Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Spicy Avocado Crema

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If you are a fan of plant-based eating, then you need to keep watch for a new offering from Abrams Publishing, Eat for the Planet Cookbook. It is a wonderfully informative guide to eating vegan, featuring 75 recipes from some of the world’s greatest plant-based chefs, businesses, and influencers. I am a carnivore, but I do love my veggies, and I found numerous things to like in this book, as well as found it incredibly inspiring. Lover of avocado that I am, I couldn’t resist trying the Spicy Avocado Crema recipe.

I adapted the recipe by cutting back on the salt -- a personal preference -- and found this to be a real winner! Its suggested use is with enchiladas or tacos, tossed with a corn salad, or as a dipper for the Artichoke Bites recipe (That I plan to try in the future), but I found it good all on its own...or slathered on toast...or as an accompaniment to fajitas.
Spicy Avocado Crema
Slightly adapted from Eat for the Planet

½ medium avocado, pitted and peeled
2 T. unsweetened milkadamia or other macadamia milk*
2 T. fresh lime juice
¼ t. salt
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
½ c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 t. minced jalapeño chile
1 small clove garlic, minced

In a food processor, combine the avocado, milk, lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro, jalapeño, and garlic. Pulse until smooth and evenly combined. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or cover and refrigerate until needed. This sauce is best used on the same day that it is made.

Makes about ¾ cup

*Not being a vegan, I replaced this with whole cow’s milk

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book for being a part of Abrams Dinner Party 2019-2020.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Top Ten Posts of 2019

It's time for my year-end wrap-up featuring the 10 most popular posts of 2019. It's a tasty assortment I think, nicely varied, and it tells me a couple of things. First of all, that you loved my Spinach Artichoke Grilled Cheese (me too!). That won by a landslide. For the second time, no tablescapes made it into the top ten spot, but, yet again, you enjoyed seeing my hutch.

Thanks to all of you who visit my blog, I really appreciate having you here. To see the blog post and recipe associated with each of these pictures (shown in descending order of popularity), click on the title below the photo and it will take you directly to the post.

Happy viewing, and have a wonderful New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2019

My 2019 Christmas Card

Last year I shared my 2018 Christmas card with you. If you didn’t see that post, you can read about it here. 
Because this year I, yet again, designed my own Christmas card, and people continue to be interested, I am sharing it as well. Last year’s card was all about the late Mr. O-P, and his legendary fruitcake. This year’s card is about family, tradition, nostalgia, and sentimentality, with a nod to my dad.
The envelope this year was extra special, I think. I decided to take it a little bit over the top by collaging and rubberstamping the front. It was very satisfying to do while I binge-watched murder mysteries (nothing says Christmas to me like a good murder), and put to use some of the new stamping toys that I bought myself this year, including Tim Holtz's stamping platform, that is one of my new favorite things.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but in my younger days, I would look ahead to the New Year with great anticipation. As I have gotten older, that anticipation has turned into trepidation, as I wonder if we’re all going to make it another year. That was meant to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but you have to admit, there’s a lot of truth to that.
Please enjoy my virtual Christmas card to all of you, along with my well wishes for the holiday, and thanks for your readership, kind comments, and support.


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Friday, December 20, 2019

Dark Chocolate Cookies with Salted Caramel

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Despite the fact that I REALLY like them, it’s not often that I feel like baking cookies. But, there is something about the Christmas season that not only puts me in the mood to bake, but extends my interest beyond my usual “glop and plop” to something a little more intricate.

This recipe from Sprinkle Bakes is not only flavorful, but rolls out like a dream. I did not need to flour my cutting board (I did roll out on a Silpat, as I always do), nor did I need to flour my marble rolling pin. They roll beautifully, don’t stick, took the design from my new Williams-Sonoma cookie cutters quite well, and have a rich, dark chocolate taste.

It was suggested in this recipe that the caramel be piped onto the cookies. Unless you are really good (and exceptionally fast) with a piping bag, my suggestion is that you use a small spoon. I tried it both ways, and using the spoon and letting the caramel just flow onto the cookies was far less stressful. Using the bag, I ended up with the caramel setting up in the piping bag, needing to employ various methods to try to warm it up, none of which particularly worked.
Dark Chocolate Cookies with Salted Caramel
Slightly adapted from Sprinkle Bakes

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. flour
t. fine grain sea salt
½ c.
unsweetened dark cocoa powder
¼ t. espresso powder
1 cup (5oz.) caramel bits or 24 caramel squares (unwrapped)
1 tablespoon water
Flake sea salt for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until well incorporated, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Mix well.

In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, fine grain salt, dark cocoa powder, and espresso powder. Whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter mixture and mix on low speed until a thick dough forms (it should not be sticky). Note: If the dough isn't coming together, raise speed and add ice water one tablespoon at a time until the dough just comes together. Again, the dough should not be sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to 1/2-inch thickness. Dust cookie stamps with cocoa powder before cutting, or use 2.5-inch round cookie cutters and press and indention into the center of the cookies with your thumb. (You may also roll the dough into balls and indent with a thumb for a more traditional thumbprint cookie.) Place the cookies on parchment-lined cookie sheets and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on the pans 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cookies cool, Place the caramel bits and water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. Caramel will be hot, so let cool until warm but still pourable. Transfer the caramel to a piping bag or a zip-top bag with a small hole cut in a corner. Fill cookies with the caramel and immediately sprinkle with flake sea salt. Let the cookies stand until the caramel firms. Once completely firm, the caramel will be opaque and lose its shine.

Store cookies in an airtight container.

Yields about 30 cookies

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A Dickens of a Table

Some tables please me more so than others, and this one really pleases me. I had no idea where I was going with this when I started putting it together, I just decided that I really liked the checked tablecloth and plaid placemats (barely visible here) that I used at Thanksgiving, and planned on putting both to use for Christmas, no matter what.
What makes this table particularly special is the Christmas goose centerpiece. My dad made that goose, and I painted it. My mother loved it, and kept it on display in her hutch all year. One year I asked dad if I could borrow it, and he just looked at me like I was crazy. Even after mother had passed away, it was not leaving its post.
With dad gone, it is now mine, and my first Christmas without him is not an easy one, so I am very pleased to have this simple, rustic piece at center, flanked on either side by Charles Dickens characters, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim.
The plaid placemats are from local shop Three French Hens. The greenery and red bell-lined placemats (for lack of a better word) are from Pier One last year. They are a bit cumbersome when it comes to actually dining, but I love these.
On top of these is a tin charger, giving it a bit of a rustic look, a versatile purchase from another local merchant, The White Rabbit. (You can find something similar here.)
The plaid dinner plates are similarly from Pier One, the red plates on top stating what we all know to be true, “It is the most wonderful time of the year,” are by 222 Fifth.
Red napkins with white polka dots are from Pottery Barn (similar napkins can be found here); the red flatware was my mother's.
The cranberry red stemware is new this year, an eBay acquisition, and part of the old Avon Cape Cod collection. I thought they were perfect for this table.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Asparagus and Brie Frittata

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Lately I have become obsessed with breakfast. Not eating it in the morning, mind you, but around 1 o’clock in the afternoon. It all started when I found a couple of rolls of bulk sausage in my freezer, and figured I should put them to use. I started making sausage and egg biscuits each day, finding that I really liked them. I know, people eat these all of the time at fast food restaurants, but I rarely go to fast food restaurants, because my stomach always reminds me afterwards that it was not a good idea.
As I was paging through one of my new favorite books for 2019, The Saltwater Table, I found a recipe for asparagus frittata. As I had asparagus in the fridge, and couldn’t quite remember why, I thought this would be the perfect recipe to try for my breakfast/lunch du jour. I made a few changes, because when I make a scrambled egg, omelet, or anything similar, I add a couple of ingredients to give it phenomenal flavor, so I didn’t make this recipe exactly. I also did not have Green Hill cheese, but found Brie to be an excellent substitute. Naturally, I cannot compare my adaptation with the original from the book, but the similarities are close enough, that I will still give a strong nod to the author. 
Asparagus and Brie Frittata
Adapted from “Asparagus and Green Hill Frittata” in The Saltwater Table
Serves 2

4 large eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
¼ teaspoon
Montreal Steak Seasoning
½ teaspoon dried minced onions
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
10 spears
Melissa’s Organic Asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Pinch kosher salt
2 ounces Brie cheese, finely sliced
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, steak seasoning, and minced onions; set aside.

In a medium (8-inch) nonstick pan or well-seasoned cast-iron pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and pinch of salt, and cook until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour in the egg mixture. Allow the eggs to lightly set before gently moving around with a rubber spatula, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan. Continue this process until the eggs are fluffy and set, but still a little runny on top, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and top with the asparagus, cheese slices, and parsley.

Place in the oven. Cook until the eggs are set and the cheese is melted, 3-5 minutes.

Slide the frittata out of the pan onto a platter and serve.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Sugarplum Fairy Salad

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A word of clarification, there are neither sugarplums nor fairies in this salad, but come on, look how cute it is! All fluffy and pink. Doesn’t that make you think of sugarplum fairies? It does me. No matter, it is delicious, and will be welcomed by your family. It can be made ahead (hooray for that), and works as well for Thanksgiving (Call it Cranberry Fluff Salad) as it does at Christmas.
Sugarplum Fairy Salad

3 c. miniature marshmallows
2 c. ground cranberries*
¾ c. white sugar
2 c. diced Granny Smith apple
½ c.
Melissa’s Christmas Crunch Grapes, halved
½ c. chopped walnuts
¼ t. salt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 8-oz. container Cool Whip (or ½ c. heavy whipping cream, whipped)

Mix marshmallows, cranberries, and sugar together in a large saucepan over low heat.
Cook, stirring constantly until marshmallows melt, about 10 minutes.
Transfer to a heat safe bowl (I use Duralex), and let cool on the counter for 10 minutes before covering and putting in the refrigerator for four hours (or overnight).

Stir in apples, grapes, walnuts, salt, and cinnamon, mixing well.

Beat whipping cream in a chilled bowl using an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; fold into the marshmallow mixture. If you have chosen to use Cool Whip, you can just fold it in.

Garnish with a fresh cranberry and pair of lemon leaves.

*I pulsed mine in a food processor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Leek, Potato, and Bacon Bisque

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 My guess is that you have had few types of bisque that involve bacon, unless used as a garnish. The reason being is that bisque is smooth, and bacon is not. Here, in an effort to make traditional leek soup, and yet with the desire to mix things up, I created this recipe. It’s fairly easy to make (yes, it involves a can of soup, if that bothers you, you might want to pass it by), and is quite toothsome. If, like me, you enjoy serving leek and potato soup prior to your holiday meals, try this one. Your guests will wonder what makes this so much better than theirs. Let the bacon be our little secret.
Leek, Potato, and Bacon Bisque

5 slices of bacon, diced
3 large leeks, white only, cleaned and sliced into coins
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2½-3 cups chicken stock
1 can cream of chicken soup (or celery or mushroom)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup half-n-half
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

In a 3-quart stockpot over medium heat, fry bacon until crisp.  Add leeks and sauté for 5-8 minutes. Pour off fat. Return bacon and onion to the pot and add potatoes and 2 cups stock. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Stir in sour cream and soup, blending well. Gradually add half-n-half, stirring constantly. Add salt, pepper, and parsley. If, at this point, the soup is too thick for your liking, slowly add remaining chicken stock, 1/4 cup at a time, whisking constantly, until desired consistency is reached. Turn off heat, and allow cooling for 15 minutes. Run soup, in batches, through a food processor (or a blender). Strain through a wide mesh sieve to remove solids. At this point, you can freeze it for use later, or refrigerate for up to three days. Serve garnished as you see fit. I found an excruciatingly thin slice of lemon and parsley leaf to be lovely, and it imparts the slightest hint of lemon, adding even more depth.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Dressing for Turkey or Chicken

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 This past Thanksgiving, the dressing was particularly good, if I do say so myself. The guests remarked favorably as well, my daughter-in-law eagerly asking after the recipe. I had to think about that. I told her that, basically, it was very simple. I took one package of Bob Evans spicy pork sausage minus a slice from which I made a sausage biscuit that morning. Then, I diced up the ribs of celery that I had left that weren’t limp, a very large, almost mutant, shallot, more parsley than I thought I would need, a half a bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing that I found in the freezer, and then for good measure, two small pieces of bread slightly toasted. “That,” my son said, “is a blog post.” It certainly is. I managed to jot it down in a workable form so that I could share it, but trust me when I tell you, this recipe is very flexible.
Dressing for Turkey or Chicken

1 16-oz. pkg. Bob Evan’s Hot Pork Sausage*, with a ½” slice removed for making yourself a sausage biscuit
Melissa’s shallots, finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ t. salt
¼ t.
poultry seasoning
¾ -1 14-oz. pkg. Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing**
6 T. melted butter
1 cup chicken or turkey stock

Cook sausage until done (breaking it up into tiny bits all the while), but not brown; drain. Place sausage into a large bowl. Add shallots, celery, parsley, salt, seasoning, and stuffing mix; toss to coat. Stir in melted butter and stock. Stuff turkey or chicken and bake as directed. This can also be baked, covered with foil, in a casserole dish at 375°F for 25-30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of baking, remove foil to allow the top to crisp up and brown. Drizzle with a bit of
Turkey Gravy, and serve.

* Use original if you don’t like spicy.
** Not the cubed variety.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

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Year after year I tell myself that I am going to make Thanksgiving simpler, but I have yet to actually do that. This year, I did help myself out a bit by relieving myself of what is probably the most stressful item in my entire Thanksgiving repertoire...the gravy. When that turkey comes out of the oven, and I have to cook down those juices, and stir in seasonings, and make a roux, I totally freak out. Then I end up with gravy that’s clumpy, needs straining, and slowly cools off, all while I look a strainer. You get the picture.

This year, I decided to search for a make-ahead recipe, and this one, with my changes, is a winner. Making it in advance means it can be done so in a relaxed state, tasted, seasoned to perfection, and then frozen until it’s removed from the freezer the night before. On the day of serving, all it takes is a simmer on top of the stove, and it’s ready.

If you are serving turkey for Christmas this year, do give this recipe a try, once you have, you will never make turkey gravy any other way.
Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

6 turkey wings
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
¾ c. flour
2 quarts chicken broth, divided
¾ c. chopped carrots
½ c. chopped celery
½ t. dried thyme
Pinch of rubbed sage
Pinch of poultry seasoning
Salt, to taste
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
½ c. heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400° F. Arrange a single layer of turkey wings in a large roasting pan. Scatter onions over the top of the wings. Roast for 1¼ hours or until wings are browned.

Place browned wings and onions into a
5-quart stockpot. Place roasting pan over medium heat, and sprinkle flour over all. Whisk continually until a roux forms. Add 1-2 cups broth to roasting pan and continue to whisk, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Pour this mixture into the stockpot. Stir in remaining broth, carrots, celery, and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered, for 1½ hours.

Remove wings from the pot to a cutting board; set aside to cool. When the wings are cool, pull off the skin and meat. Discard the skin and save the meat for another use. Strain contents of stockpot through a large strainer into a
3-quart saucepan. Press on the vegetables to extract any remaining liquid; discard vegetables. Bring the contents of the pot to a gentle boil.

Stir in the cream, and season to taste, if necessary. Serve immediately or pour into containers and refrigerate or freeze.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Roast Chicken with Jalapeños, Lemon, and Garlic

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 Despite the fact that I only recently consumed copious amount of turkey, I was still craving fowl, thinking, no doubt, of the luscious and unique roasted chicken from Michael Ruhlman’s new book, FROM SCRATCH (the must-have for your cookbook library). Talk about magnificent! 
Generally, I am not a particular fan of roasted chicken. It always seems rather dry and mundane, but it is simple and, as such, I made this meal the first Sunday that number two son and his wife came for their extended visit while awaiting completion of their new home. I couldn’t imagine that a roasted chicken would be juicy, so I made sure to make gravy as well (we didn’t need it).
I wish you could have been here to experience not just the heavenly aroma of the roasting chicken, but its tasty, juicy, butter-like tenderness. The three of us were amazed at how scrumptious it was, all of us going back for seconds. I am now sold on roasted chicken, the Michael Ruhlman way; I have made it three times in the last three months. He has a number of different recipes for roasting chicken in his book, but this one is my favorite because the jalapeños give it a lot of zing (but not too much if you don’t like spicy). I have altered the recipe a little bit in order to yield more juices, I also roasted a bigger chicken (and hence had to bake it longer than the recipe states), because I love those leftovers! 

Roast Chicken with Jalapeños, Lemon, and Garlic
Adapted from FROM SCRATCH by Michael Ruhlman

Kosher salt to taste

1 3-4 pound chicken
2 jalapeño peppers, cut into 1/4-inch rounds, seeds and all*
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges, seeds removed
10 - 15 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup chicken stock
1 to 2 tablespoons beurre manié (recipe below)

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

Salt the chicken aggressively and put it, breast-side up, in an oven-safe skillet. Scatter the jalapeño slices, lemon wedges, and garlic cloves around the chicken. Carefully pour in chicken stock. Place pan into preheated oven and roast for one hour, basting the chicken several times during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Remove the bird from the pan and let it rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes before carving. Place the skillet over a burner set to medium-low and simmer the sauce to thicken. If you wish, add the beurre manié while simmering the sauce, or simply spoon the sauce, garlic, lemon (one wedge per plate), and peppers over the cut-up chicken to serve.

*I used Melissa's Pickled Jalapeños. I always keep a jar of them on hand for anytime I need jalapeños.

To make Beurre Manié:

Beurre Manié is a great sauce thickener. It is nothing more than equal parts softened butter and flour, blended together to combine.