Sunday, November 30, 2014

Southern Fruitcake

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say something pretty controversial: fruitcake gets a bad rap. Yes, I am a supporter of the holiday fruitcake. I have always liked fruitcake, even when I was a kid, and as such, do not get the bad press over this traditional holiday comestible with its beginnings dating back to Ancient Rome. Now, as with any edible, there are good ones and bad ones. Who hasn't had a soggy pie crust, and yet do you blame pie? I think not!  So here, to change your opinion about this unappreciated dessert, is a recipe dating back, not quite as far as Ancient Rome, but to1980. It is a white fruitcake as opposed to the dark molasses-based cakes that tend, in my opinion, to not be quite as good. It's a recipe that Mr. O-P makes annually, slices of which have become a traditional addition to the holiday cookie tray. No one who enters our garland-bedecked doors has left here a fruitcake virgin, and everyone has gone home with a piece or two to enjoy later because, brace yourself, they liked it!

Southern Fruitcake
(As appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 1980)

1-1/2 cups butter, softened
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
7 large eggs, separated
3 cups plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups (1 pound) candied cherries
2 cups (1 pound) candied pineapple, cut in chunks
1-1/2 cups golden raisins
1-1/2 cups dark raisins
1/2 cup (4 oz.) candied lemon peel
3 cups pecan halves or pieces
1/4 cup plus, dark rum or brandy

Special equipment:
10" tube pan
Package of cheesecloth

Preheat oven to 250° F.

Line the bottom, side, and tube of a 10" tube pan with parchment paper.  When pan is lined, spray all parchment with PAM, or a similar product.  Set aside.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg yolks alternately with 3 cups flour.

In a very large mixing bowl, mix all fruits and nuts, and toss with remaining 1/2 cup flour, making sure that all pieces are coated.
Stir the butter/sugar batter into the bowl of mixed fruits and nuts.  
As the batter will be quite stiff, thoroughly mixing the fruits and nuts with the dough cannot be done by an electric mixer; so it must be mixed by hand, although it will be difficult and will take a while.  
The process is complete only when all of the pieces of fruit and nuts are well mixed into the batter.
With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks.  Fold the egg whites into the batter/fruit mixture a little at a time until thoroughly mixed.
Spoon batter into tube pan lined with parchment paper.  Lightly press down on the batter with a spoon or spatula to eliminate any air pockets.

Bake for 2-1/2 to 3 hours until a tester or long tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove pan from oven and place on a rack.  Pour 1/4 cup of rum slowly over cake.  Let cake cool.

When cool, remove the cake from the pan, peel off the paper, and wrap the cake in a few layers of rum- or brandy-soaked cheesecloth.  Store in an air-right container in a cool place to age one or two months, adding additional rum or brandy as needed to keep cloth moist.*

Note: Batter can be baked in paper-lined muffin tins, but reduce baking time to 1-1/2 hours.  It can also be baked in two paper-lined load pans for about 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
*Although the cake does indeed improve with age, it can be eaten at any time.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Malted Milk Snowball Cookies

 How is everybody doing this morning?  For those of you who labored over Thanksgiving dinner, are you among the living today, or are you going to, like me, take the day off?  I suggest that you do, and then take a deep breath, and break out the baking supplies, because cookie baking season has officially begun!

I'm going to start off with a new twist on an old favorite. I think, hands down, the Snowball Cookie (a.k.a. Pecan Balls and Mexican Wedding Cakes) is my favorite. This is always the first cookie to make it's departure from the cookie tray, so I try to make a double batch. They are a bit labor intensive considering the initial rolling into balls, and then the double rolling in confectioners' sugar to ensure a thick coating. I like to make my recipe slightly different from the norm by adding a touch of malt powder. You can use either chocolate malt powder or vanilla malt power, but my preference is the latter. The flavor is not overt; it just gives it a little something extra that makes people say,

Malted Milk Snowball Cookies

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vanilla malt powder
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup butter, softened
Powdered sugar for rolling

Heat oven to 325°F.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer combine butter and granulated sugar. Beat until well combined, 1-2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except powdered sugar. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until well mixed.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 18-25 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes; roll in powdered sugar while still warm and again when cool.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Toffee Bars

Around here, the way that I determine the true success of a recipe is by how quickly the finished product disappears. Using that standard, I must say that these Toffee Bars have surely been one of my most successful in a rather long time. After making, cooling, and cutting the cookies, I created a rather impressive, pyramid-shaped display. My plan was to wait for good light and take some pictures. As the day progressed the pyramid started to look a little shabby. I thought it was just my imagination until I took a closer look and found that, Jenga-style, parts of it had been carefully removed. Bear in mind that I had set some aside for tasting, but one glance at that plate showed that only crumbs remained.  If you are looking for a crowd-pleasing cookie for the holidays that is easy to make and can be cut into small squares for a larger yield, your search is over!

Toffee Bars
(As seen on Positively Splendid)

1 cup butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 12-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup almond brickle pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9"x13" pan; set aside.*

Beat 1 cup butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until combined. Add egg yolk; beat well. Stir in flour and salt, mixing well to combine. Spread dough evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until light brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter. Microwave in 1-minute intervals until thickened and bubbly, stirring after each interval, about 4 minutes total. (Mixture will part well with a spatula when it is ready.) Stir in vanilla. Spread milk mixture evenly over baked cookie layer. Place in oven and bake about 12 minutes, or until top layer is golden.

Sprinkle baked layers evenly with chocolate chips. Place in oven for 1-2 minutes, or until chocolate is glossy and melted. Spread chocolate evenly over baked layer, and then top with an even layer of brickle chips. Place pan on a wire rack and allow cooling a bit before covering and placing in the fridge to chill until the chocolate is set. Cut into squares and store, covered, in the refrigerator.

*I sprayed my pan with a light misting of PAM and then lined it with foil, allowing the foil to overlap the edges.  When the bars have cooled, the entire slab can be lifted easily from the pan and sliced into nice squares.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sugarfire Smoke House Coffee Barbecue Sauce

It was picnic supper night tonight, meaning that I wasn't about to cook after such an exhausting day, so chose my favorite barbecue spot to pick up a bit of dinner. I feel fortunate that I live in an area of great barbecue joints. Now, I'm not picky when it comes to barbecue, I pretty much love it all, but there is one sauce that surpasses every other and that is the coffee barbecue sauce from Sugarfire Smokehouse in St. Charles, MO. The first time I tasted it I was in heaven. I liked it so much that I wrote the food editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asking that she try to get the recipe from the owner. Within weeks my prayers were answered and the recipe appeared in the paper (You can read the entire article here.). The special seasoning called for in the recipe is available at their restaurants, and I bought a large container. I realize that the majority of you can't do this (although, trust me, it's worth the trip), so my experimentation finds that it is similar to Emeril's seasoning used in his coffee barbecue sauce, and can be found here. I keep a bottle of this barbecue sauce in the fridge at all times, using it in place of ketchup in almost every instance. It is oh, so yummy! 

Sugarfire Smoke House Coffee Barbecue Sauce

1½ cups ketchup
½ cup tomato sauce
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup Worcestershire
½ cup honey
½ cup strong dark-roast coffee
2 tablespoons brewed coffee grounds
2 tablespoons Sugarfire Smoke House rub
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Notes: For ketchup, Sugarfire uses a West Creek product labeled 33% ketchup thats not available to consumers. It tastes a lot like Heinz mixed with some portion of tomato sauce. For tomato sauce, Sugarfire uses a West Creek product labeled fancy tomato sauce.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes until slightly reduced and the sauce coats the back a spoon.

Refrigerate to store but rewarm to serve. Yield: 4 cups

Recipe adapted for home kitchens by the Post-Dispatch.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brown Sugar Sugar Cookies

For me, Christmas cookie baking season doesn't officially begin until the day after Thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean that I'm not making a cookie or two ahead of time just to have something sweet to munch on during afternoon tea. Recipes for sugar cookies always catch my eye, causing me to wonder if there is a better version than my own personal recipe, Sistine Chapel Sugar Cookies. To date, I have found that there isn't and mine are undoubtedly the best, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of close seconds, and this is one of them. An adaptation of a recipe from the Taste of Home website, the brown sugar gives these a bit of a richer taste than those made with all white sugar. It also makes a smallish batch, so you won't be rolling dough into balls all day (regular readers of this blog know how much I hate that).

Brown Sugar Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 extra large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Additional white sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In the work bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, shortening, sugars, egg, and vanilla until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour, soda, cream of tartar, and salt, beating until just combined. Shape into large marble-size balls (or, do as I did and use a cookie scoop). Roll in sugar and place on ungreased baking sheets. Top each with about a half teaspoon of additional sugar (to get that crackled look). Bake for 8-10 minutes or until done. Cool. Yield: 3 dozen.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chicken and Mushroom Crepe Casserole

As you may be saying to yourself while viewing the above picture, casseroles are not pretty, and you would be right. But there is something so taste-tempting and delicious about casseroles, not to mention nostalgic and comforting. That's a big return from one simple dish. This one, I think, is particularly good. I adapted it from one found in the Oprah magazine, adding a bit more taste and texture with scallions and fresh mushrooms, and making it much more flavorful by substituting the suggested Swiss for Smoked Gouda (oh, yeah!).  I also made it a heck of a lot simpler by using a rotisserie chicken (be sure to save the rest for making stock) and a package of premade crepes from Melissa's Produce (once you try these you will never make crepes again). The filling can be made the day before, and everything can be rather quickly assembled just before baking. Enjoy it with some fresh green beans and relax in the comfort of your culinary talents.

Chicken and Mushroom Crepe Casserole

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1/2 cup roughly chopped crimini mushrooms
2 scallions, white and green parts, diced
1 cup Smoked Gouda cheese, grated, plus extra for topping
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated, plus extra for topping
1 (10 oz.) can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic, cut in half
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350ยบ F and rub halved garlic all over the inside of 9x13-inch baking dish. (See NOTE)

In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, mushroom soup and cheeses.  Stir and fold in shredded chicken, scallions and mushrooms. and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon 1/3 cup of mixture into each crepe and roll it up like a burrito.
Cut crepes in half (or into thirds if they’re large) and carefully transfer to baking dish. Place them close together so they stand upright.

Sprinkle extra cheese over the top of casserole.

Put baking dish in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

NOTE: I used a dish significantly smaller than the one suggested.  I divided the mixture equally among the 10 crepes in the package and cut them in half.  They were a bit taller than the casserole dish, so I slanted them a bit.

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