Saturday, January 24, 2015

Express Yourself!

Here's a little weekend tidbit to get your creative juices flowing.

This past week both my number two son and Mr. O-P celebrated birthdays.  The apple didn't fall far from the tree when it came to my son 
(a regular contributor to this blog, most recently with this scrumptious dish) who absolutely delighted me with one item on his wish list, namely this set of Dr. Who snack plates. Both he and my daughter-in-law are Dr. Who fans and this love is reflected in their cozy home. Naturally, I had to buy them for him and cannot wait to see what he does with them.  As I was wrapping them, I kept envisioning what I might pair them with, and came up with a variety of settings.  Whatever they do, this is going to be a fun item to share with their friends.
My point in telling you this is to encourage you to embrace your passion, whatever it may be, and let it be reflected in your tables.  It will be great fun for your guests, and give you the opportunity to share what you love.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Hot Buns & a Spicy Cookbook

It's National Hot Sauce Day!  Time to heat up this quirky holiday with a spicy cookbook and some taste-tempting treats to start your day with a bang. 
If you are looking for eye-opening deliciousness at breakfast, you need look no further than this amazing book, Cooking with Frank’s RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce by Rachel Rappaport, where you can find this decadent recipe for kicked up cinnamon rolls.   

Honestly, did you ever once consider putting hot sauce in cinnamon rolls? I didn't think so, me neither, but what a great little flavor enhancer it proves to be, turning your ho-hum rolls into something that the crowd will be talking about for days. 

There will be no excuses for not opening your eyes in the morning once you taste one of these. Tasty and spicy and not at all overt, you'll have no cause to worry about a hot sauce kick in the face while enjoying your morning cup of Joe. 
If you like your food with additional zing, there are tons of great recipes and inspirational ideas here to help you heat things up. This page from the table of contents features just a fraction of the mouthwatering offerings
These Bloody Mary Gelatin Shots are as perfect for brunch as they are an afternoon cocktail party.
Doesn’t this Hot Ranch Fried Chicken look mouthwatering?

Whatever you want to kick up, from breakfast to seafood, to soups, salads, main dishes, and dessert (even ice cream!) this book has it all.

Have a look, and then run out and buy yourself a case of hot sauce and this fabulous book! Then heat yourself up while cooling yourself down with some deliciously refreshing Mango Hot Paletas.  Oh, yeah!

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beef Gravy

We all have recipe boxes, stuffed to overflowing, with recipes that have been passed down through the family, given to us by friends, or simply plucked from various sources for future experimentation, but I wonder just how many of these recipes, if any, are for sauces or gravies?  A basic knowledge of how to make a good Béchamel, vanilla custard, perfect hollandaise, and well-seasoned gravy are worth their weight in gold.  Each one of these sauces can turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.

Take, for example, Béchamel.  It can be infused with flavor and used to top an already prepared dish, as I have done here with crepes, or spiced up a bit to enhance the flavor of a delicate vegetable as done here. Simpler yet, stir in a variety of cheeses, fold in cooked pasta, and you have a delicious macaroni and cheese.

My grandmother's vanilla custard sauce (recipe to come) has turned a handful of fresh strawberries and many a biscuit into a decadently delicious strawberry shortcake dessert, and saved many a slice of pound cake from being mundane.

Today I'm going to talk about gravy. While much of the gravy we make comes from pan drippings, there are those occasions when we find ourselves, well, dripless.  When all of the gravy from Sunday's pot roast has been used up on the mounds of creamy whipped potatoes served as a side, what are you to do with the slices of gravy-less beef that remain? You make your own, of course!

This recipe is based on one by Emeril, but I have to say that mine is better. I always find that a pinch of espresso powder enhances anything having to do with beef, and a bit of cognac (or brandy) adds incredible richness. Give this a try and let me know what you think.  It freezes beautifully, so feel free to double the recipe.  It is excellent on slices of roast beef, meatloaf, hamburgers (even cheeseburgers, I kid you not!), stirred into soup for an added burst of flavor, and is always so good to have on hand when a hot sandwich in front of a crackling fire sounds so satisfying. 

Beef Gravy

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of espresso powder
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cups beef broth
1 Tablespoon cognac or brandy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt butter in a 1-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Add flour and espresso powder to pan and stir to incorporate and form a roux. Continue to stir until roux becomes medium brown in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme and continue to cook, stirring often, until shallots and garlic are fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour Worcestershire sauce into pan and cook until nearly evaporated, about 1 minute. Add beef broth, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue to cook until sauce has reduced, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in brandy. Serve immediately or refrigerate and reheat when ready to use.

Yields about 2 cups

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time for a libation!

Well, I've gotta tell you, last week was not a good one. I was so far under the weather that I was almost underground.  I mean, you know you're in trouble when you walk into the ER (for the 4th time in five days) and everyone greets you like an old friend. But, I appear to have survived my injury, and am ready to get back on the blogging horse, as it were.

A replenishing of supplies was certainly in order after this past week, so we stopped at Sam's on the way home from what I hope was my final view of the ER...ever!  It's no coincidence that I headed straight for the liquor department.  In the going, look what I found!  Is this adorable, or what?
I'm not sure if this is a holdover from the holidays or what, but one went into the cart immediately.  I'm a fan of small, cute bottles of anything, so this appealed on that level, but I also appreciated the great assortment, in some cases of liqueurs that I had wanted to try anyway, but didn't want to buy a full-size bottle. I also love the little recipe suggestions on the side.  This is not a sponsored post, these are just the words of a half-crazed woman ready for a warm and satisfying cocktail.  I'll let you know which ones I make and like the best.
In the meantime, tell me what you all have been doing, and which of these drinks that you would make?

Did anybody miss me?!

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

American Hot Toddy

Happy National Hot Toddy Day!

I don't know about you, but this is one holiday that I can really embrace, particularly with cold temps and freezing rain coming down.  The Hot Toddy has is origins in Ireland, I believe, undoubtedly when some poor sap suffering with a cold decided to have shot of whiskey and added water and spices in order to pass it off as therapeutic, bless him. This version includes a shot of Irish whiskey, brown sugar, a lemon slice studded with cloves, and hot water.

There is also a Scottish version that involves whiskey, honey, cloves, a lemon slice, a cinnamon stick, and hot water.

Americans tend to make their toddies with hot tea, something that I find appalling as it totally negates the deliciousness of the whiskey.

Whichever version you decide is for you, here is the basic, American recipe. Add, subtract, or alter in any way that you see fit. I like mine spicy so use lemon juice, cloves, a cinnamon stick, sometimes a shot of applejack in place of the whiskey, and hot water – I never use tea. I imagine a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey would be mighty warming on a cold winter night as well. After a couple of these in front of a roaring fire, you really won't care which combination is used. So have fun with the recipe, make it your own, celebrate this fun holiday, and stave off the winter weather and a potential cold.

To your health!

American Hot Toddy

1 1/2 ounces brandy, whiskey, or rum
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Lemon slice
4-5 whole cloves
1 cup hot water
1 tea bag

In the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass, pour honey, liquor of choice, and the juice of the lemon.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, boil water and add the tea bag to make a weak tea.  Remove bag and pour steaming tea into the glass and serve immediately.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Polly Bergen's Chili

I think the very first movie that I ever saw on the big screen was a Doris Day film called Move Over, Darling.  This 1963 remake of the1940 screwball comedy My Favorite Wife” (that starred Irene Dunne and Cary Grant), featured Doris Day, James Garner, and Polly Bergen. Now while I realized early on that Bergen was the interloper in this film, separating the happy Arden family, I still found her fascinating. I loved her clothes and all of the jangly jewelry that she wore (perhaps my love of her bracelets that so annoyed the judge in the film stuck with me and are partially responsible for the bracelets that I create today, who knows?). 
Scene from Move Over Darling (Jangly bracelets not visible).
 My mother was a fan of hers as well, admiring her flattering hairstyle, and emulating it for many years.  But we also liked Bergen, the down-to-earth person that we came to know through articles and talk shows. She was a fan of classic over trendy, had a realistic view of life, and a killer chili recipe that appeared in a 1977 issue of Bon Appétit  magazine, and that mother and I made for years.
Bergen passed away last September, and when she did I immediately thought of that chili. This morning, with the temperature hovering around 8, I thought it a good day to make it.

This recipe makes a lot, so I tend to cut it in half.  I use Melissa’s steamed kidney beans (as I’m sure Bergen would have had they been available when she first made this chili--grin), and because I think all chili needs just a touch of cumin, I added a teaspoon. 

Polly Bergen's Chili

6 medium onions, finely chopped
6 medium green peppers, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cooking oil
4 pounds ground chuck
4 (16-ounce) cans Italian-style tomatoes
4 to 6 (9-ounce) packages
Melissa’s kidney beans
2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste
1 cup water
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chili powder OR more to taste
4 drops Tabasco sauce
Sugar

In a large skillet, brown onion, peppers, and garlic in oil until golden.

In a separate skillet, brown ground meat in batches. Separate meat with a fork and cook until all meat is browned. Drain off excess oil.

Place onion, green pepper, garlic and meat in a large pot. Add undrained tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste, water, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, cloves, bay leaves, chili powder, cumin (if using) and Tabasco sauce.

Cover and simmer over low heat 1 hour. Add sugar to taste. Simmer uncovered for another hour. Remove cloves and bay leaves before serving.

Top with your favorite toppings.  I used shredded Pepper Jack Cheese and diced scallions.

As an alternate way to serve, Bergen suggests placing a generous scoop of chili over hot cooked rice and enjoying as a main dish.


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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Buttercream Coffeecake

This post is as much about this delicious coffeecake as it is about how to make the perfect buttercream filling.  This is not a recipe from my mother’s recipe box, but from my first, dating back to when I set up housekeeping directly out of college in the late seventies.  I’m not sure where I found this recipe, but back then it took me a long time to prepare and, as a consequence, I didn’t make it very often.  Happily, these days, with food processors to make short work of chopping nuts and creating the perfect streusel topping, things go quite a bit faster.
While I liked this cake in my ignorant youth, and loved the sweet, buttery taste of the filling, it seldom turned out as I had hoped.  It was not as thick as I had expected and tended toward the grainy.  Fast forward way more years than I care to count and loads of wisdom, and that problem is solved.  Years, experience, and many failed recipes have taught me that there is a decided difference between creaming butter and beating until incorporated.  My guess is that most, if not all of you reading this post do not know that difference and, instead of creaming butter and sugar, simply beat it until it is incorporated.  Perhaps, well incorporated, but merely incorporated and not fully creamed.

Here is the difference.  When you cream butter alone or with sugar it needs to be beaten at medium-high to high speed for 5 to 7 minutes.  (I generally split the difference and beat for 6.) This is where a stand mixer can be a most welcome appliance in your kitchen.  The process of creaming should cause the sugar to melt into the butter forming one light, creamy, fluffy mixture.  Do this one simple thing and you will always have the very best cookies, cakes, toppings, and fillings. It is really that simple.

Now try out your new-found knowledge with this delicious, bakery-shop-worthy coffeecake.  It will be the crown jewel of your breakfast or brunch.

Buttercream Coffeecake

Streusel Topping:
1/3 cup butter
¾ cup flour
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup chopped walnuts

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse together the butter, flour, sugar and cinnamon until crumbly.  Add walnuts and pulse once or twice to blend.  Set aside.

Coffeecake
1-1/2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cardamom
½ cup butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 9 x 9 pan with foil, allowing a 2 overhang on two opposite edges.  Spray foil and exposed sides of pan with cooking spray.  Set aside.

Sift flour with baking powder, soda, salt, and cardamom into a medium bowl.  In a large bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer that has been fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high to high speed for 5-7 minutes.  Gradually add sugar during the last minute and beat for 5-7 additional minutes.  Reduce speed to medium and add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Blend in vanilla extract and Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor (if using).With mixer set at low speed, add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread mixture evenly along the bottom and into the edges of the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with streusel topping, covering completely.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until cake tests done.  Remove to a wire rack and allow cooling for ten minutes before gently lifting from the pan using the foil handles to another rack.  Slide foil from beneath cake and allow to cool completely.  

Slice the cake in half horizontally. (I use the toothpick method described here.)  Fill with Buttercream Filling.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Do remove from the fridge about 20 minutes prior to slicing.

Buttercream Filling

¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan set over low heat, combine flour, salt, and milk.  Cook, whisking constantly, until very thick.  Cool.  In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter for 5-7 minutes.  Gradually add sugar during the last minute and continue beating for 5-7 additional minutes.  Add cooled flour mixture and beat until light and fluffy 1-2 minutes.  Blend in vanilla extract.

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