Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Gingered Apricot Granola

Someone asked me the other day why it is that every fall we seem to happily embrace pumpkin spice. Honestly I don't know. It's become quite a thing in recent years, and I see huge displays of pumpkin spice items in the grocery stores. Not that I'm complaining. I've fallen on the pumpkin spice bandwagon myself, but it is puzzling that we just tend to go for it in the fall months; pumpkin pie spice and canned pumpkin are available year-round.
I feel the same way about soups, stews, and homemade granola. It's not all that often that I make these things during the summer, but once fall hits, I'm making them like crazy. Homemade granola is something I absolutely love, not just as a cereal for breakfast, but also as a topping for quick breads and coffee cakes, a mix-in for salads, as a crunchy ice cream or yogurt topping, and, if it's chunky enough, to eat as a snack on its own.

Making granola is very easy once you have a basic recipe. Essentially oats, a sweetener, and a binder are pretty much all that you need. I like to experiment by building on these things, throwing in different fruits, nuts, and spices that I like, to see what I end up with.  You can seriously go crazy with all of the combinations that are available. Consider, for example, pumpkin pie spice and Pepitas in place of nuts for a pumpkin spice granola. If you prefer apple pie, make an apple pie granola using chopped dried apples, walnuts, and apple pie spice. You're limited only by your imagination, so take this recipe and run with it.

This week I came up with a maple syrup-sweetened apricot and crystallized ginger variety that is quite an eye-opener for breakfast in the morning thanks to its peppery ginger addition.

Nothing is easier than throwing this together. You can do it in a couple of minutes, bake it up, give it a stir halfway through baking, let it cool, and serve. I keep glass jars on the counter in the kitchen filled with different cereals, one of which contains homemade granola. You’re going to want to give this recipe a try.
Gingered Apricot Granola

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 8-ounce can mixed nuts
½  teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, diced fine
1 3-ounce package Melissa’s dried apricots, diced fine
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir first 7 ingredients together in a large bowl.

Spread mixture evenly in a large shallow 1” deep baking pan and bake, stirring and halfway through baking, until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Cool granola in pans on racks for 15 minutes, and then stir in ginger and apricots.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Food with Friends, the Art of Simple Gatherings, Reviewed

In order for me to like a cookbook it has to have three things: an attractive layout with beautiful and plentiful pictures, be written from the heart with personal experiences interlaced with tasty and unique recipes, and it has to be inspiring. So, Food with Friends, the Art of Simple Gatherings by Leela Cyd, meeting the above criteria should be a five-star book...but it isn't. Don't get me wrong, I like it, I like it a lot, but I am a member of the food blogging community and a "foodie," so the biggest appeal for me were the lovely layouts, and wonderful text. The recipes were secondary.
Now, normally, this wouldn't bother me because while they did not inspire me, the layouts, the Anything-Goes Breakfast Board, and section called "Tiny Takeaways" on treats to make, beautifully package, and give to friends did. But the inspiration came more from the photos than the food.
Now, it's just a guess, but I think most people buy cookbooks for the recipes more than anything else. In this book you will be offered things like Sweet Tahini Buns, Raw Vegan Cacao and Coconut Hearts, Socca Cakes with Labneh & Fennel, Rose Flan, Matcha Egg Cream, and Orange Blossom Hagelslag on Toast.
The title is also a bit of a let down in that there is nothing simple about the recipes in this book. Okay, the Maple Kettle Corn was simple, and it was good, but ay-yi-yi, most of the recipes require a lot of time, a decent bit of skill, and some oddball ingredients. And, if I can be honest, there was really no recipe in this book that I wanted to make. I'd like to think that the reason for this is because the recipes in this book lean more to the sweet than the savory, and I prefer the latter, but, really, while they all presented beautifully, none of them really sounded good.

This book speaks to a specific audience, and while I thought I'd be a member of that group, I simply wasn't. But don't let me discourage you. Give it a look at your local library to see if it is the book for you and, if it is, dive right in and buy a copy. If you enjoy reading cookbooks as much as I do, you will be well entertained. If you prefer to cook from them, you might just feel this one falls short.
Three and a half out of five stars.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Cream of Tomato Soup with Pumpkin

It's “Sip Some Soup Sunday,” and today I'm going to share with you an autumn version of a perennial favorite, Cream of Tomato Soup. The difference between this soup and the one you grew up loving, is the addition of pumpkin. It's an easy soup to put together, with an autumn touch that gives it added nutrition, and a rich and delicious seasonal taste that you and your family are sure to love. It also gives you something to do with that little bit of pumpkin left over in the can from when you made this recipe.
Cream of Tomato Soup with Pumpkin

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
½ cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling, egad!)
1 cup half ‘n half
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Pinch of pumpkin pie spice

Stir ingredients together in a medium saucepan and heat through. Garnish in whatever way you see fit. Options might include: crumbled bacon, grated cheese, croutons, popcorn, pepitas, pine nuts, scallions.
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Center[piece] of Attention

I am all about the unusual centerpiece as you can tell from this post and this post. I'm also about the centerpiece that does double duty, as I'm about to show you today. If you want to make a centerpiece intriguing and the talk of your guests, make it more than a centerpiece; consider making it the attendance prize or party gift for one lucky guest.

When I was growing up my mother used to play a lot of bridge, and host a lot of bridge parties. Sometimes the winner took home only a little change in an envelope, other times the winner took home some pretty nice gifts. Whether you play bridge or canasta or bunco or, as my grandmother did way back in her day, pinochle, make your party gift the center of attention as a part of your lovely dinner table.

My centerpiece here actually has a theme, but yours doesn't necessarily have to. The theme of mine, as you can tell, is Colonial Williamsburg. I grabbed one of my favorite little baskets that I use to hold kindling by the fireplace, and put it together with a Williamsburg cookbook, a jar of soup made from a recipe in the cookbook, two more recipes printed on lovely little tea towels, as well as a favorite teapot. The teapot is extra special because it has two different sides reflecting two different people, a man and a woman. It's one of my favorite teapots in my collection, not just because it makes the perfect amount of tea for me in the afternoon, but also because it always gives me a smile whenever I use it.

I'm not saying that I am giving this particular centerpiece away, no, I can't get rid of any of these treasured things, but it does serve to give you an idea as to how to make a centerpiece for your table not just for pleasant viewing, but to use as a gift. If you want to have your guests talking about your lovely table, entice them with an exciting giveaway.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Decadent Shakes, Milkshakes with More, Reviewed

It's been said that you can't judge a book by its cover. Boy, is that wrong. I mean, take a look at the cover of this book. You know you want it, right? This is a book that you need to have in your cookbook library, and if you don't as yet have a cookbook library, then it's time to start.
I am all about the garnish. Flashy, showy, that's what it's all about. You eat first with your eyes, and if there is something that dazzles your visual senses, you know you're going to enjoy it. This book, Decadent Shakes, Milkshakes with More, by Matthew, Sarah, and Brandon Aouad, is a fabulous cookbook loaded with not only delicious shakes, but also incredibly inspired garnishes.

This book has turned making milkshakes into an art form. It provides a wonderful guide on how to do just that, including how to make every garnish shown in the book, and there are lots of them. Here you'll find garnishes featuring candy bars, cookies, pretzels, peanut butter, waffles, ice cream cones, and many other tasty goodies. If it's sweet and delicious, the authors have figured out a way to put it on top of a thick and frosty shake. Everyone, I think, appreciates being the recipient of a carefully crafted dessert. Here you can learn how to become an expert.

The recipes are easy to make and absolutely delicious. The first one I tried was Mocha Madness because of my love of the coffee-and-chocolate combination. Wonderful! I trimmed my jar with melted chocolate, and then embedded finely ground coffee beans into it. It made a striking presentation. The authors suggest topping this particular shake with M&Ms, and I did that, along with a few chocolate-covered espresso beans. Swoon!
 Both young and the young at heart are going to love the Jenga shake, topped with crisscrossed Kit Kat bars. How cute is this? With the holidays coming up, another must try is a dazzling dessert called the TVC Tree. The presentation consists of an inverted waffle cone piped with green icing and embedded with red, crispy M&M "ornaments." Wouldn't this make a fabulous holiday dessert?

And speaking of the holidays, in early October I start to think about holiday shopping. Let me suggest this cookbook. It's fabulous, makes a great gift for male or female, young and old, and will be one that is greatly appreciated, not to mention a cookbook that is actually used instead of gathering dust on the shelf. Who doesn't like delicious drinks and shakes, and a wonderful presentation to make the recipient feel so special?

I cannot recommend this book enough. Pick up a copy and have great fun with it. Use the recipes in the book, but also use them as a springboard to create some wonderfully delicious, artistic, milkshake concoctions of your own.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from The Anderson Group in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli

For the past three months I've been trying to convince myself to order Chinese takeout. Mr. O-P and I had a favorite Chinese restaurant that was located not too far from the house. In order to get delivery, we had to have a minimum purchase of $20. That may not seem like a lot, but $20 is a lot of Chinese food.  The two of us could eat for three days on that food; my guess is that I’d probably have it until the end of the year, but I digress.

The other day I really had a hankering for Chinese food, and toyed with the idea of calling Green China for my favorite combination of carryout items, but it just seemed weird to be doing that on my own. I know, I know, I'll get over it, and move on, and soon I will have a refrigerator full of Chinese takeout containers. But for now, I think I'm going to have to content myself with just making Chinese food at home.

When I saw this recipe for beef and broccoli (coincidentally enough exactly the dish I was craving) that is also made in the crockpot, I figured, why not? Truth be told, instead of using the sirloin steak called for the recipe, I actually used a rather large filet mignon from the freezer. (As you may recall
from this post, I'm trying to clean older items out of the freezer, in order to make room for something new.) The use of a filet in a dish like this may seem a bit extravagant, and perhaps it was, but I have quite a number of them in the freezer, and I'm not sure that I'll be able to eat all of them on my own. So I figured why not treat myself to a special dish this evening.

Whether I used the fillet or the sirloin, this dish was spectacular! I could not believe how easy it was to put together -- it almost seemed sinful -- and the aroma that wafted through the house while it was cooking was amazing.
If you like Chinese food the way that I do, this is absolutely the recipe for you. I adapted it slightly by adding an entire onion that I sliced up and layered on top of the meat, and I thought this was just perfect. I may try this again and, instead calling it beef with broccoli, call it beef with vegetables and add thin strips of carrots in addition to the broccoli and onion as well as some water chestnuts and diagonally sliced pieces of celery. This recipe is a winner, no matter what you do. Highly recommended.

Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli

(Slightly adapted from Buzzfeed.com)

2 lbs sirloin steak or boneless beef chuck roast, sliced thin
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
4 Tbsp. Water
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets

In a medium bowl whisk together beef broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and garlic. Pour mixture into the bottom of the crockpot.

Place slices of beef into the liquid and toss to coat. Layer sliced onion on top. Cover with lid and cook on low heat for 4 hours.

After 4 hours, whisk together cornstarch and water in small bowl. Pour into crockpot and stir to mix well. Add the broccoli, and gently stir to combine. Cover with lid and cook 30 minutes more to cook broccoli and thicken sauce.

Serve over warm white rice.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Deviled Ham Spread

If you're not familiar with the Tiny Book series, stop what you're doing, and head to your local bookstore or library immediately. This is a series of, so far, four books that are just too good to pass up. The series that includes Tiny Book of Teatime Treats, Tiny Book of Christmas Joy, Tiny Book of Pies, and the one I'm going to talk to you about today, Tiny Book of Mason Jar Recipes, is produced by the same wonderful people who bring you the Cottage Journal, Teatime, and Celebrate magazines. These books are absolutely not to be missed. 

The series is new to me, and I stumbled upon these books quite by accident. Every time I go to the library, you just know that I have to look at the latest cookbooks. This one jumped out at me not only because of its cute small size, but also because it deals with food in mason jars, and I love food in mason jars, and think I must have every book published on this darling way of presenting food. 

This book differs from a lot of them, however, in that it doesn't deal with just one subject, but with the general premise, and I like that. This book has beverages in mason jars, dips and sauces, salad and entrées, desserts, preserves, and gifts to make and give to people for the holidays. What a great idea that is. Not only does your recipient get a wonderful mason jar, but also the yummy contents within. As an added gift, including a copy of this book would certainly make the recipient over-the-moon happy.
I found a lot of recipes in this book that I want to try, but the first one that I did was one for deviled ham. As a little girl my mother used to give me deviled ham on crackers. Those of you who go back as far as I do (Horrors!) will probably remember deviled ham in those little packages with the little devil on them. Remember those? So trying the recipe for deviled ham spread was a no-brainer. This delicious spread did not last long. I'm just going to reproduce the page from the book here so that you can see the recipe and leave it at that. I cannot recommend this recipe or the book enough.
I served it on wheat rounds with some pickled cherries. Super yum!