Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween class treats - Little blue guys

We made these last year for my kid's class parties and they were a hit. Back by popular demand this year - we call them "Little Blue Guys"

As many mini muffins or cupcakes as you need
Blue decorators frosting
Whoppers (cut in half)
Licorice (the pull apart type)
Bubble gum (cut into small pieces for the feet)

Turn the muffin upside down and frost it using long downward strokes to create hair, covering the entire muffin.
Plant some licorice pieces into the head for antenae.
Whopper halfs for eyeballs.
Cut up gum pieces for feet.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cooked pumpkin / Pumpkin Puree

Every fall I process pumpkins. What this means is, I peel, cube and boil my pumpkins (minus the guts of course) in lightly salted water. I cook them until they become soft, and then I immediately dump them into my blender (with a little cooking water as needed) and blend the pumpkin into a smooth puree. I then freeze 2 cup quantities in baggies and use the puree year round for my pumpkin breads, pumpkin pies, pancakes, soups etc.

Pumpkin pie from scratch

After I've processed my pumpkins in the fall, I use them for various recipes. While pureed pumpkin is definitely different from the store bought canned pumpkin, here's a fantastic pie recipe, using your own pumpkin. While this was initially an original experiment, my husband called this 'delightful' (high praise from a man of few words) and was very interested to find out what I'd done differently as the end result was so much smoother and creamier than normal grainy pumpkin pie.

4 c. cooked and blended pumpkin
2 c. sugar
2 T. fresh finely grated ginger
1 t. grated nutmeg
1 T. cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. flour
6 eggs
1 can evaporated milk

2 uncooked pie crusts

Heat oven to 425*.
In a medium saucepan heat pumpkin, ginger, spices and flour. Once this reaches a boiling point, lower heat to medium and add vanilla.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and milk together. Take 1 c. of pumpkin mixture and quickly incorporate into egg mixture, briskly mixing all the time so that the eggs don't cook and curdle. Add egg mixture to pumpkin mixture in pan, whisking briskly to incorporate. Continue to heat and stir until just before mixture comes to a boil. Turn off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Pour into two uncooked pie crusts and bake at 425* for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350* and continue to cook for an additional 45-50 minutes.

Flaky Pie Crust

I found a new pie crust recipe that I absolutely love (and I thought I loved the other one - this one is even more amazing!)

2 1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 t. salt
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 c. cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 c. white vinegar
1/4 c. cold water

Process 1 1/2 c. flour, salt and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4-6 quick pulses. Empty into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vinegar and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chicken Cordon Bleu and Mushroom Sauce

This is truly an original recipe - I don't even remember where I learned how to make this, but once or twice a year when I want to make something that's a little bit fancier, I pull this one out.

8-10 chicken breasts or thighs (skin and bone free)
8-10 slices swiss cheese
8-10 slices ham
1/4 c. butter
1 package Ritz crackers

Place 2-3 chicken pieces into a bag (ie ziplock) and using meat mallet, pound until meat is between 1/4" - 1/2" thick. Set aside and continue with remaining pieces. Select one piece of chicken and layer ham slice and then swiss cheese slice on top of chicken and roll. Secure roll with toothpicks. Continue until all of the chicken pieces have been rolled up with the ham and cheese.

In a small microwave safe bowl, melt butter. Crush crackers finely and mix them into the butter. Gently coat each chicken roll with cracker crumbs and place in a baking dish which has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 350* for 70 minutes.

Mushroom Sauce

1/4 c. butter
8-10 mushrooms
1/4 c. diced onions
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. whipping cream
2 1/2 c. milk
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce
2 splashes liquid smoke
1/4 t. nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper

In a medium sized pan, melt butter and sauté mushrooms and onions until tender. Add flour, and mix until flour sticks to mushrooms and onions. Add whipping cream and quickly mix to make a roux. Add milk and cheese, and continue to stir. Continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil and begins to thicken. Add Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, nutmeg, and ground pepper to taste.

Serve over Chicken Cordon Bleu

Hot Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

My favorite local restaurant is famous for its version of this scrumptious dessert. Every bite of this moist warm cake drenched in caramel sauce seems to scream 'comfort food'. I took this to a dinner party a couple of weeks ago and had to leave to pick up my kids. When I got back the entire cake had been devoured! While I've tried several different recipes, the following is my adaptation of this recipe.

8-10 oz. dates, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 c. packed)
1 c. boiling water
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 c. flour
1/4 t. cardamom
1 t. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350*.
Chop dates and heat water to boiling. Place dates in small bowl, and pour boiling water over dates. Add baking soda, lightly mix, and allow mixture to cool.

Using electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add half the flour and beat to blend, then repeat process, adding eggs, then flour and cardamom. Pour date mixture into batter, and beat to blend.

Pour batter into prepared 9x13, or bundt cake pan. Bake for 1 hour or until tester comes out clean - approx. 1 hr.

Cool pudding until just warm. Unmold; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream and Caramel Sauce.

Caramel Sauce
2 c. whipping cream
1 c. (packed) dark brown sugar
1/4 c. unsalted butter

Bring cream, brown sugar and butter to a boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium - high heat, stirring frequently Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to 1 3/4 c. stirring occasionally, approx. 15 minutes. (This can be prepared 1 day ahead). Cover and refrigerate. Before using, rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pretzels after school snack

Every afternoon, my kids come home from school ready for a snack.
I've been thinking about making pretzels for them for several weeks and today we worked on them together.

I spent a long time researching various recipes and methods and found pretty much the all inclusive - everything pretzel you wanted to know (almost) recipe and discussion board on a blog titled, The Fresh Loaf.
While I used most of the recipe from The Fresh Loaf, I wasn't sure whether I should let the dough rise or not, and I wasn't sure whether to dip them in boiling water or not and whether or not to egg wash.

Here's what we ended up with:

1 T. brown sugar
1 t. yeast
1 c. hot milk (microwaved for 90 seconds)
2 1/2 - 3 c. white flour
1 t. salt

2 T. baking soda
6 c. water
1 beaten egg

Combine brown sugar, yeast, milk, flour and salt in mixer and mix until it forms a ball.
Knead for 5 minutes with dough hooks.

Spray a bowl with cooking spray and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm area allowing to rise for 30 minutes, or until approximately doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 425*. Slice dough into 6 pieces for large pretzels and 12 pieces for smaller pretzels. Roll the dough section into a rope, and shape into a pretzel shape.

Bring water to boil, and add baking soda. Once this reaches a rapid boil, dip each pretzel in for 5 seconds. Place on baking sheet and gently brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt or cinnamon sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes.

I found a slight difference between the pretzels when I boiled them or didn't boil them. My family preferred them boiled, and while it was slightly intimidating to read about, really it was a cinch.

The only thing I will do differently next time is start a little earlier so that I have them ready for my kids to roll out as soon as they walk in the door. The kids loved making their own shapes and creations - which was the best part of all!

Halloween Dinner - Bloody Stump or Feet of Meat

Several years ago I made one of those impulse buys. You know them - you are standing at the checkout counter at the grocery store waiting for an eternity and something there at the check-stand catches your eye, and somehow makes it home with you as well!

There at the check stand, I found a little book with several Halloween recipes in it, and the following recipe (with my alterations) gets made at our home every year in time for Halloween. While truly, it looks kind of nasty (the whole toenails thing - gag!), taste-wise, this rivals my grandmothers meatloaf, yet it is much easier than grandma's!

Finally, I figured I'd better post this because my sister asks me for this recipe EVERY year, and then I have to go hunt it down.

Really, it's about the toenails....

2 ½ pounds ground beef or meat loaf mixture
1 t. minced garlic
½ cup breadcrumbs or oatmeal
½ cup milk or water
1 egg
1 envelope (1 ounce) onion soup mix
8 Brazil nuts or almonds
2 Tablespoons barbecue sauce or ketchup

Preheat oven to 350*. Mix ground beef, minced garlic, breadcrumbs, milk, egg and onion soup mix in large bowl until blended. Remove and set aside 1 cup of the mixture.
Dived remaining mixture in half and shape each half into an oval about 7 x 4 inches. Place oval shapes side – by – side on a rimmed baking sheet. Divide reserved mixture into 8 balls and place 4 balls at end of each oval to form toes. Press 1 Brazil nut into each toe to form toenails. Brush meat loaf with barbecue sauce and bake 1 ½ hours.

Notes: Instead of breadcrumbs, I whatever flavor of croûtons I have on hand - crushed. I also use the cheap generic BBQ sauce – go figure. If you make this as one combined whole instead of the feet/stumps, it does take longer to cook – (my other recipes call for 2 ½ - 3 hours).

(8 – 10 Servings)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dorito Salad

One of my friends made this for us, and ever since my husband begs for me to make this. While I searched out some recipes on the internet and tried them, they just weren't the same. Here's my girlfriend's recipe. Note - this makes a LOT, and it doesn't save very well, so make sure to serve this to a crowd!

1.5 lb ground beef
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 head romaine lettuce torn or cut into bite size pieces
1/2 medium chopped onion
1 can red kidney beans (drained)
1 can black beans (drained)
1 can corn (drained)
1 c. shredded cheese
1 12 oz. bag nacho cheese Doritos, crushed

Optional - tomatoes, red/green peppers, olives

1/2 c. salsa
1 c. thousand island dressing
1 c. mayonnaise

Combine lettuce, onion, beans, corn, in large bowl and place in refrigerator. Brown hamburger and onions. Drain grease, and add taco seasoning mix along with 1 T. water to meat. Allow to simmer until taco seasoning has been completely blended in and absorbed. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix dressing ingredients in separate bowl or blender.

Add cooled meat mixture to refrigerated items. Add dressing and toss entire mixture to coat. Gently mix in Doritos and cheese. Serve immediately.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Moist Mexican Cornbread

Yes - the photo is kind of funky - it was the best of the lot.
Just for the record, I am not a big cornbread fan. Most of the cornbread I've had or made has always been too dry, and I just haven't liked it.
Several years ago though, a friend made some cornbread which I couldn't get enough of. She told me it was made with creamed corn and it was OH SO MOIST! After that, I began a quest to find a recipe that I really liked, (well, maybe not a quest..)
I found the following recipe on the web at Rockin Robin's Cooking Mexican Recipes and as far as cornbread goes - this is by far the best I've ever had. While it appears a bit crumbly in the photo, I had to cut it while it was still hot right out of the oven.

Fabulous Mexican Cornbread Recipe:

3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 cup flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cream style corn (corn pureed in a blender)
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic minced
1-3 jalapeño peppers,depending on your desire for heat, finely chopped
1 - 4 oz. can of green chilies minced and drained
1 1/4 cups grated, monterey jack or cheddar cheese, or a little of both
3/4 cup skim milk

In a large bowl add the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sea salt, and sugar and mix well.

Saute the onion in the olive oil for 25 - 30 minutes, starting out on medium high heat and then lowering to low after the onion starts cooking. Stir frequently. At the end of 30 minutes the onion should have cooked down to about 1/2 of what you started with and be a golden brown.

Add the minced garlic and saute an additional 5 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic. Stir constantly. Transfer the onions and garlic to a small bowl and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan and saute the jalapeño for 8 - 10 minutes on medium high heat. Add the jalapeño and green chiles to the onion/garlic mixture.

Add the creamed corn, butter, milk, and egg to the dry ingredients and mix until just moistened. Do not over mix. Stir in the onion, garlic, jalapeno, green chile mixture, and cheese until just mixed in.

Pour the batter into a greased 9 inch square glass oven-proof dish. Bake at *375 for 25 -30 minutes.

* Note - If you like a little more heat in your cornbread, don't hesitate to add more jalapeños to the recipe. If you don't like the heat, completely omit the jalapeños.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Soup - Chicken Vegetable & Barley

Fall always seems to be soup weather at our home. I took this soup along with some homemade French Bread to a sick neighbor earlier this week. I had been excited to try out a new recipe, but as it turned out, I read the recipe (general guideline) and ended up going a complete different direction - (largely due to the fact that I was kept looking at a picture of minestrone soup on the opposite page!)

My husband and kids really enjoyed this soup and I loved that I could use some that fresh fall garden produce, as well as the twist on traditional chicken noodle soup.

Note - Plan at least 40-60 minutes for the barely to cook.

1 1/2 c. pearled barley
4 c. water
2-3 c. cooked chicken and juices
1-2 c. chopped zucchini
1-2 c. chopped carrots
1/2 large onion coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove (diced)
1 T. chicken bouillon (I recommend Knorr, chicken flavored bouillon found in the Mexican section at the grocery store)
1 T. olive oil
1 t. basil
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse barley and add to boiling water along with 1 t. salt. Once the water returns to boiling, reduce heat to medium and allow to simmer for approximately 40-60 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook chicken and prepare vegetables. Once barley is cooked set aside.

In a large dry pan, heat basil for 1-2 minutes stirring frequently to bring out the flavor. Add oil. Once oil is heated, add remaining chopped vegetables, and garlic. Heat, stirring frequently until vegetables are crisp, yet tender.

Fill a large pot halfway 1/3 with water and add bouillon. Once water is heated, strain any barley juice into water. Add 1 1/2 c. cooked barley, cooked and diced chicken and vegetables.

Add liquid as necessary. If a thicker broth is desired, mix 1-2 T. cornstarch into 1/3 c. cool water. Slowly mix into broth and continue to heat stirring constantly.

Salt and pepper to taste