Friday, December 30, 2011

#Baketogether with Abby Dodge: Chocolate Meringue Cake

About a month or so ago Barb over at Creative Culinary encouraged me to join her in a blogger activity called #Baketogether led by cookbook author, recipe developer and Fine Cooking contributing editor, Abby Dodge. The premise is simple, Abby chooses the recipe and then the participants join in by baking their version of it and blogging about it. The recipe for this month was Abby’s own recipe for the gorgeous Chocolate Meringue Cake that graced the December 2009 cover of Bon Appetit Magazine.

After joining up, I have to admit that even though I am a seasoned cook I was a bit daunted by the many steps that this recipe called for.  Always up for a challenge I did what I often do and put off it to almost the very last day.

So, day before yesterday I dove right in by making the meringues. I wanted to put my own stamp on the recipe so I decided to add malt powder to flavor them. Malteser cake sounds great no? No matter how hard I tried, as soon as I folded the malt into the beaten egg whites they would fall. After discarding one batch, I decided just to go with the second attempt and see how they turned out. After 4 hours my flat meringues came out of the oven. Even though they weren’t as fluffy as I would have liked, they tasted just delicious so I decided to use them.

The other components of the cake weren’t as involved as I thought, just a bit time consuming, but worth every minute. This cake is a real stunner with its crispy meringue layers, moist cake and rich and buttery buttercream. I did make the components the day before I assembled it so I wasn’t rushed or tired when it came time to decorate.  This also gave me plenty of energy to wipe the buttercream and meringue dust off of my dog who is always at my feet when I am cooking. 

I am so glad that I took part. Not only did I discover a new special occasion recipe (my family was starting to really get tired of chocolate birthday cupcakes), but we are going to say goodbye to 2011 in style with this gorgeous cake. Thanks for the recipe Abby and thanks Barb for inviting me to join in!

For Abby's original recipe, please click here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Feeding the Visiting Masses: Cheeseburger Po'boys

We don’t travel much at the holidays anymore. When I was a little girl we always stayed at my grandmother’s farm with our extended family, but that was just a 2 hour drive from home not the 19 hours we face now. When our children were small we gladly made the 20 hour trek across the Atlantic to hang out with my parents for the holidays, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything, but since my father’s passing it just isn’t the same.

These days we feel like we have put in our time on the highway and up in the air and prefer hanging out together baking cookies, taking in movies, playing games and waking up in our own beds. Mr. H and I relish every moment because we know it won’t be long and our children will have their own families and our house may not be their primary holiday destination. I guess when that happens we’ll hit the road again, but for now our home fires are burning.

When it comes to our holiday menu, I have it made this year. Since one of my dear friends had the good taste of giving me a gift certificate for a Honey Baked ham, I have decided to pretty much take the day off. I’m planning on making some easy side dishes and drinking too many glasses of sparkling wine and calling it close enough.

Even if I hadn’t been blessed with this wonderful gift, I find that the main event is never really hard to plan; it is all the other meals surrounding it that usually pose the problem. I bet you could ask 100 people on the street what they are having for Christmas dinner and they could tell you down to the last detail, but ask the same people what’s for dinner tonight and you would get the old deer in the headlights stare.

Last night my daughter’s boyfriend came over for supper and to exchange gifts with her. Since they are college students and will pretty much eat anything that won’t eat them first, feeding them is not a difficult assignment.  I love having them hang out with us, so I wanted to do something really fun. I decided to make a new (or new to me) recipe from my old favorite Holy Cross Lutheran Church Cookbook.

I had been meaning to try this recipe for years and finally jumped off and made it a few weeks ago. The results were so simple and good that I knew I had to share it with you. I’m just sorry that I didn’t post it sooner so you’d have an easy option for the meals leading up to the big one on Christmas Day, but there’s always New Year’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday.

No doubt this recipe was probably originally made by the Bruins family (who are credited with the recipe) to feed a hungry youth group assembly and I don’t blame them because it would be just perfect for that. It is simple, economical and can be easily adjusted to feed an army of adolescents or a house full of hungry relatives staying at your house at Christmas.

Cheeseburger Po'boy

1 – 1/2 pounds 85/15 ground beef

1 small sweet yellow onion, very finely chopped

1/4 of a medium bell pepper (I like red or orange), very finely chopped

1 large clove garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons powdered beef bouillon (or crushed bouillon granules)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 egg, beaten

1 French batard or baguette

6 slices American, cheddar or Swiss cheese

To Serve, traditional cheeseburger toppings like, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mustard, ketchup, mayo or chipotle flavored mayo (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place ground beef, onion, bell pepper, garlic, bouillon, pepper and egg in a large bowl; set aside.

Slice bread in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Separate halves and scoop out insides to hollow out. This should give you about a cup to a cup and a half of breadcrumbs.

Add bread crumbs to the meat mixture. Without overworking the meat, mix the ingredients together until they are well combined. Fill the hollowed out bread halves with equal amounts of the meat mixture, packing meat slightly into the bread.

Wrap bread in foil covering only the bottom and the sides leaving the meat exposed. Place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 30 – 40 minutes or until desired doneness is reached. About 5 – 10 minutes before the end of the baking time, top with an even layer of cheese and return to the oven to melt.

Remove from the oven, cut into 3 - 4” wide slices and serve with toppings.

Chipotle Flavored Mayo:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper with adobo sauce from the can

Mix ingredients well before serving.

Cheeseburger Po'boy with Chipotle Mayo

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Something Wonderful This Way Comes: Herb and Mustard Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin with English Style Crispy Roast Potatoes

I grew up eating turkey for Thanksgiving and just as often as not, turkey for Christmas. So, multiply my years on this earth times two and you have about 10,000 turkeys that I have eaten over my lifetime. This doesn’t even take into account all of the sliced deli turkey for turkey sandwiches, hot turkey on toast and turkey chef salads I’ve eaten. No wonder I’m sick to death of turkey.

Now that I’m all grown up and running the holiday show around here, I decided to break with tradition and cook something totally different this last Thanksgiving. Well, I have to be honest and say that I did have a safety net since we were having lunch with our neighbors and I knew that she would be baking a turkey (that turned out to be a work of art by the way). Taking this into account, I felt free to get really creative.

Since I was saving ham for Christmas and goose was just taking it too far, I decided to prepare a pork loin. I really wanted this to be a kicked up, tricked out pork loin so I searched the internet high and low for a recipe that would make it something really special. After much perusal, I decided on a Dijon mustard and herb stuffing. I added my own touches by wrapping it in bacon, browning it in a skillet and baking it in hard cider. Whoa! The result was one of the best meat dishes I have ever eaten, and need I remind you that I have eaten 10,000 turkeys (give or take).

When I made this the first time I had a three and a half pound loin that fed all four of us with enough leftovers to send my daughter home with some and a couple of sandwiches for me and Mr. H. The one shown here is right at a pound and a half which I found to be just the right size for a meal for four.

Herb and Mustard Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin

1- 1/2 pound pork loin

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 – 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (or ½ teaspoon rubbed sage)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon (optional)

4 – 5 slices thin hickory smoked bacon

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 cup hard cider

Butterfly pork loin as shown; lay it flat (cut side up) on a clean dry surface. Spread garlic all over the loin. Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over the garlic. Smear the mustard over the top with the back of a spoon; set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme,chives and tarragon. Sprinkle the herb mixture over the mustard. Roll the loin up as shown.

Starting at one end of the stuffed loin, wrap a piece of the bacon around to secure it, being sure to tuck the loose end of the bacon under itself to hold it in place. Stretching the bacon slightly as you wrap, overlap bacon slices at the ends securing them with a toothpick. This process not only flavors the bacon but it also holds it together so it should be securely wrapped.

Wrap the prepared loin in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the oil into a medium size skillet over medium high heat. Brown the bacon wrapped loin on all sides until it is golden brown.

Place the browned loin in a baking dish that is not too much bigger than the loin itself. Pour the cider over the top. Cover with foil and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let rest for approximately 15 minutes before carving and serving.

To get started you'll need to butterfly the loin.  First you press the meat firmly with the palm of your hand to stablilize it.  With a very sharp knife make a slice into the loin at 1/3 of the thickness on the bottom.  Carefully follow the 1/3 thickness all the way to the opposite end of the loin, rolling the meat as you go, until have a flat piece of meat.

Season the meat well with salt and pepper before spreading it with the mustard and the herbs.

Starting at either end, roll the meat up cigar fashion.

Wrap the loin with slices of bacon, securing them at the end with toothpicks.  Wrap the loin in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight if possible.

Remove the loin from the plastic and brown on all sideds in a lightly oiled non-stick frying pan over a medium high heat.  Place the loin in a baking dish before adding the cider, covering and baking for one hour.

After baking, keep the meat covered and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing in into 1/2 - 1" slices.

To make this this meal really special I decided that it needed some English style roast potatoes that turned out to be the perfect pairing. I can only imagine finishing this meal off with some sautéed savoy cabbage or broccolini. To seal the deal, I have to let you know that each serving of the loin with potatoes came in at less than $2 per person.  Elegance on a budget.  I doesn't get any better than that.

English Style Crispy Roast Potatoes

1 large russet potato for each of your diners (I used 4), peeled and cut into large bite size pieces

1 teaspoon salt or enough to make the water nice and salty

1 ounce of cooking oil (or pan drippings if you aren’t saving them for gravy) per pound of potato (I used 1/4 cup for my potatoes)

Coarse salt for serving if needed

Place chopped potatoes in a large saucepan. Pour in enough water to cover with about an extra 1” on top. Place over a medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes; drain.

While the potatoes are boiling, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour the oil into a large baking dish; set aside.

At this point you’ll need to rough the edges of the potatoes up a bit. I have a screen type strainer so after I drain my potatoes I toss them around in it a bit which does the trick. If you don’t have a strainer like mine, after draining pour them back into the saucepan, cover it and shake them a bit to roughen them up; set aside.

Place the baking dish into the hot oven and heat the oil until it is smoking. Remove the dish from the oven, making sure to close the oven door behind you and pour the potatoes into the hot oil. When the oil is hot enough, you will be rewarded with a nice loud sizzle.  Working quickly and carefully, stir the potatoes around in the hot oil doing your best to cover them in oil before replacing the dish back in the oven.

Bake the potatoes in the oven uncovered for approximately 40 minutes, stirring them two or three times during the baking time. Remove from the oven and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. I love serving these with chopped fresh rosemary sprinkled over or with malt vinegar and ketchup for less formal occasions.

Serves 4

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Blast from Christmas Past: Creamy Dried Beef Dip

I had popcorn for lunch today so I’m just a little bit hungry this afternoon. The problem with eating light is that sooner or later I find myself eating cold spaghetti bolognese with a side of left over fried chicken straight out of the fridge, undoing any bit of good that I have done earlier in the day. Then the remorse sets in.

This time of year it is especially hard because I try to eat several lean little snacks during the day so I can enjoy a heartier meal with my family in the evening. What makes it a challenge is all the fun little snack foods that I have hanging around for my children while they are home from school. For some reason theirs always looks better than the bowl of edamame with my name on it. You know, when you are really ravenous it is impossible to skip the fudge all together. Just a pinch doesn’t have many calories does it?

Yesterday I made a bowl of dip for this post thinking that my family would run through it before my hunger pangs got going. Well, they did pretty well on it, but unfortunately left enough for me to satisfy my cravings and blow my diet again today. I guess there’s always tomorrow.

This time of year I always get a bit sentimental and start blowing the dust off of old recipes that I enjoyed while growing up.  The dip recipe I am sharing today is one that my mom used to make for holiday parties and I always loved it.  It is really a blast from the past for me and if you aren't already familiar with it, I hope you'll give it a try.  If you grew up eating it too and have forgotten about it, this is my Christmas present to you.
Creamy Dried Beef Dip
1 tablespoon butter

1/3 of an orange bell pepper, finely diced

1/2 of a small yellow onion, finely diced

1 fresh jalapeno, finely diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup soured cream

1 heaping tablespoon of coarsely chopped pimento stuffed Spanish olives (I've also used chopped artichoke hearts, yum)

1 – 2.5 ounce jar sliced dried beef (I found mine in the same aisle as all the other nutritious meat like Spam and Vienna sausage), sliced into thin strips and then in half

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Melt butter in a medium size saucepan over medium high heat. When butter is melted and begins to sizzle, add the bell pepper, onion and jalapeno. Sauté vegetables until the just begin to soften; add garlic and sauté for one minute longer.

Reduce heat to medium and add the cream cheese, Parmesan, soured cream, olives, dried beef, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes (if desired), mix well. Reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer stirring frequently.

When the dip is heated through it is ready to serve or it can be placed into a 325 degree oven and baked for approximately 15 minutes or until it is slightly brown on top. My husband likes it best at room temperature so you can serve it many ways. I love to serve mine with thinly sliced and toasted French bread, sliced fresh vegetables and fruit or with rye crisps and crackers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Divas in the Crisper Drawer: Hot Chicken and Bacon Salad with Mixed Greens

I have to make kind of a sad admission.  I have to be honest and admit that most of the time my vegetable bin is no more than a wasteful refrigerated composter. I buy nutritious fruits and vegetables with the greatest of intentions, but all too often they languish at the bottom of my crisper in a macabre brown liquid that I mop up every time I can muster the courage.

It is really the green leafies that pose the biggest problem for me.  While root vegetables are patient and stoic, quietly waiting for me to become inspired in my own good time, the delicate greens are not quite as forgiving. Like temperamental divas, their beauty seduces me in the grocery with a fresh and lovely appearance promising me and my family crisp salads and silken soups, but they are an impatient lot and problems soon follow. It seems like only a few days after bringing them home they are disappointingly limp and wilted.

The other day feeling like we haven’t had enough vitamins after our Thanksgiving carb fest, I drove to Whole Foods and went to town not only bringing home an expensive bag of divas, but divas with a pedigree and an organic certification. That night a forgotten family obligation sidelined my plans as well the next night and the next, all the while my impatient greens were wasting away in the bottom of my fridge.

Several days later while sifting through my fridge looking for a piece of ginger, I ran across a precious bunch of spinach teetering on the crossroads of life and liquefaction. Oh I hadn’t forgotten about it, it haunted me everytime I opened the fridge, but like Scarlet O’Hara I just preferred to think about it tomorrow. I guess that makes me a bit of a diva myself.

Determined not to throw away one more bunch of expensive produce, I washed it and removed the wilted bits, throwing the rest of it into a large pot over medium heat. Stirring occasionally I let it cook for a couple of minutes before adding some toasted sesame seeds and a splash of rice vinegar and some salt and pepper. Crisis averted this time.

When I am on my toes and my greens are fresh and crisp, there is nothing I like better than a good salad. I love salads all year long, but find that my guys crave something on the hot side in the winter. Inspired by an old recipe for spinach salad and one from one of my favorite little restaurants in Nottingham, this salad is hot and hearty and perfect for a cold winter's night. Serve this with a loaf of crusty French bread and a glass of your favorite wine and you will have an elegant feast.

Hot Chicken and Bacon Salad with Mixed Greens

1 large head red leaf lettuce

6 ounces baby spinach leaves

2 ounces arugula (optional)

6 slices bacon, chopped

2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced and then sliced in half across

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 large clove garlic

2 large tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons light olive oil (optional)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Wash and dry greens well; set aside.

Place bacon pieces in a medium size frying plan set over medium high heat. Fry bacon until it is golden brown. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain; set aside.

In the same frying pan with the bacon drippings, sauté the chicken until it is cooked through, approximately 5 – 8 minutes. A minute or so before the chicken is done add the thyme, sage, salt and pepper; stir well. Transfer the chicken to a separate plate with a slotted spoon; set aside.

In the same frying pan sauté the onions for a couple of minutes until they are wilted. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer. Add the chicken and bacon back to the pan and heat for 2 minutes or so stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. Cook to heat through being careful not to break the tomatoes up too much.

Divide the greens evenly among four plates. Top the greens with equal amounts of the chicken and bacon mixture. Serve immediately.

To change things up a bit I have added chopped avocado, artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, bleu cheese crumbles and grated Parmesan. This is a really good base salad that you can make you own by adding your favorite ingredients.

Serves 4

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christingles, Christmas Tingles and a Giveaway from

Thanks to all my followers, existing and new who participated in this giveaway from chose the number 21 which means Christina Gould is my winner.  Congratulations Christina!  Please check back for future giveaways. 

Now that my Thanksgiving dishes are done I think it is safe to start talking about Christmas. I do love Christmas, I just wish that retailers would quit exploiting it by trying to kick start it in October. I know that they are just trying to make a buck, but I can’t help but feel that I’m being a little bit strong armed. Between all of the shopping hype and the Santa Claus images everywhere, the true meaning of Christmas too often gets lost in the melee.

When we lived in England and my children were small, the little village school they attended would host a Christingle service at the beautiful 14th century church at the top of the hill every year. My words cannot express how lovely this little stone church is every day, but during the holidays its beauty defies description.

St. Mary's Church, Plumtree, Nottinghamshire

The Christingle custom began in Germany in 1747 by Bishop Johannes de Watteville as a fresh and lively way to explain the meaning of Christmas to the children in the Moravian church. He gave each child an orange wrapped in a red ribbon with a prayer that read “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children’s hearts”, and the Christingle service was born.  In 1968, John Penson of the Children’s Society of the UK brought this custom to the Anglican Church in England. This soon became a well-loved tradition with children eagerly making their own Christingles each year.

To make a modern Christingle you first take four toothpicks and poke them through soft candies or dried fruit symbolizing the bounty of the earth. A red ribbon representing the blood of Christ is then wrapped around the center of a large juicy orange, symbolic of the earth. The red ribbon is then either secured in four equally spaced places by the gumdrop skewers, representing the four seasons of the year, or the ribbon can be tied and the skewers placed higher above it. Finally a hole is cut in the top of the orange where a lit candle is placed celebrating Jesus as the light of the world.

For our service in England our children were then dressed in white robes, their candles were lit and they carefully entered the darkened church singing carols cradling their oranges in their tiny cupped hands.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and not a Santa Claus in site. This is one of my fondest memories of Christmas.   Oh yeah, I am happy to say that to everyone's great relief, no one's hair was set on fire during any of Plumtree School's Christingle services.

It has been a long time since my children fashioned a Christingle so I am very thankful for my blog for giving us a reason to relive this beautiful memory. The scents alone from the components of this little project made us smile. If you have a child in your life and feel so inclined, this is a fun and meaningful activity to share with them.

To celebrate the season, I've fashioned a drink that incorporates some of the wonderful flavors that that are so prevalant this time of year.  My "Christmas Tingle" is a blend of cider and orange juice with a hint of cinnamon schnapps. This recipe was recently tested at a holiday high school friend reunion at my house and the college girls gave it three enthuastic thumbs up, so I feel quite confident about passing it on to you.  It is wonderful in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions so everyone can enjoy it.

Christmas Tingle

3 parts hard or sparkling non-alcoholic cider

1 part orange pineapple juice

Splash cinnamon schnapps (I used clear Goldschlager so my drink may not be as colorful as yours), or if making non-alcoholic, 1 small cinnamon stick

Fill a large highball glass with ice. Pour cider into glass, top with orange pineapple juice and schnapps; stir well and garnish with an orange slice, cranberries or cherries.

For the non-alcoholic version: Pour sparkling cider into a large ice filled glass, add a splash of orange pineapple juice and a cinnamon stick; stir well.  Garnish with an orange slice.

Now, for my newest giveaway from Wayfair!

As you may recall, in the past I have held several giveaways for CSN merchandise and gift codes. Recently I was made aware that CSN is now rebranding itself, moving its smaller sites into one big site they are calling I really love shopping this site as it has everything from kitchen area rugs, toys and cookware to lighting, pet furniture and baby stuff.

To help everyone discover their new site, has offered to give me a one time $70.00 shopping credit* to give to one of my lucky US followers.  You choose an item totalling $70.00 from their site and they will ship it directly to you.  To receive one entry you must be a public follower of my blog and leave a comment saying so. To receive extra entries follow Savoury Table on Facebook, Twitter or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail or RSS feed (just click on the symbols at the top right of my page).  If you vote for my daughter's recipe contest entry for Salmon Croquette Sliders (just a simple click, no registering or logging in) you'll get an extra entry as well. State each entry as a separate comment. I will let choose my winner on Sunday, December 4th around noon mountain time. Good luck!

*Correction from earlier statement of shopping code. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

A French Inspired Lunch at the Omni and a Recipe to Go: Butternut Squash Soup with Frangelico

About a week ago I was invited by Barb of Creative Culinary to join her for lunch at the Meritage Restaurant in the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, Colorado. The hotel’s Executive Chef David Harker along with forty-four other Omni chefs and culinary leaders had recently returned from a discovery trip to France and were ready to unveil their new menu, and we were more than happy to be their guinea pigs.

On the menu were some selections from their “Simmer Saute Sante the Flavors of France” feature which is now being offered at most of their locations. Expecting to briefly meet Chef Harker and his staff and then to be left to ourselves, Barb and I were pleased to learn that he would not only be preparing our entree at our table, but would also be staying with us to explain each course to us as it was presented.

Our lunch started off with grilled flatbread with black garlic and fig puree and topped with French Roquefort and grilled apples, served with micro greens . . . divine. After licking our plates, we were presented with a bowl of butternut squash bisque accented with Frangelico. I must admit that I am not a huge butternut squash lover, but the slightly nutty flavor of the hazelnut liqueur was a delicious compliment to the sweetness of the butternut squash, making this one of my favorite dishes of the luncheon.

As if things could possibly get any better, we were then served a decadent buttery serving of foie gras on a crispy toast round with fruit.  No matter how you feel about it, foie gras holds a prominent place in French cuisine and I do know why, because this was delicious.  Next we were served the entrée that Chef Harker had been preparing this entire time, New York Strip Steak with Sauce au Cognac et Poivre Noir. This incredibly tender and juicy prime steak was served with a sampling of crispy duck confit served with roast potatoes and vegetables. Shall I say it again? Divine!

To finish this wonderful meal, we were served an assortment of delicate sweets including absolutely perfect French macarons and a silken pot de crème. Top this with a huge latte and impeccable service and someone could have stuck a fork in us because we were done and totally spoiled. Thank you Chef Harker, your staff and the Omni Interlocken for a completely delightful afternoon.

If you'd like to sample these dishes for yourself, this special menu and two overnight packages are available until the end of the year. The “Simmer Sauté Santé” package will offer guests at select hotels and resorts an exclusive culinary immersion weekend. The “French Toast!” package that is offered only over New Year’s Eve, enabling guests to enjoy an authentic French dinner with Champagne to celebrate the New Year, breakfast with a Champagne cocktail and a late check-out on request. Both packages range from $299 to $700. For availability, menus and more information please click here.

If you can’t make it to the Omni for a special meal yourself, the culinary team was kind enough to forward the squash bisque recipe on to me to make at home. Totally easy to make and really budget friendly, this soup will give you a bit of simple luxury anytime in your own kitchen.  Even if you can’t serve it with foie gras, I am here to tell you from experience that it is also fabulous with a chicken salad sandwich.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Frangelico

1 medium size butternut squash (approximately 3 pounds)

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons golden raisins

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Frangelico liqueur (depending on your preference)

1 pinch nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Wash squash well. Split down the middle lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, transfer to a bowl and set them aside.

In each squash cavity, place half of the raisins and half of the butter. Turn the squash cavity side down in a large baking dish (This is what the recipe said and a real trick at that, but it can be done. Just don’t worry if half your raisins spill out, it will be ok). Pour 1 cup of the chicken broth over the squash. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until it is fork tender.

Remove the squash from the oven and cool. Scoop out the pulp from the squash shells and transfer to a large saucepan. Place the squash shells, raisins and the liquid from the baking dish in a large pot with the remaining chicken stock; simmer covered over low heat for approximately 20 – 30 minutes.  Ok, don't anyone tell Chef Harker I said this, but at this point if you don't have any Frangelico, you could substitute it by stirring in a tablespoon or so of peanut butter towards the end of the cooking time.  It won't taste exactly the same but pretty close.

Strain squash shell broth into the saucepan with the pulp; puree with an emersion blender or in the bowl of a countertop blender. Return to the saucepan and add the cream and Frangelico. Place back over medium heat and reheat to piping hot. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with a drizzling of cream, crème fraiche or sour cream. If using cream, beat just a bit to thicken so it floats on the top instead of sinking. The taste is the same, it is just prettier.

Makes approximately 6 cups which easily serves 4

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Found Freedom and Fantastic Festival Food: Natchitoches Meat Pies

I talk to my daughter at university probably three times a day. No, I don’t make her, I am just that fun. She calls me first thing in the morning to let me know she’s alive (I do insist on this one). She calls me at lunchtime because she’s wondering what I'm up to, then she calls me at night to let me know that she’s all buttoned down and going to bed. Then we start all over again the next day. She’s a good girl and I love her more than I can say. Thank goodness for cell phones and her good taste in the people she wants to talk to.

When I was her age there were no cell phones. If my parents couldn’t find me when I went underground they’d either have to hire a detective or wait it out. When I think about what they must have gone through worrying about me it makes me realize how spoiled I am always (well, almost always) being able to contact my kids when I want.  

When I was in my early twenties my newly found, all-grown up freedom and I went to Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced NACK-uh-tush) with a group of friends for the town’s annual Christmas Festival of Lights.  In all the excitement I forgot to call my parents and tell them I was leaving town, so by Sunday night when I got back home to Houston the National Guard was on high alert. Man, they were mad!  Now that I have a couple of children of my own, I know how frantic they must have been when I forgot to call and tell them I’d be gone for three days. Oops!

The weekend started out when one of my friends somehow got the keys to his family’s weekend house in Louisiana. As I remember it, it was a rustic little place on the edge of a swamp nestled among the cypress trees with the snakes and alligators. We had planned a wonderful weekend of drinking, dominoes and festival making. The only kink in this plan was that the septic tank was broken so there was no working bathroom in the house. Not good a good situation with four women who are drinking beer. Since we all refused to go outside and use the restroom in the bushes (see photo below), we spent most of the weekend driving to the closest gas station with a public toilet.

Louisiana's outdoor restroom attendants

Since every time we turned around we were running to town anyway, we spent a lot of time hanging out at the festival eating. You might be familiar with the town and this festival and not know it. The movie Steel Magnolias was filmed here and the festival they show in the movie is this one. They have every Christmas scene you can imagine fashioned from lights and placed on one side of the Cane River which runs through the center of the historic part of town. The fireworks show which is on the opening weekend of the celebration, is so spectacular that even the fluorescent yellow nacho cheese sauce that I sat in in my new wool coat to watch them couldn’t kill the fun.

Like many festivals around the country, the food here is delicious mainly because it has been perfected  over the years by generations of amateur home cooks. Even though great food abounds, the one dish they are most proud of and famous for is their meat pies. They love them so much that they even have their own separate celebration for them in September.  These pies are made from a simple recipe of ground beef and pork with Cajun flavors wrapped in a soft dough and deep fried. How can you go wrong with this combo?

Those meat pies were so good that I have never forgotten the flavor and have planned on making them for years now. Well, this is the year and I'm happy to tell you that they were really simple, the hardest part being rolling the dough, but even at that not a deal breaker. This recipe made 16 pretty large pies but I think it would also be great to downsize them a bit and make 24 smaller ones for party appetizers. This is really a great base to expand on or change.  I could see where this recipe could be easily altered to make Mexican, Asian or Italian versions, so I hope you’ll have fun experimenting with it. I know I will.

Natchitoches Meat Pies

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 pound ground pork (I tried it with pork sausage and it was great)

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

1 small bell pepper, finely chopped (green is more traditional but you can use any color that you like)

1 large garlic clove, crushed

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (my own addition)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing surface

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk

Pour vegetable oil in a large frying pan set over medium high heat; brown meat in oil. Add the onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are soft, approximately 5 minutes; add garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add thyme, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste before sprinkling 1 tablespoon of the flour you borrow from the dough ingredients over the meat; stir well.  Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.

Sift the remaining flour, salt and baking powder together into a large bowl or in the bowl of a food processor (this makes quick work of this step); process or cut in shortening by hand until it looks like cornmeal. Stir the eggs and milk together before slowly mixing into the flour mixture; mix well to form a soft dough.

Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Dust a clean dry surface with flour. Roll each dough portion into a ball. Place each ball on the floured surface one at a time before rolling it into circle about 6 – 7” in diameter. Spoon approximately 2 heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture onto one side of the circle, leaving a 1” clean edge all around. Brush edges with a little warm water. Fold the circle over the meat mixture matching the edges, forming a semi-circle. Fold the edges in half up towards the meat leaving a 1/2" edge. Press the edge with the tines of a fork to crimp. Repeat with the remaining meat and dough.

Heat deep fryer oil or pour enough oil into a medium size frying pan to come up to a 1” depth in the pan; heat over medium high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering place 1 – 2 pies in the pan and fry to a golden brown on each, approximately 3 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Steaming Hot Bowl of Blasphemy: Shortcut Pho Bo

I run with a pretty tough crowd.  I run with a very talented bunch of food bloggers. Don’t believe me that it's tough? Well, these are the kind of people that grind their own cornmeal, brew their own vinegar, smoke their own bacon and make their own cheese. Scared yet? They are also masters of HTML codes, camera shutter speeds, ISO settings and social media platforms. Try hanging out with them for a while. If you don’t already have an inferiority complex, you’ll acquire one soon enough. 

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that most of them don’t even own a can of condensed soup or a cake mix. I have to admit that I don’t own much condensed soup either, but I do secretly love a Sock-It-To-Me Cake made with a Duncan Hines Butter Cake Mix or a spoon bread casserole made from a box of Jiffy Cornbread, so shoot me. I don’t normally use these shortcuts, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

The other day I was close to my favorite Asian market and stopped by to buy lots of stuff that I don’t need. They had beautiful fresh Thai basil and some paper thin rib eye steak so I was inspired to make pho. For those of you who haven’t had a pho restaurant (pronounced “fuh”) pop up in your neighborhood, it is really no more than simple Vietnamese noodle soup.

Pho Saigon Pho Bo

Pho bo (beef noodle soup) is traditionally made with stock from slowly boiled beef bones, star anise, ginger, onion, cloves, cinnamon and garlic, you can usually order it with anything from very thinly sliced rib eye and flank steak to tripe and tendon. Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) is made the same way but with the one obvious difference.  The flavorful broth is then poured over a generous helping of rice noodles and is served with a plate of your choice of sliced jalapenos, basil, cilanatro, chopped green onions, lime wedges and bean sprouts for garnish. We just love the stuff.

Being super excited after finally finding the proper noodles from the hundreds of thousands of noodles they had there, I headed home to get cooking, forgetting all about those slowly boiled bones at the root of its goodness. After arriving home and making the grand announcement, “I will now make the best pho you have ever eaten everyone!” the bone thing struck me. Bummer!

By this time it was 5 pm, my family was hungry and we were all set on pho, so I pulled out one of my favorite shortcuts, beef bouillon. Not saying a word to anyone about my predicament, I added the bouillon to a pot of water along with some seasonings and spices, simmered it for awhile and voila! This pho tasted just like the authentic stuff that the stone faced Vietnamese man at Pho Saigon serves us. Hmmmm, could it be that he uses shortcuts too? After tasting his and mine I’m inclined to think so because they are identical.

I am now going to pass my recipe on for shortcut pho and let you decide if you miss hours of stewing and stirring. My easy version here can be ready in less than an hour, so please forgive me once again my talented blogger friends, but I think this is a recipe that even the purists will have to admit is pretty good.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

As you can tell, my soup looks a little bit cloudy and no matter how hard I tried I could not get rid of it.  I chalk this up to the meat sitting in the broth overnight before I could photograph it.  If you serve this right after you cook it you shouldn't have this problem.  Trust me though it is still delicious cloudy or not.

8 ounces rice stick noodles, plus warm water for soaking

6 cups water

2 tablespoons beef bouillon powder or granules

2 - 3 star anise (I have used 1/8 teaspoon anise seed which works well too)

2 large garlic clove sliced into fourths

1 medium size onion, cut into fourths

1 – 1” piece of cinnamon stick

1 – 1” piece of fresh gingerroot, sliced into 4 - 6 pieces

2 cloves

1 pound very thinly sliced beefsteak (if slicing by hand, slice partially meat partially frozen with a very sharp knife)

1/2 pound fresh beansprouts

4 sprigs basil (Thai or Italian are both good)

4 large green onions, thinly sliced

2 large fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced

1 small bunch cilantro

Sriracha chili sauce

Hoisin sauce

Soy sauce

Prepare noodles according to package directions. My noodles required soaking in warm water for 1 hour before boiling so read the package directions carefully to avoid eating at midnight.

Pour six cups of water in a large stockpot. Add beef bouillon, anise, garlic, onion, cinnamon stick, gingerroot and cloves. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Remove the spices with a spider or slotted spoon and discard; keep warm and set aside until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the soaked noodles and boil for 1 – 2 minutes or until soft. Drain noodles and rinse. Divide the noodles equally among 4 large bowls.

Just before serving, add desired amount of the steak into the broth for a medium well doneness. Pour over the noodles. If you prefer rare to medium rare steak add the meat to the broth once it has been poured over the noodles and immediately before serving.

Serve piping hot with the remaining ingredients on the side to add to the soup as you like.

Serves 4

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Celebrating Three Years and One Hundred Posts with Star Olive Oil Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Sauce

This is a pretty special post for me. Just a hair over 3 years and 100 posts ago I started writing this blog on a whim. Remembering how much I missed recipes from home while I was living in the UK, I thought I’d adapt some new and forgotten American style recipes for those living there now and my English friends who wanted to try something new. My goal was to feature recipes that are not only accessible and delicious but something that would push readers into their kitchens and want to follow me on my cooking journey.

So here I am all this time later, still trying to find that perfect post and that perfect dish that will rock the home cooks world. Well, I may never find it, but I’m having a great time trying. I hope you’re having a good time too, because it is you and your comments that keep me cooking and writing. Over the last 3 years you have seen me laugh and cry through teenager trouble, the loss of a dear friend, anniversaries and vacations just to name a few. I can’t thank you enough for hanging in there with me.

About a week ago I was invited by fellow blogger Barb Kiebel of Creative Culinary to join her and the folks from Star Fine Foods for dinner and a tasting of their wide range of olive oils. I was quite happy to join them as I have been cooking with their products for several years now. I find the ones I have tried to be not only delicious but quite affordable as well. I most often use their light olive oil and balsamic vinegar for my everyday cooking, but also infuse their extra virgin oil with herbs and spices for dipping, and of course for making homemade salad dressings.

The evening was wonderful and our dinner was over the top delicious. The chef from Ototo restaurant here in Denver and his staff artfully designed each course incorporating Star products into every one. From the first course to the last, and each one in between (oh those pistachio encrusted lamb chops), their creative dishes garnered oohs and aahs throughout the dining room. Great ingredients skillfully prepared are a thing of beauty. Thank you Star for a wonderful evening.

As with every great party I’ve attended, the gift bags were the cherry on top of a wonderful evening. Bursting with an assortment of Star’s oils and a jar of their colossal olives known as cannonballs (my new addiction), we were warned to hold them from the bottom or suffer slippery heartbreak on the way to our cars. Thankfully mine made it all the way home without so much as a drop spilled so I now have plenty of oil to play with.

We’ve already dipped our weight in rustic bread into green pools of deliciousness, so it is time to do something a bit different. Stepping out of my box and finally having an excuse to use my new sale priced ice cream freezer, I’m going to recreate part of our dessert on this wonderful evening, Olive Oil Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce. Ototo paired theirs with a hazelnut soufflé but I really don’t feel like this dessert needs anything more than a little sauce for interest, if that.

 Olive Oil Ice Cream

I know that this recipe sounds a little bit strange, but I am encouraging everyone reading this who owns an ice cream freezer to make it for your next dinner party, because it is a stunner. It does have a distinct olive oil flavor that confused my senses at first, but I quickly settled into loving it. It is without a doubt the creamiest, densest, smoothest ice cream I’ve ever eaten. Pair this with some salted caramel sauce (recipe follows) and you have an incredible dessert that will impress your guests. Don’t worry; all the ingredients are very affordable and widely available.

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup heavy cream

2 cups half and half

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I love Mexican vanilla)

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place sugar, cream and half and half in a medium size heavy gauge saucepan over medium high heat. Bring mixture to a simmer.

Place eggs in a medium size bowl, beat well. Slowly add approximately 1 cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolks while whisking vigorously. Slowly add the egg mixture back to the milk mixture in the saucepan. Bring the mixture back up to a boil before reducing heat to keep at a simmer. Cook for 8 – 10 minutes or until thickened to the point that it will coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and olive oil. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any egg solids. Transfer to a covered jar or container with a lid. Refrigerate 12 – 24 hours.

The next day, place the ice cream mixture in the freezer bowl of an ice cream freezer. Freeze until it is creamy. If needed transfer ice cream to a freezer container and leave to freeze for a couple of hours until firm.

Makes a little less than a quart.

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee

1 teaspoon hot water

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 – 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I keep the salt on the light side so I can sprinkle more on top, but feel free to add more to taste if you like)

Place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium size heavy weight sauce pan set over medium high heat. Stir occasionally and bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium. At this point stop stirring and just let the mixture boil using a wet pastry brush to brush down any crystals that accumulate around the edge of the pan. Cook until mixture is a medium brown.

In a small bowl, combine the instant coffee with the hot water; stir well and set aside.

Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream, butter and salt (do this step carefully as the sugar mixture will bubble up). Whisk until everything is completely combined.  Add the coffee; stir well.  Serve while warm or at room temperature.

Makes approximately 2 cups.

I love sprinkling a little Murray River Salt over the top, but Kosher salt will work too.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Austin, Homemade Tamales and a Refreshing Tequila Cocktail

Last week Mr. H and I celebrated a monumental anniversary. We have now been together almost half of our lives. I must admit that when we got married we rationalized the whole thing by telling ourselves that if this marriage thing didn’t work out, we could always get divorced. I know that sounds harsh but for two confirmed singles as my husband I, we couldn’t make any kind of committment without seeing a back exit somewhere. I actually think that this rationalization has been the secret to our success all these years. We both know that if we aren’t thoughtful and loving to each other, the whole thing could be easily called off and that would be a tragedy of epic proportions.

Leading up to our big anniversary we both started throwing out ideas about how and where we could celebrate. We talked about replaying our honeymoon but we heard that Acapulco is now occupied by drug lords and thugs so that was out. Since we are still actively parenting, the idea of leaving our 16 year old son home alone wasn’t even a consideration (we’d rather take our chances with the drug lords and thugs). Then we thought about just having a nice dinner out and calling that good enough. Well, it wasn’t good enough, so we compromised and decided on a romantic trip for three to Austin.

Austin holds a special place in all of our hearts.  Not only was our son born there, when my husband and I first met this is where we escaped when we needed to get away from the small town we were living in at the time and have a little fun. Austin has a fun, funky, off beat feel to it as evidenced by their unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird”. I mean seriously, what is not to love about that?

On this particular trip we had plans to turn our son over to our beautiful and hip niece, her handsome boyfriend, and our super cool, suave and good looking nephew on a fun night out and enjoy an elegant highbrow supper somewhere in this gorgeous foodie city by ourselves.

Well long story short, we landed up hanging out with them drinking Shiner Bock and eating nachos for so long that the old folks couldn’t even consider putting on a tie and high heels to go and eat a steak. Instead we tagged along with them in search of a good bowl of queso and a taco for our son.  An hour or so later, as we sat outside on a picnic table under a beautiful starry Texas sky lit by the neon light of the Torchy’s Tacos sign, we both realized how lucky we were to be right there eating tacos with such a wonderful group of young people who really wanted to be with us. Now that is something to celebrate.

After only two nights and three action packed days, we sadly boarded our plane and headed back home to Denver leaving behind cold Texas beer, great Tex-Mex food, unbelievable barbeque and loved ones that we miss every day. So thanks Austin for helping us celebrate our anniversary.  There is just no place I would have rather been.

Usually after we return home from a really fun trip I try to keep the memories alive by preparing foods that we discovered while we were gone. When we got home this time I decided to work on a recipe that I have been threatening to prepare for a longe time now, homemade tamales. Over the years I have heard horror stories about groups of women working on tamales around the clock before finishing. I never could understand what took so long but I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to find out. Well, I finally bought all the ingredients and jumped in. It did take me six hours from start to finish but I got four dozen of the best tamales that I have ever eaten and they were a lot cheaper than the $18.00 a dozen ones that they sell at our local farmers’ market.

 Shredded Pork Tamales

I admit that this is a bit involved but it is really easy once you get the hang of it.  I've tried to explain it as best I can but if you get confused for any reason, please just e-mail me.  I am happy to answer any questions if I can.

The most time consuming step in the whole process is spreading the masa mixture on the corn shuck. There is a learning curve here, but once you get the hang of it it starts to go a bit faster. I made one dozen green chili and cheese as an experiment and three dozen shredded pork. I really can’t tell you which one was better, they were both great. Next time I think I’m going to try some chicken and green chili. As you can tell, the filling possibilities are limited only by your own imagination so use this as your basic recipe and get creative with your favorite ingredients.

3 – 3 -1/2 pound pork roast

1 bay leaf

2 cups water

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons mild chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped

48 – 50 corn shucks

3/4 cup lard or vegetable shortening

6 cups masa harina

1 - 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

4 – 6 cups chicken broth

Place pork roast, bay leaf, water, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a covered slow cooker; set on low and allow to cook for approximately 6 – 8 hours or until it is fall apart tender.  I did this the night before just before I went to bed and it was ready and waiting for me the next morning.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a covered baking dish in a moderate oven or in a covered pan over a low heat on top of the stove and cook for approximately 2 – 2-1/2 hours or until it is tender.

Remove the meat from the cooker (reserving juices) and cool completely before shredding with two forks. Sprinkle meat with the chili powder, cumin and the chopped cilantro; toss to mix well. Add additional salt and pepper if desired. Set aside.

Place the corn shucks in a large bowl filled with warm water and soak until ready to use (at least 30 minutes).

In a very large bowl, whip the lard or shortening on medium for 1 minute until it is fluffy; set aside.

Mix together the masa harina and baking powder in a separate large bowl.

Strain the meat drippings into a large pitcher. Add enough of the chicken broth to measure 6 cups.

Add the masa mixture and broth to the lard in alternating batches until all the ingredients are completely combined. This will make a thick(ish) but smooth mixture. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the tamales, remove a corn shuck from the water and shake to dry. Each shuck should be approximately 8” long by 6” wide. If the shucks are too wide, tear off excess. If they are too small overlap a couple of them. Spread approximately 2 tablespoons of masa in the middle of the shuck (on the smooth side of the shuck) and spread evenly from the middle to measure about 4” wide by about 6" long. Spread masa to the edge at the top (wider part of the shuck) Spread approximately 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture down the middle of the masa in a strip lengthwise. Fold over to encase the meat, pinching the masa together gently at the bottom, then roll to close. Fold excess shuck from the bottom up towards the tamale. Repeat with the remaining masa and meat.

I find it easy to stack the tamales in bunches of 12 and tie them snugly at the top and the bottom with pieces of cotton string. I think this stabilizes them and keeps them standing during steaming.

Place a steamer basket in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Pour enough water in the Dutch oven to come within about 1/2 - 1” of touching the steamer bottom.

Stand tamales upright on the steamer basket with the folded edges toward the bottom (do not pack too tightly). Place the pot over medium heat, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a nice vigorous simmer; cover and steam tamales for approximately 45 - 60  minutes, checking steamer water occasionally and adding more if needed.  The fun part is checking the tamales for doneness.  I like to take one from the middle and if the masa is firm and easily pulls away from the shuck, the are done. Now, eat that one and remove the pot from the heat and carefully remove tamales.

Eat tamales immediately or place in freezer bags and freeze for later. Reheat tamales in the shucks.

My friend and tamale expert Andrea says to freeze uncooked tamales and steam them as you need them.  She says they are delicious.  I will try that next time.

Makes approximately 48 tamales.

Since this is a story of celebration, I thought I’d also add a cocktail based on one that I discovered in one of those on board airplane magazines. Developed by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame and Pura Vida Gold tequila distiller Stewart Skloss, “The Gibbons” sounded intriguing to me so I thought I’d give it a try. Their original recipe is a blend of Mexican sparkling mineral water, reposado tequila (“rested” tequila which is stored in oak barrels for 2 + months and has a smoother flavor than younger tequilas), fresh lemon and lime juices and jalapeno slices.

Personally, I prefer a slightly sweeter cocktail so my version which I'm calling "The Savoury Gibbons" contains some added simple syrup and just a touch of muddled fresh cilantro to add some herbal notes. This drink turned out to be a wonderfully refreshing accompaniment to a big plate of my fresh tamales.

The Savoury Gibbons

1 small bunch fresh cilantro

1 – 1/2 ounces simple syrup (recipe follows)

1 – 1/2 ounces tequila (your favorite of course)

Juice of 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lemon

Juice of 1/2 of a freshly squeezed lime

1 – 2 slices of jalapeno or Serrano pepper


Splash of sparkling water

Place cilantro in the bottom of a highball glass. Muddle the cilantro until the aroma is released. Pour in the simple syrup, tequila, lemon and lime juice and pepper slices; stir well. Add the ice and a splash of sparkling water.  Serve.

Makes 1 drink

Simple Syrup:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup water

Place sugar and water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently until all of the sugar is dissolved. Cool. Store unused portion in the refrigerator.

Looking for other great cocktails?  Join Barb @Creative Culinary for her happy hour Friday cocktails.  There's always something great in her blender!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Toast the Movie and Steak and Ale Pie

"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect."

                                                                                                  - Nigel Slater

Sundays in the fall always seem to bum me out a bit. I’m not a football watcher like my square eyed husband, so if I don’t feel like raking leaves or cleaning out closets I usually try to find a movie to spend my afternoon with. I have always loved going to movies alone so these fall movie Sundays are really a treat. 

In case you haven’t noticed there isn’t anything playing at the theater right now. I’ve already seen 50/50 (really good), The Way (a bit long with unlikeable characters) and Dream House (ok, but with a convoluted ending) so there wasn't much that appealed to me. Usually when I can’t find anything at the mainstream theaters, I hit the artsy movie houses because there is always something there I haven’t seen.

On this particular Sunday I chose a movie called “Toast”. Toast is the true story of Nigel Slater, who is a well-respected English food writer.  Self-described as a “cook who writes” Nigel has authored some seven cookery books without so much as a culinary degree or restaurant affiliation. He is a self-made man who triumphed over the early death of his beloved mother (whose meager culinary specialty was toast, hence the name), a distant and cold father, and a jealous and competitive stepmother.

We walk with Nigel through his sad childhood and as the movie crawls to its climax during his teenage years, we find Nigel and his stepmother, who is a great cook by the way, competing for his father’s attention and approval by constantly feeding him their competing culinary creations.  It is this constant cooking and eating that eventually leads to his father's untimely death, or so the movie insinuates. In the end, Nigel comes to the realization that even though he loathes the woman, this competition helped him to discover his love of cooking and his life's vocation.

Even though the movie was slow at times, I did love seeing all of the English food references. Fish and chips, savory meat pies and smoked haddock to name just a few brought back memories of the English soul food that we learned to love while we lived there but has gradually faded from our suppertime repertoire. English food often gets a bum rap, but I’m here to tell you that prepared properly these simple honest dishes cannot be beaten.

Even though the movie features a lemon meringue pie bake off, it made me really hungry for my favorite savory pie, steak and ale. Nothing is better than tender steak, mushrooms and onions in dark ale gravy wrapped in tender and flaky puff pastry. Because this can be prepared well in advance and baked at the last minute, this is a wonderful dinner party dish. Pair this with some mashed, steamed or roasted root vegetables and some Brussel sprouts and you have an elegant easy seasonal meal that everyone will love.

Steak and Ale Pie

Many recipes call for a top crust only but I like my pies to have a bottom and top crust.  If you want to go with just the single top crust, brush the rim of your baking dish with beaten egg and press the edges of the pastry down on the dish to seal before baking.

2 pounds beef steak, cut into bite size cubes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium size onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound button mushrooms, cut into quarters
1 small bunch fresh thyme
1 large bay leaf
1 – 15 ounce bottle brown ale or dark beer
1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
2 large carrots, cleaned and cut into 1” long segments
1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten

Toss beef and flour together in a large bowl; set aside.

Heat oil in a large stockpot set over medium high heat.  Add onion and sauté until it is soft, add garlic and stir for one minute longer before adding the mushrooms; stir well.

Add the beef bouillon and cook, stirring frequently until the meat is brown and just cooked through.  To the meat add the thyme, bay leaf and ale.  Stir well and bring to a simmer, allowing the foam from the ale to settle.   Add the bouillon granules; stir well and bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low, covering and simmering for 1 – 2 hours or until meat is tender (depending on the cut you purchase).  About 30 minutes before the beef is done, add the carrots to the pot to cook.  At this stage the sauce should be thick and glossy.  If needed, simmer uncovered until desired consistency is reached.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Dust a clean dry surface with flour.  Lay one sheet of the thawed puff pastry down on the floured surface and roll out until it is big enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 9”deep dish pie pan (with 1” hanging over the sides) that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. 

Pour the meat mixture into the prepared pie pan.  Roll out the remaining puff pastry sheet to fit over the top of the pie.  Trim to 1” excess hanging over the edge.  Tuck the excess over and under the bottom pastry to make it even with the edge of the pie pan.  Crimp the edges with your fingers or the tines of a fork to seal.
Place into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.  Be sure to check the pie after 30 minutes.  If it looks like it is getting too dark cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the baking time.
Remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting.  Serve hot.

Serves 6

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Treat for Mr. Procrastination: Garlic Noodles with Crispy Shrimp

My husband is home today doing taxes. Some months ago Mr. Procrastination filed his last extension so he can no longer put it off. Today is the day. Over the course of the last few hours he has transformed from a calm, rational, light hearted, loving husband and father to a raving lunatic, and it is not just me that thinks so. There’s a woman at the bursar’s office at Colorado State University that would probably be happy to back me up on this.

He has called upon God several times today in a very loud voice to no avail. It is a good thing he doesn’t seem to be listening, for if he had been the US government in its entirety (with a special shout out to President Obama), Microsoft, JavaScript (for some unknown reason), Comcast Cable and the whole of Dell computers would be burning in hell (or worse) as we speak.

My frightened little dog is stuck to me like glue. He doesn’t understand what is wrong with Dad, but he’s making sure that he’s not swept up in the tornado. So Scruffy and I are going to escape this madness by going to Whole Foods. This is a place where I have taken refuge from screaming kids, sullen teenagers and sulking husbands for years now. I know we are safe there.

Scruffy can take a nice little nap in the car on this beautiful cool day and I am going to linger in the seafood section for a bit. Our Whole Foods always has great shrimp, so I think I’ll make Mr. Procrastination a dish that he loves, Garlic Noodles with Crispy Shrimp. That will surely put him in a good mood . . . I think. Then it will all be ok until next April when the whole thing starts all over again.

Garlic Noodles with Crispy Shrimp

My neighbor turned me on to these noodles a few years ago when we called in a to go order to P.F. Chang's. It was love at first bite.  After trying a few recipes on the internet and tweaking them a bit I was able to come up with a version that we really like.  I love this shrimp version best, but even the basic vegetarian recipe is a real treat.

Crispy Shrimp

1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into bite size pieces if needed

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 – 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cantonese Sauce

3/4 cup water

1 teaspoon chicken base or bouillon (if using dried bouillon heat water to hot before mixing)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons white wine or Mirin

1 teaspoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Garlic noodles

3/4 pound thin spaghetti

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 teaspoons crushed garlic cloves

3 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons white vinegar

1 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 English cucumber, sliced in 1/8” thick slices across then into julienne strips

Mix together the shrimp, soy sauce and cornstarch in a medium size bowl ; cover and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

Mix water, chicken base, sugar, wine, oyster sauce, salt and cornstarch in a medium size bowl; set aside.

Boil spaghetti according to package instructions; drain and rinse then toss with 1 tablespoon of the cilantro; set aside.

While the spaghetti is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add the crushed garlic cloves and sauté for one minute. To the garlic and oil, add the sugar, white vinegar and pepper flakes; stir well and cook for an additional 15 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil; set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a medium size frying pan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the shrimp and fry on each side until brown and crispy, approximately 1 minute on each side or until slightly opaque. Transfer to paper towels to drain; keep warm.

Reheat the garlic and sugar mixture in the large stock pot over medium heat. Add the drained noodles and toss to coat. Pour the Cantonese Sauce over the noodles and toss once again. Divide the noodles among 4 large bowls. Top with equal amounts of the cucumber, remaining cilantro and shrimp. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 – 6.

*For  a vegetarian version, omit the shrimp altogether or substitute it with a scrambled egg.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dusting Off an Old Favorite Flavor Combination for Halloween or Bonfire Night: Company Red Chili and Orange Cinnamon Rolls Plus Cheesy Corn Dog Muffins

As much as I hate to face it, summer is slipping away. The leaves are turning and there is an unmistakable chill in the air in the early morning. My dog is starting to look like a mini lion with his coat bulking up to protect him from the cold temperatures to come. He doesn’t need me to buy him one of those silly pet Halloween costumes, he grows his own.

When I was a kid in Texas autumn was my favorite time of year.  Freed by the oppressive heat of summer and unencumbered by the dread of snow shoveling and mag chloride erosion, pumpkin patches and cheap acetate boxed costumes ushered in the beginning of the holiday season for me. Mmmm, I can still smell the scent that would build up behind the thin sweaty plastic masks on those balmy Texas Halloween nights.

Years later when we moved to England, our Halloween celebrations that had laid dormant for years were reborn. Hungry for anything fun and familiar to share with our children, other American mothers and I would ban together and throw holiday parties that out did anything we ever had at home. Now, even though our children are grown I think we all still really enjoy these holidays more than we ever did before our time in England.

I’ve told you that my friend Karen and her husband Chris in Nottingham host a village shindig for Halloween every year that is quite the occasion. My own Halloween celebration here in Colorado pales by comparison, but usually consists of some really fun food with no consideration for nutrition, calories or cholesterol count. Even though we really enjoy our queso dip, chips and about 100 peanut butter cups each, my son requested something different this year, so I decided to oblige him.

This past weekend I had a brainstorm and went to work on an old favorite from elementary school, cinnamon rolls and chili. Don’t recoil if you’ve never tried this combination. I’ve noticed from doing research on the internet that this is not just a Texas thing. I read comments from people all over the nation reminiscing about how much they loved this sweet and salty lunchroom combination. Well, my son said he wanted something different and I can assure you this is right up his alley.

Trying to improve on perfection, I went out on a limb and embellished my cinnamon rolls by adding some orange zest, forgetting about what a cinnamon roll purist my son is. Well, Mr. Picky turned his nose up at these delicious rolls so I quickly mixed up the ingredients for a recipe that I’ve been wanting to try for a while, Cheesy Corn Dog Muffins. These really saved my son's day and I must admit I don’t know which I liked better with the chili. So, if you are having a big village party or an intimate little dinner for three and one lion dog, treat your Halloween guests with these new tricks.

Company Red Chili

1 – 1/2 pounds lean stew meat (or chili meat if preferred)

1 small onion, very finely minced

1 – 14 ounce can chopped tomatoes

2 cups beef bouillon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cocoa

2 tablespoons mild chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon masa flour (or 1 tablespoon fine corn meal in a pinch)

Place all of the ingredients except for the masa in a slow cooker set to high for approximately 4 hours or low on 6 hours, stirring occasionally if possible. Alternately place ingredients in a large saucepan set over medium high heat. Bring to a boil before reducing heat to low, covering and simmering for approximately 1 – 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  15 minutes or so before serving, stir in the masa to thicken and add an authentic Mexican flavor.

Being a Texan, I just don’t believe that good chili has beans in it, but if you must, drain a can of pinto beans and add them to the pot just long enough to heat them through. You may also add some cayenne pepper 1/4 teaspoon at a time if you want some heat. I really highly recommend that you buy a package of masa for this recipe.  I know that they are really big and it's not something you use often, but split a bag with a couple of friends and store it in the freezer.  As directed this chili will be mild and mellow.

Makes approximately 6 cups, enough for 4 people

Orange Cinnamon Rolls


1 package active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3 tablespoons butter

3 -3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour


3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoon butter, melted


1 cup confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Dissolve yeast in warm water in large mixer bowl and let sit for approximately 5 minutes or until foamy; add orange zest, orange juice, sugar, salt, egg, butter and 1 1/2 c of the flour.

Beat 30 seconds on low, scraping bowl constantly; increase speed to medium, beat 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally (if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, this makes for easy work). Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make the dough easy to handle. With stand mixer on low, knead dough for 5 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic, or turn dough out onto floured surface and knead 5 minutes.

Place dough in a large greased bowl and turn over to coat with oil on all sides. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (dough is ready if an indentation remains when dough is touched).

Punch dough down and on a lightly floured surface roll into a 16x9" rectangle; set aside.

For the filling, stir together the granulated sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon; set aside.

Spread dough with the melted 2 tablespoons butter (leaving a clean 1” border along one of the long edges) then sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture evenly over the butter.

Beginning at one of the long sides, roll dough up jellyroll fashion, ending with the clean edge. Pinch edge of dough to seal well. If necessary, gently stretch dough slightly to make a 16” long roll. Cut roll into 16 slices about 1" wide. This is best done with a long piece of thread or dental floss that is slipped halfway under the roll and crisscrossed over the top. Then take the opposite ends of the floss firmly in your hands and quickly pull in the opposite direction to cut.

Cut dough in half, then cut the halves in half until you have 16 equal size pieces.

Place slices an inch or two apart in a greased oblong baking pan, 13x9x2", or in greased muffin cups. Cover and let rise until double, about 30 minutes.

Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven until rolls are golden brown, about 20 -25 minutes. Drizzle with glaze while rolls are hot.

For the glaze mix together confectioner's sugar, milk, orange zest and vanilla; drizzle evenly over hot rolls.

Makes 16 rolls

Cheesy Corn Dog Muffins

Resist the temptation to add more hot dogs than what are called for here as the muffins have a tendency to crumble if you stir in too much.

1/3 cup shortening

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg, beaten at room temperature

1 – 1/4 cup milk, room temperature

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup corn meal (polenta can be used)

1 tablespoon honey

3 ounces brick style medium cheddar, sliced into 1/4” cubes

4 hotdogs, split lengthwise then across in 1/4" thickness

Non-stick cooking spray

1/3 cup vegetable or light olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream shortening and sugar; stir in egg and milk. Mix flour with the baking powder and salt before adding it to the shortening mixture. Add the corn meal and honey, stir just to combine. Fold in the cheese cubes and hot dog pieces.

Spray muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pour about 1/2 teaspoon of the oil into the bottom of each muffin section. Place prepared pan into the preheated oven and heat oil for approximately 5 minutes or until oil is hot and smokes slightly. This will make the muffins crisp on the bottom.

Remove pan from the oven and quickly spoon enough of the batter to fill each section about 2/3 full. Bake in the hot oven for approximately 15 minutes or until muffins are golden brown and the middle springs back when pushed with a finger.

Makes approximately 16 muffins