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!