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.


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.


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.