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