Sunday, February 28, 2010

Snowy Day and Chicken Chili from the Barefoot Contessa

It's been a cold, wintery weekend and as I look out my window, branches and pine boughs are heavy with snow.  March is only a day away, yet it seems that this winter is forever.  I had planned an intentionally low-key weekend. I vowed to clean my bedroom closet (so exciting), and never ventured out of the house yesterday except to slide down the hill with Henry, and as much as I protest the evils of winter, I must admit we had an awful lot of fun.  Henry was all bundled up in his snowsuit and boots, very "Christmas Story," and I scrambled to find my mittens and ended up with one of my best pairs of Gold Toe socks to protect my hands instead!  Katie and I made a Henry-sized snowman from the packable snow, with a carrot for the nose and charcoal scraps from the wood stove for eyes and mouth.   Our little snow man even had a bellybutton since Henry is especially fond of his own.


Once inside, we warmed up with cups of hot cocoa (made with my favorite, malted Ovaltine!) and later I made a quick version of goulash.  After dinner, we watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  Before bed, I made oatmeal for this morning's Pan Fried Oatmeal (yesterday's post).  I read a little bit before I went to sleep, and it was a lovely day.

This morning I sat down with Ina Garten's Cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Parties! not looking especially for a party recipe but for something warm and nurturing from the chapter entitled "Snow Day."  That's where I found this recipe for chicken chili, and it's not the typical white chicken chili you might expect.  It's a traditional red chili that replaces beef with chunks of oven-roasted chicken breast.  All Ina's recipes are worth a try, and if you want something with a little bit of spice to warm you up, this is a good choice.

Chicken Chili from the Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients


4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 onions)
1/8 cup good olive oil, plus extra for chicken
1/8 cup minced garlic (2 cloves)
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and large-diced
2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and large-diced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for chicken
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled plum tomatoes in puree, undrained
1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
4 split chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
Freshly ground black pepper

For serving:
Chopped onions, corn chips, grated cheddar, sour cream

Directions

Cook the onions in the oil over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the bell peppers, chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, cayenne, and salt. Cook for 1 minute. Crush the tomatoes by hand or in batches in a food processor fitted with a steel blade (pulse 6 to 8 times). Add to the pot with the basil. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast the chicken for 35 to 40 minutes, until just cooked. Let cool slightly. Separate the meat from the bones and skin and cut it into 3/4-inch chunks. Add to the chili and simmer, uncovered, for another 20 minutes. Serve with the toppings, or refrigerate and reheat gently before serving.

Recipe credit: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/chicken-chili-recipe/index.html

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pan-fried Oatmeal Slices

After making oatmeal the other day and realizing how well it packs after sitting for a while, I looked up recipes for fried oatmeal.  Most just take a scoopful of left-over oatmeal and cook it up.  I thought it would be a good idea to deliberately make oatmeal just for this purpose.  Make a big batch and mold it into a loaf pan, let it sit overnight, and the next morning make slices and gently fry them up in a little butter to a golden brown crustiness.  Served over a puddle of maple syrup and garnished with berries and a little bit of whipped cream, this takes everyday oatmeal to a sophisticated level -- elegant enough for a special breakfast occasion.

Pan-fried Oatmeal with Berries and Cream

1.5 cups milk
1.5 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1.5 cups old fashioned oats (not quick)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. brown sugar

Add-ins if desired: raisins, walnuts, dried cranberries to fold in - whatever you like.

Bring water, milk, and salt to a boil.  Stir in oats.  Bring back up to a bubbling boil.  Reduce heat and cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring often.  Remove from heat.  Stir in cinnamon and brown sugar, and fold in whatever other add-ins you like.  Allow to cool down a bit, stirring now and then.

Line bread loaf pan with plastic wrap.  Lightly spray wrap with non-stick cooking spray.  Fill loaf pan with cooked oatmeal.  Pack down tightly.  Cover with wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, unmold oatmeal onto a cutting board.  Slice into 1" portions. 

In large skillet, melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium heat.  Place oatmeal slices in pan.  Cook until the bottom is golden brown and crusty; flip.  Continue cooking until both sides have a nice crust and oatmeal is warmed through. 

On serving plates, drizzle a little maple syrup.  Place fried oatmeal on top.  Garnish with berries and a dollop of fresh whipped cream (or a good spray if that's what you have).

Enjoy!

Image credit: Everybody Loves Sandwiches http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2260/1920799815_acd6b5a694.jpg

Friday, February 26, 2010

Triple Chocolate Cookies - more good stuff from Ellie Krieger!


This recipe comes from my favorite food guru, Ellie Krieger.  She's the one to count on when you want something that seems decadent but carries a (sometimes undetectable) nutritional punch.  Here we have a basic drop cookie that incorporates cocoa powder as well as dark and milk chocolates. This recipe's use of quality nutritional ingredients gives you a cookie packed with antioxidants, fiber, and nutrition.  If you don't tell anyone how good they are for you, they'll never know!  If you want to keep some in your cookie jar for a while, tell them they're "healthy" cookies and you just might be able to stowe some away for yourself!

Triple Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate (2 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped milk chocolate (2 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large bowl, mash together the butter and sugars with a fork until well combined. Add the oil and egg and beat until creamy. Mix in the vanilla.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and the pecans and mix well. Using a tablespoon, scoop the batter onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. 

Photo credit and Web site: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ellie-krieger/triple-chocolate-cookies-recipe/index.html

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Old Fashioned Oatmeal, Personal Style

Safely home yesterday during our winter "event" of lots of heavy, wet snow, I woke up this morning planning to start my day right.  I made oatmeal.  No, not that stuff in the packet with so much finely-grained sugar it flies into the air and up your nostrils.  Nope, this is the real deal. I use real old-fashioned Quaker Oats, and not the quick version either.  It cooks in five minutes (who doesn't have five minutes for something genuine?) and it is worth the time.  If you want additives, you decide what they are.  For me, today it was raisins, cinnamon, and a touch of brown sugar. Another day it might be dried cranberries or cherries, slivered almonds, and honey.  It's all so real and healthy, it just makes the day feel right going forward.  And if this little bit of effort is is too much work for you, then enjoy your cold cereal or drive-thru breakfast!  If you are like me and tend to run late, pack it up in a little to-go container and eat it, discreetly, at work.  If your office smells like cinnamon, that's not a bad thing.  When people see you're eating oatmeal rather than a massive bagel or a 500-calorie muffin, they will admire you! 

Old Fashioned Oatmeal, Personal Style

3/4 c. milk
3/4 c. water
dash salt
3/4 c. Quaker Od Fashioned Oats


Bring milk, water, and salt to a boil.  Add oatmeal.  Reduce heat to low/simmer and cook for five minutes.  Remove from heat.

Add toppings of your choice (rasins, cinnamon, brown sugar, almonds, walnuts, dried fruit, fresh fruit, honey, yogurt, whatever!).

Photo credit: http://fitnessbuff1.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/oatmeal.jpg

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stranded, beautifully.

I'm not exactly thrilled to report that, though delayed, winter has arrived with a vengeance to our little corner of the world.  I've been dodging winter for months (or I should say, it's been dodging me).  My daughter Katie and I have a running battle over snow:  she wants it; I don't.  So when I was in Hannaford last night, leisurely strolling through the aisles and reading nutrition labels, deciding just what kind of bread and mustard I wanted for my Virginia ham and American cheese sandwiches, the snow began piling up outside with furious intensity.  I couldn't believe how much had accumulated in the forty-five minutes I'd spent in the grocery store.  I thought "This can't be good" and not because I hate snow.  What I hate is how my car doesn't drive in the snow.

My cute and reliable Mazda 3 has "performance" tires which are fine on plowed and sanded (if not horizontal) roads but just horrible with any accumulation and even worse on inclines.  So, I headed out of Hannaford's parking lot, or tried to.  My car decided to spin its tires in the middle of the intersection.  I could feel blood rushing to my face. My pulse quickened and I started to become very anxious, thinking "crap, crap, CRAP!!!."  I was somehow able to propel the car forward into the tire tracks left by another car, and headed west toward Saratoga Springs, anticipating a rough ride home to Middle Grove, usually an easy 20-minute trip.  Once I was on Broadway in Saratoga, it was clear I had neither the nerve, tenacity, or stupidity to attempt the drive home on elevated country roads in blinding snow with tires that barely held their own.  I knew I'd never make it, so I called my long-time friend Kathleen at the beautiful Saratoga Arms on Broadway and she immediately offered me shelter.  I rang the doorbell and she welcomed me as if I were her most loyal guest.  She gave me a key to a beautiful room and called a few minutes later to ask if I'd had anything to eat.  I went down to the kitchen where I made a ham sandwich and she shared some of a wonderful casserole she'd made with spaghetti squash, onions, celery, ground turkey, marinara sauce, oregano, and mozzarella cheese (yum!).  Kathleen offered me a bottle of Snapple Diet Peach and we absorbed the gorgeous winter scene outside her dining room window.  It was peaceful, quiet, and lovely.

I was so grateful to experience the storm from such a setting, but furious with myself for not planning better.  I hadn't dressed for a storm.  I thought I had all the time in the world to get home after my meeting and prepare then - get out the boots, scarf, hat, mittens, my Irish wool sweater and heavy pants.  I had planned to park my car facing downward for the next morning's descent/duel with the driveway.  I had planned to prepare, but this storm out-witted me. 

As I sat in my luxurious bed in a luxurious hotel watching the Olympic women's ice skating competition on a flat-screen TV encased in a beautiful armoire, I thought, "I can be stranded like this." (especially when I have no TV reception at home right now).   I washed some things in the bathroom sink.  I slept soundly and got up, showered, and threw on yesterday's clothes.  I saw on TV that work was delayed and my office wouldn't open until 10:00 a.m.  I thanked Kathleen and headed out to the bus stop.  I sloshed my way there through slushy sidewalks, shoes and tights soaked to my ankles.  At the corner of Broadway and Church, a gentleman shoveled a path for me off the curb, asking "Where are your boots?".  I waited for the bus just outside Mrs. London's, and took in the beauty of downtown Saratoga on a winter morning. 

As fortunate as I am to experience this storm, this way, I long for May when young vibrant green leaves unfold from their buds, and warm air once again brushes my face.  One hot summer day, I'll look back at last night as a lovely, refreshing memory, and perhaps remember this blast of winter with some fondness that I can't seem to muster just yet. 

Photo credit, of a different snow storm (but really, they have a lot in common!): http://mountainriver.redcross.org/images/snow_storm.jpg

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Almond Crusted Salmon Fillet

My friend Joanne has asked for a good recipe for salmon or for a mild white fish.  I found this recipe from my treasury of old Skidmore College Dining Services recipes. It's among those in a gift note pad that was printed for alumni at Reunion time.  This one little note pad is loaded with really terrific recipes, some of which I've featured on this blog in the past. 

Serve this salmon fillet with your favorite vegetable and rice pilaf for a truly delicious and nutritious dinner.


Baked Salmon Fillets with Almond Crumb Crust

3 tablespoons fine plain dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsely
1 tablespoon finely chopped almonds
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Dash salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 egg white
1.5 lb. salmon fillet, cut into six pieces

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.  Spray 12x8" (2 quart) baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.  In shallow dish or pie pan, combine bread crumbs, parsley, almonds, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper; mix well.  Place egg white in aother shallow dish or pie pan; beat well.  Dip tops of salmon fillets into egg white; coat with crumb mixture.  Place skin side down, crumb side up, in spray coated dish.

Bake at 425 F for 10-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with fork.

Makes six servings. 

Photo image: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&source=hp&q=almond+crusted+salmon+fillet&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2&aq=f&oq=&aqi=

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Lake Named Desolation and a Lively Restaurant - Tinney's Tavern!

Not much new or exciting happens when Russ asks me "Where do you want to go for dinner?". We have our regular spots, like The Stadium West in Saratoga Springs or The Village Pizzeria in East Galway, or my very-most favorite, Jake's Round-Up in South Glens Falls.  I am loyal to them all but wanted something different.  This time I had a quick response, "Tinney's Tavern."  I'd been wanting to try it ever since moving to Middle Grove and knowing that it sits up at the top of the hill where Lake Desolation Road meets the lake itself. 

It's a 5-mile ride up Lake Desolation Road from Middle Grove Road.  It seems like forever as the drive slowly climbs the curvy ascent to the top.  Finally, there you are.  The parking lot was almost full.  In addition to cars, there were two ATVs parked in prime spaces, and a couple more across the road in a field.  Directly across the road on the other side is frozen Lake Desolation. 

My daughter Katie recommended Tinney's for its food (here's the menu), but I love it for its atmosphere.  I found the bar and restaurant familiar, as if it were a place (bar) friends and I frequented in my late teens or early twenties though I've never been there (the drinking age was 18 in 1972, when I was coming of age).  With the exception of its flat-screen TV, there is nothing to indicate that Tinney's has let go of the 1970s, and I love that.  It is a friendly warp of time which instantly made me feel completely comfortable and welcome -- no fancy-schmancy decor, no pretention, just really good food and a warm atmosphere.  At the bar there was a lively group of young men who apparently rode in on their ATVs!  There for dinner were couples, families with children and grandparents, friends having a meal together.  It seems Tinney's appeals to everyone. 

Russ ordered a Philly Steak sandwich and I ordered a Sicilian Chicken sandwich.  Mine came with a mound of really wonderful potato salad with a vinegary bite (that I love) and very good home-made cole slaw. I sometimes hesitate to order a chicken sandwich, fearing it might be tough.  This was the most tender chicken sandwich I've ever ordered, and it came layered with roasted red pepper, provolone, and pesto mayonnaise.  It was outstanding.  Russ had a salad with his sandwich, but decided later he did want those fries, and a massive basket of genuine, basic fries (not dipped, battered, or otherwise embellished) was delivered to our table, enough for a family of four! 

We sat for a long time, long enough for Russ (Mr. next-to-nothing bodyfat!)  to order dessert, a hot fudge brownie sundae. I had no room left and couldn't even finish my own meal, though I did score a spoonful of his and it was delicious.  We walked out saying to each other "I'd come back," and we will.

The ride down the hill was breathtakingly beautiful.  As we descended Lake Desolation Road, we could see the entire capital region lit up like a Christmas tree, more than thirty miles away.  It's a beautiful ride both up and down Lake Desolation Road.  And with Tinney's at the top, there's a perfectly good reason to take that ride.

Photo credit: from Tinney's Tavern Web site

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Hate Exercise!

In an effort to de-slug myself, I've very recently started a couple of exercise classes.  Three nights a week I join a group of variously fit people and our instructor Vicky who drills us hard through her paces for an hour.  Two nights a week it's Power Bar, and one night I do Cardio Core.  Let me tell you a little bit about Cardio Core.  I hate it.  I do it, but I hate it.  It's a circuit of stations with alternating weight-resistance and aerobic exercises.  I love the weight resistance exercises.  I can do those until the cows come home.  But the aerobic 2-minute stints in between, I can do without those.  Two minutes of intense aerobic activity are like two minutes in transitional labor.  All you can think is "when will this be over, when can I get a rest?"  Not to equate jumping rope or jumping jacks or even wall jumps for that matter with birthing a 9 lb. baby - but when you're in the midst of it, it's awful.  Time is warped and "30 seconds PEOPLE!" is interpreted as 30 long, suffering, never-ending seconds until you can swill a few gulps of water and move on to the next station! I find myself thinking "I hate this, why did I let myself get SO out of shape to have to suffer through these things that used to be fun.  There was a long period of time in my earliest decades when I considered these torturous activites "play." I actually used to run outside at recess to be the first in line for jump rope. I could easily do perfect jumping jacks, and lots of them, elevating myself off the ground in beautiful form.  Now, I jump but my feet don't seem to leave the floor. I hoist and nothing goes, really.  That all-too-honest wall-length mirror confirms what I already know - every drop of blood is rushing to my head (seeing that, Vicky announced "You must be Irish!") and that I probably won't finish class because I'll die right there in front of everyone when my brain explodes!

There is certainly truth to the commonly held belief about exercise that "You'll be so glad you did it" or "you'll be happy when you're done."  That conviction keeps me coming back.  That, and the knowledge that muscle burns calories for a long time after the exercise is over.  I ask myself what my motivation is, and it's simple.  I want to feel better.  Winter and I are not the best of friends. It plays tricks on me and makes fat deposits when I'm asleep (never mind the Philly Vanilla ice cream).  Winter robs me of energizing sunshine and lulls me into unconciousness with its early-arriving nights.  It has made me a slug.

I like Power Bar.  I'm surprised that I like it, but there it is.  I have to look at Cardio Core as the penance I'm paying for tolerating slugness for too long.  If I can get through Cardio Core one evening a week, I'm a better woman for it.

Image credit: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/clipart/images/jumprope.gif

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Peanutbutter Cheesecake Brownies! from Epicurious.com

Today I was going to bring you my standard cheesecake brownie recipe, but came upon this novel version from epicurious.com which incorporates peanut butter.  So, here you have a great brownie swirled with peanut-butter-infused cheesecake!  My apologies to those who can't have peanuts - I promise recipes for nut-free goodies soon.  For chocolate-peanut butter-cheesecake lovers, here's a dessert that brings all your favorites to the table. 


PEANUT BUTTER CHEESECAKE BROWNIES!

Brownie layer:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cheesecake layer:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup creamy (smooth) natural peanut butter (made with only peanuts and salt)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
preparation
For brownie layer:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Spray 9-inch square metal baking pan with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray; line bottom with parchment paper.

Stir chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth; cool 10 minutes. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla in medium bowl until very fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in chocolate mixture on low speed, then beat in flour and salt. Spread batter in pan.

For cheesecake layer:

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese, peanut butter, and vanilla in medium bowl until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in cream, then flour. Transfer 1/3 cup cheesecake batter to small bowl and reserve. Spread remaining cheesecake batter over brownie layer.

Place chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on low power in 10-second intervals until chocolate begins to melt, then stir until smooth. Mix chocolate into reserved 1/3 cup cheesecake batter. Drop chocolate batter by heaping teaspoonfuls atop cheesecake layer. Using chopstick or wooden skewer, swirl chocolate batter in figure-eight pattern through white cheesecake layer.

Bake brownies until edges of cheesecake layer are puffed and center is set, about 36 minutes. Cool brownies in pan on rack. Cover; chill at least 1 hour.

Cut brownies into 25 squares. Using narrow spatula, transfer brownies to platter. Serve cold.

Photo credit: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2009/01/peanut_butter_and_chocolate_cheesecake_swirl_brownies

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Canadian Maple Cookies

In keeping with desserts honoring Vancouver and the Olympic games, here's another recipe with Canadian roots from allrecipes.com.  This maple cookie is described as "rich, golden, and delicious."  The recipe calls for real maple syrup.  If you don't have any, the next time you're in the grocery store pick up a bottle.  It's worth it and the corn-syrup-based substitute just won't do. 

"Rich and golden" sounds like a medal-winner to me!

Canadian Maple Cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract   
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar for decoration

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the egg, syrup and vanilla. Mix until well blended.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir into mixture until well blended.

Shape into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar.

Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and flatten slightly.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cool on wire rack.

Original recipe: ALL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2010 Allrecipes.com     Adapted from Allrecipes.com


http://allrecipes.com/Recipe-Tools/Print/Recipe.aspx?RecipeID=9773&origin=detail&servings=60

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From Vancouver - The Nanaimo Bar - An Olympic Dessert!

In honor (or should I say honour) of the Vancouver Olympics, I searched out some regional recipes and am very happy to have found the Nanaimo Bar.  It seems these layered bars have a long and interesting history and are found everywhere in Canada.  They are considered a national snack.

Here's Wikipedia's entry about the origin and history of the Nanaimo Bar:

"The bar originated in Ladysmith south of Nanaimo in the early 1950s. A local housewife from Cowichan Bay, by the name of Mabel Jenkins, submitted the recipe to the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Womens Institute Cookbook. This cookbook was sold in the early 1950s in the region as a fundraiser. It made its way throughout the province's communities by way of household cookery recipes shared by housewives in the 1950s, particularly via company towns. It was sold in many of the coffee shops on Nanaimo's Commercial Street, and soon became popular. Tourists in the region, especially US tourists on pleasure boats came to refer to these as "Nanaimo Bars". To most in Nanaimo and the region south of it to Duncan, however, these were originally referred to as Mabel bars, or W.I. bars. The earliest confirmed printed copy of the recipe "Nanaimo Bars" appears in a publication entitled His/Her Favourite Recipes, Compiled by the Women's Association of the Brechin United Church (1957), with the recipe submitted by Joy Wilgress, a Baltimore, Maryland native (p.52). (The Brechin United Church is in the north side of Nanaimo.) This recipe also is reprinted in Kim Blank's book Sex, Life Itself, and the Original Nanaimo Bar Recipe (Umberto Press, 1999, pp.127-29).

In 1954 the recipe "Mable's Squares" (p.84) was published in "The Country Woman's Favorite" by the Upper Gloucester Women's Institute (New Brunswick). The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Harold Payne, the daughter of Mable (Knowles) Scott (1883-1957). The ingredient list, quantities, and assembly steps closely match the recipe found on the City of Nanaimo web site.

Other unconfirmed references date the bars back to the 1930s, when it was said to be known locally as "chocolate fridge cake".[2] Some New Yorkers claim that it originated in New York, and refer to them as "New York Slices".[3] However, Tim Horton's coffee shops in New York sell them as "Nanaimo Bars". One modern reference even refers to the bars existing in nineteenth century Nanaimo.[4] (Wikipedia)  Another source notes: Another source notes: "These delicious bars made their reputation among people making the ferry crossing from Vancouver to Victoria. The ferry terminal on the island is in Nanaimo."

NANAIMO BARS

Base Layer:
• 1/2 cup butter, melted
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1/3 cup cocoa
• 1 egg
• 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
• 1 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened if possible, but sweetened is OK)
• 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
*some food bloggers recommend a bit of espresso powder in the base - just sayin'
(This recipe originates before the age of food processors, but I'm thiniking you can just combine these ingredients in the processor and pulse until just combined, being careful not to chop the walnuts or coconut too much.)

Filling Layer:
• 1/4 cup butter
• 2 tablespoon Bird's custard powder (or instant vanilla pudding powder)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 3 tablespoon milk
• 2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

Icing Layer:
• 4 ounces (4 squares or 2/3 cup) semisweet chocolate
• 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:
Base Layer: Mix together ingredients. Press into a 9" square pan. Refrigerate while making filling.
Filling: Cream together butter, custard powder and vanilla. Gradually blend in milk and confectioners' sugar, alternating between additions. Filling will be stiff.

Spread over chilled base. A bent-handled (off-set) spatula dipped in water does the job. Chill to firm before adding icing.

Icing: Melt chocolate and butter together. Pour over chilled bars, tilting pan to cover evenly and smoothly. Chill well before slicing into bars.

Store in fridge.
Makes 48 bars

Photo credit: http://vinolucistyle.com/2010/02/nanaimo-bars/


Monday, February 15, 2010

More from Food Network Health Star Ellie Krieger - Pork Piccata


Pork Piccata with Spinach and Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Ellie Krieger, So Easy

I've heard great things about this recipe for pork piccata from my friend Jody Shepson, so I'm passing it along to you.  Both Jody and our friend Diane Loviza are big fans of Ellie Krieger's recipes (as am I) and of her cookbooks. (My favorite EK cookbook so far is The Food You Crave.)  So here's a recipe they both recommend with enthusiasm. 

Also from So Easy are Ellie's recipes for spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.  Combined, it's a killer menu, loaded with nutrition and flavor but low on all the bad stuff!
 
Photo Credit: The Food Network, Ellie Krieger, Healthy Living

Ellie's Pork Piccata with Spinach and Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 lbs. pork tenderloin, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch thick medallions
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Directions:
Combine the flour and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a sealable plastic bag. Place the pork medallions in the bag and shake until well-coated.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillt (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook the pork until it is browned on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a plate.
Add the garlic to the same skillet, then immediately add the wine and cook over medium-high heat. As the wine reduces, stir to dissolve the small bits and juices remaining in the pan from the meat. Cook until the wine is reduced by about half, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, capers, and remaining salt and pepper and cook until the mixture has reduced slightly, an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Return the medallions to the skillet along with the remaining tablespoon of oil and heat until the sauce thickens and the meat is cooked to medium doneness, about 3 minutes.
Serve over the Express "Steamed" Spinach and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and top with the parsley.

Express "Steamed" Spinach
Ingredients:
5 ounces pre-washed baby spinach leaves
Directions:
Place the spinach in a large microwave-safe bowl and cover tightly. Microwave on high for 90 seconds.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Ingredients:
1 1/4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, left unpeeled, and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Place the potatoes and garlic in a steamer basket fitted over a large pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until the potatoes are knife tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Warm the chicken broth in a small saucepan on the stove or in a glass container in the microwave. Remove the steamer basket and drain the water from the large pot. Transfer the potatoes and garlic to the pot, add the oil, salt, and broth, and mash until smooth.

Photo Credit:  The Food Network, Healthy Living, Ellie Krieger, So Easy

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thoughts about Valentine's Day

I realize that Valentine's Day is designated the day to celebrate love between two people, but it really extends beyond that limited realm.  My fondest memories of Valentine's Day are not of sentimental cards or lavish gifts from a boyfriend or husband.  The most cherished memories revolve around childhood, the exchange of Valentines in school when I was a child, or the little hand-made gifts from my own children, and especially the happiness they experienced when they got a Valentine from me. 

One Valentine's Day when my children were young, I gave each of them a single chocolate rose, wrapped in beautiful foil.  It wasn't expensive but they were joyful at receiving it.  Some years it was roses, other years perhaps a small heart-shaped box of chocolates or conversation  hearts -- it didn't matter what it was, it was in the remembering each other that the memory was formed. 

There are times when just a card or a note is enough.  To be remembered is enough, for me.  Still, I'll be baking those heart-shaped sugar cookies this weekend, some for Russ, some for my grandson Henry, and for my kids, to let them know they're in my heart.  I'm happy to think Henry may have a fond memory of this Valentine's Day and his Grandma. 

Meghan, your cookies are on their way to you in California!

xox,

Mom

Photo credit: http://www.sweenorschocolates.com/ImagesProducts/rose1.jpg

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simple and Elegant Flourless Chocolate Cake


One of my favorite desserts when dining out is a flourless chocolate cake. Its truffle-like consistency paired with a bit of whipped cream and berries is truly an elegant way to end a meal.  You don't need to wait for your next night out to enjoy such a fine dessert.  I found this great recipe with a Google search, and it comes from yesterday's edition of the Dallas News (link below).  Their recipe relies heavily on a food processor, but if you have a blender and a good mixer you can do the same thing.  Make sure you prepare your pans well.  Use a baking spray (it comes with the flour already in it) or to be truly flour-free, spray pans with vegetable spray or brush with melted butter and then "cocoa" (as you would flour) very well.

Flourless Choclate Cake

1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
12 ounces dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spritz a 6-inch cake pan or muffin tins with baking spray (a cooking spray containing flour).

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds and sugar until finely ground. Set aside.

In a glass bowl or measuring cup, combine chocolate chips and butter. Microwave on High (100 percent power) in 15-second bursts, stirring between, until melted and smooth.

With the processor running (or mixer), pour the chocolate mixture in and process until combined. One at a time, add the eggs, processing between each to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process one last time.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on pan size), or until the cake is puffed and no longer glossy. Let rest in the pan until the top sinks back down, about 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings.

Photo credit and original article: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/fea/taste/easyrecipes/stories/DN-nf_flourless_0210gd.State.Edition1.24bf2bf.html

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sugar Cookie Hearts

This recipe for sugar cookies comes from The Food Network and Alton Brown.  He gets five stars from reviewers, many saying it is the best sugar cookie they've ever made.  It's an all-season recipe, great for whatever holiday or event you're celebrating.  For Valentine's Day, of course, hearts are the way to go, or Xs and Os if you have alphabet cookie cutters.  You can sandwich two baked and cooled cookies with a thin layer of jam and then dip one edge into melted chocolate (same as for yesterday's chocolate dipped strawberries) for a spectacular dessert.  Think of a platter of these with chocolate-covered strawberries.  How beautiful would that be?!
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice* as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week. 

*Use Royal Icing to frost (this link is a good recipe from joyofbaking.com)

Original recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/cda/recipe_print/0,1946,FOOD_9936_25187_RECIPE-PRINT-FULL-PAGE-FORMATTER,00.html
Photo credit: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_-2i3-C1Saeg/RdHef8MycXI/AAAAAAAAA8c/yKuH15kcWsw/s400/10_0209feat.jpg

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chocolate Covered Strawberries for your Valentine!

I've made chocolate covered strawberries on different occasions, and people are just in awe of them.  It seems they have no idea how truly simple a treat these are to make.  Just make sure your strawberries aren't too ripe or they won't last long.  It's a good idea to make the strawberries within a day of serving them.

Chocolate covered strawberries are romantic.  They are big sellers, at a big price, for Valentine's Day.  They are not expensive if you make them yourself, and what a great impression you'll make, having taken the time to select the perfect berries and hand-dip them in melted chocolate.  It that doesn't indicate your love for someone special, I don't know what to tell you!

For lovely Liza's wedding a few years ago, chocolate covered strawberries took center stage. I made her beautiful cake, inspired by a photo in New York Magazine.  The magazine's version was a tiered and unfrosted carrot cake, the layers defined by a filling of sweet cream cheese.  Liza's cake was unfrosted as well, its vanilla layers filled with a chocolate buttercream.  Each tier was surrounded by an assortment of hand-dipped, chocolate-covered strawberries.  The variation of dark, milk, and white chocolate made for a beautifully adorned cake.

The Food Network has a very simple recipe and I've posted it here.  It doesn't have to be more complicated than this, so go buy some beautiful strawberries, some good chocolate (and use real white chocolate, not vanilla flavored morsels) and dip away!
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 ounces white chocolate, chopped
  • 1 pound strawberries with stems (about 20), washed and dried very well
Put the semisweet and white chocolates into 2 separate heatproof medium bowls. Fill 2 medium saucepans with a couple inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn off the heat; set the bowls of chocolate over the water to melt. Stir until smooth. (Alternatively, melt the chocolates in a microwave at half power, for 1 minute, stir and then heat for another minute or until melted.)
Once the chocolates are melted and smooth, remove from the heat. Line a sheet pan with parchment or waxed paper. Holding the strawberry by the stem, dip the fruit into the dark chocolate, lift and twist slightly, letting any excess chocolate fall back into the bowl. Set strawberries on the parchment paper. Repeat with the rest of the strawberries. Dip a fork in the white chocolate and drizzle the white chocolate over the dipped strawberries. 

Set the strawberries aside until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.
Copyright 2003 Television Food Network, G.P. All rights reserved 

Recipe and Photo Credit:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/cda/recipe_print/0,1946,FOOD_9936_26022_RECIPE-PRINT-FULL-PAGE-FORMATTER,00.html

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday, Monday, it's not so bad

If rainy days and Mondays always get you down, what's to be said for a sunny but bitter cold Monday after a warm and nestled weekend?  It's not so bad.

I find myself, on Sunday nights, actually looking forward to returning to work, resuming a routine, seeing people and digging in to the work left on my desk Friday afternoon.  I think that happens when you have a job that fits.  I've had jobs where my gut hurt driving in to work, when personalities were difficult, or there was an unfair burden of underpaid responsibility.  In those positions, I couldn't wait to leave the office at lunch time or at the end of the day, though the office never really left me, psychologically.  The job I have had now for eight years is one where I drive in to the parking lot to see who of my co-workers (friends) have arrived before me.  No sunken feeling in my stomach.  No heavy sighs as I approach the building or unlock the office door.  When I leave, the job stays behind.  No residual stuff is carried home.  It is all good, and it is a fortunate thing.

The nice thing about a work week is that provides perspective to value every minute of the weekend.  Time off, whether for a weekend or a week,  is cherished because it is finite.  This past weekend found me home a lot, but out and about too.  I did different things.  I spent a bit of time helping my son move some things in to his new quarters. There was also time with my boyfriend Russ (we're both too busy, and it was all too brief). Saturday morning I baked some muffins and scones, and a special first birthday cake for baby Reyna's big day.  Sunday I went shopping and had a nice lunch with my sister Patsy.  Katie made a couple of terrific dinners this weekend and invited me down (over?) to her part of the house.  After dinner last night I played with now 21-month old Henry who finds swinging in my laundry basket a thrilling amusement ride (if not an excellent cardio/weight resistance workout for me!). With a broad baby-toothed smile on his face, his giggles are the most joyful sound I've ever heard.  He was laughing and exclaiming "wheee, wheee" with every swing.  Out of the basket, he patted the carpet, inviting me to get down and wrestle, where he proceeded to roll me over and jump on me like a trampoline.  He was exhausted and soon on his way to dream land.

Once Henry was tucked in bed and I was back in my apartment (with no TV reception, temporarily) I watched a Netflix movie and asked Katie to call me if the Saints had any chance of winning the Superbowl (they have good reception).  The call came and I flew down the stairs in my PJs to see the happy finale.  If I had any real interest in football, I'd have chosen a team based on loyalties.  That wasn't the case.  I wanted the Saints to win, if only for the city to have a reason to be jubilant, to celebrate, for its deserving people to experience joy in their lives.

Yes, it was a good weekend, and it is a good Monday.

Photo image: http://i33.photobucket.com/albums/d79/counsel/monday.jpg

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Recipes in Your Head, and in Your Heart

Most of my favorite recipes are memorized.  This is not due to amazing powers of retention or because I sat down and read the recipes over and over again until they were engraved in my brain.  Nope, its from repeated use.  I tend to return to favorites and it is in the repetition that these recipes have become part of my psyche. 

Most people probably have a recipe or two up their sleeves, favorites they can pull off without referring to a cook book or Web site, something we learned to love in our early cooking days and that's been a sure winner every time.  I've shared a few of those in this blog: sweet and sour chicken, chocolate chip cookies, and my mom's "beefaroni." 

I love to hear others' "go to" recipes, the standards they go to when they want a taste of home, a guaranteed result, something familiar.  The exciting thing about baking and cooking is that there is always room for possibility, for new experiences, an expanded repetoire.  I think of people I care about and what I consider their signature recipes.  For my sister-in-law Carolyn, it's her spaghetti sauce.  For my mother-in-law Mary Lou, it was always her pork roast.  For my dad, it was his broiled sword fish with lemon pepper seasoning.  For my mom, it was her tuna casserole.  Before his vegetarian days, my brother Steven grilled a mean hot dog (though he enjoys a veggie dog now and then).  My sister Patsy bakes her chocolate bundt cake for every occasion.  My sister Anne prefers to make "reservations" but I've seen her concoct some really good meals lately, so even if she protests, there's mounting evidence of an inner (and good) cook.  My sister-in-law Suzette is a gourmet cook (lucky husband, my brother Dan).  And my brother Dan is a champion at the grill.  My daughter Katie is a very good cook - she tries new things all the time and really enjoys the creative aspects of cooking.  My daughter Tricia is a cook by profession (good girl!) and recently won an impressive competition, and my daughter Meghan is a very good cook - vegetarian - and really enjoys that.  My son Joe started cooking at an early age.  We had a huge garden and at age  9 or 10 he'd go pluck and eggplant from the garden and, without any help, made eggplant parmesan.  I can still see him as a confident little boy, standing on a stool in front of the stove!  My son Jeffrey is very much like me, a baker, makes beautiful cakes as well as the world's best chocolate chip cookies! 

I'm fortunate to be surrounded by people who share my interest in baking and cooking.  There seems to be a theme running and it's interesting, because growing up, we weren't so focused on food.  My mom made good meals and we enjoyed them, but the next generation seems to have taken food to a more adventurous if not creative level. 

Yep, my favorite recipes are in my head, but they are also in my heart.


http://www.guy-sports.com/fun_pictures/valentine_card_old.jpg
Photo credit:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lemon Lemon Loaf from BAKED


I read myself to sleep, not with a good mystery novel or great magazine article, but with cook books.  I read recipes like they are stories, and survey the photos like they are works of art.  I used to do the same thing with the New York Times magazine section, when I wanted to be a fashion designer (I was fourteen). I'd spend hours imagining what I could create from the inspiration before me.

Last night I grabbed my copy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This book is a treasured gift from my friends Sari and Holly, and I love it!  I have sticky notes marking favorite recipes.  Last night I settled on Baked's Lemon Lemon Loaf.  The photo, by Tina Rupp, is in itself, gorgeous.  Their descripton is mouth-watering.  I haven't made it yet but you don't need my testimony.  Their bakery is famous and their recipes are proven.

I like the idea of a Lemon Lemon Loaf in February. It's full of summer promise and citrus abundance.  If you are experiencing cabin fever and want to infuse your cabin with the scent and taste of warmer seasons, this would be a great way to break out of our February freeze.


FOR THE LEMON CAKE
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 8 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup grated lemon zest (from about 4 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

FOR THE LEMON SYRUP
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup sugar

FOR THE LEMON GLAZE (OPTIONAL)
  • 2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, or more if needed
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation

MAKE THE LEMON CAKES
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the sides and bottom of two 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper and spray the paper.
Sift both flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl.
Put the sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until combined. With the motor running, drizzle the butter in through the feed tube. Add the sour cream and vanilla and pulse until combined. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Sprinkle the flour mixture, one third at a time, folding gently after each addition until just combined. Do not overmix.  

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F., and bake for another 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.
Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes. 

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE LEMON SYRUP
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar is completely dissolved. Once dissolved, continue to cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and invert the loaves onto the pan. Use a toothpick to poke holes in the tops and sides of the loaves.
Brush the tops and sides of the loaves with the lemon syrup. Let the syrup soak into the cake and brush again. Let the cakes cool completely, at least 30 minutes.
(The soaked but unglazed loaves will keep, wrapped in two layers of plastic wrap and frozen, for up to 6 weeks.)

IF YOU LIKE, MAKE THE LEMON GLAZE
In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice. The mixture should be thick but pourable. If the mixture is too stiff, add up to another 2 tablespoons lemon juice and whisk again, adding small amounts of lemon juice and/or confectioners' sugar until you get the right consistency. Pour the lemon glaze over the top of each loaf and let it drip down the sides. Let the lemon glaze harden, about 15 minutes, before serving.

The glazed loaves will keep for up to 3 days, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
BAKED NOTE For zesting purposes, we always recommend using an organic fruit, free of chemicals or pesticides that might reside deep in the rind.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Tina Rupp: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/photo/Lemon-Lemon-Loaf-350989

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Craving a Vacation

Now that Punxatawny Phil has predicted just six more weeks of winter it seems I'm  inundated with email messages with swimsuit advertisements and catalogs filled with spring and summer clothes.  All this while wind chills hover near zero and the moon spends more time overhead than the sun.  This is the time of year when I often hear (and think) "If I could only get away to somewhere warm..."  Living in the northeast, this happens to me every February.  Actually, this craving for warmth kicks in before February, usually in early January just after the holidays are over.  Even the idea of going away, escaping the cold and taking a vacation from my life, is so tempting.  I'm almost 56, and though I could never understand the "snow bird" phenomenon, now I do.  My daughter Katie prays for snow.  I pray that we are missed by every predicted storm.  Let them sway to the south, or just miss us to the east.  I don't want to be snow bound.

It didn't used to be this way.  No one found more joy in a beautiful snow fall than I did.  I saw every snowflake as its own sparkling gem.  Now I look at them as little trouble makers who gang up against me and keep me from making it up the driveway, who cause me to distrust other drivers (like my father used to warn:  Look out for the other guy) and to drive like the little old lady I never thought I'd be. 

So, every post card from a warm and tropical place, every commercial for Royal Caribbean, every Lands End catalog with its summer line up of swimming suits makes me long for beach chairs and coolers of cold drinks and I wouldn't even mind a little sand in my swimsuit! 

My friends Barb and Cathi are leaving in March for a cruise to the Southern Caribbean.  I was supposed to be on that cruise but it didn't work out this time.  If I'd never been on a cruise, I probably wouldn't be too disappointed, but I have and it was one of the very best times I've ever had.  I could be happy staying on the cruise ship the entire time and never stepping foot off the big, beautiful boat.  My favorite days were those at sea, up by the pool, with tropical drinks and sunshine and fun conversations with my friends.  If I think about it, somehow this cold winter fades away and I'm transported back to the warmth of that time.  I will go the next time, and hopefully the time after that.  Warmth WILL return to my life!

Photo credit: http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e67/mw239475/Tropical.jpg

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

If a red velvet cake is what you're thinking for Valentines Day (or any day), this recipe from epicurious.com is perfect.  Epicurious.com credits Nancie McDermott with this recipe.  It's from her book Southern Cakes.

Here is a brief history of red velvet cake, from Wikipedia: "James Beard's 1972 American Cookery describes three red velvet cakes varying in the amounts of shortening and butter. All use red food coloring, but the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin in the cocoa. Before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and similar names for chocolate cakes...While foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture...A red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City during the 1920s. According to a common urban legend a woman once asked for the recipe for the cake, and was billed a large amount. Indignant, she spread the recipe in a chain letter...In Canada the cake was a well-known dessert in the restaurants and bakeries of the Eaton's department store chain in the 1940s and 1950s. Promoted as an "exclusive" Eaton's recipe, with employees who knew the recipe sworn to silence, many mistakenly believed the cake to be the invention of the department store matriarch, Lady Eaton...A resurgence in the popularity of this cake is partly attributed to the 1989 film Steel Magnolias in which the groom's cake (another southern tradition) is a red velvet cake made in the shape of an armadillo."

Whatever its origins, red velvet cake is enjoying a huge surge in popularity.  If you bake this one, with its coconut-pecan icing, your Valentine will be very grateful, indeed!

Red Velvet Cake

Cake:

2 1/2 cups
all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (see Note)
2 tablespoons cocoa
One 1-ounce bottle (2 tablespoons) red food coloring
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or white vinegar

Coconut-Pecan Icing:

1 cup milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

To make the cake, heat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans generously, and line them with waxed paper or kitchen parchment. Grease the paper and flour the pans.

Prepare three separate mixture for the batter: Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl and use a fork to mix them together well. Stir the vanilla into the buttermilk. Combine the cocoa and the red food coloring in a small bowl, mashing and stirring them together to make a thick, smooth paste.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with a mixer at low speed for 1 minute, until creamy and soft. Add the sugar, and then beat well for 3 to 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl now and then. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, until the mixture is creamy, fluffy, and smooth. Scrape the cocoa-food coloring paste into the batter and beat to mix it in evenly.

Add about a third of the flour mixture, and then about half the milk, beating the batter with a mixer at low speed, and mixing only enough to make the flour or liquid disappear into the batter. Mix in another third of the flour, the rest of the milk, and then the last of the flour in the same way.

In a small bowl, combine the baking soda and vinegar and stir well. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to quickly mix this last mixture into the red batter, folding it in gently by hand. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes, until the layers spring back when touched lightly in the center and are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pans.

Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks or folded kitchen towels for 15 minutes. Then turn them out on the racks or on plates, remove the paper, and turn top side up to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine the milk and flour in a small or medium saucepan. Cook over medium beat, whisking or stirring often, until the mixture thickens almost to a paste, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and scrape it into a small bowl to cool completely.

Meanwhile, beat the butter with a mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add the sugar in thirds, beating well each time, until the mixture is creamy and fairly smooth. Add the cooled milk-and-flour mixture and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides now and then, to combine everything well. Using a large spoon or your spatula, stir in the vanilla, coconut, and pecans, mixing to combine everything well into a thick, fluffy, nubby icing.

To complete the cake, place one layer, top side down, on a cake stand or a serving plate, and spread icing on the top. Place the second layer, right side up, on top. Frost the sides and then the top of the cake. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or more to help the icing set.

Note: If you don't have buttermilk, stir 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice into 1 cup of milk and let stand for so minutes.

Photo credit:  http://www.epicurean.com/featured/red-velvet-cake-recipe.html

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chunky Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies, for Joanne!

This recipe is adapted (as so many Web recipes are) from one in my well-worn Martha Stewart's Cookies (2008) cookbook.  It falls into the "chunky and nutty" category and is found on page 179.  My preference is to eliminate the called-for cinnamon and chopped roasted peanuts because my very good friend Joanne has requested a GREAT peanut butter cookie with chunks of chocolate. Tall order? No, it's simple, and this recipe is just right, with a few adjustments. (You, of course, may keep the 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and peanuts if you wish.) Who better than Martha as THE resource for a perfect cookie recipe?  In response to Joanne's request, I replace Martha's semi-sweet chocolate chips with an equal amount of milk chocolate chunks.  The successful and timeless mingling of chocolate with peanut butter is alive and well in this cookie.  "It's a good thing!" Thank you, Martha!

Chunky Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
*1/2 teaspoon cinnamon if you wish  -I choose to leave it out.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egggs
1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chunks (Martha uses semi-sweet chips)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Optional:  2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. (Cinnamon, if using, goes in the mix.)

Put butter and peanut butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes.  Add sugars; mix 2 minutes.  Mix in eggs.  Gradually add flour mixture; mix until just combined.  Fold in the chocolate chunks (peanuts if using) and vanilla until well distributed.  Refrigerate dough until slightly firm, 15 minutes.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls.  Space balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Flatten slightly.  Bake until just golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.  Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.  Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.  (Good luck with that.)

Photo and Web site credit: http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/chunky-peanut-chocolate-and-cinnamon-cookies