Saturday, December 29, 2012

An Edible Good Luck Charm for 2013: Texas Caviar

What the heck happened to 2012?  It seems like we were just drinking a champagne toast to it and now it's over.  I kind of feel like I fell asleep and woke up and it was a year later.  Oh well, not much I can do about it now except make a conscious effort to appreciate everyday of the year to come.

Personally I like the sound of 2013.  Some people believe that 13 is an unlucky number, but I think it kind of has a nice ring to it. I'm  excited about what it has in store for me and my family. My son graduates from high school this year.  My daughter will most likely get a permanent placement for her job sometime soon, and I hope to finally finish a project that I have been working on for a long time now.  2013 is also the year that I intend to master the art of butter cream, fondant and gum paste flowers.  Watch out Cake Boss, 2013 is MY year.

Even though I predict that this is going to be a good year, I always grab a little good luck whenever I can . . . just in case.   As most of you probably know, black-eyed peas are consumed all over the south on New Year's Day in hopes of bringing good luck for the year to come, so that's what this Texas girl will be eating.

There are a couple of theories on when and how this tradition got started.  Some believe that it was a Rosh Hashanah tradition brought to the southern US in the 1700s with the Sephardi (Shepardi) Jews of the Iberian Peninsula.  Other's believe that it has its roots during the Civil War when the Union troops stripped the south of all food and crops, but left the "field peas" which they thought to only be suitable for animal fodder.  They must have thought themselves lucky to have anything to eat at all.

I like to think that both these stories have some truth to them which seems to kind of double the magic of black-eyed peas in my eyes.  In all honesty, I really couldn't tell you whether there is any basis in fact to this good luck stuff, because I have been eating them every year for my whole life. Some years have been good and some years have been not so good, but I've decided that any year I am alive is pretty darn lucky.

When I was looking through my recipe archives trying to decide on what black-eyed pea recipe I should feature, I couldn't believe that I haven't posted a recipe for Texas Caviar.  Not only is it packed with some pretty powerful mojo, it is super easy to make, full of fiber, low in fat and calories and really tastes great to boot.  How's that for a lucky dish?  So, if you are taking a covered dish to a holiday get together this is my suggestion.  Not only will your friends love it, but they will be getting a shot of good old southern tradition in the bargain.

Texas Caviar

I'm not exactly sure what the original recipe for this is, but this is how I have been making it for years.  I also like to add a chopped ripe avocado just before I serve it if I have one on hand.  Not only is this a great dip but it is also wonderful as a side dish or relish for grilled meat.

1 - 15 ounce can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
8 ounces yellow and white canned corned, drained and rinsed
1/2 medium size bell pepper (whatever color you like), chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 green onions, chopped
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons light olive oil
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium size bowl place the black-eyed peas, corn, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, tomatoes, garlic, onions and cilantro; set aside.

In a small cup whisk together the vinegar, oil and lime juice.  Pour over the vegetables and gently toss to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill or serve immediately.

Serve with tortilla chips, or as I said above, as a dip or as a relish or side dish for grilled meat or fish.

Makes approximately 2 cups

*Don't have any black-eyed peas? Use any kind of canned beans you have on hand.  One Halloween in England we made this dish with canned adzuki beans and the party goers loved it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Something from Nothing #7: Boxing Day Broccoli Soup

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.  As usual ours was quiet with just the four of us celebrating here at home.  We had lots of great food, opened a couple of good presents and spent the day just enjoying each other's company while trying to figure out how to put Backpacker magazine on my husband's new IPad.  Thank goodness for our big kids.  Without their help I don't know if our marriage would have survived this exercise in madness.   Even at that, I wish we had just one more day to hang out together before everyone heads back to work.

Personally I think the British have the right idea.  Many of you might not know this, but in the UK the day after Christmas is a holiday known as Boxing Day   This bank holiday gives families just one more day to spend together before they have to say good-bye to Christmas for another year. Brilliant!

In the 1800s when this holiday began, Boxing Day was a day off for the household servants of the country who had to serve their employers on Christmas Day.  Not only were they given the day off, but this was also the day that they were given a gift of thanks in the form of a "Christmas box" that was most often filled with money.

Traditionally this is also the day that cold meats are served and this does make sense.  I mean with the servants having the day off, how could anyone figure out how to turn on the oven?  I completely understand the problem since my servants have the day off today too.

Even though we are going to go with tradition today and eat our leftover ham out of the fridge,  it is really cold here in Colorado so I think I'm going to turn the stove on for just a minute and prepare a quick little soup to go with our sandwiches.  Since I was having so much fun (i.e. champagne drinking) yesterday and I totally forget to cook my broccoli,  I guess broccoli soup it is.

A year or so ago I happened to catch Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares teaching a chef how to make a super simple and fresh version of this soup.  Remembering his genius three ingredient version, I thought this would be perfect for my blog and boy was I ever right.  This little recipe is low calorie, healthy, inexpensive, and if you have any vegetarians or vegans visiting you for Christmas, totally suitable for their diets.  This is a great recipe that everyone will love.

My adaption of Gordon Ramsay's Broccoli Soup

As usual I have taken a few liberties here like adding some celery and onion, but hey, I had lots of them in the fridge from my holiday cooking and I love 'em. If you are a purist and want to cook Gordon's original, leave them out.

Enough water to just cover the florets (You'll have to guess at this the first time you make it.  I needed 5 cups.  This is important because you are going to use this broth for the soup, too much water will produce a weak broth and not enough will keep the florets from cooking evenly.)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound broccoli florets
2 stalks celery, chopped (optional)
1 small onion, chopped (optional)
Additional salt and pepper to taste

Pour water and salt into a large sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat then add the broccoli and celery and onion if you are using them.  Reduce heat slightly and cook until the vegetables are very tender.  Mine took about 15 minutes. 

With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked vegetables to the bowl of a food processor or blender saving the broth in the pan.  Add the broth to the blender bowl until it comes about half way the vegetables.

Place a couple of folded dish towels on top of the blender lid and press down gently to secure the lid.  Pulse on low several times to puree the mixture.  Be very careful and do this slowly as blending hot liquid is dangerous business.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Gordon recommends dressing this soup up a little with some goat cheese and a few walnuts.  I thought this sounded pretty good, but since I don't like goat cheese I floated a slice of a toasted pecan and cheddar cheese log that I made for Christmas Eve on top.  Magnifico!

I think that this is a great soup base.  Sometime I might just try adding a splash of cream and a pat of butter, but with all the rich food I've been eating lately, I think I'll just stick to the healthy original for now.

Serves 3 - 4

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Side Dish Recipe Redo for Christmas Dinner: Cheesy Chipotle Bacon Grits Casserole

When I was young, before I had a family of my own, I took for granted the fact that I never had to do anything for big holiday meals but show up hungry.  Then suddenly before I knew what hit me, it was all up to me, all the planning, the shopping, the cooking and the cleaning up.

This does have an upside though, because now that I am the matriarch of my family what I plan is what everyone eats.  Sure, I take suggestions and requests, but the final menu is all up to me.  I really don't feel bad about exerting my power with the occasional veto or last minute substitution, because goodness knows I've had to endure some not so great dishes myself under someone else's rule (my mother's oyster stuffing comes to mind).

This year our holiday meal pow wow concluded with a Honey Baked ham being chosen as the winner for main dish.  In the supporting category my daughter nominated her favorite, green bean casserole.  My son's request was a simple one, Sister Schubert rolls and Mr. H said he would be fine with anything that contained bacon.  Simple enough.

With the clock ticking, I must now plan for the rest of our meal.  Since there's not a turkey in sight, oyster stuffing is out of the question (my children don't know how lucky they are).  I normally would do my three cheese potatoes, and even though they are delicious I'm a little bit burned out on them.  Mac and cheese is always a consideration, but that just seems a little ordinary for Christmas dinner.  Since I'll always be a Texas girl at heart, I've decided on resurrecting and redoing an old time favorite that would often make an appearance on my family's brunch table in days past, cheesy grits casserole.  

I really love grits.  Kind of like polenta on steroids, they have a rustic taste and texture that lends a little comforting old world flavor to any menu.  To honor my husband's wishes I think I'll throw in some bacon and maybe a little chipotle pepper to add just a bit of a zip to the whole thing.   So if you are stuck in kind of a side dish rut, I hope this will give you a new idea so you aren't tempted to break out the oysters.

Cheesy Chipotle Bacon Grits Casserole

3 - 4 (depending on how much you like it) slices cooked bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 cups milk (or for a lighter dish, 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth & 1 cup milk)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup quick cooking grits
1 cup grated medium cheddar cheese, divided
2 heaping tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 heaping teaspoon of chopped chipotle pepper with adobo sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 8 x 8" or large gratin dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Place bacon into a medium size frying pan set over medium high heat.  Fry bacon until crispy, transfer to a paper towel to drain.  Chop into small pieces when it is cool enough to handle; set aside until ready to use.

Add chopped onions to the hot bacon drippings in the frying pan and saute until they are soft.  Add garlic clove and saute for 1 minute.  Transfer to the paper towel with the bacon to drain and cool.

Pour milk and butter into a medium size saucepan set over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil and whisk in grits.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes or until the mixture is thick and smooth.  Add the bacon, onion mixture, 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, Parmesan, chipotle pepper and salt and pepper.

Place egg in a small bowl and add a third of a cup or so of the hot grits to the egg a tablespoon or so at a time, stirring well in between additions to temper the egg.  Add the egg mixture to the grits and stir well.  Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese.

Bake for approximately 30 - 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly.  Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

*This recipe can be easily doubled to feed a larger group.  I've also added an 8 ounce can of drained whole kernel corn to stretch it a bit and it is delicious too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Something From Nothing #6: Creamy Fruit Dip

I know, I know, I've already posted my Something From Nothing recipe for this month, but I thought I'd post one of these simple little recipes each week this month to give those running low on ideas and time a little help.  So just in case you need some inspiration for a dish to take to the company potluck, I've got you covered.

I first tasted this recipe many years ago at an office party myself.  I ran down the recipe and have been making it ever since.  This creamy sweet dip turns a plate of plain old fruit into a delicious dessert.  In addition to any kind of fruit you can imagine, I also like serving it with mini pretzel twists and bite size cookies.  It really goes well with most anything you can imagine.

Creamy Fruit Dip

The base for this recipe is the sour cream and brown sugar, so if that's all you've got that's good enough, but if you want to kick it up a notch, the vanilla extract gives it that extra little something.  Want to give it a bit of a holiday flavor?  Add a pinch of cinnamon.   

1 cup sour cream
3 - 4 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  Serve with your favorite cookies and/or fruit.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cooking Matters Colorado Social Media Recipe Challenge: Spicy Turkey and Black Bean Meatloaf Muffins and Orange Mashed Potatoes

As you can probably imagine I spend a lot of time, and I do mean a lot of time, thinking about food.  The food for my next post in the queue is constantly on my mind.  I don't know about other bloggers but I figure from start to "publish" I spend probably close to 6 hours on most posts, and that doesn't even take into account the plain old cooking I do for my family every day.

Take this post for example,  I have been planning on it ever since I spent an evening with a group of kids and their parents who participate in the Share Our Strength program, Cooking Matters a couple of weeks ago.  It was a wonderful evening with some involved parents, their attentive and enthusiastic kids and some dedicated folks who run the program.

For approximately 6 weeks, participants come to these classes to learn how to prepare nutritious and affordable recipes together. Each Cooking Matters course teaches kids and parents important lessons about self-sufficiency in the kitchen. Families practice fundamental lessons including knife skills, reading ingredient labels, cutting up a whole chicken, and making a healthy meal for a family of four on a $10 budget.

On the evening of my visit, macaroni and cheese with butternut squash and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins were on the menu.  Under the direction of the class coordinator, everyone was assigned a duty preparing a component of the recipe.  After about 30 minutes of organized chaos, the dishes were assembled and placed in the oven to cook by the class assistants while everyone adjourned to another classroom to learn about nutrition and some of the social services available to those who need them.  

After their lesson everyone came back to taste the dishes they had prepared.  To be quite honest, the finished mac and cheese dish was appreciated more by some than others, but the important thing was that everyone tasted a healthy twist on an old favorite.  As you would probably expect, the muffins were a big hit with the kids.  After the tasting and a class discussion about what was learned on this night, the families were all given a bag of ingredients to take home so they could practice the recipes if they wanted.

A week or so after visiting this class I read about Newark, NJ mayor, Cory Booker and his pledge to eat off of $35.00 for one week which is the amount allowed per person for those who are enrolled in his state's SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program.  Five dollars a day isn't much, and take it from someone who spends much of her time at the grocery store, a budget like that will certainly stretch your imagination.  From gazing over the photos of Mayor Booker's $35.00 worth of groceries for his experimental week, I can tell you right now it has been a long one for him.  Man does not live by canned beans and sweet potatoes alone.  Maybe I need to tell him about my Something From Nothing recipes.

Ever since my Cooking Matters evening and reading about Mr. Booker's project, I have still been thinking about food, but in a different way than the usual.  I am now keenly aware of how blessed I am to live the way I do. I have a pantry full of good food and a nice roof over my head. This time of year I love to make scrumptious treats and send them to my neighbors to show my appreciation to them for keeping their trash cans put away and their lawns mowed so I have a pleasant view when I look out my window. Don't get me wrong, we have our concerns and problems too, but compared to many we can't complain. It is a good life.

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from Cooking Matters Colorado letting me know that they have just launched the Cooking Matters Colorado Social Media Recipe Challenge.  Beginning December 3rd and lasting until the 14th, this challenge is open to chefs, food/nutrition and parent/mom bloggers in Colorado who would like to develop a family meal for four for around $1.40 a serving.  For more information about this challenge and how to enter your recipe, or to learn more about Share Our Strength and Cooking Matters, please click on the highlighted links.

For my contribution to this challenge, I wanted to come up with something delicious and satisfying that I thought families would really make and enjoy.  No matter how hard I stretched my imagination I kept coming around to comfort food, and nothing says comfort to me like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. 

For my version of this entree, I decided to use a leaner protein and mix with it ingredients that were high in fiber and stretched the meal to feed heartier appetites while adding flavor at the same time.  For my side I wanted to add something fun and flavorful yet easy on my budget.  Without deducting for minor amounts of condiments like ketchup and a splash or milk or pat of butter, I was able to come in right at budget for my meal and I was even able to add a nice bunch of collard greens that I found on sale to round things out.  No matter what your budget, I do have to say that this is a great meal.

Spicy Turkey and Black Bean Meatloaf Muffins

1 - 1/2 slices sandwich bread (whole wheat or whatever you have on hand)
1 tablespoon milk
½ small onion, finely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pound ground turkey (white and dark)
1/2 of a 15 ounce can of black beans, drained and mashed
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
5 heaping tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Tear the sandwich bread into several pieces and rub them together between your hands to make bread crumbs.   Stir in the milk; set aside.

In a large bowl add together the onion, jalapeno, garlic, turkey, mashed beans, rice, egg, salt and pepper and breadcrumb mixture.  Stir together until it is just combined; set aside.

Grease a muffin pan that has either 4 large or 6 regular size cups.  Divide the meat mixture equally among the cups.  Place in the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the meat is firm and brown. 

While the meatloaves are baking mix together the ketchup, Worchestershire sauce and brown sugar.  After the 25 minute baking time, spoon the mixture equally over the tops of the meatloaves and return to the oven to bake for an additional 10 minutes to set the topping.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Orange Mashed Potatoes

1 large carrot (approximately 6 ounces) peeled and chopped
1 – ½ pounds russet potatoes (about 2 medium to large), peeled and chopped into slightly smaller chunks than the carrot
1/3 cup reserved potato cooking water or milk
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Place carrot and potato pieces in a large sauce pan and add enough water to cover potatoes by at least one inch.  Add a teaspoon or so of salt if desired.  Set pan over a medium high heat and boil until potatoes are soft, approximately 30 minutes.
Carefully remove approximately 1/2 cup of the potato water before draining potatoes and carrots and reserve.  Add half of the potato water or milk and butter to the pan.  Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer adding additional cooking water until desired consistency is reached.  Personally, I like the potatoes to be whipped with some chunks of carrot throughout the mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 4 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Something From Nothing #5: Honeycomb Toffee

My mother always told me never to show up at someone's house empty handed.  Since I always, well . . . sometimes listened to her, I made it a habit of taking flowers to my hosts when I was invited to a get together.  As I got a little older I tried to get a bit more creative by changing things up with a CD, a nice bottle of wine, or sometimes a gift from my kitchen. 

Now that my daughter is old enough to be entertained by her friends, I want to pass on to her some of the fun gift ideas that I've discovered and maybe help some of you out there in the process too. One of my first suggestions would have to be for honeycomb toffee.  With just a couple of ingredients and half an hour or so you have a wonderful homemade treat that anyone would love to receive and it only costs pennies to make.

Honeycomb, or cinder toffee as it is also known, is quite common in the UK, but mostly unheard of here in the States.  This simple, sweet treat has a light, airy, bubbly texture and rich golden color which gives it the appearance of a bee's honeycomb, hence the name.

To dress up this simple treat, I like to package mine in bowls that I find at discount stores or antique markets, but if I don't have anything like that around I like to use take out containers that I get from my favorite Asian restaurant.  I also like to drizzle it in chocolate if I've got some extra time and a few chocolate chips in the pantry.

Now that the holidays are here, I hope this recipe gives your wallet a break and inspires you to give your friends and family a gift from your kitchen.  Whether you need a last minute Christmas gift or a little something for your host, this will definitely be a stand out from the same old thing.

While delicious, I thought Nigella's recipe (pictured above) was a little too light so I decreased the baking soda just a smidgen.

When preparing for this post I tried a couple of different recipes that I really liked.  The first one (see top photo) made a TON of candy which was great if you are cooking for an army which I was not.  The second one from Nigella Lawson was just right to fill  a bowl or a couple of take out containers.  Even though I really liked Nigella's, I thought that it needed a tablespoon of honey to give it a little flavor, afterall it is called HONEYcomb.  If you don't like honey or don't have any on hand, straight light corn syrup will still produce good results. I've also reduced the baking soda in her recipe by 1/4 teaspoon because I thought it was a little too light if you can imagine that.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey (or omit this and add 1 additional tablespoon of corn syrup)
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 - 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Prepare a 9 x 13" baking dish by spraying it with non-stick cooking spray, lining it with parchment paper and then spraying it once again with the cooking spray; set aside

In a large size sauce pan (you will need room for at least triple expansion) stir together the sugar, honey and/or corn syrup.  Place over a medium high heat and allow to come to a full rolling boil. Cook (without stirring at all as it will make your recipe fail) until the syrup starts to turn a golden brown around the edges.   Deciding when to take the sugar off the heat is the hardest part of this recipe.  If you don't cook it long enough it can be gummy.  If you cook the sugar too long as it can take on a burnt, bitter flavor.  Nigella said that this step takes her about 3 minutes, but mine took approximately 8. 

Remove the syrup from the heat (things will start happening quickly now) and while whisking vigorously, add the baking soda all at once.  After whisking it all in, the mixture will foam and triple in size.  Quickly pour the mixture into the prepared pan.  At this point the mixture will start to rise again and be very hot so just set it aside, let it cool completely and enjoy the show (you'll know what I mean when you make it).  Once cool, remove it from the pan, peel off the parchment and chip into pieces.

Nigella suggests giving this as a gift too (great minds do think alike) and she says it is great crushed and sprinkled over ice cream.  If you'd like to add a little chocolate to yours like I did here, just follow these simple instructions:

Heat about 3 - 4 ounces of milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips in the microwave for about 30 seconds, stir.  Add a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil and stir again before returning it to the microwave.  Continue heating and stirring every 20 - 30 seconds until it is melted.  Place candy on a tray lined with a piece of parchment or waxed paper.  Drizzle the melted chocolate over the candy with a teaspoon in back and forth sweeping motions.  You can now let it sit for an hour or two for the chocolate to harden or place in the refrigerator to speed things up.  This will take about 30 minutes - 1 hour.  No matter how you serve it, keep it in an airtight container and consume within a couple of days.

One final note from my kitchen.  As you can tell from my photos I experimented with the thickness of my toffee.  For the thicker toffee I used a 9 x 9" pan.  For the thinner toffee I used a 9 x 13".  One thing my family agreed on was that we liked it best on the thinner side.  Since it is super sweet and very crunchy, we thought the portions were better on the smaller side and it was easier to eat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Getting Creative with Seasonal Flavors from Blue Bell Ice Cream: Buttermint and Cinnamint Shakes


It is always a good day when Blue Bell calls and asks if you'd like to come pick up some of their new seasonal ice cream flavors.  I never mind heading over to their distribution center.  Next to running Disneyland or maybe owning your own candy shop, working here would be close to my dream job.   I just know that some day that perfect  ice cream taster position will open up and be mine for the taking, but until then I'll head over any time they offer me a half gallon . . .  or four.

Alas, no dream jobs were offered to me this time, but my consolation prize was a bundle of four great new flavors to take home and play with.  Spoilt for choice, I didn't know whether to start with the Peppermint, Christmas Cookies, Gingerbread House or Spiced Pumpkin Pecan.  A nice problem to have don't you think?

After shuffling the cartons around in the deep freeze a time or two I finally committed and opened the peppermint first.  I need to say now that it is almost a shame to mix anything with this fresh crisp flavor.  It is so good on its own that using it in a recipe is really unnecessary, but since when has that stopped me?

The last time I was given some ice cream from Blue Bell, I made a couple of ice cream drinks and really wanted to do something different this time, but  when I tasted this flavor I had an epiphany.  I decided that with a few tweaks I could make liquid versions of two of my favorite after dinner mints, so I once again pulled out my blender. 

For my first drink I decided to make a holiday libation using a seasonal favorite, egg nog.  I know sounds a bit weird, but trust me here because the results were out of this world.  Buttery, minty, sweet and creamy, this is definitely my new favorite after dinner drink.

For my next drink idea, I added milk and cinnamon schnapps to the peppermint ice cream and made another shake that with or without the alcohol would be a real treat any time of year.  If you are making this for a non-drinking crowd, a few drops of cinnamon flavoring would certainly achieve the same results.  The cool peppermint with the slight kick of cinnamon at the end is really an unexpected and delicious treat.  Love it!

The other flavors were enjoyed on their own here at my house.  My boys plowed through the Christmas Cookies flavor so fast I hardly got to taste it (I was assured by my son that it is delicious). With delicious base flavors and mix-ins, the Spiced Pumpkin Pecan and Gingerbread House flavors absolutely taste like fun frozen versions of the holiday treats they represent.  

The folks at Blue Bell really do a great job with their special flavors; so good in fact that at times they are really hard to find.  Rumor has it that Christmas Cookies and Gingerbread House are scarce right now, but keep looking it is worth the trouble to get your hands on any one of them.

Buttermint Shake

I'm only showing one drink here because to be quite honest this is how they both look.  Pretty and pink.

3 scoops Blue Bell peppermint ice cream
1 cup low fat or regular egg nog
Light or dark rum to taste, optional ( I like 1 - 1-1/2 ounces)

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into serving glasses and garnish with whipped cream and crushed peppermint stick.

Cinnamint Shake

3 scoops Blue Bell peppermint ice cream
1 cup regular or low fat milk
Cinnamon schnapps to taste, optional  (I like 1 ounce)

Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into serving glasses and garnish with whipped cream and crushed peppermint stick or cinnamon candy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, Giveaway and Recipe: Duchess Potatoes

And the winner is . . .
Thanks to everyone who entered my drawing for the Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook. chose #7, so Ellen you are my winner.  I will be in touch and get your book in the mail as soon as possible. 


About a year and a half ago my English friends started talking about a new television program that had taken their country by storm called Downton Abbey.  Feeling like I was missing man walk on the moon, I searched high and low and found it on PBS online.  It just so happened that my husband and son were both gone this particular weekend and my daughter was at university, so being just a little bit lonely and bored, I piled up in bed with my dog, my computer and the Crawleys.

Well long story short,  about the time that the first episode was over I was hooked.  I mean what woman wouldn't  be totally captivated by a period drama with a story line featuring a beautiful young virginal unmarried aristocratic woman who finds herself with a very handsome and very dead Turkish man in her bed in Edwardian England?  Yikes!

The rest of the day and night was spent watching the entire 1st season of Downton Abbey which I soon discovered wasn't nearly long enough.  I was totally bummed to find out that the entire season was only 6 hours long, leaving me dying to find out what was to happen next. The upside of my discovery was that since I had found out about it so late I didn't have long to wait for the beginning of the 2nd season, which while not quite as good as the first, did not disappoint.

My friends in England have just watched the 3rd season.  Here in America we will have to wait until January for the new season to start and I am so proud of myself that I have not asked one question about what is going on with Lady Mary and Matthew or Lady Sybil and her Irish chauffeur husband, or anything else for that matter.  I have even avoided any spoiler articles about what happens as not to ruin any surprises when it starts here. 

In the interim I was asked by Barb of Creative Culinary if I would like to join her in reviewing a cookbook with a Downton Abbey theme, and to satisfy my craving I quickly agreed.  Full of recipes similar to those that would have been enjoyed by people who lived during this time, this book is a fun romp through an Edwardian kitchen.   So what if there's a reference or two to instant pudding?  The recipes are also accented with footnotes and etiquette lessons from the day which are both fun and fascinating.

Since I always end each post with a recipe, I flipped through this book until I came upon a recipe that I thought would properly represent its theme.  I also wanted to find a dish that wasn't unnecessarily fussy but still dressy enough that Lady Grantham herself would be pleased to see it on her Thanksgiving table (she is American after all).

I finally decided upon Duchess Potatoes, which I learned through the footnote at the bottom of the recipe is credited to influential chef of the time, Georges Auguste Escoffier.  These fancy little potato rosettes  are really just little more than twice baked potatoes all dolled up.  They are fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, and totally worthy to serve the Lord or Lady of the manor, or even a bunch of out-of-town relatives at the holidays.  To see what recipe Barb made from this book, please click here to visit her site.

Decadent Duchess Potatoes

I found a couple of mistakes in this recipe so if you win this book you may have to refer back to this post if you are confused.  I have taken a few liberties here, but I can guarantee you that your potatoes will turn out great.

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (all I had was russets which worked well)
1/3 cup heavy or whipping cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/3 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper (I cut this in half which seemed like plenty for my taste)
3 large egg yolks

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with salted cold water.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Melt the butter; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain and place potatoes back in the pot over low heat.  Allow them to release steam, then add 4 tablespoons of the melted butter and the cream mash until the butter is incorporated (I did this step with my electric mixer and whipped the potatoes until they were fluffy). Thoroughly mix in the cheese, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.  Finally mix in the egg yolks quickly.

Using a piping bag with a large star tip (I used a Wilton 1m), pipe the potatoes onto a non-stick cookie sheet in a spiral pattern which resembles a small ice cream swirl.  Drizzle the rosettes with the remaining melted butter.  Bake the potatoes for approximately 30 minutes or until heated through. 

If necessary to brown the potatoes, place the cookie sheet under the broiler and watching carefully, broil until the tops are golden brown.  Serve while hot.

Makes approximately 16 - 18 small rosettes which serves about 8 people.

I have been given an extra copy of this book to give away to one of my readers.  Since they mailed both of my books directly to me and I can send it anywhere I want, I am opening this giveaway to my readers here in the States, or in Canada or Europe.   The usual rules apply.  You must be a public follower of my blog and you can earn extra entries by signing up to follow me on Twitter, Facebook or sign up to receive my posts through your e-mail.  To do this just plug your e-mail address in the field which can be found at the upper right hand side of this page.  Be sure and leave a separate comment for each.  I will choose my winner on the morning of December 1st.  Good luck!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Something From Nothing #4: Apple Bread and Butter Pudding

With Thanksgiving coming up in a week or so, I thought I'd slide this month's Something from Nothing in a little bit early just in case someone needs an emergency recipe for the big meal.  Since not everyone has a favorite family dessert recipe or a cupboard full of ingredients, this one just might save the day.

I've had this recipe in my archives for several years now, ever since a big group of our friends got together for a pot luck supper.  Everyone brought some snack or side dish and our hosts provided the main dish.  My friend Karen volunteered the dessert and brought this easy little dish that she made from a recipe she found in the back of a British magazine.  We all loved it.

I don't remember what the main dish was, or any of the side dishes for that matter, but I never forgot her dessert.  Buttery, tart and perfectly sweet, this memorable little five ingredient dish is just "da bomb" and the fact that it takes only about 5 minutes to put together makes it all the better.

Apple Bread and Butter Pudding

I always use whatever bread I have around which is usually plain old white or wheat sandwich bread.  If you want to dress this up for Christmas, mix a handful of craisins (that have been soaked until plump in a little boiling water or hot apple juice) into the pie filling before baking.

1 - 20 ounce can apple pie filling (or any other flavor fruit pie filling that you like)
4 slices plain old white or wheat sandwich bread
2 - 3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1 - 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ice Cream, chilled heavy cream or cheddar cheese to serve (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

If apple pieces are big, I like to chop them a bit with a knife before pouring the pie filling into a 8 x 8" baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Trim crusts from the bread and spread both sides with a generous layer of softened butter.  Stack bread on top of each other and slice in 1" square cubes.  Sprinkle the cubes over the top of the pie filling. 

Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a small cup or bowl.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the bread. 

Cover and place into the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes remove the cover and continue baking an additional 10 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and the pie filling is bubbly.  Serve warm plain or with ice cream, cream or a generous grating of cheddar cheese.

Serves 4 - 6

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Support for Sandy Blogger Event: Chicken Enchilada Macaroni and Cheese

When Hurricane Sandy was heading toward the east coast it didn't take a meterologist to know that it was going to be bad.  Even though it was only a category 1, the sheer enormity of the storm and the population density of the area that it hit almost guaranteed a disasterous outcome.

I've had the displeasure of living through a couple of pretty big storms while living on the Texas gulf coast, and they are no fun.  The first one of my adulthood tore up Houston and knocked power out in my part of the city for three days.  We had water but were told not to drink it.  We could bathe in it, but in these modern times taking cold showers is tad amount to torture, not to mention that living in Houston with naturally frizzy hair and no hair dryer was no less than sheer terror for my younger self.

The second storm hit my household shortly after we moved back to the US from England.  Hurricane Claudette knocked out our power for about 12 hours, blew our back fence down and filled our swimming pool with trash and debris from all over town.  My eight year old son missed the All Star Game that year because of that storm and almost ten years later we are still hearing about it, but he lived through it.

As you can tell, by comparison our storms were more of an inconvenience than anything else.  Even though we were miserable with no air conditioning and lights, we made it through.  I think most everyone has lost power at one time or another and knows the feeling of sheer bliss when it is restored, but there are many in Sandy's path who have yet to experience that bliss, and then there are those who have lost much more.  Just the thought of losing your home or worst your loved ones, brings it all into perspective. 

To draw attention to ongoing efforts and how we can all help, I agreed to participate in a blogger event called Support for Sandy.  Participating bloggers prepare their favorite comfort dishes, post them to their own blogs and link them up to the posts from the other bloggers.  Along with our recipes we are also providing links to the organizations that are in the trenches helping to repair the damage done by this storm.

If you'd like to help and like me are too far away to swing a hammer, you can donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting the word "Redcross" to 90999.  The Salvation Army and Feeding America are also doing good work in this area and will eagerly take anything you can give to help support their efforts.

If you live in or will be visiting the New York City area, and would like to help while you are having a little fun, you can show your support by "liking" #dineoutNYC on Facebook and following them on Twitter to find out what's going on around town. They are encouraging their supporters to aid the city's restaurants and restaurant workers by eating out and tipping big.

You can also help in a small way by purchasing the Kindle e-book The Best Thanksgiving Recipes from the Best Bloggers for $1.99.  Filled with beautiful photos and recipes, all of the proceeds go to Feeding America.  To view or buy the book click here.

For my contribution to this blogger event I am posting one of my unpublished original family favorites, Chicken Enchilada Macaroni and Cheese.  I developed this recipe several months ago hoping to enter it into a contest, but I really can't think of a better time to debut it than for this event.  It is really easy to prepare, economical and oh so comforting.

If you'd like to see what the other bloggers have brought to this table, please click here.

Chicken Enchilada Mac and Cheese

Most often I use store bought rotisserie or leftover home baked roast chicken to make this dish.  You can also substitute the chicken for ground beef or turkey or any leftover roasted turkey that you might have in the fridge.  This is a great way to make something fresh and new from last night's leftovers. 

6 ounces (1 –1/2 cups) macaroni

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 cups chicken broth

1 – 1/2 tablespoons mild, medium or hot chili powder (depending on your taste for spice)

1 – 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 cup half and half or whole milk
1 – 1/2 cups shredded cheddar/American mix cheese, divided (one or the other works well too)
1 – 1/2 to 2 cups chopped cooked chicken

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook macaroni to package directions in a stockpot of salted boiling water; drain and set aside.

While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a medium size saucepan set over medium heat.  Add the crushed garlic clove and sauté for 1 minute.  Sprinkle flour over the butter and garlic and stir until is forms a smooth paste. 

While whisking constantly, add the broth and bring to a slow boil; cook for 1 minute.  Add the half and half and heat and stir a bit before adding the chili powder, cumin, coriander, onion powder, and ½ cup of the cheddar/American cheese mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste, stir well and set aside.  The sauce will seem a bit thin at this point, but don't worry as the starch from the macaroni will thicken it during baking.

Combine the cooked macaroni, chicken and sauce in a large bowl; mix well.   Pour into a greased 9 x 9” baking dish or 6 individual gratin dishes and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 

Place into the preheated oven and bake until cheese is melted and bubbly, approximately 25 - 35 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves  6.            

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trying to Like Salmon: Apple Soy Marinade

You may not find it hard too believe that I will pretty much eat anything that won't eat me first.  There are a few exceptions to this statement.  I don't like raisins much, I detest oysters and I'm not too fond of any fish that has a strong fishy flavor, like salmon. 

Salmon seems to be the darling of the culinary world these days, and what's not to love about it . . . in theory.  It is healthy with its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids which strengthen the cardiac muscles and keep the arteries flexible, and it is also high in vitamins and minerals.  Aside from that, I know some people who eat it because they actually like the taste.  Imagine that.

Oh I've tried to like it.  I've cooked it everyway that you can imagine, smoked, grilled, broiled, baked, poached and steamed.  I've eaten it hot, cold and room temperature without much luck.  I've tried sockeye, coho, wild and farmed and everything else in between.  It's just that fishy flavor that ruins it for me everytime, but I keep trying. 

There was one time I remember really liking it.  Years ago my in-laws grilled some salmon that their neighbor had caught on a fishing trip in Alaska.  The night before they served it, they reduced a mixture of apple juice, soy sauce, garlic and ginger to a thick syrup.  They cooled this syrup and then drenched their salmon in it and let it marinate overnight.  The next evening they grilled it, and I loved it.  I have never had salmon that good since, but I keep trying it in hopes of finding that perfect storm of ingredients once again.

Ever the optimistic diner, I purchased a beautiful looking salmon fillet yesterday at Whole Foods.  In an effort to recreate that magic from so long ago, I mixed up my own version of my in-laws' marinade.  Choosing to start out with a thick sweet apple essence in the form of jelly, I was able to skip both the reducing and cooling.  I added the other ingredients and poured my marinade over this beautiful fillet, allowing it to sit overnight before smoking it in some mild applewood. 

The results were pretty darn good . . . for salmon that is.  In my opinion this recipe is probably best when smoked or grilled, but it is also great broiled.  This marinade is also great for shrimp, pork and chicken. 

2 tablespoons apple jelly, room temperature or warmed slightly
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1 teaspoon lime juice
Pinch white pepper
1/2 small Serrano pepper, very thinly sliced (optional)

Mix all ingredients until combined.  Pour over meat and allow to marinate a couple of hours or overnight if possible.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Cook as desired.

This marinade will season approximately 1 - 2 pounds of meat.

Want some more great recipe ideas?  Check out The Best Thanksgiving Recipes from the Best Bloggers at  I'm proud to be a part of this project along with some of the most talented bloggers out there.  All proceeds go to Feeding America.  This Kindle e-book will set you back a whole $1.99.  Here's the link!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Something From Nothing #3: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Pain d'Epi

You might be a little bit surprised that my Something from Nothing recipe this month is for a homemade yeast bread, but please do yourself a favor and trust me on this one.  I have to admit that I was skeptical myself when I first heard of this recipe, but no more.  I'm a believer.

I have to give credit to my discovery of this recipe to blogger friend Jane of No Plain Jane's Kitchen.  She brought the most delicious loaf of olive bread to a little get together and I couldn't keep my hands out of it.  It was crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside with a pleasant briny flavor from a generous amount of shiny black olives that she had scattered throughout.  It was pretty close to perfection.

Of course I cornered her before she could get out the door and asked her for the recipe.  She nonchalantly told me that it was from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoe Francois.  Being reminded once again of how much I don't know, I had never heard of this book but was intrigued by the premise.  

Jane told me that in a nutshell, you stir up water, yeast, salt and flour, store it in the fridge, take out a little bit when you want it, shape it, bake it and voila!  I went home that night and Googled the recipe and found many sites mentioning the recipe and they all gave rave reviews of its simplicity and flavor.

After making it a couple of times, it is now my turn to give my endorsement to this genius recipe.  It is just unbelievably simple and almost fool proof with its lack of kneading and long rising time.  Even beginners can make this bread with confidence.  Best of all you can change it up by mixing in herbs, olives, cheese or changing its shape like I have done here and make something spectacular.   This recipe even makes enough basic dough for 4 - 5 delicious loaves that you can store in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day - Master Recipe

This actually takes a bit longer than 5 minutes from fridge to table, but it is still super simple.  The 5 minutes refers to the hands on preparation time which is minimal.

3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon (2 packages) granulated yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt 
6 - 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a 5 - 6 quart lidded container combine the water yeast and salt.  Add the flour in all at once and stir with a long handled spoon or dough whisk just until it is mixed together.  I did this step in the bowl of my stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and it worked great.  At this point the dough will be very wet and rough looking.

Since I don't have a really big container with a lid, I transfered my dough to my large oval slow cooker crock which I greased with a little olive oil, covered it loosely with the lid (to let the gases escape) and set it on the counter top for two hours to rise.

After the two hour rising time the dough will pretty much fill the container.  Do not punch it down as it will settle on its own.  At this time the dough will probably be flat on top with bubbles that appear to be popped. 

You can now remove some of the dough (floured kitchen shears makes removal very easy) and bake, or place in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks to use later. 

The next day you will notice that the dough has collapsed.  This is the intended nature of the dough and it will never again rise in the fridge.  Before removing any of the dough, sprinkle the top with just bit of all-purpose flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.

Remove a piece of dough about the size of a grapefruit.  To shape the dough into a boule or ball, stretch it between your hands rolling and tucking it to the bottom.  Rest the dough on a piece of parchment paper or a cornmeal covered pizza peel.  Let the dough rise on the counter top for 40 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.   Place a pizza stone or heavy metal cookie sheet inside the oven to preheat as well.  Place a metal (not glass as it could shatter) baking pan on a rack at least 5 inches under the stone and preheat it as well.

Slide the bread onto the preheated pizza stone or cookie sheet.  Carefully pour 1 cup of water into the hot metal pan to produce steam in the oven as this will make the outside nice and crusty.  Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove bread from the oven and cool completely before slicing.

My notes:

If you use some of the dough immediately after the first rising it will be very sticky and a little bit hard to work with.  I prefer using it the next day as it is designed to use right out of the refrigerator.

Grapefruit size pieces of dough will produce 4 - 1 pound loaves of bread.  For my family of 4, I use pieces the size of a large orange which will produce 5 small to medium size loaves.

Once you get the hang of this dough, you can shape it into a baguette, boule, batard, couronne, Pain d'Epi or any other shape you can imagine.

I don't have a pizza peel or a pizza stone so I let my bread rise on a cornmeal dusted piece of parchment paper which I just slide onto my hot cookie sheet to bake it.

The baked bread is best when made no more than 1 day in advance, and ideally just a few hours before serving.

If you seem unsure about any of my instructions, I highly recommend that you watch Zoe and Jeff's videos.  They are both helpful and fun to watch.  This really is an easy recipe.  After you make it once you can just about do it in your sleep.

Pain d'Epi using the Master Recipe

I used this same simple recipe, then shaped my bread to look like a sheaf of wheat, known as Pain d'Epi. Even though the finished product may look hard to achieve, it is really a snap and so much fun to do by following these easy steps.

Remove 1/4 to 1/5 of the dough from the refrigerator.  Shape it into a long skinny baguette shape. Starting a couple of inches from the end, clip dough with a pair of floured scissors at a sharp angle, leaving about a 1/4" base at the bottom.  Turn the clipped portion to one side.

Repeat the clipping and turning about every 2- 3 inches all the way to the end of the dough turning the clipped portions in opposite directions.

Sprinkle the prepared dough with flour to give it a rustic appearance after baking.

Bake bread at 450 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until it is golden brown and crusty on the outside.

Not only is Pain d'Epi pretty, but the best thing is that it also bakes into the perfect size pull-apart rolls for easy serving.  After removing it from the oven be patient and let the bread cool before cutting and serving for optimum results.  Cutting while warm will result in a dense doughy texture instead of the chewy crusty roll pictured above.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Bringin' Scary Back: Reviving the Halloween Carnival and a Bowl of Cincinnati Chili

When I was a kid I figured that all the stuff that my parents' generation had messed up would be fixed by my generation when we came into power.  Even though we have indeed fixed a few, there are some things that we have totally blown.  Take Halloween for example, my generation has taken a perfectly good holiday that was sanctioned by our parents and squeezed most of the fun right out of it.

Even elementary schools that were once the epicenter of spooky fall fun have mostly done away with the inaugural ball of the holiday season, the Halloween carnival.  At the very least the name has been changed to the more palatable (for some that is) Harvest Festival or the downright bland, Fall Festival.  Come on folks, I have a great idea, let's put the scary back in the Fall Festival and call it Halloween.

It really wouldn't be hard to get it back.  We can start out by turning off the TV and opening up the school one beautiful fall night and decorating the classrooms like haunted houses and carnival arcades.  Then let's go old school and dress some of the teachers up like gypsies and let them pass out funny little fortunes and pixie stix.  The school principal can dress up like Quasimodo and his wife can come as Esmeralda (or vice versa), and what the heck, we'll let them pass out some red lollipops.  Why not? It's just once a year.

We can then give out a prize for best costume.  No, not everyone can get a prize, just one person can have the best costume.  Don't worry the others will live through it.  It may not be politically correct but that's OK.  Life is full of little disappointments.  This will help everyone accept the fact that you can't always be number one. 

While all this is going on, some of the moms and dads can be in the cafeteria kitchen dishing up some ground meat wonder like spaghetti or chili and selling it for next to nothing.  The children can play games and show their off their costumes while the other parents can get to know the teachers and each other so they can get an idea of who their kids deal with everyday.

And then for a little nightmarish authenticity, someone who has had too much fun can throw up in the hallway and Quasimodo and Esmeralda can clean it up with a giant string mop and a bucket on wheels, just like back in the good old days.  Wow, sounds terrifying doesn't it?

I'm just really not sure why we feel the need to homogenize everything until it is just bland and vanilla (oops, sorry Vanilla, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings by calling you bland).  I just think it is a shame to see this fun family activity go the way of the Casper the Friendly Ghost, straight to oblivion. 

So I guess it is up to the next generation to fix the stuff that my generation has messed up.  I'm hoping that our kids will see how badly we've blown this one and will restore to its old glory. So come on everyone, lighten up, relax and have a chili dog and a handful of candy corn, they really do have magical fun powers.

Inspired by the good old days, I thought I'd post a recipe for a ground meat wonder that I have recently discovered and absolutely love, Cincinnati Chili.  I had heard of this famous concoction for years and had always meant to give it a try, then one day I found a packaged spice mix at my local supermarket.  I made it and we loved it. 

Since blogging about a package mix wouldn't be any fun, especially for those of you who can't find it on your grocer's shelves, I went on a search for a great authentic homemade recipe.  I turned to a dear friend of mine who is a great cook herself and just so happens to be from Cincinnati, for her recipe.  Much to my surprise she directed me to her favorite package mix and offered to send me some on her next trip back home.

Plan B.  I turned to the Internet and managed to combine a couple of recipes, threw in a couple of my own touches and came up with one that tastes just as good as that favorite package mix of my friend.  It's not exactly what I would call chili and it is not exactly what I would call spaghetti sauce either.  It is kind of like a combination of both with its own special aromatic flavor. You can serve it over anything you want but I don't see how it can get much better than serving it poured over spaghetti with a ton of grated cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of onions on top.

Cincinnati Chili

1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, finely minced
4 cups beef broth
1 – 8 ounce can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1/4 cup mild chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf

To serve:
Cooked spaghetti
Grated cheddar cheese
Finely chopped onions

Place oil in a stock pot and heat over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until they are soft and transparent, approximately 5 minutes.
Add beef broth, tomato sauce and vinegar to the onions and stir well.  Add the uncooked ground beef, breaking it up as it is added. 

Add the chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, allspice, salt and bay leaf.  Reduce the heat to low, break up  clumps of meat before covering the pot and cooking for 1 – 1/2 to 2 hours. 

Once the cooking time is over remove the bay leaf and skim any fat that has accumulated on top.  Serve hot over cooked spaghetti with grated cheese and chopped onions.

*If you are going to be in a pinch for time on the night you serve it, keep in mind that this recipe is great when made the day before and refrigerated overnight.

Serves 8

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cool Breezes and Deja Vu: Crispy Bubble and Squeak Pancakes

Not so cute at 3 am

My dog got me up before dawn this morning to go outside.  Actually, he tried to wake my husband, but he pretended to be asleep knowing that I would eventually give in.  I want Mr. H to know when he reads this that I am onto him and one of these days I am going to outlast him and let the dog pee on the floor on his side of the bed.  Having gotten that out of the way, I must say that our dog rarely ever does this, but I find it suspicious that when he does, it is when he has had a bath the day before. Retaliation? I think so.

When this happens in most places you can just open the door, let your dog out and stumble back to bed, but not where we live.  In our neighborhood there are constant sightings of coyotes, foxes and owls, and in the surrounding areas there are frequent sightings of mountain lions and bears.  None of which I am sure would pass on the chance to munch on a well fed little house dog.  As he puttered around in the dark, I tried to tell him he could be a snack at any moment, but like most kids he refused to listen.

So as I stood in the blackness of the night in my robe and flip flops ready at any moment to do hand to hand combat with a bear, I closed my eyes and just for a moment was transported back to England.  I don't know, maybe I was dreaming, or maybe it was a combination of the soft cool breeze and a rare hint of moisture in the Colorado air, but a strong sense of deja vu came over me and I swear I could have been standing on my front porch in Nottingham.  Now I'm homesick.

Since the weather made me a little bit sentimental about the UK, and since I also had a bowl of leftover mashed potatoes and some sauteed cabbage in the fridge,  I decided that this was a good time to post one of my favorite English recipes, bubble and squeak.

Thought up as a way to breathe new life into leftover vegetables from Sunday lunch, there are versions of this recipe which range from a loose colcannon-like mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage or any other vegetable that might be in the fridge, to crispy fried potato pancake-like patties.  It is the crispy pancakes that I love the most and are the subject of this post. 

Crispy Bubble and Squeak Pancakes

If I am mashing potatoes with this dish in mind, I just usually boil 2 medium potatoes,drain them and mash them with maybe just a little bit of salt, pepper and butter to season them but still make them as stiff as I can get them.  If I am using leftover mash from the recipe link below, I normally have to add a little bit of flour to stiffen them up to counteract all of the goodies I usually add to them.  This helps them hold together as they are fried. 

As for the cabbage I use, I usually saute my cabbage with bacon and onion so it is usually "dry" when I mix it in with the potatoes.  If you are using leftover cabbage or other vegetables (a big favorite is brussel sprouts), make sure they are drained and as dry as you can get them so your patties will hold together.

2 medium to large size russet potatoes, peeled, boiled, drained and mashed or 1 - 1/2 cups of your favorite leftover mashed potatoes (click here for my recipe if needed)
1 cup chopped boiled or fried cabbage (recipe follows)
1 egg, beaten
2 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for drying out leftover potatoes, if needed
3 - 6 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place potatoes, cabbage, cheese, egg and salt and pepper in a large bowl and fold together to combine completely.   If needed add flour a tablespoon at a time to stiffen the mixture until a handful of the mixture holds together when formed into a patty (about 1 - 3 tablespoons, you don't want to add to much as it will take on a "floury" taste).  Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions and form into patties that are about 1/2" thick; set aside.

Pour the all-purpose flour on a plate.  Dredge each patty in the flour, coating on each side; set aside.

Pour 3 tablespoons of  the oil into a medium size frying pan that has been set over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot fry patties until they are golden brown on each side, approximately 5 minutes on each side.   Due to the size of my pan I cooked my patties in two batches.  If frying in batches, add additional oil if needed.  Keep patties warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Serves 4 to 8.

Fried Cabbage

2 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced
8 ounces raw cabbage (about 1/2 of a small head), thinly sliced then chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed

Brown bacon in a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Just before it becomes crispy add the onion and saute until it is soft and transparent.  Add the cabbage and saute with the bacon and onion in the drippings until it becomes limp, stirring frequently, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook and stir for approximately one minute longer.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for another 10 - 15 minutes or until the cabbage is tender.

Makes approximately 1 cup which feeds approximately 2 people.  Recipe can be easily doubled.