Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mexican Coffee

This past weekend we were deluged with one icing event after another, running from Thursday night through Sunday morning. While the temperatures had warmed up significantly from those in the single digits and teens of the week prior, seeing a glazing of ice everywhere somehow made it feel colder. It was a weekend where I knew I would be going nowhere, so settled in by the fire, with stitching projects and lots of good books (Why didn't you all tell me that the Rosemont series was so good?!), and cup after cup of Mexican Coffee.

I'm not particularly a fan of flavored coffees unless somehow alcohol is involved (as in Irish coffee, something I don't drink nearly often enough), but wanted to give this a try because it sounded so good. As it turned out it was very good, and I'm sure would make an excellent after dinner drink with the addition of a shot or so of KahlĂșa. It's as easy to make as it is to enjoy, and with plenty of winter left, you have no excuse not to try it.

Mexican Coffee

1/2 cup ground dark roast coffee
1 T. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
5 cups water
1 cup milk
1/3 cup chocolate syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Whipped cream and ground cinnamon for garnish

Put coffee in filter basket of coffeemaker; add 1 T. ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg. Add 5 ups water to coffeemaker; brew coffee as manufacturer’s instructions. Mix milk, chocolate syrup, and sugar in large pan; cook over low heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Stir in brewed coffee and vanilla extract. Pour at once into mugs and top each serving with a dollop of whipped cream and ground cinnamon. Serves 6.
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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Melissa's Hollandaise Sauce

Are you familiar with the term Hygge? It's a Danish word, and it means to live in a cozy, comfortable, soothing fashion. It's what the Danes consider partially responsible for their country being number one on the list of happiest countries in the world. I've been reading a lot about that lately, and embracing this wonderful lifestyle. Actually, I've been doing this for a long time; I just didn't know that there was a word for it. I am a nester. Yes, I've traveled a good bit, but to me there is absolutely no place like home. And when I am home, I love to hunker down and get cozy. I will light a fire in the fireplace, and enjoy it while I'm having my morning coffee. I love to burn candles, I love pillows and throws, and I love everything that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Another way to embrace this idea is by making things simpler for ourselves, and that includes cooking. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have wonderful food, it just means that that wonderful food shouldn't be him impossibly difficult to make. As we head into the New Year, let's make things easy on ourselves, and get a little help from some friends.

My friends at Melissa's Produce are among my best. I have a total love affair, as I'm sure you all know by now, with their
Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers. I also have a new best friend in their prepackaged Hollandaise Sauce. A produce of France, it is stored in the fridge, and any time you want a bit of hollandaise on top of vegetables, eggs benedict, let's face it even over a simple poached egg, all you have to do is snap off the corner, place the packet it in a glass of warm water to heat it up, or toss it in the microwave for 10 seconds, and you have a delicious, elegant hollandaise sauce. Put this on your list for the New Year, you’re going to want to have plenty of this in stock.

Disclaimer: I was sent complimentary packets of Hollandaise from Melissa’s Produce by way of introduction, and am I ever glad they did!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars

As you probably know from reading this blog, I am not a pie lover. I'm not sure exactly what it is that I don't like about pie, but I suspect it's the crust. I'm just not a crust person. If I were to pick the pie that I liked the best, I would probably say pecan. It's my dad's favorite too, so maybe our liking for it is genetic. But if you take the crust out of the mix and replace it with a shortbread cookie, that's the dessert I can really sink my teeth into. That exact thing has been done in this recipe from Ina Garten called The Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars, and they are.

I have been trying recipes for pecan pie bars for the past three or four years. I haven't been wild about any of them, largely because one of the main ingredients is honey, and I just don't care for honey in this case; I think it overwhelms the delicate taste. But this recipe does not call for honey, and that is what makes it so good. I took these to dad's along with barbecue that I picked up at a local barbecue joint when number two son and I took Christmas Eve lunch to him. They were a huge success! They're easy to make, keep forever,  and I know this because, quite frankly, I'm still eating them. And I suspect they freeze beautifully, although I haven't tried that yet. If you love pecan pie, and you're a fan of cookies like I am, this is the best of both worlds.

Best Ever Pecan Pie Bars
(Thank you, Ina Garten)

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 pounds pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8" x 8" pan with foil, leaving a 2" overhang on each end. 

To make the crust, cream together the butter and sugar until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined.  Press the dough evenly into your foil-lined baking pan, pressing it up the sides a bit to form an edge. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

To make the topping, combine butter, corn syrup, and brown sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, stirring frequently. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans. Carefully pour over the cooled crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the filling is set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. Using foil edges, lift from pan onto a cutting surface and cut into bars.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Slow Cooker Creamy Tortellini Soup

Once again it is “Sip Some Soup Sunday,” and what a perfect weekend this has been for making and enjoying soup. I have been iced in since Friday afternoon, so nothing has pleased me more than to be able to sit in front of the fire, sip some cinnamon tea, binge-watch my favorite British mysteries, and stir up one pot of soup after another.

It may come as a surprise to you to learn that I have never made tortellini soup. You may be further surprised to know that I've never eaten tortellini soup either. So, when I spotted this recipe on the Cafe Delights blog, and further learned that it was made in the crockpot, well, you just know I had to try it out. I adapted the recipe slightly to fit my medium-sized (4-quart) crockpot.

I used dried tortellini, and chose the cheese variety for the soup, but I also picked up some portobello mushroom tortellini that looks sensational. (Both of these I got at Aldi -- who knew?) I’m excited to be using tortellini for the first time in my life. As far as the spinach goes, if you're not wild about spinach, use kale. If you're not wild about either, leave it out. I think the spinach is wonderful; I used about three handfuls, that seemed to suit me, and I do like the addition of the green here. The soup will thicken as it cools and the tortellini absorbs all of that wonderful moisture. If it is too thick for your liking, feel free to thin it with stock or milk. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Slow Cooker Creamy Tortellini Soup
Adapted from Café Delights

10 ounces ground hot Italian sausage, browned
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons low-sodium beef soup base
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups beef broth

2 Tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 8-ounce packet three cheese tortellini (I used dried)

3 handfuls fresh baby spinach
1 cup whole milk

Place the first 9 ingredients into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours.

Uncover and skim and discard any fat that may have risen to the top. Add the cornstarch slurry, evaporated milk, and dry tortellini. Stir together. Cover and cook on high for 45 additional minutes.

Uncover and add spinach, pressing down into the liquid as you do so. Cook until wilted, 5-10 minutes more. Stir in milk, and serve with crusty bread and a side salad. This is truly a soup that eats like a meal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shirley’s Spiced Peaches

As I mentioned earlier, I waxed nostalgic at my Boxing Day Brunch this year, using recipes both old and new, both sentimental, and not, and it made for an interesting meal.

Every brunch, I think, should have fruit as one of its offerings. I chose to use a recipe that I have had for many years, and that my mom had pretty much since she was first married. This recipe called Spiced Peaches was given to her by maid of honor, Shirley Fick. It's spicy, and zingy, and very good. I’ve tried it with both fresh and canned peaches and, honestly, the canned work better. Obviously this is an amazingly easy dish to put together, pretty much all you have to do is open a couple of cans. Don’t let the canned fruit deter you from trying it. It is wonderful.
Shirley’s Spiced Peaches

1 cup vinegar
1 cup honey
3 whole cloves
Melissa’s cinnamon sticks
6 cups canned peaches
1 can Bing cherries, drained
1/2 cup apricot brandy (or any kind of brandy)

Mix together vinegar, honey, cloves, and cinnamon in a large pan. Place over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook about 10 minutes. Add peaches and cherries and heat through. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Chill several hours or overnight. (Note: I have found that the flavor intensifies the longer you keep it. These will last 5-7 days in the fridge.)

Shirley mentions in the recipe that it is wonderful when served from a chafing dish, but can also be offered at both room temperature or chilled. She adds that it goes well with pork, ham, or lamb.
Shirley is on the far left; my mom is the one with the toothy grin (or maybe it's terror).

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Preparing Green Pepper for the Freezer

Here's a little tip to make life easier for you in the New Year, and help to save you money.
I know we've all been in a situation where we find our vegetable bin overflowing with vegetables on their last legs. Sometimes you buy something on sale  (in my case, a four pack of green peppers), and then decide not to make the dish that made use of them. I cannot stand waste of any kind, so certainly don't want to watch my fresh vegetables all go bad. So...what to do? The answer is simple. I'm sure you've all seen bags of chopped onion in the freezer section of your grocery store. Did you know that you can also dice and freeze green pepper? I generally set aside one day a week to go through everything that's in my vegetable bin and determine what can be  chopped, bagged, and frozen for future use.
Today is my chopping day. I bought a bag of onions on sale, so I'm going to be dicing them, bagging them up in measured quantities, and freezing them; I'm chopping and bagging green peppers as well. As some recipes (namely my favorite Greek salad) call for strips of green pepper, I'll cut half of the green peppers in slices and bag those for future Greek salad use. The rest I'll dice for use in soups, stews, and sauces.
Not only are you going to find this invaluable in the coming year, but you will also save time and money. Let's try to make things easier for ourselves in the New Year. You can start right here.
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Friday, January 6, 2017

Green Bean-Stuffed Grilled Cheese

Yesterday I gave you that delicious and simple recipe for Smothered Green Beans (Go on, have a look, I’ll wait.). Today I'm going to do something that may shock and even appall you. Don't be afraid! This is really delicious, and a wonderful way to use up leftover vegetables. During the Boxing Day Brunch, my cousin told me that she had read somewhere on the Internet (she didn't quite remember where) that leftover green bean casserole is excellent in a grilled cheese sandwich. I didn't make green bean casserole, but my green beans with their slight sweetness and wonderful bacon addition sounded like they would be perfect on a sandwich. This was not my first foray into using vegetables on a sandwich; I first tried it out here with great success.
So, I put together a grilled cheese sandwich using grated cheese and the Smothered Green Beans, sandwiching them in between layers of the cheese. I grilled it up in my Copper Chef Pan (Heavens, but these are wonderful! I'm going to be telling you about this in the near future.), and it was absolutely delicious. The kids are sure to run from a sandwich like this, but adults are probably going to like it a great deal. It's truly a wonderful way to use up leftovers, a painless way in which to get your daily servings of vegetables, and provides you with an excellent and hearty lunch. Feel free to experiment with any vegetables that you have left over. Give it a try, and let me know what you think.
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