeps them well. Ok, I won’t keep you guessing for too long. They stay healthy by eating dirt and raw garlic. Now, why in the name of all that is holy, do so many “super foods” have to taste so bad? I mean wouldn’t this be a perfect world if butter and Snickers bars were chock full of fat fighting, cancer curing, Alzheimer hating enzymes that would run through your body while reclining on the sofa watching The Real Housewives of New York City?

This dream is right up there with my wish for world peace and a vacation home on Maui. Maybe those food researchers ought to think about doing something really valuable for mankind and invent something like healthy whipped cream instead of dishing out all of that doom and gloom…just saying. Now I hear that the great minds of the world are trying to force McDonalds to take the toys out of Happy Meals. I guess they just now caught on to the fact that kids are ordering food just to get a toy. So what, I gladly admit that I bribed my children with a Happy Meal a time or two just to get them to eat something. Besides, I kind of like those toys too! Oh well, I’m sure they probably cause cancer anyway.

I must admit that these studies do get me thinking about how I eat. After pondering the subject, I realized that maybe I could lighten things up by cutting the fat and calories a bit. I racked my brain and decided to make a favorite soup of mine that, while it may not be a nutritious as dirt and raw garlic soup, it is on the lighter side. I am also including a healthy snack for kale chips that I discovered on my blogger friend Conor’s blog at This is a surprisingly quick and easy little snack of crispy leafy greens that are as light as air and you can flavor in a variety of ways. I had some cheese sprinkle leftover from my Savory Spice giveaway a few weeks ago and tossed it with some of these cooled chips and the results were addictive to put it mildly. I also had some spice blend that I picked up in Texas that is no more than seasoned salt with MSG but boy is it tasty. I mixed this with just a pinch of cayenne pepper and it was delicious as well. Basically these chips are a blank canvas that you can just have fun with.

Tortilla Soup

Not only is this a simple and delicious dish, it is super economical. Using just one chicken breast and one avocado to feed four hungry people makes it just about the perfect dish. If you would like to try a vegetarian version, substitute the chicken bouillon with vegetable bouillon and try hominy, sweet corn and/or black beans instead of the shredded chicken.

1 medium size chicken breast
5 cups (approximately 1 litre) water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
4 corn tortillas
Non-stick cooking spray
4 tablespoons light olive oil
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons mild chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 bay leaf
1 large avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (reduced fat if you must)
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, tops coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180C).

Place chicken breast, 4 cups of the water and bouillon granules in a large saucepan over medium high heat; bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for approximately 15-20 minutes. Remove chicken breast from the broth and transfer to a cutting board to cool before slicing into 4 equal size portions across. Tear each section into shreds with your fingers; set aside. Strain chicken stock and reserve.

Spray tortillas lightly on both sides with non-stick cooking spray. Stack tortillas one on top of the other and cut in half, then in 1/2"strips in the opposite direction. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 8 minutes or until the tortilla strips are crispy and golden brown; remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use.

Pour oil in a large saucepan and heat over medium high heat. When the oil is glossy, sprinkle flour over the top and whisk constantly to form a roux; lower heat to low. Pour chicken stock gradually into the roux, whisking constantly. Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, granulated garlic, and onion powder; stir well to blend spices in completely. Add the bay leaf and shredded chicken; increase the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Cook at a simmer for 2 minutes stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 5 minutes.

To serve ladle equal amounts of the soup into four warm bowls. Garnish each serving with desired amounts of the tortilla strips, avocado, cilantro or chopped green onion and shredded cheese.
Serves 4.

Kale Chips

Non-stick cooking spray
Salt or other favorite seasoning

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (160C).

Wash and thoroughly dry desired amount of kale. Toss and spray kale with non-stick cooking spray before placing on a single layer on a cookie sheet. Watching carefully, bake for approximately 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt or other seasoning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Birthday gumbo and my CSN winner

October 26th is always a very special day for me because today would have been my wonderful father’s birthday. I say “would have been” because he sadly slipped away from us in 2001 after a courageous battle with lung cancer. Cancer won in the end but not without one hell of a fight. He fought the disease with dignity and humor and taught his loving family one final, valuable life lesson…how to say goodbye gracefully. Knowing how fragile we all were, he kept us propped up with his bravery, strength and gentle resignation, making us believe that he had everything under control as usual.

There was so much more to this wonderful man than how he died. Physically, my dad was tall and thin and always impeccably dressed. He bore a slight resemblance to Clint Eastwood which accentuated his bad ass side. After he retired and moved to his dream farm in the country, he would frequently wear a pistol on his hip just in case there was a snake that needed killing.  Being a lover of wildlife, snakes were about the only thing that he felt free to kill just because of their perceived threat. In this part of the country snakes are frequently poisonous so if they were, and happened to be in his yard, it was curtains for them.

His actions were vindicated on one fateful day when he and my mom had gone to Houston for a treatment and I was housesitting for them. My daughter and I awoke to find one of his beloved dogs on the front lawn graveyard dead with two puncture wounds in his skull from what must have been a huge rattlesnake. We tracked down the other two dogs that had been with him on his big romp the night before and they had also been bitten. Thank goodness that they eventually pulled through because digging a grave for one huge dead dog in full rigor mortis was indeed enough. 

I didn’t feel close to this man because he was “just” my dad either. In my adult years he became one of my dearest friends. For the four years that we lived in the UK, I spoke with him virtually every day. We would spend the better part of an hour just laughing and solving the world’s problems. He had a delightfully wicked sense of humor that never failed to make me belly laugh. No one, no matter how young or old, was immune from his warm and playful teasing. I’m sure deep down inside my son still wonders if his grandpa put him on “report” which most certainly marred his “permanent record.” I can't put into words how much I miss that.

One of my dad’s absolute favorite dishes in this world was seafood gumbo. When he was in the final stages of his disease, we all helped him search the great state of Texas high and low for the perfect bowl and never seemed to find just the right recipe. Well Dad, in your memory I’ve been working on my gumbo and finally came up with something I think you’d really like. I only wish you were here to share some with me. Of course something tells me that gumbo in heaven is probably pretty hard to beat. Happy birthday Daddy!

Crab and Shrimp Gumbo

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 medium size onion, finely chopped
1 medium size green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, finely chopped
2 medium size garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups water
3 – 10.5 ounce cans beef consommé
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
3/4 - 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 ounces crab meat (use lump meat if you want, but I use claw meat that is not only cheaper, but adds to the rustic, down home flavor of this recipe), picked through for shells
3 green onions, light and dark green parts, chopped and divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cooked rice (approximately 2 cups) and chopped green onion or parsley for serving

Pour oil into a large stockpot that has been set over medium high heat; heat oil to hot before whisking in flour. Cook roux, stirring frequently, for 10 – 15 minutes or until it turns a dark walnut brown being careful not to let it burn.

Add onion, bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook and stir for approximately 1 minute longer. While whisking constantly, pour in water, consommé and tomato sauce. Bring to a slow bowl before adding the bay leaf, thyme, parsley and Worchestershire sauce. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for approximately 20 minutes.

Add shrimp,crab meat and half of the green onion; replace the cover and cook until shrimp just starts to turn opaque, approximately 5 minutes or so. Add /asalt and pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot over cooked rice with a sprinkling of the remaining chopped green onion or parsley and lots of Tabasco sauce on the side.

Easily serves 8.

In celebration of my dad's birthday, let's give someone a present. As promised, today is the day for my CSN giveaway. I checked in with this afternoon, put in my numbers and it chose, drumroll please...Jen Harriman. Jen, CSN's representative will contact you shortly with your code. Thanks to all of my followers, new and existing, for participating in my giveaway. Check back soon for the next one!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

People of Wal-Mart and a New Giveaway

I woke up the other day and realized that maybe my car needed a couple more dents in the side, so I got up, got dressed and headed for Wal-Mart. Now I don’t want you to think that new shopping cart dings are the only reason I went there, I also needed some of my favorite limeade (Mama loves her Margaritas!) and they happen to sell it for $1.00. I pulled on a crisp shirt, dug my favorite lip shine out of my purse, ran my fingers through my hair and hit the trail. I used to not always care how I looked when shopping at Wal-Mart, but If you haven’t visited, I suggest you do and you just might primp a little bit too before you pass through those automatic doors. I am all too aware that some terrible things can happen to a person in life and being featured on this website is definitely one of them.

Once inside I grabbed the trolley that I was offered by the fossilized greeter in the entryway. Since I am one of those shoppers who likes the thrill and adventure of shopping without a list, I headed straight over to the grocery area before I forgot what I came for, leaving my favorite health and beauty section for last. Since I parked on the opposite end from the grocery, I had to pass between the self-check lanes and the magazine/book department and I was stopped in my tracks by a new attraction, a reading area. It seems that they have taken in part of the book section and replaced it with a pseudo Persian Rug, two pleather club chairs and a contact paper veneer end table. I guess that once upon a time an optimistic store manager had seriously overestimated the population of readers in the Castle Rock area. Books must not be big sellers around here.

Now, I’m not quite sure what the psychology of grocery store planning is, but I am sure a lot of thought goes into it. In order to foil any plans that “The Man” might have to make me spend more money than what I plan on, I try to start at the back of the store and work my way to the front just to be contrary. I really can’t figure out what the thinking is with these grocery store designers at Wal-Mart because they put their refrigerated and frozen sections acres apart. On many occasions I have chosen my ice cream and by the time I wind my way to the back of the store to the milk, I have to double back and take my thawed, sloppy ice cream carton back where I found it and replace it with a fresh one before I check out. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to everyone who has gotten one of my melted and refrozen ice cream treats. I’m really sorry but please keep in mind that it really is Wal-Mart’s fault.

Before I forgot something important on my list, I headed to the Minute Maid section for my limeade. Nope… they don’t sell that anymore (s**t!), but they would be more than happy to sell me cherry limeade or any number of fruit juice blends that don’t even resemble what I came for. Once I finally decided that no matter how long I stood there and stared at the shelf one wouldn’t materialize, I begrudgingly moved on. The next thing on my list was a bottle of Lawry’s Hawaiian Marinade that my son fell in love with while on a trip with a friend to Lake Nowhere, Nebraska. He had come home with tales of how delicious his friend’s Uncle Kenny’s barbequed chicken was and this was what he used. Now for this boy to take note what was used to season chicken was more than monumental, so I put aside my ego and bought a bottle. “Maybe this homemade marinade stuff is overrated,” I thought as I pulled a bottle off the shelf. No, I was wrong. I don’t know what Uncle Kenny’s secret is but I don’t get it. Maybe anything is delicious when you are waterlogged, sunburned, starving and fifteen. One day he’ll appreciate the magic of pineapple juice, soy, brown sugar and mama’s love, but until then I’ll keep buying him the Lawry’s.

After about an hour I left without my limeade (and a couple of other things I forgot), but with many, many things I didn’t realize we needed until after I got there. I was even too tired by this time to hit the Health and Beauty section, but who really needs deodorant and toothpaste when you have a new pair of capris? I once again said my goodbyes to the checker and the greeter and removed the trolley that had dug its way into the side of my car and headed home to empty the hundreds of carrier bags with the sinking feeling that I’d be back before I knew it.

Now, Uncle Kenny may make better chicken than I do for now, but I really know the way to my son’s heart and that’s through his love for French toast. After making more versions than America’s Test Kitchen, I believe that I’ve developed the perfect recipe. What does this have to do with Wal-Mart you may be asking? Well, you know those fluffy soft big loaves of bread that they call French bread, it’s not very good on its own, but for this recipe it’s the best.

Vanilla Almond French Toast

3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus a little extra if need for cooking
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground gingerroot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
8 – 1” thick slices of soft French bread from a large loaf

Preheat a large non-stick skillet and the 3 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat.
While the pan is heating mix together the eggs, milk, cinnamon, gingerroot, and vanilla and almond extracts.

Dip the bread into the egg mixture one slice of bread at a time for approximately 3 seconds on each side. Quickly shake off any excess egg mixture before placing bread into hot oil in the pan. Repeat with as many slices as will fit in the pan.
Cook for approximately 3 minutes on each side, watching carefully as not to burn it. Transfer to paper towels to drain quickly. Repeat with the remaining bread, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Bread should be golden brown and crispy.

Serve immediately with butter, warm syrup or a sprinkling of icing sugar. I also love to toast some sliced almonds and sprinkle them on top before pouring warm syrup over all. Fantastic!

Serves 4.

Since this post has been about a difficult shopping trip, I thought I'd end on an up note and talk about easy shopping. CSN has once again furnished me with a $65.00 gift code to any of their 200 plus online stores for one of my lucky followers who reside in the US or Canada. Their shopping sites offer everything from beautiful handbags and bar furniture to great cookware (my personal favorite of course)and bedding. All you have to do to win is be a follower of my blog and leave me a comment stating you'd like to be entered into my drawing. On October 26th, I'll let pick my lucky number and announce my winner. Good luck!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spicing things up a bit with a delicious giveaway

My winners for this giveaway are Mary, winner of the Savory Spice Shop Gift Pack and Laurie and DaniD who each won the sample packs. I wish I had something for everyone but be sure and enter my next giveaway for a $65.00 CSN gift code. Good luck!

My birthday was yesterday and even though I usually like to add a little bit of humor to my blog posts, there is really nothing funny about it. I have had more birthdays than I care to admit, but I guess it is better than the alternative. You might think that I would have at least looked forward to a nice present or two, but at my age I really don’t need one more thing. I don’t need anything to decorate my house, or even myself. I have enough perfume to last me to the end of my life. I have more jewelry than I will ever wear and my more than ample hips do not need one more birthday cake, but I’ll have one anyway. Wow, I guess I’m really a pretty lucky girl!

Since I don’t want to come off sounding like a martyr, I did come up with a “want” so my family wouldn’t feel bad. They were all surprised when I told them that I wanted a snow blower. If you’ve read my blog more than once, you’ve probably seen me say that I hate winter and snow removal is the number one reason, so what the heck. I don’t want a wimpy snow blower either, when it comes to these guys, its go big or go home. I want a big Sears Craftsman that will blow snowballs against my neighbor’s window just to let him know that there’s a new toy at the Harris house. We will no longer have to be jealous of hearing our neighbors down the street start their engines while we are in our driveway wielding our prehistoric snow shovels. No sir, from now on we’ll be running with the big dogs!

Since I am in a party mood, I thought I’d have a giveaway for my birthday. I am really excited about this one because it comes from one of my absolute favorite places to shop in the Denver area. We may have to fight snow all winter but we also get to go to Savory Spice Shop anytime we want. I really love this place because not only does it have every spice imaginable (and they are freshly ground), but I love the ambiance.

The experience actually starts before you even open the door, because from half a block away you can smell an intoxicating peppery scent that lets you know something special is close by. The Littleton location is where I shop and I love it because it reminds me of an old apothecary. Every spice has a tester (gotta love that) and you are invited to have a taste and dust any unwanted bits onto the wooden floor which probably adds to the beautiful aroma.

As you can tell, I am a devotee. I am such a believer that I contacted them about sponsoring this giveaway and they were kind enough to supply me with a Harvest Time gift pack that you will love. It includes a jar of Tarragon Shallot Citrus Seasoning, Mild Yellow Curry, Wash Park All-Purpose Seasoning and Homestead Seasoning. Even if you aren’t my lucky winner, I encourage you to visit their website, learn a little more about them, and order something for yourself or any foodies on your gift list. It is a real treat.

For this post’s recipe, I’m using a couple of their delicious spice blends. Piri Piri has been a favorite blend of mine since I first tried it on grilled chicken at a little restaurant in Nottingham. Today, I’m grilling chicken wings sprinkled with Savory Spice Shop’s blend and a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. To cool things off a bit, I’ve used their French cheese sprinkle (which is also delicious sprinkled on popcorn), a little sour cream and a few other touches to make a wonderful cool and creamy dip to accompany them. So whether you are hosting a tailgate, a birthday or any other kind of party, you’re going to love adding these recipes to your table.

In addition to the Harvest gift pack that Savory Spice Shop is supplying, I’ve going to give two additional followers a Piri Piri and French Cheese sprinkle sample prize pack so you can try my two recipes on your own.

Inside Savory Spice Shop

For those of you who can't get by their shop to pick up their ingredients, I've also included a recipe for my own homemade blend of these spices so you can duplicate my recipes. In my home opinions differ about what makes a great chicken wing, so I prepared my wings in two different ways, grilled half and fried half. They were both delicious but the grilled wings were definitely spicier than the fried. If you fry yours and would like them to have a entra little kick at the end, I advise you to increase the dry spice mixture by about 50% and sprinkle it over the wings after they have been fried but still hot.

Piri Piri Chicken Wings with Cool Herb and Cheese Dip

Piri Piri Chicken Wings the Savory Spice Shop way

4 pounds chicken wings (approximately 40 wing portions)
1 – 1/2 tablespoons Savory Spice Shop Piri Piri blend
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
Juice from 1 lemon

Rinse chicken well and pat dry. Lay wing portions in a single layer on a clean, dry surface and set aside.

Combine Piri Piri blend, ginger and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of the spice over chicken. Turn chicken over and sprinkle with the remainder of the spice.
In a large gallon zipper seal bag, pour in half of the lemon juice before placing the wings in the bag. Add the remainder of the lemon juice on top; seal bag and knead the wings around to coat. Place bag in the refrigerator and marinate for at least one hour.

Place chicken wings over hot coals and grill until they are cooked through and are a golden brown. To fry, remove chicken from the bag and roll in approximately 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour mixed with 1/3 of a cup of corn starch. Tap wings to remove any excess flour and fry until golden brown in hot vegetable oil that is approximately 1” deep. Fry until cooked through and golden brown.

Alternate Piri Piri Spice Blend

2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
3-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Blend all dry ingredients and prepare chicken as directed above.
To make chili infused oil, prepare as directed and add 1/2 cup olive oil, shake well and store in the refrigerator to infuse for at least one, but up to 7 days.

Savory Spice Shop's Paris Cheese Dip

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
3 tablespoons Savory Spice Shop Paris Cheese Sprinkle

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Alternate Herbed Cheese Dip

1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, Romano Cheese or Bleu cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch white pepper
2 green onions, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 –1/2 teaspoon fines herbs

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes before serving.

I served my wings and dip with bell pepper strips, sugar snap peas and cucumbers. In addition to the fresh vegetables, I also served some sweet potato fries that were beyond good with the wings.

To enter for a chance to win the Harvest Time gift set or one of the two sample sets, you must be a follower or sign up as a follower and leave a comment stating your desire to enter. Best of luck to all of my followers and welcome and good luck to all of my new followers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New rules for old cool

It’s official, I have become my mother. I have really made an effort not to let this occur, but despite my best efforts the inevitable has happened. It wasn't always like this. My children have no idea, but I was really cool in my younger days. In fact I would like to emphatically state that I was cooler than either of them are now, or ever hope to be. Now that we have that straight, I must admit that I may be more of a 1970s and 80s cool than a 2010 cool, but cool all the same. Case in point, my daughter just ordered some Sperry Topsiders that we all wore in the 80s but felt she had to translate for me and call them “boat shoes.” Little does she know Topsiders and popped collars were regulation Sunday brunch attire for me and my friends in 1985. To round off the look, we all wore Ray Ban Wayfarers which are on her wish list too. Now maybe if she’ll just listen to me, she’ll start wearing shoulder pads and an asymmetrical haircut and get the jump on everyone. It appears to me the old adage, "What goes around comes around" just may be true.

My daughter is now doing her best to keep me as cool as a mother is allowed to be, but I am afraid that she might just be fighting a losing battle, because somethings I get and somethings I don't. Thanks to her passing bits of her university social education on to me, I now know that in college the weekend starts on Wednesday (I did not know that). The new piercing that she and her best girlfriend just got behind their ears is called a dermal. We’re not quite sure what the flesh eating bacteria that could rot their heads off because of it is called, but I’m sure we’ll find out in the ER. No respectable kid leaves to go out for the evening until 9 or 10 (it seems like I vaguely remember this). The profanity laced noise that comes out of her speakers when she starts her car is called music (I don’t think I‘ll ever get this one). Sometimes girls have dark roots on purpose (you’ve got to be kidding). These five simple lessons are just the tip of a huge iceberg of knowledge that is an ongoing process of discovery for me, but rest assured I'll keep you all abreast of any new developments. I really worry about those of you who don’t have someone keeping you up to date on what’s hot and what’s not. I mean you could actually be walking around unaware of how clueless you are and there’s not much worse than that. Well, I guess I’m going to go do a little “cool” homework now. There’s a guy performing on the Today Show this morning named Robert Plant. From what my son tells me, he used to sing with an awesome band called Led Zeppelin. Sounds interesting.

To thank my daughter for all of her hard work, I prepared a dozen or so breakfast burritos for her to take back to college. This was actually my friend Joanie’s brainstorm for her own college age daughter. She prepares a bunch of them, freezes them and sends them home with her daughter so she can have one anytime the mood strikes her. Whether you serve these burritos fresh with a fruit salad for a weekend breakfast, or freeze them for later, you’re going to love them. I have also included a recipe for a delicious Mexican style chorizo for those in the UK who may not be able to find it ready made.

Breakfast Burritos

6 – 10” burrito size flour tortillas or 8 small taco size flour (or corn) tortillas
1 – 2 large green chilies
2 tablespoons butter
8 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 cup crispy fried fresh or frozen hash brown potatoes
1/2 pound (250g) chorizo or 6 rashers bacon, chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Salsa and/or fresh coriander (cilantro)

Wrap tortillas up in a couple of pieces of foil and place inside of a warm oven to heat while the eggs are prepared.

Place the green chilies under the grill or broiler or over an open flame until the skins are charred and blistered on all sides. Place inside a paper or plastic bag to sweat for 5 minutes. Remove from bag and place on a cutting board. Scrape the skins off of the chilies before chopping well; set aside until ready to use.

Place butter into a non-stick frying pan that has been heated over a medium high heat. While the butter is melting mix together the eggs, water, salt, pepper and green chilies in a medium size bowl; pour into the hot frying pan with the melted butter and cook until, stirring frequently until the eggs are about half way cooked. Add at the green chilies, chorizo and hash browns, stir to combine; cook for a few minutes longer. When the eggs are soft scrambled, sprinkle the cheese over the top, remove from the heat and stir a time or two; set aside.

Lay warm tortillas onto a clean, dry surface; scoop equal amounts of the egg mixture into the center of each tortilla. If you are making tacos, just fold them in half and serve. If you are making the burritos, roll one edge over the egg mixture before folding long edges in and finish rolling like a cigar. Serve immediately with salsa and fresh coriander.

This recipe makes 6 nice size burritos or 8 small tacos.

Mexican Style Chorizo

1 pound (500g) ground pork or turkey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons white vinegar

Place all of the ingredients into a medium size bowl. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands until everything is well incorporated. At this point you can either, fry, freeze or incorporate into your favorite recipe.

To fry: place desired amount into a medium size non-stick frying pan and cook to a golden brown and cooked through, chopping meat up as it cooks.

Friday, September 10, 2010

When the Going Gets Tough I Make Chicken, Corn and Green Chile Chowder

My son and I had one of those parent /teenager arguments yesterday. As usual, it got pretty ugly with me telling him he was selfish and self-centered. He on the other hand, told me that I was disrespectful to him. Well, excuuuuuuuse me for being disrespectful to a fifteen year old! Boy, I guess I’ve got some nerve not paying the proper respect to someone who is kind enough to allow me the pleasure of washing his clothes, feeding him and his reptiles and scouring his toilet. He is even good enough to let me drive him to and from school every day and wherever else his heart desires, and he doesn’t even complain about it. I guess I need to start realizing how lucky I am.

Man, did I ever get the short end of this respect thing. I was taught by my parents that respect was something that was earned and measured by your actions and character, not by birthright. Respect wasn't the only thing that parents in my day didn't freely pass out. My peers and I walked back and forth to school, six miles, in the snow and broiling south Texas sun, hungry, and without shoes. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.

I can tell you one thing without exaggeration; we didn’t get Cadillac Escalades for our first car or school trips to Europe at fourteen. My son and daughter didn’t get these things either, but some of their friends did. See what we’re up against? In my day, we kids bought our own cars and worked all summer long to earn the money to put gas into them. If we wanted to get a tattoo, then we had better join the Navy.

Our parents didn't take us, sign the permission slip and then get one to match. We also weren’t told that our feelings were the only ones that mattered; personally, my parents were stuck on this crazy “do unto others” thing. We were encouraged to try everything, and when we won at something, our achievements were celebrated with a pat on the back, not a ticker tape parade. When our heads got too big and we became too full of ourselves, we were knocked down a peg or two, just to keep us grounded. Looking back, I guess my stupid old parents knew something after all.

After I had my first child, it didn't take me long to realize that this parenting thing isn't as easy as I thought. It is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. If your needs come first in your mind, do society a favor and skip having children, because as soon as your child is handed to you, your little party is over. They want YOU not things. It is a very thin line between giving your children everything you never had and giving them too much, but it’s not rocket science, you can figure it out.

You may want to be cool with your children, but beware, because being cool is dangerously close to being a pushover. Being a good parent is sometimes a dirty job, but it is the most important and rewarding one you will ever do. It is worth the effort, I promise. Just remember, you must pay very close attention to these people because they will go feral on you in a heartbeat.

After our argument, I told my son his own little party was over; no more rides to and from school. He is now riding the bus and doing his own laundry. Well, I should have done my research because our school district requires an I.D. and a pass to ride the bus home (long story, but he has neither). Oh well, I’m stubborn and I’ll figure it out. All I can say to my wonderful boy (who happens to be just as stubborn as I am) is, it’s a very long walk home young man, your dirty clothes are piling up and I love you more than you will ever know.

When the going gets tough in my house the tough (me) get cooking. Since I will spend most of my day worrying about how my son will get home from school, I’ll be chopping and sautéing to keep my mind off of things. Today, I’m going to prepare a new recipe of mine that incorporates my favorite late summer ingredients. I’m making an extra big batch so I can freeze some of it to enjoy in the dark, cold days of winter.

Chicken Sweet Corn and Green Chile Chowder

2 chicken breasts, partially frozen to make slicing a bit easier
4 slices smoked bacon, thinly sliced across
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 – 1/2 cups fresh or frozen sweet corn
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 large (1/2 cup, 125ml) fresh roasted green chilies (Hatch are the best), skins removed and chopped
3 – 1/2 cups (875ml) water, divided
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 rounded tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup (120g) shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 cup (250ml) whipping cream
1 tablespoon lightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice chicken breasts into thirds lengthwise. Holding the breast slices together, slice very thinly across; set aside until ready to use.

In a non-stick stockpot set over medium high heat, cook the bacon until it is golden brown. Add the chopped onion and sauté until they are transparent; add the garlic and green chilies and sauté for one minute longer before adding the chicken pieces and cooking for approximately 3 – 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Add corn and three cups of the water, bringing to a simmer before adding the chicken bouillon, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Just before the 15 minutes is up, make a slurry by placing the flour in a small bowl and, while stirring constantly, adding the remaining 1/2 cup (125ml) water in a slow stream. Remove the cover from the pot and slowly pour in the slurry while stirring the soup. Turn the heat up to medium and, while stirring constantly, cook the soup for approximately 2 minutes longer. Add the Parmesan, cheddar, whipping cream, cilantro and salt and pepper. Heat for a moment longer before removing from the heat and serving piping hot.

*If you decide to freeze this for later, cook as directed but omitting the cream. Freeze in a heavy duty container. When you are ready to serve it, thaw and add the cream before serving.

Serves 4-5

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bumps in the road and friends for lunch

Today started out kind of rough. My son dribbled a “spill-proof” cup full of milk on the floor as we walked out the door to drive him to school. Since we were already running late and couldn’t stop to clean it up, I looked forward to having that waiting for me when I got back home.

Then, halfway to school while driving through stop and go traffic, my dog threw up, half in my purse and half on my back floor mat after heaving for no less than two minutes. The warning sound of his impending sickness only helped to build the anticipation of its arrival. I drove home looking forward to also cleaning up the new mess after I got there. For obvious reasons this one took priority over the spilled milk in the entryway. It is times like these that I remind myself that it could always get worse, so I count my blessings and move on. Some days you’re the bat…some days you’re the ball.

No matter how badly it started, today is still a blessing because this is the day of the week that I meet up with two of my favorite girlfriends for a little lunch, a lot of laughs and a bit of problem solving. If anyone has any pressing problems that you need help with, just drop me a line and we'll have a profound answer for you after our next weekly meeting.

I was lucky enough to have met my friend Joanie through our two teenage daughters. We first met several years ago during a kid swap at the parking lot of our local supermarket. We had an immediate connection and I knew that we were meant to be friends. She was with me in New York when I won the Ocean Spray Cranberry Recipe Contest so in a way she’s also my good luck charm. Joanie is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. She radiates optimism and sweetness. After a couple of hours with her, I am a better person.

I met Anita, the remaining member of our group, several years ago when we first moved to Colorado from Texas. She lives down the street from me and we were brought together by another neighbor who organized morning walks around the neighborhood. We didn’t walk for too many weeks before the winter weather moved in and we had to disband with plans on starting back up the following spring.

When spring came, I was painting my basement and Anita was a busy working mother, so life just got in the way. On one regular day in March, after a routine medical procedure, Anita had a dizzy spell and fell, hitting the back of her head on one of her kitchen cabinet doors paralyzing her.

After many months in the hospital, she returned home to her husband, sons, daughter and the bossiest Jack Russell terrier I have ever met. He really runs the place, but he depends on Anita to be his second in command, or so he thinks. Their lives together are a testament to honoring marriage vows, raising a close family and being a dedicated hands-on mother. I admire her more than I can say.

Well, I guess you can see how lucky I am to have such a wonderful support group; so when things get a little challenging, like they did this morning, I know I only have a few days at the most until I meet up with the girls again for a therapy session. Thanks so much Joanie and Anita, for including me in your group. Our luncheon date is truly one of the highpoints of my week.

More often than not, Joanie volunteers to bring some sort of wonderful lunch for the three of use to share. Every now and then she takes mercy on me and allows me to bring something to soothe my guilty conscience. My favorite “go to” recipe is super simple but contains a secret ingredient that really, truly makes a huge difference in this run of the mill, everyday recipe. I really think if you'll give this recipe a try, you'll be glad that you've rediscovered this old favorite.

Extreme Tuna Salad

I worked for a caterer many years ago who also sold sandwiches out of the front of her shop. This girl could really make a sandwich. One of her best sellers was her tuna salad and as an employee I was privy to her recipe which I have embellished a bit and made it my own. The addition of crumbled saltine crackers mellows the flavor of the fish and creates the best tuna salad you’ll ever eat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

1 – 5 ounce (150g) can tuna in water, drained and flaked
2 tablespoons celery, finely minced
1 large spring onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons yellow, orange or red bell pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped Serrano pepper (optional)
1 egg, boiled and chopped
6 saltine crackers, crumbled (cream crackers can be substituted)
1/4 teaspoon dried dill
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
A generous grinding of black pepper
2 – 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (depending on how moist you like it)
1/4 teaspoon fresh lime juice
Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a medium size bowl and stir well. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

This makes 4 medium size sandwiches. YUM!