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.