Saturday, November 27, 2010

Smoky Bacon-Ginger Cookies

It's that baking time of the year for me when it seems as if my kitchen is a non-stop flurry of activity!
I baked these cookies the night after Thanksgiving because I was bored and had the "hankering" to bake something!
The recipe comes from the new 2010 Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies issue that comes out each year in November.
Always looking for interesting and unique recipes, this one really proves to be unique.

These highly flavorful cookies build upon the bacon-for-dessert craze with a couple of other fashionable ingredients--sorghum and smoked sea salt. If you can't find sorghum, locally, which I could not find in my area, unsulfured molasses can be used.

For about 5 dozen cookies, you'll need:

8 oz thick-cut smoked bacon (about 6 slices)
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teas. baking soda
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teas. ground cinnamon
1/2 teas. coarse salt
3 Tablespoons plus 2 teas. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Large Egg
1/3 cup sorghum syrup or unsulfured molasses
1/2 cup raw sugar, such as turbinado (Sugar In The Raw brand)
Smoked sea salt, for sprinkling, such as Maldon's

Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 14 minutes. Pour off fat and reserve (you should have 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fat and 3/4 cup bacon); transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate, let bacon and reserved fat cool.

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, beat together butter, granulated and brown sugars on medium-high until fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Beat in reserved bacon fat. Add egg and mix until blended, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add sorghum (or molasses) and mix until blended. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture, mixing until blended.

Mix in the reserved bacon.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in the raw sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone non-stick baking mats. Flatten balls using the palm of your hand or a spatula, sprinkle lightly with smoked sea salt.

Bake 1 sheet at a time, rotating halfway through, until edges are set and tops are cracked but centers are still soft, about 8 minutes. Let cookies cool completely on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Spice Rack

Spices, the dried buds, barks, roots, seeds, and berries of plants, are among the oldest useful substances known to humans. So useful that the search for the fastest trade routes to spice sources put the world as we know it on the map: Marco Polo went east for spices, Columbus went west. The places they discovered had been using the spices they found for thousands of years.

It was the Romans who established the use of spices in the West. Not until the 11th and 12th centuries, though, did spices gain a wide hold on the tastes of Western Europe. Returning Crusaders brought back Eastern spices, mostly in Venetian ships. Spices revived the bland medieval diet and helped to preserve food. They also made maritime Venice rich: Rarities like pepper were literally worth their weight in gold.

My spice rack, pictured below, is one of my most prized features in my kitchen. It is a replica of the spice rack seen in the TV studio kitchen of the Emmy Award winning television program, "Martha Stewart Living", complete with 70 spices. This was available through the now-defunct "Martha By Mail" catalog (later to become "Martha Stewart: The Catalog for Living"). The spices are packaged in spice tins which I find keep spices fresher longer than their expected shelf life, and yes they are arranged alphabetically for ease in locating just the right spice that I need for whatever I'm preparing.

The "orbital" shaped object at the top center of the spice rack is a nutmeg grinder and the two small bottles are "collectible" bottles of hot sauce. The hot sauce on the left is a parody hot sauce called "Martha's Private Stock" and makes a whimsical reference to Martha's unfortunate stock sale problems of the past. The hot sauce on the right is a bottle of "Franks Red Hot Xtra Hot" sauce, signed and given to me, personally, by Alexis Stewart, Martha's daughter

The following list of spices and herbs are what's included on my spice rack and are most frequently used in recipes. There are suggested uses for cooking but experiment -- the real beauty of spices is the way in which they blend.

This ground dried berry of a Caribbean evergreen tree has a scent and taste similar to clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It was first brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, who mistakenly thought it was a pepper; this is why allspice is known as "pimento" outside the United States. Allspice is the main ingredient in Jamaican jerk seasoning; it is best used in marinades, meat stews, fruit compotes and pies, barbecue sauces, and baked goods. Allspice is one of the flavorings found in ketchup.

Anise seed
This seed of the parsley family has a sweet licorice flavor. It is one of the oldest cultivated spices, and was used by Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Anise seed has worldwide appeal: It is used in European baking and in Middle Eastern and Indian soups and stews. It lends a Mediterranean flavor to seafood and is delicious in applesauce and tomato sauce. Anise seed is a common ingredient in cakes, cookies, and sweets.

Star anise
This eight-pointed fruit pod has a seed in each point. It tastes like licorice and is a member of the magnolia family. To grind it, you can use a clean coffee grinder. Or break off points from the pod, bundle them in cheesecloth, and simmer in food as it cooks. Star anise is good in stir-fried foods, custards, dessert sauces, and sorbets.

Basil is a member of the mint family; there are more than 150 varieties grown. Its name may have been derived from the Greek basileus, meaning "king." Basil is versatile and very good in combination with thyme, garlic, oregano, and lemon. It is a natural in Italian food, and is also good in egg, potato, or rice dishes, and tomato sauces.

Bay leaf
The bay leaf is the leaf of the laurel tree. It has great significance in Greek mythology, and has long been associated with honor and celebration. It is an essential flavor in French, Mediterranean, and Indian cuisines. Bay leaves add complexity to the flavor of marinades, sauces, soups, and stews; boil a few of the leaves in milk to infuse white sauces with flavor. Always remove bay leaves before serving food. For use as a weevil deterrent, place a few of the leaves in flour and grain containers.

Bouquet garni
This array of dried herb sprigs features onions, celery, thyme, and other spices; it is a classic in French cooking. To use, tie the herbs in cheesecloth, and add to simmering soup, stew, or sauce. Remove the bouquet before food is served.

Caraway seed
This Dutch seed is related to dill and cumin, and has been cultivated for thousands of years. It is often used in Northern European baking, and cabbage and noodle dishes. Caraway seed is delicious with pork; it is great for rye bread and homemade crackers. Add caraway seed to cooking water for cabbage to reduce odor.

This sweetly pungent, hand-picked seedpod comes from Central America and India. Cardamom pods have been traditionally used as a breath freshener. Uncracked whole pods ensure the freshness of the aromatic black seeds inside. Use sparingly; only a small amount is needed to add flavor. Use cardamom in stews, curries, sweet sauces, and Scandinavian pastries and breads.
Use whole cardamom in punches and for pickling.
The intense flavor of ground cardamom is good in fruit salads.

Cayenne pepper
Like hot paprika, cayenne pepper is a finely ground blend of pungent red peppers and chiles. The blend is named after a pepper native to Cayenne Island, the capital of French Guiana. Cayenne pepper is used more for flavoring than heat in Mexican and Italian cooking. It is tasty with poultry, meat, stews, eggs, hors d'oeuvres, and barbecue. Its bright color makes it a flavorful garnish for foods.

Celery seed
This very small seed is from a wild variety of the celery plant. The seed is so tiny, it takes 750,000 to make a pound. Celery seed is used whole or ground in Indian cooking. It can be used for pickling, and adds flavor when sprinkled on cold-cut sandwiches. Add celery seed to clam chowder, creamy soups, potato salad, and coleslaw.

Whole chile peppers
These peppers are of the Capsicum family. Chiles were enjoyed throughout South America as early as 6500 B.C. There are many types, and each varies in intensity of flavor. Use the peppers sparingly to begin with; you can always add more. Try them in Mexican sauces and dishes, paella, and spicy Indian dishes.

Chile seasoning
A 100-year-old Southwestern seasoning, this blend includes 80 percent dried chile powder, plus cayenne, oregano, and other spices. Use the chile seasoning in traditional chili, or try it as a flavoring in rice or as a dry rub for grilling meats. Sprinkle chile seasoning on breakfast eggs for a dash of flavor.

Chipotle chile powder
A chipotle is a dried, smoked jalapeno with a smoky, sweet, almost chocolaty flavor and medium heat. Use this powder to enhance poultry, meat, stews, sauces, and Mexican dishes.

One of the world's oldest seasonings, cinnamon has a sweet musty flavor. It is actually stripped evergreen bark rolled into "quills" or sticks. Cinnamon flavors savory and meat dishes in the East, and cakes and desserts in the West. It deliciously complements fruits such as apples.
Whole Sticks
Use these sticks to garnish hot beverages.
Ground cinnamon is perfect for baked goods.

Cloves are the dried, unopened myrtle-flower buds of an evergreen tree native to the Molucca islands of Indonesia. Cloves have long been valued for their aromatic fragrance and flavor; up to 7,000 cloves make a pound of the ground spice. The word comes from the French "clou," meaning nail. Use sparingly; cloves are very strong. The flavor is wonderful with sweet potatoes and winter squash.
For the best flavor, use the bud crowns of whole cloves; break off the nail stems before adding to ham, dessert sauces, and poached liquids. Push whole cloves into oranges to make pomander balls.
Ground cloves are perfect for flavoring pork, baked goods, chutney, and pumpkin pie.

Coriander is the seed of the cilantro (Chinese parsley) plant; it has a sweet lemon-sage flavor. Coriander was one of the first spices to arrive in America and has probably been used since about 5000 B.C. It is often added to curries and Indian food.
Whole seed
Toast whole coriander seeds lightly before grinding. The spice adds flavor to fish, shellfish, sauces, pickles, curries, lamb, potato salad, and soups.
Ground coriander is perfect for poultry, pork, and baked goods.

Cream of tartar
This powder is tartaric acid derived from fermented grapes. Cream of tartar increases the stability and volume of whipped egg whites; it is also used in candy-making and frostings for a creamier consistency. Use cream of tartar in angel food cake and meringues. Add it to potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes in the last few minutes of boiling to keep them from oxidizing. To remove stubborn burns from pots and pans, try blending cream of tartar with water to make a cleaning paste.

The pale-brown cumin seed is harvested from a member of the parsley family; its flavor is earthy and musty. Cumin was used as a food preservative by early Greeks and Romans. It is the dominant taste in Latin American cooking and is also used in Indian cooking.
Whole seed
Before using, toast whole seeds in a dry saute pan until fragrant, then add them to sauces and savory baked goods. Try it in citrus marinades.
Ready to add to corn-muffin batter, sausages, soups, and stews.

This powdered Indian blend combines coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and other spices. Curry powder should be cooked briefly in a little butter or oil to enhance its flavor before it is added to foods. Depending on how much heat you like, both mild and hot curries are delicious with poultry, meat, and stews. Try adding it to yogurt sauces or deviled eggs; mix curry powder with mayonnaise for a tasty chicken salad with apples.
Also includes cardamom, pepper, cumin, and other spices.
Also includes cayenne and other spices. Delicious with lamb.

Dill weed
The flavor of dill weed contains hints of celery and anise. It is common in German, Russian, and Scandinavian dishes. Dill weed goes particularly well with veal, cucumbers, and carrots; also use it to flavor chicken soup and homemade bread. It is good in grains, winter vegetables, soups, fish, shellfish, and poultry; try mixing it into sour cream and yogurt. Dill weed should be added at the end of cooking.

Fennel seed
This sweet seed of Mediterranean origin comes from a plant related to the fennel bulb; it has a distinctive licorice flavor. Fennel seed has been revered for its medicinal qualities since ancient times. It appears in the cuisines of many cultures: Italian, German, Polish, English, Spanish, Chinese. Fennel seed gives Italian sausage its unique taste; it is delicious in fish, poultry, meatballs, and soups. Use it in savory breads and crackers, or in pickling.

Fines herbes
This savory blend of parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives is classic in French cooking. The blend brings a delicate flavor to eggs and omelets; try adding it to fish, poultry, and vegetables during the last minute of cooking.

Chinese five-spice powder
Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, star anise, and Szechuan pepper make up this spice blend. It is the most popular of the Chinese blends, and is particularly good on meats; try it with poultry, barbecued spareribs, or roast pork. Rub the powder on duck or chicken, or mix it in sauces.

Whole galangal root
This Indian root has a strong flavor similar to ginger. Grate or grind it to a powder, and combine it with ginger and lemongrass for use in Thai and Southeast Asian cooking; it is very good in stir-fried dishes and Asian slaws. The root may be steeped whole in hot liquids, soups, and sauces.

Garam masala
This blend of cumin, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices has a bit of a bite. It is a staple in northern Indian cooking; it adds depth of flavor and enhances other seasonings. Garam masala is usually added near the end of cooking time.

This spice is from a strong-flavored knobby root; its flavor is pungent and sweet. Ginger is thought to be native to Southeast Asia; it was one of the first Asian spices in Europe.
This style of ginger is popular in Chinese desserts and confections; try it in baking and with poultry and ham.
Use ground ginger in gingerbread, pumpkin pie, and cookies.

Grilling herbs
This combination of garlic, tarragon, parsley, chervil, lemon, and pepper adds flavor to grilled meats. Rub the herbs on meats brushed with olive oil, then grill. Try adding the herbs to barbecue sauces and marinades.

Gumbo file
Made from powdered sassafras leaves, this spice is native to America and was introduced by the Choctaw people of Louisiana and Mississippi. Use it for thickening Creole gumbos, but be sure to add it after cooking to avoid a gluey consistency. Use it instead of, but not with, okra, which will also thicken gumbo. This spice is blended with a bit of thyme for extra flavor.

Herbes de provence
This classic French mix blends thyme, basil, savory, rosemary, and other spices. Delicious with roast chicken, rack of lamb, and vegetables.

Juniper berries
The flavor of these berries of an Adriatic evergreen is bittersweet with a hint of pine. They give gin its unique taste. Crush berries to release the flavor before using in sauces, stuffing, borscht, and marinades for game, pork, or rabbit.

This herb tastes like it smells -- floral with a slightly bitter undertone; it can flavor jams and vinegars. Use lavender to make tea, and add sparingly to fish and poultry marinades. In small amounts it makes an aromatic infusion for ice creams and sorbet.

Mace blades
Mace blades are actually the covering of the nutmeg seed; they are softer in flavor but used similarly to add an old-world spiciness. Crush or grind the blades to release their flavor. Use in baked goods, seafood, poultry, game, and grains; it's especially good in creamed spinach and apple pie.

This relative of the mint family tastes like a sweeter, gentler oregano. Throughout history, marjoram has been thought to have medicinal properties. Crush the herb in your hand before using to release its flavor. Add marjoram at the end of cooking to fish, poultry, eggs, tomato dishes, sauces, soups, stews, pasta, frittatas, and vegetables. It enhances the flavor of meat dishes and is especially good with lamb.

Mulling spices
This delicious combination of orange peel, cinnamon sticks, allspice, cloves, and star anise is used to flavor hot wine and cider. Bundle the spices in cheesecloth before adding to simmering liquids. Use 1 tablespoon per bottle of wine or half-gallon of cider; you may also add raisins, sugar, and orange or lemon juice to suit your taste.

Mustard comes from the seed of a plant in the cabbage family that is native to India and China. It has a tart, pungent flavor. Use the seeds in pickling or as a seasoning in cooked food. Mustard is delicious in sauces, salad dressings, and pates.
Black mustard seed
This seed is widely used in Indian cuisine. When heated in oil, it pops and releases its flavor. Add to crackers and curries; use in pickling.
Yellow mustard seed
This seed is what gives "ballpark mustard" its color. Use it with boiled vegetables, and in sauces, salad dressings, and fish and poultry marinades.
Dry mustard
Add this variation to marinades, poultry, vegetables, fish, meats, and chutneys.

New Mexican chile powder
Anaheim peppers give this powder its flavor. The peppers are milder than most red chiles; they are dried while still green. Use this powder in chili and Mexican sauces; try it as a milder alternative to cayenne pepper.

Whole nutmeg
This large seed comes from a West Indian evergreen. Use it sparingly, and grate it fresh onto food before serving as a garnish. Nutmeg adds flavor to white sauces, spinach, baked goods, beef, chicken, and pork. It is good in warm beverages like brandy Alexander, hot chocolate, and cider; sprinkle it over eggnog.

Greek oregano
This variety is milder than Italian oregano and has a slightly bitter, minty taste. Though essential in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cooking, oregano did not gain popularity in the United States until after World War II. Crush the herb in your hand or with a mortar and pestle before using. Oregano is a natural in tomato and pasta sauces and on pizza; use it with eggplant, beans, marinades, roasted and broiled meats, and chicken. Heat oregano with butter and lemon juice, and drizzle onto chicken or fish as it grills.

Hungarian paprika
The dried, ground pod of the sweet red pepper produces this spice; the hot variety adds red capsicum pepper for heat. Paprika has a higher vitamin-C content than citrus fruits; it's wonderful sprinkled over roasting chicken, and is often used as a garnish. Mix paprika with breadcrumbs, and serve over vegetables.
Use in goulash and with beef, veal, potatoes, vegetables, and sauces.
The taste is pungent and fiery; use it with beef, veal, and poultry.

Pasilla chile powder
The pasilla pepper is 6 to 8 inches long with blackish-brown skin. When dried and powdered, it adds mild flavor to poultry, meat, pork, moles, and stuffings. Mix the powder with butter for a flavorful cornbread spread.

Green peppercorns
This soft, unripe berry has a mild, fresh taste. It is the pepper used in cooking the French classic steak au poivre. Do not grind the peppercorns; instead, crush them or leave them whole to add bursts of flavor in brown sauces and mayonnaise or with pork chops, duck, and vegetables.

Pink peppercorns
These are not true peppercorns, but berries from a relative of the sumac tree which grows on the island of Madagascar. They have a mild, sweet flavor, and are used for their aroma and color. Do not grind the peppercorns; crush them for use in fish sauces, vegetables, salads, and for use with meats.

Szechuan peppercorns
Although not true peppercorns, these dried seedpods provide a similar pepper flavor with a distinctive taste. Briefly toast the peppercorns until they begin to smoke; then grind them when they are cool. Szechuan peppercorns taste great with meat, poultry, game, and fowl, and they are especially good with duck and pork dishes. Try grinding the peppercorns to make a spice rub for grilling.

Tellicherry peppercorns
These Indian black peppercorns develop longer on the vine for a more complex flavor. They are the best of the black peppers with a bolder flavor, bigger berry, and blacker color. Use ground, crushed, or whole in savory dishes.

White muntok peppercorns
These are grown on the same vine as black pepper; however the berries are picked when ripe and the hulls are removed in water. The flavor is slightly milder than that of black pepper. Grind the peppercorns, or use them whole in marinades; they are good with cream or white sauces and stews. Try using the ground peppercorns sparingly on vanilla ice cream for an unusual flavor.

Poppy seeds
Originally native to Mediterranean regions, these blue-gray seeds from the Netherlands and Australia have a nutty flavor. Poppy seeds have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. They are often used in European and Middle Eastern cooking. Try them in sweet and savory baked goods, noodle dishes, and salad dressings.

Quatre epices
The name "four spices" refers to a classic French blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Add the blend to pates, soups, stews, and vegetables.

Ras el Hanout
This Moroccan blend includes mace, ginger, allspice, pepper, and cardamom. Use it to flavor game, rice, and stuffing.

This multitalented herb has the look and smell of pine needles. It has been used extensively for cooking and medicinal purposes since 500 B.C. Crush rosemary in your hand or with a mortar and pestle before using to release its flavor. It is often paired with garlic, and it gives a pungent Mediterranean flavor to marinades, grilled fish, roasts, soups, beans, sauces, organ meats, game, vegetables, and bread. It is the perfect herb for lamb or rabbit and is tasty baked in focaccia.

Saffron threads
Saffron is actually the dried stigmas of the crocus; each flower yields only three stigmas. Saffron is hand-picked and is the world's most expensive spice. It imparts a golden color to food. Use it very sparingly as a few threads go a long way. Toast the threads before grinding them, or steep whole threads in water, stock, or milk to release the flavor. Do not use wood utensils when cooking with saffron as wood absorbs the spice. Saffron is good in risotto, bouillabaisse, paella, fish soups, and sauces.

Rubbed sage leaves
This powerful herb from the mint family has an evergreen smell. Historically, sage was thought to improve the memory. Use sage sparingly as it adds a very strong flavor. It is good for sausage, poultry, game, soups, stews, meat, vegetables, beans, and stuffing; it is essential in the classic veal dish saltimbocca. Try rubbing it into pork before cooking, or top swordfish or tuna with sage and lemon butter.

Black sesame seeds
These seeds have the hulls left on to give them their black color. They are common in Chinese cuisine, and are good raw. Use them in baked goods, chicken, vegetables, and pastas. Try garnishing hors d'oeuvres with them, or encrusting salmon fillets before sauteing for an unusual presentation.

Toasted sesame seeds
These seeds have a rich, nutty flavor. With 25 percent protein by weight, they are one of the most nutritious seeds. They make a tasty addition to salad dressing, baked goods, crackers, chicken, fish, vegetables, and pastas. Sprinkle them over salads, noodles, and stir-fried foods.

Summer savory
This herb from the mint family has a mildly sharp, salty flavor that's a cross between thyme and mint. Crush it in your hand or with a mortar and pestle to release its flavor. Summer savory is classically paired with dried beans; it adds piquant flavor to fish, pate, meat, poultry, eggs, soups, stews, and chowders.

Tandoori blend
This delicious blend of salt, coriander, garlic, and other spices is a staple in Indian cooking. Use it in a marinade, basting sauce, or as a dry rub for poultry, lamb, or meat. It's wonderful rubbed on grilled salmon or chicken.

This versatile herb is a member of the sunflower family. Essential to French cooking, it has a mild, aniselike taste. Heat intensifies the taste of tarragon, so use it sparingly. It is often used in egg, cheese, or tomato dishes; it is good with poultry, fish, vegetables, and sauces. Tarragon brings a distinctive flavor to bearnaise sauce, marinades, and seafood in Cajun recipes. Try basting chicken with tarragon, butter, and lemon.

There are more than 100 varieties of this member of the mint family. Native to the Mediterranean region, thyme has had many uses other than cooking throughout history: Egyptians embalmed with it, Greeks bathed with it, and it was used as perfume during the Renaissance. Thyme gives depth to poultry, fish, vegetables, soups and chowders, stews, sauces, stuffings, meat, and game. It is often paired with tomatoes, and it goes well with eggs and custards.

Marco Polo mentioned the use of turmeric, a ginger-related root from India with a pungent, biting flavor. More commonly used for its bright yellow-orange color than for its flavor in curry blends and mustards, it is sometimes substituted for saffron. Add turmeric to meats, poultry, fish, soup, lentils, relishes, and chutneys.

Vindaloo blend
This extra-hot curry blend contains coriander, salt, cardamom, garlic, and other spices. Use it carefully, you can always add more. This blend is the main flavor in classic Indian vindaloo dishes; use it with poultry, meat and lamb.

For more information on these spices and other cooking ideas visit Martha Stewart Living

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies - Sinfully Delicious!

This Halloween I wanted to make up a special treat for my nephew and niece and their friends when they embarked on this special night of tricking and treating!

These Pumpkin Whoopie Pies are decadently delicious and can be enjoyed all throughout the Autumnal season, not just on Halloween!

A whoopie pie is a baked good made of two round chocolate, cake-like, cookies
with a sweet, creamy frosting sandwiched between them. While considered a New England phenomenon and a Pennsylvania Amish tradition, they are increasingly sold throughout the United States. According to food historians, Amish women would bake these and put them in farmers' lunchboxes. When the farmers would find these treats in their lunch, they would shout "Whoopie!"

You can get this simple recipe here: Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

The recipe is actually for a "Mini" version, but I made a larger, more regular sized version by using 2 Tablespoons of batter for each cookie instead of 2 teaspoons. The baking times remain the same. I also doubled the batch of filling.

First step is to get your oven preheating to 375° and then sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, shortening, granulated sugar & dark brown sugar until smooth. Then you'll add one egg and continue to mix until pale and fluffy.

Mix in about half of the flour mixture, then a cup of milk, some pure vanilla extract and then the remaining flour mixture.

Drop batter, 2" apart, onto baking sheets lined with parchment or non-stick baking mats. Bake for 12-14 minutes, rotating the sheet pans halfway through baking, until the cookies are done.

Transfer the cookies to cooling racks and cool completely.

To prepare the luscious pumpkin filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with paddle attachment, whip together cream cheese, unsalted butter and confectioners' sugar, on medium speed, until smooth.

Add fresh pure pumpkin, a little cinnamon and nutmeg and continue to whip until smooth, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Pipe or spoon the filling on the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with the remaining cookies, flat side down. Enjoy one of these now because there won't be any of them left soon after you make them!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Classic Beef Stroganoff

Another comforting dish to enjoy during chilly weather season is hearty Beef Stroganoff.

Beef Stroganoff is a Russian dish of sauteed pieces of beef served in a sour cream based sauce over egg noodles or rice. Originating in 19th century Russia, it has become popular throughout many parts of the world in some variation or another.

This recipe utilizes a slow cooker, which is my preferred method. You start out by browning, in 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, 1-1/2 lbs of beef cut into small chunks. You can use lean beef stew meat, rib-eye, even prime rib if you like. Set the meat aside.

In a 3-1/2 qt or larger slow cooker place 2 cups of sliced mushrooms, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic minced, 1/2 teas. dried oregano, 1/4 teas. coarse salt, 1/4 teas. dried thyme, crushed, 1/4 teas. freshly ground black pepper, 1 bay leaf. Add the browned meat, 1-1/2 cups of beef or chicken stock & 1/3 cup dry sherry. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Discard the bay leaf after cooking. As seen here, I've lined my slow cooker with a Reynolds Slow Cooker Liner. No messy clean-up afterwards!

After the initial cooking time, mix together 1 cup of sour cream, 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup of water until smooth. Into this sour cream mixture stir in 1 cup of the cooking liquid from the slow cooker until combined.

Return this sour cream mixture to the slow cooker, cover and cook on high for an additional 30 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.

Serve over hot cooked egg noodles (or rice). Delicious & filling!

Chicken & Dumplings

Autumn is in full swing and the types of meals during this time of the year are comforting and hearty "one-pot" meals like Chicken & Dumplings!

Chicken and Dumplings is a popular comfort food dish commonly found in the Southern and Midwestern United States that is also attributed to being a French Canadian dish that originated during The Great Depression.

A dumpling, in this context, is a mixture of either flour, shortening, and water or milk, or flour and stock which is then formed into a ball or rolled out flat.

Chicken and dumplings as a dish is served with a combination of boiled chicken meat, the broth produced by boiling the chicken with vegetables, multiple dumplings, and salt & pepper for seasoning.

There are probably as many chicken and dumpling recipes out there than anything! This recipe comes from Lucinda Scala-Quinn and her latest cookbook, Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys. You can also find the recipe here: Chicken & Dumplings.
I love how this recipe also utilizes 2 very delicious but under-used vegetable, turnips and parsnips.

This particular recipe is actually quite simple to put together and is ready in about an hour. In a large dutch oven, place the whole chicken, onion, carrot, celery, turnip, parsnip and parsley sprigs. Cover with water, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 50 minutes.

Lift out the chicken and vegetables, discard the onion and parsley. Continue to simmer the broth for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the chicken to cool slightly. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred the meat into large chunks. Preferably, I like to use just the white meat here and save the dark meat for chicken salad, but you can use the meat as you like in this dish.

Next, prepare the dumplings. A few simple ingredients, flour, baking powder, salt, milk & a little dill mixed together until combined.

Drop the dumpling dough, by the tablespoon, into the simmering broth, cover and cook until the dumplings have cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Carefully add the shredded chicken meat and vegetables back to the pot and simmer for one minute to heat through.

Serve generous portions of this in large bowls and enjoy this warm and comforting meal when the weather is a bit nippy out!

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challenge: The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challenge is a Facebook group for people to get together, once a month, and prepare the same recipe, compare notes and discuss outcomes. It is put together by Mario Bosquez host of "Living Today" on Martha Stewart Living Radio Sirius 112 & XM 157.

This month's challenge is the "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie"! Just in time for Halloween, the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie is a salty yet sweet cookie and is the perfect treat for family and friends on this special haunted night. This recipe, originally from David Leite, also takes some of its inspiration from Chef Jacques Torres.

Something unique about this recipe is that it utilizes both cake flour & bread flour, and a light sprinkling of sea salt is applied to the tops of each cookie before baking.

Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds

Add your chocolate to the dough, stirring lightly just to incorporate into the dough without breaking up the chocolate.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough and refrigerate the cookie dough for 24 to 36 hours and up to 72 hours. WARNING: This raw cookie dough is very addictive as is, so try to contain yourself! It is also not advised to eat raw cookie dough containing eggs.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Scoop six 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet. Sprinkle very lightly with sea salt. I suggest using Maldon flaked sea salt. It's more attractive looking on the finished cookie!
Cool the cookies, on the sheet pan, on a rack, for 10 minutes, remove cookies directly to cooling racks to cool completely, and enjoy this little bit of chocolate bliss!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challenge: A Double Challange

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challenge is a Facebook Group for people to get together, once a month and cook the same recipe, compare notes and discuss outcomes. It is put together by Mario Bosquez host of "Living Today" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112 & XM 157

This month's challenge was a "double-challenge". First, A rustic "no-knead" bread, courtesy of Jim Lahey of New York's Sullivan Street Bakery. Next, a delicious Black Pepper Chicken Curry courtesy of
Chef Floyd Cardoz at Tabla in New York City.

First, let's bake some bread. If you're ever intimidated by bread making, this recipe will change your mind. Though the rise time is almost an entire day, it's well worth the wait. The recipe can be found here: No-Knead Bread.

This recipe couldn't be simpler, and with only a few ingredients, flour, water, yeast & salt, you'll be wanting to make this many times!

Mix all the dry ingredients. Add the water, a little at a time, by hand and mix for about a minute or until it comes together. Dough will be a little sticky.

Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for a minimum of 12 hours - 18 hours is ideal!

After rise time, remove dough from bowl, and fold it over onto itself once or twice let rest for 15 minutes.

Shape dough into a ball and place between two clean cotton dish towels dusted with your choice of flour, cornmeal or wheat bran. Allow dough to rise for an additional 2 hours until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°. Place a large enameled cast iron pot in the preheated oven for 30 minutes prior to baking the bread.

Remove the pot from the oven and place dough in the pot, seam side down, cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes or until nicely browned.
Carefully remove the bread from the pot and cool slightly on a wire rack.

Slice with a sharp serrated knife and enjoy!

This next recipe is another first for me. It's a delicious chicken curry dish. Wonderful mix of flavors and again, simple to prepare.
The recipe can be found here: Black Pepper Chicken Curry

Now there are a few ingredients that may be hard to find. Most notably, Curry leaves and Tamarind. Look in your area for good Indian grocers, they should carry the ingredients. The tamarind called for in the recipe is a powder. Tamarind paste can also be used. If you can't find curry leaves, you may substitute 1-1/2 Tablespoons of Madras Curry Powder, which is easier to find.
I also used boneless chicken thighs. Economical and delicious. The recipe also includes, onions, diced tomatoes, fresh minced garlic, ginger and other spices!

As with what I've learned with most Indian cooking, you want to build layers of flavor as you prepare the dish. Starting out by heating some oil in a pan. When it's hot, add spices, cook for about a minute, then onions...garlic & ginger, cooking each ingredient for about a minute or 2 before adding the next.

Lastly, you add the diced tomatoes and let them cook for about 5-7 minutes.

Then we add the chicken and tamarind and let this cook for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve this over steamed white rice and it's a comforting Autumn dish you'll really enjoy and if you think you aren't a fan of curry, trust me, you will be after tasting this dish!!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Slow-Cooker Bean and Barley Soup

Serve this delicious hearty and healthy soup during the comfortable days of Autumn as well as the cold days of Winter! It guarantees to satisfy!

A helpful tip: Soak the beans overnight, in about 8 cups of cold water, just for a little re-assurance that they will not be "crunchy" when the soup is finished.

  • 1 cup dried Great Northern beans, picked over and rinsed
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, optional
  • 3 cups cleaned baby spinach leaves (about 3 ounces)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Coarse Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to season
  • Extra-virgin olive oil


Put beans, water, tomatoes and their juices, garlic, celery, carrots, onion, barley, bay leaf, herb blend, pepper, and porcini mushrooms (if using) in a slow cooker; cover and cook on LOW until the beans are quite tender and the soup is thick, about 8 hours.

Stir in the spinach, cheese, and vinegar, cover, and let the soup cook until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, to taste.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and drizzle each serving with olive oil.

Cheesy Bacon-Tomato Pie

We're nearing the end of tomato season and I can never get enough of them! I guess that's the Sicilian blood in me!

This year I grew a very productive tomato plant and as of the date of this post, the plant is still thriving!!

Always on the look out for new and exciting recipes, I came across this pie which incorporates the fresh taste of tomatoes, along with bacon, cheese, & basil! It's almost like a "BLT" Pie!

I'm pleased to say that the tomatoes, basil and onions came directly from my container garden!

The ingredients:

6 large tomatoes (2 lb.), peeled, sliced (1/4 inch)

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped onions, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
12 oz. bacon, cooked, crumbled
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 (9-inch) baked pie crust

To peel tomatoes, cut small “X” in bottom of each tomato. Place in large pot of boiling water 30 to 60 seconds or until skins become loose; place in large bowl of ice water. Skins should slip off with help of paring knife.

Drain tomato slices on paper towels 15 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse salt.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 375°F. Combine cheese, mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of the green onions and pepper in medium bowl.

Layer half the tomatoes, bacon, basil and remaining 1/4 cup green onions in pie crust. Top with remaining tomatoes. Spread mayonnaise mixture over top.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown (cover edge of crust with foil if browning too quickly).
Allow to cool slightly, serve and enjoy a little of summer's gifts!

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challange: Blackberry-Blueberry Crumble

Mario's Weekend Cooking Challenge is a Facebook Group for people to get together, once a month and cook the same recipe, compare notes and discuss outcomes. It is put together by Mario Bosquez host of "Living Today" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112 & XM 157

This months challenge was a "sweet" one! Blackberry Blueberry Crumble. A delicious mix of some of summer's tastiest offerings! The fast and simple recipe was provided by Chef Kate Goodyear and can be obtained here: Blackberry-Blueberry Crumble

First, you want to combine your berries, with some brown sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice.

Place your berry mixture into a 9 x 13 baking dish.

Mix together your topping ingredients of flour, oats, white & brown sugar, ground ginger, salt and butter. Mix it, by hand (make sure you wash your hands first!), to obtain medium to large "crumbles".

Spread the topping evenly over the berries.

Bake at 350° for about 40-50 minutes until it's golden brown & bubbly! The scent of this baking is heavenly!

Serve this warm or at room temperature with a generous scoop of buttermilk or vanilla ice cream!

This treat couldn't be easier to prepare and will be loved by all! You can also substitute other berries, as well as stone fruits like peaches and plums!