Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Specialty

I've never liked the canned cranberry glop that is available every Thanksgiving. Won't eat it, won't use it in "something else", won't even smell it. It grosses me out. So, several years ago I started watching the Food Network to get some ideas for cranberry sauce.  I wound up making my own creation with all the parts, pieces, and flavors that I love. This is the result. I have taken it to many events, used it in baked goods, and even poured it over ice cream for a quick, festive dessert. People who tell me they don't like cranberry sauce will ask for the recipe. So, here it is. I hope you enjoy it!

Debbie’s Cranberry-Apple Sauce
6 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 ½ c Sugar
1 ½ c Lite Cranberry Juice (or Cran Raspberry Juice)
½ c Orange Juice
2 Gala or Fuji Apples, peeled & cubed (small bites)
1 generous TBSP Balsamic Vinegar (or to taste)
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Dash Salt
1 TBSP unsalted butter

Cook cranberries, juice, apples, sugar, lemon juice, and vinegar according to package. Let cook until cranberries start to pop and mixture thickens. Add salt and butter. Once sauce begins to cool, add vanilla.

Serve cold as a side dish.

Serving suggestions: side dish, ice cream topping, pie filling, cake filling.
Makes: A lot

French Onion Soup

Sometimes, I need to throw sensibility to the wind and make something that I want as opposed to something the girls want. Last night was one of those nights.  I've been craving French Onion Soup and I know the girls don't like it. For young ones, they have a pretty sophisticated palette, but this surpasses even them. So, with leftover spaghetti in the microwave, I set on the task of making a dinner just for my own pleasure...and it was worth every tasty spoonful.

French Onion Soup

2 large onions
3 TBSP unsalted butter
1 TBSP fresh Oregano
1/2 TBSP fresh Rosemary
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 c red wine
4 cups beef stock

Toasted French Bread slices
Swiss cheese

Slice the onions into thin slices. Cook over medium heat in a medium sized saute pan with butter until carmelized, about 15-20 minutes. During the last few minutes, add garlic and pepper.
Add herbs, beef stock, and wine. Cook until slightly reduced.

To serve:
Ladle soup into an oven proof bowl. Top with toasted bread and cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly. Enjoy with some of that wine!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Corn Bread

We love cold weather. In our house, it's the perfect excuse for all those yummy comfort foods that are only edible once the thermometer drops into double digits again. After way too many months of scorching heat, we are only too willing to put on long pants, long sleeve shirts, and fire up the oven & stove.  Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend a day baking with my friend Sylwia. We had a great time making pies and cookies, which I'm sure she will post on her blog (see the link to Unsifted). 

Not wanting to dull the momentum, I made an impromptu batch of chili and cornbread for dinner on Sunday. This is my go-to recipe for cornbread since it is easy and quick.  I love the folks at King Arthur Flour Co for their fantastic 200th Anniversary Cookbook as this is one of many recipes I use often.  I've used my cookbook so much that I had to have it re-covered to keep it from falling apart.

3/4 c cornmeal
1 C All purpose flour
1/3 C Sugar
1 TBSP Baking Powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 C milk
1 egg, well beaten
2 TBSP butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 425*
Mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, egg and butter and stir just to blend.
Pour the batter into a greased, 8" square baking pan. Bake about 20 minutes. Remove from pan quickly to preserve the crispy crust.

Halloween Treats

Yes, I know it's now the middle of November. If I had my act together, I would have posted this sometime arount the 29th of October...but, my act is nowhere to be found. It went AWOL on me sometime ago and I've been too busy to look for it.  So, here it is, November, a week and a half before one of the giant food fests of America, and I'm posting a Halloween recipe.  Ok, so it's not specifically for Halloween, but the picture will make you think so.

Our company has an annual party for Halloween and it is THE event of the year. We have fierce competition amongst the departments for best costumes, best group areas, best chili, best desert, etc. There are activities for the kids that go way beyond trick or treating. This year, we had the bounce house (great for working off all that sugar from trick or treating), horse & pony rides, and face painting. There was a couple of photo ops including a "put your face here" for Thing 1 & Thing 2 with the Cat in the Hat. It was great. My girls start asking about sometime in the middle of April--wanting to know what we will be dressing up as, how will we decorate, and can they help.  We all love it.

This year, I decided to enter the new competition category of Best Dessert. I made a haunted pumpkin patch. The pumpkins and ghosts were Cake Pops (thank you, Bakerella) and the patch of dirt was an oreo cheesecake.  The only change I made to Bakerella's cake pops was to drape the pops with a circle of fondant to make the sheet-ghosts. The effect was great.  Happily, I can say I won 1st place!  All I can say, is the competition gets more fierce every year, so I better start thinking about it sometime in January!

Oreo Cheesecake

1 1/2 rows of Oreo Cookies, crushed
2-3 TBSP melted butter

Press the mixture together in a lightly greased 9" springform pan. Bake for about 12-15 minutes at 350*. Set aside to cool.

40 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 c sugar
3 TBSP flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
5 eggs + 2 egg yolks
1/4 c heavy cream
1 row Oreo Cookies, crushed

Preheat oven to 450*.

In a large mixer bowl, blend cheese, sugar, flour, and vanilla at high speed. Beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time on low speed, until smooth, scraping down the sides occassionally. Beat in cream. Fold in cookies.  Pour into  pan.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 250*. Bake an additional 1 hr. Center will be a little jiggly, but dull. Do NOT overbake.

Let cool in the refrigerator. At this point, you can store the cheesecake in the refrigerator uncovered for up to 3 days.

Fresh Whipped Cream
Crushed Oreos--The rest of the package
Assorted Chocolate pieces--jimmies, shaved chocolate, etc.

Spread the ganache over cold cheesecak and let set. Spread whipped cream on top of the ganache. Sprinkle the cookies over the top and press lightly. Fill in with assorted chocolate pieces.
Allow to sit out after removing from the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before serving.

12 oz. dark chocolate
1 1/2 c heavy cream
3 TBSP Sugar or Corn Syrup
3 TBSP Butter
Dash Vanilla

Bring cream, butter, and sugar to a boil, stirring often. Pour over chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Allow to sit for a couple of minutes. Stir gently until smooth. Add vanilla & stir. Be careful not to incorporate air into ganache. When cool, pour over cake or use cold for truffles.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Violent Cooking

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and all signs point to that stress continuing for the foreseeable future. Now there are many ways that I could choose to deal with said stressors…the usual remedies include getting friendly with my wine supply, exercising, becoming a hermit, becoming delusional, eating more, eating less, retail therapy, yoga—ok, maybe not yoga—that takes a level of patience I seem to lack. So, what is my therapy for stress? Cooking. Baking. Playing in the kitchen. I play A LOT. I do a lot of visualization to go along with it. What kind of visualization? Well, I visualize being a psychopath with violent urges that cannot be released in any other “conventional” ways. If you think about it, cooking is quite violent. Let me explain…

If you read any recipe, you will start to see the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster horror flick. Yes, you read correctly. Let’s take some simple, common, mandatory procedures in example. You need to know how to chop, dice, mince, smash, pulverize, puree, whip, and slice. I have recipes that call for throwing raw meat after squishing it with breadcrumbs and egg—now that is particularly therapeutic! Steam, broil, boil, simmer, sauté, fry, grill, bake, and bar-b-que…When it’s done, plunge it in an ice bath, wrap it tightly removing all air, put it in the freezer …the list goes on.

I enjoy taking my frustrations out on unsuspecting vegetables… and meat. Ripping off the skin and pounding a chicken breast…ahh, now that’s happiness. Chopping onions with abandon…who would’ve imagined that wielding a sharp instrument while crying could be so good for the soul and not have to worry about jail time to go with it? In fact, the better you become at violence directed toward food, the more people want you to be violent…I mean, cook. I imagine chefs to be very happy people even with their stressful and demanding jobs.

It surprises me when some people say they just can’t cook at the end of a very trying day. They are too wound up to focus; too tightly strung to pull anything together. I say, hey, make a pot of soup! It really doesn’t require A LOT of thought (ok, it requires SOME thought, but you have a lot of leeway), and you get to utilize a lot of violent actions. If you make too much, do what they do in the movies…freeze it (insert evil and menacing laugh here).

Baking is an especially good way to relieve stress. Bread is particularly therapeutic. How often do you get to punch something, more than once, and get praised for it? Hey, it says so in the directions “let rise til double in size. Punch down.” Just visualize that person in your life that is an overinflated blowhard and punch him/her down. Wait a couple of hours…and do it again. Then bake ‘em! Happiness. Pure happiness. At the end of it all, slather a big slice of heaven with butter and eat. You might even want to dunk that blowhard, I mean bread slice, in a cup of really hot beverage before the proverbial “bite me” moment. Smile. Smile some more.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I have an insane collection of cookbooks. I start reading them and get caught up in the directions. Sure, the pictures are a huge draw, but I read cookbooks like novels. I can see myself making certain recipes. Sometimes, just reading the directions make me feel better. At the end of the day, no one gets hurt, I feel better, and everybody wins.

I feel better already.