Tuesday, November 30, 2010

White Chocolate Popcorn


Quite a number of years ago when my cousin moved his wife and family across the State from St. Louis to Kansas City we missed seeing them at Christmas. It was the first time we'd not been together at the holidays in more than a decade. We'd agreed not to exchange gifts as the logistics of sending so many packages back and forth through the mail seemed daunting. But instead of sending each person a gift, Barbara (my cousin's wife) sent each family a tin of popcorn. It was a nice gesture, we all thought, as we opened up the tin and stared at it . My youngest son peered at it over my shoulder and poked it with disinterest. Popcorn. Huh. And then one of us, I don't remember which one, decided to give it a taste. "Ummmmmmm," he said. Ummmm? Well, let's all try it, shall we? And we did. My guess is that it took no longer than 15 minutes for the entire tin to be consumed. (In our defense, we're talking a cookie-size tin, and not one of those whopping big multi-gallon size tins you might get from the Popcorn Factory or some carnival supply company). Yes, it was that good. There was something about the combination of salty and sweet that had us shoveling it into our mouths so quickly that I think some of us forgot to breathe.

The next day, under the guise of thanking her for the popcorn and wishing her the best for the holiday season I weaseled the recipe out of her. It is unbelievably simple, whips up in no time, and you probably have everything in your pantry at the moment. If not, don't worry. You can substitute almonds for the pecans, you can use any type or size of pretzel, just break them up if they're the big ones. Any brand of microwave popcorn will do (As you can see I used the low-cal popcorn, and yes, I'm aware of the irony of using the 100-calorie packs and then coating them with chocolate.), just be sure (and I cannot stress this enough!) that you carefully pick through the popcorn to get all of the unpopped kernels out before coating it with the chocolate or your medley will seem as though one of the main ingredients is pea gravel -- don't ask me how I know this.

Package and label any way you see fit, but I find these clear bags that allow the recipient to see what you're giving them to be the best.

It makes a great gift, bagged up and tagged with a label, greeting, and the recipe.  The amounts of ingredients listed are really up to you and your own personal taste.  Just know that the better quality the ingredients, the tastier the end product.  I used Ghirardelli white chocolate chips because they seem to melt better for me than any other brand.  Now go get popping!



White Chocolate Popcorn Medley

1 12-oz. package white chocolate chips, melted
2 bags microwave popcorn
2 cups mini pretzels
1 cup pecans, toasted

Prepare popcorn according to package directions. Mix popcorn, pretzels, and nuts in a very large bowl. Melt the white chocolate chips in the microwave and pour over ingredients in bowl. Stir well. 

Put the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
Pour melted chocolate over all and stir until mixture is well coated.
To make the mixture a bit more festive for the holidays I added a few shakes of red sugar.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Gooey Butter Cookies from The Blue Owl

I've decided to have a fabulous array of desserts at my annual Christmas Dinner.  I bought a three-tier plate holder at World Market and found I liked it so much at Thanksgiving when it held all three swoonably delicious desserts, that it would be the perfect venue for serving dessert at Christmas.  The top tier, I've decided, will feature mousse shooters (This idea comes from the "Tasting Party" section of the Pier 1 website, recipe and all.  Clearly, I spend waaaaay too much time on the Pier 1 website!)  The second tier will hold the molded and shaped cookies that are always so delicious and eye-catching, and the bottom tier will hold traditional holiday offerings such as pecan tassies, mini whoopie pies, Mexican wedding cakes, and other family favorites.

The delicious-looking cookies pictured above, derive from the Gooey Butter Cake*, a St. Louis, MO creation, and are hugely popular in this area. As much as I do like the Gooey Butter Cake, I'm not sure I like the cookies quite as well. They are soft and cake-like, and I prefer a crunchy cookie, but people seem to go wild for them here, so I'm making a batch for the holidays.

This recipe comes from The Blue Owl, a delightful restaurant and bakery in Historic Kimmswick, Missouri, located 25 miles south of St. Louis.  It is family owned and operated and has been for the past 24 years.  They specialize in an incredible assortment of desserts (along with serving a delicious lunch); their "Levee High Caramel Apple Pecan Pie" (truly a sight to behold) was featured on The Food Network's "Paula's Party" program.

GOOEY BUTTER COOKIES
The Blue Owl Restaurant and Bakery (Kimmswick, MO)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened (no substitutions)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 (about-18-ounce) box yellow cake mix
1 cup powdered sugar

In large bowl of electric mixer, beat together butter, vanilla, egg and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add cake mix; beat until well blended. Cover dough and chill 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in powdered sugar. Place about 1 1/2 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet (see note). Bake 12 minutes; do not let brown.

Let cookies cool, then sift additional powdered sugar over the tops.

Yield: About 4 dozen cookies

Note: Recipe may be doubled.

Tester's note: It isn't necessary to shake off excess powdered sugar after rolling. Baking on a greased sheet results in just enough spreading to make the cookies a perfect two-bite size. If you bake on parchment paper, the cookies spread a bit less and are more ball-shaped. These should not brown; baking 12 minutes allows the cookies to stay soft. I also tested this with chocolate cake mix with good results.

*The St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake story and original recipe.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a good day for chicken soup...

...to warm you up inside and cure what ails you. We have some for now and some to freeze for later.


We're on the cusp of winter, so we have 65 degrees days followed by 45 degree days, in cases like this it's tough to know whether to make a hot soup or a cold one. Today I made both. This is a piping hot bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup. I used Ina Garten's recipe, and trust me when I tell you that woman knows her chicken soup!


These will go into the freezer.  I try to freeze half of every batch of soup I make.

Here is the recipe (though I must confess I add a bit of chopped onion and some Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning). It's from Barefoot Contessa Family Style, a wonderful cookbook (as are all of her books). Buy them! Every one of them, you won't be sorry.

Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family

CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

"Forget canned soup-this is the real thing. And wouldn't we all feel better after eating a bowl? I love having homemade chicken stock in the freezer so I can make this soup in a hurry."

1 whole (2 split) chicken breast, bone in, skin on
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts homemade Chicken Stock
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 stalks)
1 cup medium-diced carrots (3 carrots)
2 cups wide egg noodles*
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breast on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred or dice the chicken meat.

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a large pot and add the celery, carrots, and noodles. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked.

Add the cooked chicken meat and parsley and heat through. Season to taste and serve.

*I use Goodman's wide egg noodles.

Serves 6

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rum Balls


After nearly a week of Thanksgiving prep, I was ready to be completely self-indulgent and make myself a cookie.  Not that I regret one moment that I put into making the day both delicious and lovely (Even nature cooperated with the perfect snow - blizzard-like for about ten minutes with accumulation only on the grass.), but to be perfectly frank, if I see another pumpkin recipe, of any kind, I think I'll scream.  No, I wanted something easy and rich and delicious and CHOCOLATE! So while paging through Martha's Cookies book I spotted a recipe that filled the bill in all categories. It was everything I'd hoped for, plus... booze! These are SO GOOD!  The recipe calls for them to be rolled in sanding sugar, but I also used confectioners' sugar and Dutch process cocoa.  Personally, I liked those rolled in the cocoa the best.

These decadent little morsels are reminiscent of those I used to get at André’s Confiserie Suisse when it was still in St. Louis. Gosh, I miss that place!

Here's a little step-by-step photo.

RUM BALLS
From Martha Stewart's Cookies

Vegetable oil cooking spray
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark rum
Coarse sanding sugar, for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray; set aside. Melt butter and chocolate in a small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Whisk together eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mixture, then fold in flour. Pour batter into prepared baking sheet. Spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Bake until top is shiny and a cake tester inserted into center comes out with some crumbs attached, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Break up brownie into small pieces; transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With machine on low speed, pour in rum, and mix until crumbs start to come together to form a ball.

Shape into 1-inch balls, and roll in sanding sugar to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet; refrigerate, uncovered, until cold, about 2 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Rum balls can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Makes 4 dozen
 
Martha Stewart's Cookies: The Very Best Treats to Bake and to Share (Martha Stewart Living Magazine)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Praline Custard Pie from Something Elsah


Years ago, there was a very quaint, very charming little restaurant in Grafton, IL called Elsah's Landing. Known for their cinnamon rolls (the town, I'm told, always smelled very cinnamon-y early in the morning) and pies, the establishment became so successful that an offshoot called Something Elsah opened up in Plaza Frontenac shopping center in an affluent suburb of St. Louis. Unfortunately both are now closed, but thanks to the wonderful Special Request Cookbooks published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, we can still enjoy some of their delicious desserts.

I am not a pie person, but this pie is not only relatively easy to make, but knock-your-socks off delicious.

Praline Custard Pie from Something Elsah Restaurant

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup plus 1 T/ butter, divided
1 (9-inch) baked pie shell
1 cup granulated sugar
3 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. salt
3 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1 t. vanilla
1-1/2 cups whipped cream, plus more for optional garnish
Lightly toasted pecans pieces, for option garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a small pan, heat brown sugar, pecans, and 1/3 cup butter; cook and stir until; butter is melted. Spread in baked pie shell; place in oven and bake 5 minutes. Let cool.

Combine granulated sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Beat in salt, egg yolks and milk. Cook over medium heat until very thick, stirring constantly. Add vanilla and remaining 1 tablespoon butter; cook and stir just until butter is melted. Measure out 1 cup custard; set aside. Pour remaining custard into prepared pie shell.

When the 1 cup of custard cools, fold in whipped cream. Spread on top of pie; chill. Garnish with toasted pecans, dollops or whipped cream, or both.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: Special Requests Cookbook, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch





This is linked to Foodie Friday.

FOODIE FRIDAY Click for details

Thanksgiving Dinner 2010

Another successful Thanksgiving dinner is now behind us.  I am always so grateful to see the same faces every year along with some new ones.  What a treasure are family and friends.
It was turkeys to the max this year with the centerpiece, dinnerware, and my new Williams-Sonoma tablecloth all featuring Tom Turkey.
I've been hosting the Thanksgiving dinner now for 20 years.  Every year I add something new, and relish things from the past.  This little Fitz & Floyd water pitcher is one of my favorite things.
More Fitz & Floyd in this whimsical set of salt and pepper shakers.
These little turkey votives add a bit of unexpected fun.
Johnson Brothers "His Majesty" place setting.
Each diner went home with a foil-wrapped chocolate turkey from the Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate Company.
Vichyssoise Shooters

The Zucchini Vichyssoise recipe is from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris Cookbook and can also be found here .

 Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home
 
I topped each one with a single homemade crouton and a flat-leafed parsley leaf from my garden.


The shooter (mini cordial) glasses are a part of the Pier One Tasting Party collection and can be found in your local Pier One and seen online here.

This is linked to Tablescape Thursday.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mango Chutney


I first tasted mango chutney in the late 90s at Punjab Restaurant in Covent Garden in London. That was my first experience with Indian food and I loved it! Ever since then I've been exploring recipes, buying spices (Penzey's has nothing on me!), and filling the larder with many different kinds of chutney, all made by my own hand. It's become a late summer/early fall ritual, and one that I particularly enjoy. There is something so wonderfully cozy about "putting food by" when the weather has turned cold and nasty.

While plum is my personal favorite, mango chutney seems to be the one that even those unfamiliar with Indian food seem to know, so I make a lot of it and gift both guests and hosts during the holidays. It's a lovely tradition, and one you might consider.

Mango Chutney
(Printable Recipe)

3 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 large mangoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 medium sweet red pepper, diced fine
1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced fine
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup currants
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon each: ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

Combine apples, mangoes, red pepper, sugar, onion, raisins, vinegar, and ginger root in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until fruit is tender and mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice, curry powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt; boil gently for 5 minutes.

Remove hot jars from canner and ladle chutney into jars to within 1/2 inch of rim and process 10 minutes for half-pint jars and 15 minutes for pint jars.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Raspberry Pastries

I was looking for something to do with the half-sheet of puff pastry that remained after I'd halved the Steak and Ale pie recipe that I tried for this evening's dinner.  A half a sheet of puff pastry does tend to present a bit of a problem.  I'd thawed the entire sheet to use to cover our crocks of steaming Guinness-laden steak and mushrooms, but with only two of us dining, only used half.  I didn't want to risk refreezing, so immediately pulled out our suitcase-size cookbook of our favorite recipes and started paging through the "Fast and Easy" section.

  It was then that I found this very easy, very tasty recipe from Martha Stewart, and decided to give it a try. I think this must be the easiest dessert ever.  While the meat pies were cooking, I assembled these so that I could pop them into the oven as I pulled out the pies so we'd have dessert ready for us at the conclusion of the meal.  I love a recipe that calls for little more than slicing, slathering, stacking, and baking.  Basically that's all I did.  It was that easy.  Now I'm going to be looking for lots more leftover pieces of puff pastry just for this purpose and plan on trying apricot jam the next time.

These were so light and delicious and flavorful.  I think they'd be equally at home at brunch or afternoon tea as they were after dinner.  In fact, these are so good that I'm thinking we should start having afternoon tea!  I also think they could be made ahead, frozen, and sliced and baked as a treat for those unwelcome surprise guests that happen by during the holidays.  I'm going to try it and will let you know.

In the meantime, try these.  I'm not kidding.  Fast.  Easy. Delicious.

For more easy and delicious puff pastry recipes, I recommend this book.


Puff Pastry Perfection: More Than 175 Recipes for Appetizers, Entrees and Sweets Made with Refrigerated Puff Pastry Dough

This is linked to Tuesdays at the Table.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fritos Brittle



I've been having fun sifting through recipes for snacks, treats, and sides to serve during the holiday season, and to perhaps bag up prettily and give as gifts. This recently caught my eye -- Fritosâ  Brittle, an interesting taste treat served in The Chocolate Bar in Houston, TX. There are a variety of recipes, some of which include pecans, but I like this simpler version the best. We served it on some "test subjects" and it was very well received, though people were a bit hesitant when they first learned it contained corn chips.


FRITOSâ  CANDY BRITTLE
(Printable Recipe)

2 cups pretzels
1 cup Fritos
12 mini peanut butter cups, unwrapped and halved
1 stick unsalted butter (8 T.)
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Optional: Some peanuts for the top

Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a 13×9 inch pan with parchment paper. Place pretzels in food processor and pulse to break - don't pulverize. Add Fritos to processor and break them up with pretzels. Dump into pan. Unwrap peanut butter cups and throw them in the mix. Place butter in a non-stick saucepan and melt over medium heat. When butter is melted, stir in brown sugar. Bring mixture to a full boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring once or twice. Pour over Frito mixture and bake for 8 minutes. Remove pan from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over hot candy. Return to oven for 1 minute to soften chips. Spread softened chocolate chips over bars (top with chopped peanuts if desired). Cool at room temperature until you feel the pan is cool enough to be transferred to your refrigerator, then transfer to refrigerator to set the chocolate. When chocolate is set, lift from pan and break up the candy. Store in an airtight container.
 
Chocolate AND Fritosâ ...what's not to like?



Sunday, November 21, 2010

MAKING PRETZEL ROLLS

I was a pretzel roll virgin until trying one last week when we stopped for a bite to eat at Nadoz. Now I'm not particularly a fan of those big soft pretzels, but in roll form they are really yummy. So I figured why not try to make some myself?

This picture shows my first effort. The top is not as smooth as I'd have liked, so clearly I haven't yet perfected these (like I said, I was a PR virgin only last week!), but the taste and chewy texture are marvelous!  These will make a great addition to the bread tray at this year's Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's the process in making pretzel rolls.  The recipe I have only makes 8, so it was really no trouble.

PRETZEL ROLLS

 3/4 cup warm (80-90 degree) water 
1 tsp. salt
 2-1/2 tsp. brown sugar
 2 tsp. butter, melted
 2-1/4 cups + 1 Tbsp. bread flour
 2 tsp. active dry yeast.
 2 cups water
 2 Tbsp. baking soda
 1 egg white
Kosher or coarse sea salt for topping

Place the 3/4 c. water, salt, brown sugar, butter, flour and yeast into your bread machine pan fitted with the paddle, in that order (or in the order specified by your particular bread machine). Select the dough/pizza dough cycle and the small size loaf (1 lb.). Press start to mix, knead and rise.

When the cycle is completed, remove the dough and knead on a lightly floured surface for 2 minutes. Divide the dough into equal pieces and shape them how you like. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Cover them with a lightly oiled sheet of plastic wrap and let them rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425. Bring the 2 cups of water to a light rolling bowl on the stovetop. Stir in the baking soda. Carefully slide the pretzels/rolls one at a time. Leave the roll there about 45 seconds before flipping and boiling for 45 minutes on the other side. Pick them up with a slotted spatula and let the water drain that way or put them on a cooling rack.

After you have done that with all the rolls, place them on a parchment/silpat lined cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg white and sprinkle them with kosher salt. Bake them for about 12-15 minutes or until they have turned golden brown.

Slather with butter and indulge!  You deserve it.



This post is linked with This Week's Cravings.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Neapolitan Pancakes




For the weekend blog showcase, wherein I find a recipe on another food blog to make and report my experience, I found this recipe for Neapolitan Pancakes at For the Love of Cooking blog. I had extra time this morning, had never quite had pancakes with this combination of ingredients before, so decided to give them a try.
Here they are cooking away on top of my little Cuisinart Griddler (an appliance I could just NOT live without).
Look at these!  Doesn't this make you salivate?

They were rich and delicious, more like dessert than breakfast, and impossible to finish (though I gave it my very best try!).

Here's the recipe.  Do visit For the Love of Cooking for many more delicious recipes.

Neapolitan Pancakes

2 cups of pancake mix (I used Bisquick)
1 cup of milk
1 egg
1 vanilla bean
Strawberries, diced into small pieces
Milk chocolate chocolate chips

Combine the pancake mix, milk and egg together in a bowl. Slice the vanilla bean down the center then using the dull side of the knife, scrape all the seeds out of each side of the bean. Add the seeds to the pancake batter.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto a hot nonstick griddle or skillet. Top each pancake with pieces of the strawberry and chocolate chips.

Cook 2 minutes or until the tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Carefully turn pancakes over; cook 2 more minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Served slathered in butter and topped with maple syrup. 

        Enjoy!        



This Weekend Blog Showcase is being hosted by Ann at Thibeault's Table.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

COCONUT ALMOND GRANOLA with FOUR FRUITS

I know I'm dating myself here, but to the younger generation, let me tell you that Kate Hudson has a mom named Goldie Hawn. Back in the day she made some very funny movies, among them a break-out film called "Private Benjamin." I'll never forget when she joined the army how surprised she was that it was not at ALL as depicted in the commercials: no condos, no great meals, no beach vacations. Nope, just marching around in the rain, during which time she recited a rather funny monologue about what she wanted to do and how she was a "nice person" and shouldn't have to endure such torture. To illustrate her remark she said she never "went to anyone's house empty-handed."


Well, I'm pretty much the same. We're going to dinner tonight and, like Private Benjamin, I never go any place empty-handed, so thought I'd make up some Coconut Almond Granola and take a large jar to the hostess, and two smaller bags to the other couples who will be in attendance. It is so delicious that you can pretty much skip the bananas, milk, yogurt, and spoon, and just dig in!

This is my own personal recipe, a mishmash of a variety of others I've run across over the years. I've found you can pretty much toss in what you like according to what happens to be in your pantry at the time.



COCONUT ALMOND GRANOLA with FOUR FRUITS
(Printable Recipe)

4 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup whole almonds, halved
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup sunflower, pumpkin, or flax seeds to your own taste
2/3 cup (packed) brown sugar or less to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup (packed) pitted dates, each cut crosswise into thirds
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut in quarters
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries, blueberries or cherries


Preheat oven to 300°F. Mix first 8 ingredients in large bowl. Melt butter with honey in heavy small saucepan over low heat. Pour over granola mixture and toss well. Spread out mixture on baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add dried fruits; mix to separate any clumps. Continue to bake until granola is golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes longer. Cool. Do ahead Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.




This post is linked to Foodie Friday.