Thursday, December 26, 2013

Making Christmas Memories and Some Ham Salad With Swiss and Rosemary For Boxing Day



Our Christmas was just wonderful and I hope yours was too. It wasn't so great because we won the lottery, took a big trip or bought each other cars, it was great because we were together, uninterrupted for 24 hours straight. It was also great because for the first year ever no one made a Christmas wish list. We all had to put our thinking caps on and wing it, and I think everyone felt happy and grateful not only for the presents, but for the thought that went into each one.

Oh sure it wasn't all magic, there were minor mishaps. On Christmas Eve my extender stem for my Cuisinart broke halfway through a massive cheese grating session for the next morning's egg strata.  This forced me to grate two cups of cheese by hand, making me very aware and thankful for the blessings of modern conveniences.

Then I somehow found half an egg's worth of shells at the bottom of the bowl as I poured the egg and milk mixture over the top of the casserole, making me paranoid about how much more I didn't catch. Little did I know that it was the big piece of plastic from the broken extender stem that was mixed in with the grated cheese that I really should have been worried about.

The next day after an interesting but delicious brunch, the family, along with my daughter's handsome new boyfriend, headed over to our local theater for our annual Christmas Day movie. Unfortunately on this day my husband and I found out that there isn't much worse than not doing your research and sitting through three hours of soft core porn with your kids, even if they are in their twenties. If you would like to do the same, load up the family and go see The Wolf of Wall Street. You'll see what I mean.

The good and bad of the situation was that since the small theater was packed, my husband and I had to sit separately from the three "young 'uns", which while tempering the embarrassment a bit, it also prevented us from organizing an early departure. Sheesh!

During our short drive from the theater, the sounds in the car vacillated from nervous laughter to uncomfortable silence, but we finally made our way home and quickly gave our three captives their freedom. Once alone, my husband and I settled in with a televised basketball game for him, a nice hot bath for me and a luscious dried pig snout for our dog.

All was well until my bath time bliss was abruptly interrupted by my overly fed dog having a rare accident in floor not six feet from the tub. We try to look on the bright side and call these events memories. I guess Christmas 2013 will go down in the books as a very memorable year.

Here in America, December 26th is just the day after Christmas, but in the UK, it is Boxing Day. It started out many years ago as a day off for the servants who dutifully served their employers on Christmas Day. This also happened to be the day that the employers ate cold meats due to the fact that well, the servants had the day off and they had no idea how to cook.

At my house we eat cold meats on this day because even though Mama loves to cook, she needs a day off too. I say I'm taking the day off, but I still do a little bit of prep on our cold meats to make a dish that seems a little bit new and interesting.

On Christmas Day we enjoyed a brown sugar glazed spiral sliced ham, and today we had ham salad sandwiches dressed up with Swiss and rosemary. For years I thought I didn't care for ham salad, but that was before I had fresh, homemade ham salad.  This stuff and the stuff in the little white tin with the little red devil on it don't even compare, so if you do not have any leftover ham, you might want to go out and buy some.


Ham Salad with Swiss and Rosemary

8 ounces of leftover ham
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup of grated Swiss cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary* or 1 teaspoon fresh
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
4 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise

Chop ham into large pieces of uniform size.  Chop by hand or place in food processor and process until it is a crumbly, coarse texture.

Place the chopped ham, along with the rest of the ingredients into a medium size bowl. Fold ingredients together just until combined. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until chilled through.


This is a great recipe as is, but I sometimes like to dress it up with toasted pecans and/or Craisins. I love this on a sandwich with baby arugula and a little Dijon mustard. It is also great spread on toast or crackers and set under the broiler until brown. Mmmm, sometimes leftovers are almost better than the original dish.
 

*If using dried rosemary, I like to crush it between my fingers to keep from having long, woody pieces in my recipe.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pork, Sage and Onion Stuffing Bites



I'm pretty sure that most of us have food traditions that complete our holiday celebrations. Even I, whose family is not very traditional, have a recipe or two that I have adopted over the years that have now become must haves for us during the holidays.

I picked up several of these the recipes during our time in England.  While there we discovered favorites like sticky toffee pudding, Yorkshire puddings, and my most loved seasonal recipe of all, pork, sage and onion stuffing.

Since I usually only make stuffing at Thanksgiving, and sometimes still have a bit of a craving at Christmas, I like to use a very similar recipe that I form into little balls and serve as appetizers through the holidays. Not only does it give me one more bite of stuffing, but is it a relatively easy recipe, and is also an economical crowd pleaser.

A couple of posts ago I published a photo dipping them in some blueberry balsamic sauce that I developed for a blogger recipe contest.  It really was a heavenly combination (well at least I thought so). Since I've already provided the recipe for the sauce, I thought this a good time to hook you up with the recipe for the stuffing bites in case you needed something a little festive on your table. Even though this is great as an appetizer, you can easily double the bread in the recipe and use it to stuff a turkey or chicken to serve four people.


 Pork, Sage and Onion Stuffing Bites

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely diced celery (about 1 celery stalk)
1/2 cup finely diced onion (about 1/2 of a small onion)
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 pound pork sausage meat
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (about 3 slices of sandwich bread)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 egg
1 tablespoon rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground savory
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth (if needed)



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place butter in a medium size skillet over medium high heat.  When butter is melted, add celery and onion and saute until vegetables are slightly transparent and soft, approximately 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for one minute longer; remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium size bowl, place the sausage meat, bread crumbs, green onion, egg, sage, thyme, and savory.  Add the vegetables from the skillet and salt and pepper if desired, stir until just combined.  At this point if the mixture is dry add some of the broth an ounce at a time until it is the consistency of meatloaf.

Roll about a tablespoon of meat mixture at a time between your palms to form a meatball.  Place meatballs in a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet that has been sprayed liberally with cooking spray.  Repeat with the remainder of the meat mixture.

Place into preheated oven and bake for approximately 10 minutes.  Remove cookie sheet from the oven and turn meatballs over with a fork.  Return to the oven and cook for an additional 10 - 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and cooked through.

Serve warm with Spicy Blueberry Balsamic Sauce and Drizzle.

Makes approximately 18 bites.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eggland's Best Review and Giveaway: Eggnog Cheesecake with Honey Bourbon Praline Sauce




I am happy to say that this Scrooge is kinda, sorta beginning to get into the Christmas spirit. It gets harder and harder every year, because even though I love Christmas, it is hard to not fall victim to all the hype that we are subjected to beginning in October.

I have a hard time listening to Christmas music at Halloween, seeing Christmas decorations go up before Thanksgiving, and the worst of all, being slammed with advertising for the 4 a.m. Black Friday sales everywhere you go.

I try my best to get through it all by putting my blinders on, but that makes it tough to switch gears when December arrives. Since we are now well into December, I am finally giving my husband permission to put up the outside lights and myself permission to do a little Christmas baking.

This year I am getting a little help with my baking from Eggland's Best.  In case you are unfamiliar with their eggs, according to their packaging, when compared to ordinary eggs Eggland's Best are higher in vitamins and nutrients and lower in saturated fat. They also have 10 times more Vitamin E, 4 times more Vitamin D, more than double the Omega-3, 25% less saturated fat, 3 times more Vitamin B12, and 38% more lutein.  All this and the fact that they taste great and work beautifully in every recipe I have ever used them in, makes them a desired ingredient in my kitchen.

Since nothing gets me in the Christmas spirit like opening a gift, my holiday spirit got a little kickstart when I received a box full of gifts from Eggland's Best. In return for this box of goodies and one for me to giveaway to one of my readers, all they asked me to do was to create a holiday dessert that uses some of their eggs. No problem there!

During the holidays I like to really go all out and spoil my friends and family, and nothing does that like a cheesecake, especially my eggnog cheesecake with honey bourbon praline sauce. Rich, creamy and a little bit boozy, everyone loves this decadent, gooey dessert.



Eggnog Cheesecake with Honey Bourbon Praline Sauce

I am using a smaller size springform pan than the normal 9" pan.  I like using a 7" because it doesn't make such a huge cake. This time of year there are usually a couple of desserts on offer at any given celebration, so who wants or needs a gigantic cheesecake? I also find this size to be perfect for a party of 6 - 8. If  you only have a 9" pan, this recipe will still work it will just won't be as tall as mine.



Crust

1 cup cookie crumbs (I crushed 14 of my husband's favorite little almond windmill cookies in my mini processor, but you can use graham crackers if you prefer)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


Place cookie crumbs, granulated sugar and melted butter in a medium size bowl. Blend ingredients together with a fork until it is combined. Spray the bottom of a 7" springform pan. Press crumbs onto the bottom and about half way up the sides of the pan. Don't worry if it is not perfectly even, this lends a pretty, rustic look to the finished cheesecake.

Place into the preheated oven and bake until set and golden brown around the edges, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.


Once crust is cooled, place the pan in the middle of a piece of foil. Pull foil up the sides and press around the outside of the pan to make a waterproof shield for the pan. Place the pan into a larger baking dish; set aside.

Filling

12 ounces (1-1/2, 8 ounce blocks) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, warmed to room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup eggnog, room temperature




Place cream cheese and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or a medium size bowl using a hand mixer.  Mix until well blended and smooth.


Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.



Add the vanilla extract, then slowly add the eggnog while beating at low speed. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, approximately 2 - 3 minutes.



Pour filling into the cooled crust.



Pour enough boiling water into the outer pan to come up halfway up the sides of the foil covered springform pan. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 40 - 50 minutes.  You want to remove your cake when the cake is slightly "jiggly" in the center.



Remove from the oven. Leave the cheesecake in the water bath and let set until they are both cooled to room temperature.



After it has cooled, cover the pan and place in the refrigerator. Chill cake for at least four hours but preferably overnight. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen edges. Remove outer band, loosen the cake from base and transfer to a serving plate. Serve with praline sauce, recipe follows.

Serves 8

Honey Bourbon Praline Sauce

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon bourbon (dark rum or brandy works well too)



Dry toast pecans in a skillet over medium high heat, stirring frequently until they are golden brown and aroma is released. Remove from the heat and set aside.



Melt butter in a shallow pan set over medium high heat.



Add brown sugar, stirring constantly until it is melted and well blended with the butter.





Stir in the honey, cream, bourbon and toasted pecans. Mix well. Cool to room temperature.  Pour over chilled cheesecake. This recipe makes enough for eight generous servings.

Now for a little giveaway:



Eggland's Best Eggs provided me with a gift pack and one to give away to one of my readers.  If you'd like to ring in 2014 with this cute little collection that includes a plush egg, a spatula, plastic bowl scraper, whisk, recycled carrier bag and a coupon for a free dozen of Eggland's Best, please just leave me a comment saying so.  That's it. Our little gift to you. I'll choose a winner on Wednesday, December 18th at noon mountain time.

If you would like more information about Eggland's Best Eggs, please click on their links below:

 


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Food For Thought and Something from Nothing #19: Crispy Roasted Garbanzo Beans



As a food blogger and recipe writer, sometimes I feel like I just can't win. There has been a time or two when I feel like the old saying, "You can't  please all of the people all of the time . . . ", was written especially for me. So if you'll please bear with me while I write one more story related to the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest I'd really appreciate it, because it illustrates this point.

When writing my recipe for Pillsbury, I set some parameters for myself. First and foremost I wanted to try and identify who might be making my recipe. My very unscientific train of thought led me to the assumption that a regular middle America family of four, on a budget would be my (and probably Pillsbury's) target audience.

Since I also imagined that my target family would have 2.3 kids in this family and not much time to seek out any special ingredients due to work, soccer games, homework and laundry, I wanted to include ingredients that they might already have in their pantries.

Ok, stay with me, we're almost there!

My recipe for Bacon Corncakes (my play on the words corn cakes and pancakes) was inspired by my love for pancakes and breakfast for dinner as a child. I added some bacon to compliment all that sweetness, and used some sweetened condensed milk to do double duty as an ingredient in my corn cakes and as well as in my sauce when I combined it with maple flavored pancake syrup.

I figured that my imagined family would most likely have a bottle of pancake syrup in their pantry, so when I wrote this recipe, this is what I called for. Pillsbury didn't state "maple flavored syrup" in my recipe, I did, for this reason and this reason alone. I, nor Pillsbury, received any bribes from the High Fructose Corn Syrup Society of America or anyone else, to put this in my recipe.

Ok, finally, here we go. . .

The night before the Bake-Off Contest, after a day full of orientation, mingling, and maybe just a little bit of drinking, tired but keyed up, I returned to my room and turned on my computer to check my e-mails and Facebook messages before falling into bed.

I received so many good luck messages that I was overwhelmed and amazed by how loved and supported I am. Among these well wishes, a friend of mine posted a sweet message on her Facebook wall about my quest to win a million dollars with a link to my recipe in an effort to rally her troops for me. Most of her friends, even those who had no idea who I was, cheered me on, but there was one who wasn't so complimentary.

This friend of my friend, made the comment that she didn't understand why I didn't use real maple syrup for my recipe, and something to the fact that people in New England would be appalled at the idea of using pancake syrup instead of the real stuff. While she is probably right about the New Englanders, I would like to interject that I believe had I called for pure maple syrup, I would have probably been criticized for tainting it with canned sweetened condensed milk.

Anyway, she went on to say more or less that I was the same kind of ignorant (my word, but her insinuation) person that would use margarine instead of real butter. Oh boy, I won't even go there. I wish she would have just said she didn't like it. That, I would have understood.

What really amazed me was that she obviously cared enough to research her point by even checking the list of qualifying ingredients for the contest, concluding that since pancake syrup wasn't on the list, Pillsbury must have had some sinister motives by calling for it in their official recipe.

I left her a message stating that she is of course welcome to use any kind of syrup that she'd like, and that I wrote my recipe so that it is approachable for everyone, even those who were not as lucky as her to have been weaned on Grade B Vermont gold, as she stated in one of her comments. I also went on to congratulate her on being so fortunate.

I won't go on and on about my disappointment in those who judge and forget that not everyone can afford pure maple syrup, organic vegetables and meat, and not everyone is lucky enough to get to cook with $20.00 bottles of wine instead of looking at a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck as an extravagance.  Yes, dear friend of my friend on Facebook, there are people out there that have to look at the price before they can put food in their shopping cart. It is just that simple.

As for me, I am pretty blessed. I shop pretty much where I want, when I want, within reason, but it wasn't always like that. I've had some very lean times in my life that I will never forget and those days remain with me to this day. I still clip coupons, shop the sale racks first and love it when my blogging or contesting provides me with free food to sample, and of course a little cash close to Christmas (thanks again Pillsbury).

When I was a child my family lived in apartment complexes that my mother often managed to offset our rent, while my dad worked long, hard hours X-raying welds on pipe. As children my sister and I often heard the word "no", and it didn't kill us, in fact it made the "yeses" more special. I can only imagine what my parents would have said if we would have asked for Vermont gold for our pancakes.

I really had no intention of climbing on my soapbox and writing about any of this, but shortly after returning from Vegas someone shared a blog post that fellow Coloradan and Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist, Kim Doyle Wille had written for the Huffington Post. I had just met her at the Bake-Off, in fact her recipe for Thai Shrimp Pizza also won her $5000 and the prize for the Jif Innovation Award at the same time I won my prize just a few weeks ago.

In her candid post Kim wrote about her unemployment, her health issues and about her embarrassment in admitting to the fact that she bought the ingredients for her award winning recipe with her SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. 

She also addressed the impact that government cutbacks and The Sequester have had on benefits like these and therefore on the most vulnerable of our population. At present over 47 million people, most of them the working poor, are receiving some sort of SNAP assistance. For more information about SNAP benefits, the 2009 increase and the 2013 cutbacks, please click here.

It was almost a year ago when I had the pleasure of attending a Cooking Matters class at an area middle school. At these classes qualifying children and their parents are taught how to prepare simple, nutritious and delicious meals on the very slim $35 dollars per person per week (about $1.50 per person per meal) that is the average SNAP benefit. It was an energetic and fun class and I had a blast, and I am ashamed to say that despite my best intentions, I have not been to another.

Shortly after attending this class, I took a mini SNAP challenge and entered a Cooking Matters recipe competition to make a satisfying meal for $1.50 per person. I did my best to make something that was delicious and could be stretched enough to fill the stomach of a growing 17 year old boy like the one I had in my house at the time. It wasn't easy, but in the end I came up with something that I was quite happy with and that my family really enjoyed.

I encourage everyone to take the SNAP Challenge, but I know that dedicating a whole week to it might be really hard this time of year, so maybe think about taking an unofficial mini SNAP Challenge.  Try making just one nutritious and delicious main meal for your family that costs $1.50 per person. Then imagine doing it day after day after day. It was a real eye opener for me.

Thinking about people on a tight budget and inexperienced cooks are two reasons why I started posting my Something From Nothing recipes a little over a year ago. I think we all know what it's like to look around the kitchen and not be able to come up with any ideas, so I thought I'd pass on some of the little dishes I've either discovered or managed to scraped up over the years when I found myself in the same predicament. I know it is really challenging at times, but cooking snacks and main meals when your ingredients are very limited can be done, it just takes a little more imagination.

If any of this inspires you to help, there are many programs in which you can get involved. Volunteers are always needed at food banks, rescue missions and programs like Cooking Matters and Plant a Row to End Hunger. There are also many local programs like Denver's own Yard Harvest, where local gardeners can register their gardens and donate their extra fruit and vegetables to feed the hungry. You won't have to look too far to find programs in your own area, information is usually just a few key strokes away.


Crispy Roasted Garbanzo Beans

This time of year everyone likes to have snacks around to share with friends or family. These toasted garbanzo beans are perfect for people on a tight budget. I found a can of garbanzos on sale at my local Safeway for $.65. I used seasoned salt to flavor mine, but salt and pepper or any favorite seasoning will finish these nicely. I kind of liken the flavor as a cross between a corn nut and a wasabi pea without the wasabi.

1 - 15 ounce can garbanzo beans
Non-stick spray
Salt and Pepper or your favorite seasoning blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Drain and rinse garbanzo beans.  Lay beans on a double thickness of paper towels.  Place another double thickness on top and gently press to dry.

Spray a 9 x 13" baking dish lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour dried beans into the prepared baking dish and tilt the dish back and forth to lightly coat the beans.

Place baking dish into the preheated oven. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and swirl the pan around to move the beans around. Place baking dish back into the oven and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Remove and swirl the pan again. Place the pan back in the oven and at this point you need to watch carefully because they cook quickly from this point on. I like to take the beans out of the oven when they are golden brown and crunchy with a little bit of creaminess in the center. Beans will continue to dry as they cool.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper or seasoned salt and serve.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Coconut Infused Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Frosted Blueberries and Toasted Coconut




I hope everyone that celebrated Thanksgiving this year had a good one. I am so proud of myself for not overcooking this year. I bought a little 10 pound turkey and made just three sides not counting the cranberry sauce and rolls. Besides the soup carcass and a couple slices of crème caramel, we are done with the leftovers.

Since our refrigerator isn't packed full of the remnants of our turkey dinner (i.e. nothing falls out when you open the door), I kind of felt inspired to do one more recipe for the Highbush Blueberry Council using their little blue dynamos while I still had the chance, and since I've had a craving for panna cotta, the timing is perfect.

There isn't a dessert that I love much more than panna cotta.  This eggless custard is thickened with gelatin and even though it is made with heavy cream is anything but. My coconut infused version has subtle coconut and vanilla flavors and just the right amount of sugar to perfectly compliment the sweetness of the frosted blueberries and toasted coconut on top.

This recipe really is something special if you are serving it for guests, but easy enough you can make it and keep it in the fridge as a weeknight treat for your family. You're going to love it. I promise.


Coconut Infused Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta With Frosted Blueberries and Toasted Coconut

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup whole milk, slightly warm
1 - 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pasteurized dried egg whites
1 tablespoon water
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/3 cup super fine sugar

Place 1 cup of coconut and heavy cream and vanilla bean in a medium size sauce pan over medium heat. Slice vanilla bean down the middle and scrap seeds out with the edge of a knife. Add the pod and seeds to the cream; stir. 

Bring cream mixture to a low simmer and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes or until just warm to the touch.

Sprinkle the gelatin powder over the top of the warm whole milk. Set aside for 5 minutes to soften.

Strain coconut and cream. Push coconut against the side of a strainer with the back of a spoon to extract any cream from the coconut.  Return the cream back to the saucepan over medium heat and bring back up to a simmer.

Add the warm whole milk/gelatin mixture to the simmering cream, stirring until all the gelatin has completely dissolved.

Pour the mixture into 6 containers that are approximately 4 ounces each.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

About an hour before serving, place the egg white powder and water in a small bowl and whisk until it is completely incorporated. You may also use a fresh egg white for this step if the pasteurized powder is not available.

Pour over the frozen blueberries and very gently toss to coat.

Place blueberries in a shallow bowl and place in the freezer for at least one hour. Just before serving, remove blueberries from the freezer. Pour the superfine sugar onto a small plate and roll berries around in it to coat.

Place the remaining 2 tablespoons of coconut in a small frying pan that has been preheated over medium high heat.  Stirring frequently, toast the coconut to a golden brown.  Transfer toasted coconut to a small bowl or plate; set aside until ready to use.

Panna cotta is ready to serve when it is firmly set and chilled through. Finish by topping with equal amounts of toasted coconut and frosted blueberries shortly before serving.

Serves 6 





Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Highbush Blueberry Council's "Blueberries Meet Their Match" Blogger Recipe Contest: Spicy Blueberry Balsamic Sauce and Drizzle



I recently found out that the US Highbush Blueberry Council is presently holding a blogger recipe contest, and I am really excited.  I'm not just saying this to butter up the blueberry folks, but blueberries are without a doubt one of my absolute favorite fruits.

For this year's contest called "Blueberries Meet Their Match", they are asking bloggers to create recipes that pair blueberries with one of four flavors which include, coconut, bananas, rosemary or balsamic vinegar. Ok, I'm up for that!

Even though I love cranberry sauce, it is so nice to step out of the box a bit and serve something a little unexpected, so I thought that I'd create a new type of holiday sauce. For my sauce I have combined sweet, plump blueberries with a little orange zest for brightness and just enough sriracha to add a little spark. The result is a sauce that really works on everything.

This time of year I prepare all sorts of nibbles and sides that are in great need of a sauce or drizzle to bring out their flavors, from grilled meats, my favorite bleu cheese spread and crackers, sausage, sage and onion stuffing balls, and of course my leftover holiday turkey baguette with a little arugula and brie, they are all made better with a little drizzle of my spicy blueberry balsamic sauce.


Spicy Blueberry Balsamic Sauce and Drizzle (shown here served room temperature with some of my sausage, sage and onion stuffing balls, recipe coming soon)

6 ounces fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 pinch salt
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon orange zest
2 teaspoons sriracha
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Place blueberries, water, sugar, salt, thyme and orange zest in a small sauce pan set over medium heat.  Stir until sugar is melted and mixture starts to simmer.

With the back of a spoon or a potato masher, mash about half of the blueberries.  Allow the mixture to simmer, stirring frequently for 5 - 10 minutes to reduce and concentrate the flavors of the sauce.

Add the sriracha and the vinegar and simmer for 1 minutes longer, stirring well to incorporate.

Remove from the heat and serve warm for dipping or drizzling or at room temperature or chilled as an accompaniment to meat and side dishes.

Yields about a cup of sauce.

*If you are interested in entering a recipe of your own or your would just like more information about this contest and see lots more great recipes, please visit littlebluedynamos.com by clicking on the link.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Getting Back to Normal: Epicurean Butter and Pechugas de Pollo



Right in the middle of all the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest hoopla in the last few days prior to my departure for Vegas, I was invited to attend a luncheon at The Seasoned Chef Cooking School here in Denver.  It was a welcome distraction from all of my preparations and anticipation, and I was also very excited to learn about a local product.

The gathering was organized as a way to introduce bloggers, food writers and others affiliated with the food industry to Epicurean Butter. Epicurean butter is a line of grade AA butter that is infused with all natural ingredients resulting in compound butters that can instantly dress up the simplest of dishes.  Developed by Denver Chef John Hubschman, Epicurean Butter comes in 14 different flavors, in both sweet and savory varieties, and are intended to bring gourmet restaurant quality chef preparation to the home cook.


For our tasting luncheon, Chicago based Chef Julius Russell, owner of A Tale of Two Chefs, prepared a variety of dishes containing different flavors of Epicurean Butter for us to sample. These dishes ranged from a goat cheese bruschetta, sauteed shrimp, and roasted pork loin to a buttery cake crouton apple concoction that was indescribably delicious.  It was a tasty afternoon to say the least.

Now a couple of weeks later, all the dust has cleared from my trip and I'm settling back into my routine. I am ready to start creating, and all those tubs of butter waiting in my fridge have inspired me to get busy. We were given several recipes to try, but I cannot for the life of me put my hands on any of them. Makes me kind of wonder what went on around here while I was gone.

In the absence of those recipes, I decided to come up with something on my own. After tasting a couple of the butters I kept coming back to the chili lime. The subtle, fresh Mexican flavors reminded me of a dish that I loved and haven't had in a very long time.

Years ago there was a little Mexican restaurant in Houston that my posse and I used to frequent. On their menu they featured a grilled chicken breast entree complete with mushrooms, onions and a little bit of cheese all swimming in a tasty butter sauce that I absolutely loved.

This little restaurant simply called their dish pechugas de pollo.  After a little research I discovered that pechugas translates to "breasts" and pollo translates to "chicken", so you can obviously call any breast of chicken dish by this name if you want. I guess this leaves me wide open to do my own pechugas de pollo any way I like.


Since I wanted to really focus on the flavor of the butter, I simplified the ingredients for my pechugas. I used pan seared chicken and the flavored butter mixed with the pan juices to form the sauce. Really all you need is a perfectly cooked chicken breast and a dollop of this butter and there you go, the simple is turned into the sublime in just minutes, just as Chef Hubschman envisioned.


Pechugas de Pollo

2 medium size chicken breasts, approximately 6 -7 ounces each
Salt, pepper and garlic or your favorite seasoning blend to taste
1 - 2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Epicurean chili lime compound butter or 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, a squeeze of fresh lime juice and 1/8 teaspoon chili powder (mild or medium), plus 2 additional tablespoons for finishing dish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rinse and pat the chicken breasts dry. Place them between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound thicker end of breasts to even the thickness as much as possible.

Sprinkle both sides of the breasts liberally with salt, pepper and granulated garlic or seasoning blend; set aside.

Pour oil (enough to coat bottom) into a heat proof medium size frying pan (for this recipe I LOVE my cast iron skillet) set over medium high heat. Heat oil until it is shimmering. Add prepared breasts to hot pan and fry them on each side until golden brown.

Carefully transfer frying pan to the preheated oven and cook for an additional 5 minutes or so or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and/or juices run clear. *If you feel that your chicken breasts are cooked through after browning them on top of the stove, you can omit this step if desired.

Remove pan from the oven and transfer chicken breasts to serving plates, cover, set aside and rest for 5 minutes.

While the breasts are resting, add the two tablespoons of Epicurean Butter (or plain butter, lime juice and chili powder) to the hot frying pan to deglaze it, scraping bits up off the bottom with a whisk or fork, being careful not to burn the butter. This should take just about a minute.

Pour equal amounts of the butter sauce over the top of the chicken breasts. Finish with an additional pat of butter and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro if desired. I prefer serving my chicken breasts on a bed of rice to absorb the chicken flavors and butter.

This recipe serves 2, but is easily doubled.

I would also like to try changing this dish up sometime by replacing the chile lime flavor with Epicurean's Tuscan Herb Butter or the porcini and sage flavor and serving it over pasta.


Just because Epicurean Butter's home is in Colorado, doesn't mean it is only available in Colorado. Click here for a list of the many retailers that carry this product.  Don't see a retailer in your area? Epicurean Butter can also be ordered on line.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

The 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest: Million Dollar Loaded Potato Pinwheels and My Eagle Brand Signature Recipe Award Winner



Well, after months and months, it is all over. The fabulous 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest has now come and gone and it is time to get back to normal. Even though I didn't win the much sought after and dreamed about million dollar grand prize, I am thrilled to say that my Amazing Doable Dinners recipe for Bacon Corncakes with Warm Maple Cream won the $5,000 Eagle Brand Signature Recipe Award and the golden Doughboy statuette that goes along with it.


I am going to be really honest here when I admit that at the time when host Padma Lakshmi called my name for this award, I was just a tad bit disappointed for a fleeting moment. I know that makes me sound like I am an ungrateful brat, but fact is once you win one of the sponsored prizes, you are out of the running for the big one, so I had to take a few minutes to come to terms with that.

Please don't get me wrong, I am so honored to have been a part of this exciting contest and to have been selected as the winner of this prize. I am also very aware that 93 other finalists went home without a check or a golden Doughboy, but winning the grand prize is like winning the only gold medal at the Olympics, and letting go of that dream takes a moment or two to process.

Now, any shred of disappointment is long gone and I have a hard time leaving my award at home to go to the grocery store.  This is without a doubt one of my most favorite all time recipes. Akin to the Something From Nothing recipes that I post here, I am proud of the fact that I came up with a really delicious main dish using only 6 out of the 7 allowed ingredients. I am also very honored that nine food professionals that were vetted and approved by General Mills liked my recipe enough to honor it with this prize.

As the Bake-Off Contest rules state at present, you can only compete in this contest three times and then you are out, forever. Since this was my second time, I'm already brainstorming for something genius for my third and final trip. If I don't feel like I can win with any of my ideas, I'm going to pass on entering until I can come up with something that I deem to be a contender.

I've got my fingers crossed that someday they'll do away with this three times rule and just let the best recipes compete no matter how many times the writer has made it through, although I read yesterday that one of this year's judges believes that this rule is in place to keep prolific contesters from taking over the event.

I do understand that line of thinking, but I'd like to make the point that even though I have been very lucky to compete in many contests, it took me nine years to go back to the Bake-Off for the second time. I think that makes it apparent that even though I might be able to write a good recipe, I don't possess any special knowledge that gives me an advantage over anyone else.

Despite the fact that I had high hopes for my own recipe, you have to just trust that the judges chose the best one for the grand prize and move on.  In case you are not aware, first time finalist Glori Spriggs, not a seasoned contester, won for her Loaded Potato Pinwheels from the Simple Sweets and Starters category.

Way back in 2004 when my Dinner Made Easy category winning recipe for Inside Out Taco Salad Wraps was passed over in favor of the Oats and Honey Granola Pie for the million, I didn't have a blog to hash it all over and talk it out. Maybe if I had been writing one, I would have been more inspired to prepare the winning recipe and review it. To this day I haven't made that pie, but there is no doubt in my mind that it must be delicious.



Since I now have a platform to discuss my feelings about things, I thought I would make the big winner and hopefully tell you all how wonderful it is. As always, I pride myself in honest and unbiased opinions on anything I review here, and this recipe is no exception.

Before I get to my review, I have to preface my statement with the fact that I take reviewing someone else's recipe very seriously. I carefully prepare it exactly the way it was written, being careful not to make any changes or substitutions which might alter the intended flavor or consistency.

I do this because in the past I have had to bounce back from some pretty negative comments about some of my own beloved creations. Some of them were deserved, but some of them were made after the reviewer obviously misread and improperly prepared the recipe.

Now while this year's winning recipe looks pretty good, I have to be honest and say that it is just OK in my opinion. The stuffed baked potato flavors are pleasant, but seem to be slightly overshadowed by a strong bell pepper flavor from the Green Giant frozen potatoes that form the base of the recipe's stuffing.

Add some grated cheese and bacon, wrap it up in the familiar flavor of Pillsbury's Crescent dough, top it with a dab of sour cream and a sprinkling of green onion and more bacon, and there you have it. Nothing earth shattering or life changing, just a simple little nibble that I don't know if I'll be adding to my appetizer rotation anytime soon.

On the upside, this recipe is easy to make, it looks pretty on the plate, yields 28 nice size pieces and the ingredients (some I found on sale) only cost me about $7.00.  Even though it isn't exactly my cup of tea, I'm attaching the recipe below just in case you'd like to make it too. Since everyone's tastes are different, you might make it and love it as much as the judges.



Loaded Potato Pinwheels

1 bag (11.8 ounce) Green Giant Seasoned Steamers frozen backyard grilled potatoes
1 - 1/2 cups (5 ounces) finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cooked real bacon bits (from a jar or package)
3 tablespoons milk
1 can Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations refrigerated seamless dough sheet
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion tops (3 medium)

Heat oven to 350 F.  Spray large cookie sheets with Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray.

Microwave frozen potatoes 3 to 4 minutes to thaw. In a medium bowl, with fork, mash potatoes leaving some small pieces.  Stir in cheese, 1/3 cup of the bacon bits and the milk until well blended.

Unroll dough on cutting board; press into 14 x 8-inch rectangle. Cut into 2 rectangles, 14 x 4-inch each. Spread half of the potato mixture on one rectangle to with in 1/4-inch of long edges. Starting at one long side, tightly roll up dough, pinch seams to seal.  Using serrated knife, cut roll into 14 slices. Place slices cut side up, on cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Bake 17 to 21 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets to serving plate.

Top each pinwheel with sour cream, remaining bacon bits and the green onions. Serve warm.

The next Pillsbury Bake-Off is already gearing up and I can't encourage you enough to start thinking about what you can create. Pillsbury really knows how to put on a fun party. 

For more information, rules and winners lists, please visit their site by CLICKING HERE. You never know, I just might be reviewing your million dollar winning recipe here next year, and like Glori Spriggs you can cry all the way to the bank! Until then, here's a few images from the competition in Las Vegas.


The group finalist photo.


The Bake-Off Contest floor, ready to go.


No introduction needed.



Padma Lakshmi hosting the awards dinner.

Newly minted millionaire, Glori Spriggs (Center).

Finalist, Christine Wilson (front) and her daughter, Donna Fogel (middle), made up two of the four mothers and daughters to participate at this year's Bake-Off Contest.