Friday, June 22, 2018

Salted Margarita Pie


Have you noticed that I complain a lot about the weather? If you haven’t, then brace yourself, because I’ve got a whole lot of sweaty anger heading your way. Let me first say that I am not a fan of summer. All of the other seasons suit me just fine, but summer, no. It’s not that I don’t attempt to get into the spirit of things, I do. I plant things and eagerly watch them grow, I get outside and grill, I dine alfresco as often as possible, and I try, I really, really try to enjoy that season. But the fact is, I don’t. I particularly don’t this year when we went straight from January into the middle of August, temperature-wise. We hit the 90° mark in early May and have not left it since. Hot weather makes me crabby. I don’t mind the cold, there’s always more that I can put on to warm up in winter, as I’m sipping boozy cocoa in front of a cheery fire, reading a good book. In summer, well, there’s only so much you can take off before somebody reports you to the police.

Where am I going with this, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Many margaritas have been consumed in this house since early May. Generally, that’s a drink I reserve for Mexican restaurants in late August, but now, I keep a pitcher of them at the ready in the fridge. I have come to enjoy that citrus-y goodness so much that I decided to turn it into a cool and refreshing pie.

There are a lot of recipes around for Margarita Pie, and I studied those before I came up with this one. My new favorite crust, for just about anything that calls for a crumb crust, is pretzel. I love the sweet and salty combination, and it works beautifully here. I also decided that most of the margarita pie recipes didn’t have enough alcohol in them to suit me, so I upped that a bit as well. I also added the zest of a lime, and what margarita doesn’t have salt on it? So I added that as well. Here is my version of Margarita Pie. It is cool, and refreshing, and somehow makes summer seem not quite as miserable as it really is.
One thing to note -- I piped whipped cream on top of this pie before putting it into the freezer to make it attractive, and because, who doesn’t love whipped cream? But, I would not do this again. It was clearly a matter of form over function because, with its lack of alcohol content, the whipped cream freezes firmer than does the pie. Therefore, while the pie is ready to consume straight out of the freezer, the whipped cream is not. I sent two pieces of pie home with my number one son the other day so that he and his wife could try it out. (I love having taste testers.) They loved the pie, but Christopher, my son, said that he didn’t wait for the whipped cream to soften; he just plucked pieces off and ate them separately from the pie. So, let this be a warning to you. If you plan to top your pie with whipped cream, don’t freeze that cream with the pie, dollop it on separately.
Salted Margarita Pie

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups crushed pretzels

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup of freshly squeezed key lime juice
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce triple sec
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
4-6 drops green food coloring (optional)
2 cups whipped cream

Fleur de sel,* for garnish
Whipped Cream, for garnish
Lime zest, for garnish


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put the pretzels into the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until they have been reduced to fine crumbs. Add sugar and melted butter, and pulse until combined. Press into a nine-inch pie pan. Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together condensed milk, lime juice, tequila, triple sec, zest, and food coloring (if desired). In a separate bowl whip cream to stiff peaks. Fold whipped cream into filling mixture. Pour into pie crust and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours.

Serve topped with
whipped cream, a sprinkling of lime zest, and a sprinkling of fleur de sel.

*If you don’t have Fleur de sel you can use margarita salt.

If you prefer to enjoy your key lime juice in cheesecake form, then you must try this mouthwatering Key Lime Cheesecake.



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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Red Pepper Cheese Ball

Ahhh, the seventies! If you’re as old as I am, then you probably remember them as fondly as I do. One thing I remember in exquisite detail are the parties that my parents used to throw for their friends. My mother loved to cook, and made the most fabulous meals, but back then I didn’t care about wonderful dinners, I was all about snacks. 

One thing I remember particularly liking was her Party Cheese Ball, a recipe provided, back then, by Kraft Foods, in an effort to sell their cheese. You all know what I’m talking about — cream cheese, grated cheddar, seasonings, all rolled together and coated with crushed pecans. Allowed to come to room temperature, it is ambrosia on a cracker. 

I was thinking about her cheese ball the other day, wondering why I hadn’t made one in decades, firstly, and wondering, secondly, how much better it would be with bits of roasted red pepper scattered throughout. I was right, of course, red pepper makes everything better; it’s like the vegetable version of bacon. At any rate, thinking about my mom, I made this Red Pepper Party Cheese Ball. It is wonderful with any kind of cracker, delicious with crudités, and darned good when spread on wedges of apple. The fact of the matter is, with a cheese ball, you can never go wrong. Never!
Red Pepper Cheese Ball

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/2 tablespoon minced shallots
2 T. Melissa’s Fire Roasted Red Bell Peppers, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of cayenne
1 cup finely ground toasted pecans.

Place all ingredients, except pecans, into a medium mixing bowl, and beat to within an inch of its life. (Or, you can do what I did, and toss everything into the food processor.) Scrape onto a piece of plastic wrap, and form into a ball as you are securely covering it. Place into the refrigerator for an hour to chill, then remove and roll in the pecans, pressing them firmly into the cheese ball, covering it completely. You can serve it at that point, or keep it for up to three days. If you’re having a larger crowd, you can double this recipe and make a cheese boulder. Either way, people are going to love it.

If you prefer your cheese warm and dip-able, try this Baked Pimiento Cheese. Heaven!


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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mushroom Toast


I still had mushrooms left over from last week’s Festival of Fungus, so decided to make a brunch dish using up those that remained. I had seen a recipe in the Chicago Tribune for Mushroom Toast, and I was intrigued. I loved the idea of a nutritional, vegetarian breakfast that can go together without too much trouble, and that is a hearty and satisfying way to start the day.

My version fulfilled all of those requirements plus was absolutely delicious. Better, in fact, than I expected it to be. While I didn’t include it in the recipe, because mushrooms tend to be beefy, I always season them with a few sprinkles of Montreal Steak Seasoning. It takes a tasty mushroom over the top with wonderful flavor. I do this every time I cook a mushroom, no matter what type of dish I am making. If you haven’t tried this yourself, you absolutely must! It will make a big difference, and the people you are serving them to will notice as well. It just gives them that certain je ne sais quoi. Try it, and if you’re a mushroom fan like I am, try this recipe as well. I had mine for a late breakfast, but it works equally well at lunch or dinner. Versatile!
Mushroom Toast

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped Melissa’s shallots
8 oz. fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 handfuls fresh, baby spinach
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices rustic sandwich bread

Heat oil and butter in a 9” skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly, until mushrooms become soft, 8-10 minutes. Stir in garlic. Turn up heat to medium/high and add sherry, scraping up the tasty browned bits from the bottom. Pour in cream and cook until thickened, 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly toast bread. Butter with salted butter. Heap mushroom mixture onto toast.

I spreading goodness on toast is your thing, as it is mine, then you will love these Pimiento Cheese Toasts!



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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mountain Cookies


What is it about men? They always seem to want to offer we single women advice. What is with that? Frankly, I’m doing just fine on my own, and neither need nor want their advice. After a recent, friendly, but annoying interaction with a male acquaintance, doing his best to raise my hackles by trying to tell me what to do, I knew that a cookie was in order. It couldn’t be any ordinary cookie; it had to be one with loads of taste, lots of substance, and ingredients that would replenish both body and soul. This Mountain Cookie came about as a result. You can make it normal size, or one of epic proportions. It’s up to you. Largely, it just depends upon how annoying the men in your life happen to be.
Mountain Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment; set aside.

In small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, espresso powder, and salt; mix well.

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg, vanilla, and milk; mix only until incorporated. Gradually beat in flour mixture and oats. Stir in chips, raisins, coconut, and pecans. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are crisp and browned but centers are still soft. Do not over bake. Cookies should be very brown on the outside but still chewy in the center. Let cool on baking sheets 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks; let cool completely.

For an equally satisfying chocolate chip cookies without the raisins, try Copycat DoubleTree Chocolate Chip Cookies.


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Monday, June 18, 2018

Not Quite My Momma's Potato Salad


The late Mr. O-P and I disagreed on potato salad. He liked potatoes thinly sliced, while I liked mine cubed and chunky. You would not believe what a big issue this was in our household, so much so, that it got to the point where he bought the kind he liked at the local market, and I didn’t eat any at all.

With the heat of summer already upon us, striking us dead in our tracks in early May, I’ve been thinking about barbecued ribs, corn on the cob, and potato salad. These dishes, along with a delicious wilted slaw, were things that my mother would make in the middle of summer. She would serve it to us with tall glasses of sweetened iced tea. As a consequence, this is one meal that just says “summer” to me. So today, I was thinking about potato salad, trying to remember what she put in hers and came up with this one on my own. As far as I can tell, the only thing lacking here are radishes, and I didn’t include them because I didn’t have them.

I made it super easy on myself by using a package of Melissa’s Parisian Pre-Cooked Potatoes, a potato that can seriously change your life. Because I always feel that warm potatoes absorb more of the saucy goodness (This may be true, this may not be. This is not a topic that I have seen covered on “Myth Busters.”), I did blanch these for about two minutes in boiling water, drained them, and then cooled them only slightly (and by this I mean not at all), before cutting them into cubes. Using pre-cooked potatoes made this dish a breeze! Plus, the potatoes are so tender, buttery, and delicious, perfect to soak up all of the tasty ingredients in the sauce. If you can’t get your hands on these potatoes, well, complain mightily to your grocer, but in their place you can use an equal amount of Baby Ruby Gold Potatoes, cooked until fork tender and cubed. 
Not Quite My Momma's Potato Salad

½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup Duke’s mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons sweet pickle juice
1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 sweet-pickle chips, diced
3-4 large hard-boiled eggs, diced (Extra for garnish, if desired)
½ cup chopped celery
1 small Melissa’s shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Paprika

Bring a large saucepan full of water to a rapid boil; add salt. Drop potatoes into the boiling water and heat through (1-2 minutes); rinse, drain, and slightly cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together mayonnaise, pickle juice, mustard, vinegar, sugar, and salt and pepper, to taste, in a small bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss potatoes with pickle chips, eggs, celery, shallot, and parsley. Add dressing and eggs to potatoes and toss to coat. Season to taste with more salt and pepper, if desired, and then fold in dressing.

This gets better if refrigerated overnight.  To serve, dust with paprika, and top each serving with an egg slice and pickle chip.

 

If you prefer a more German-type of potato salad, you will love Miss Hulling’s German Potato Salad from a local landmark restaurant.

 You can get more of Miss Hulling’s delicious recipes here:

 

 

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Creamy Parmesan Chicken Florentine


I am finishing out Mushroom Week with this delicious and easy, on-the-table-in-30-minutes meal, Creamy Parmesan Chicken Florentine. While this can, indeed, be on the table in 30 minutes, it helps to start the day ahead by marinating the chicken breasts in buttermilk. If you have never done this, trust me when I tell you that this should be your new practice with absolutely every dish that you make that uses chicken, and I am talking every single one, including chicken salad, or even if you’re just adding pieces of cooked chicken to a chef salad. It makes a world of difference, because that buttermilk helps to break down any toughness the chicken may possess, and it will come out juicy, and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
Creamy Parmesan Chicken Florentine

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and halved*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1
Melissa’s shallot, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 handfuls baby spinach

In a large sauté pan, melt oil and butter together. Sauté the chicken on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes per side, or until browned and cooked through. Remove chicken to a
plate, tent, and set aside. Put sliced mushrooms into the pan, cook and stir until softened. Remove with slotted spoon to bowl; set aside

Add the 1/4 cup butter to the pan and allow to melt. Add garlic and shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 1-2 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook until partially thickened. Whisk in chicken stock, cream, Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and salt. Add the spinach, and allow to simmer until sauce starts to thicken and the spinach is wilted. Return the chicken and mushrooms to the pan, heat through, and serve atop the pasta of your choice.

Makes 4 servings

*You learned how to do that here.

Another easy and excellent chicken dish is this toothsome Chicken Piccata.



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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Creamy Bacon & Mushroom Fettuccine


Recipe three in my celebration of Mushroom Week features pasta, namely fettuccine. There are a lot of ways to fix fettuccine, but this is one of my favorites. It is particularly easy to put together if you start your water boiling for your pasta around the same time you cook your bacon. This way everything tends to get done at the same time and you can toss it together and serve. This is one of those 30-minute meals that come in so handy on busy days.
Creamy Bacon & Mushroom Fettuccine

4 slices bacon, cut into ½” pieces
4 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1
Melissa's shallot, minced
4 ounces fettuccine, uncooked
4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
1/3 cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried basil leaves
¼ cup freshly chopped parsley

Red pepper flakes, for garnish

Cook bacon until crisp; drain. Add mushrooms and shallots to the skillet, cook and stir about four minutes. Stir in reserved bacon. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine as directed on package in large saucepan; drain. Return fettuccine to saucepan. Stir in cream cheese, milk, garlic powder, basil, and fresh parsley. Cook and stir over medium/low heat until cream cheese melts. Toss bacon mixture with fettuccine mixture. Serve immediately. A sprinkling of red pepper flakes takes this over the top!

Makes two main dish servings.

Another fabulous fettuccini dish is this Fettuccini Alfredo for Two.


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