Friday, December 21, 2007

Almost Perfect Pecan Pralines

This is a recipe I made up, and want to get down before I forget my mistakes. I've been on a quest recently to create a clear hard candy shell around a pecan - one that is not so thick it breaks molars, but not so thin it doesn't lend any flavor. I've had mixed success. On the one hand, these have a good flavor, and bit of the crunch I'm seeking. On the other, the sugar doesn't completely melt, so the pecans look like they have raw sugar on them. Trying to turn up the heat or increase the time results in burned pecans, and trying to melt the sugar in a saucepan results in something more akin to the pecan brittle - tasty, but not the result I want. Trying to go all sugar or all corn syrup doesn't get the results either. I think I'm done with tinkering for now. I have pounds of pecans in varying stages of "candification." Perfection will have to wait till those are gone.

2 cups whole pecans, unroasted
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. 5 spice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Fold all ingredients together, taking care not to break too many of the pecans. Spread into a single layer on a large baking sheet.

Bake for 8 minutes. Leave in pan to cool.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cheese Straws

A must for holiday baking. Though instead of the cookie press, I just roll the dough into small balls and flatten with a fork or I roll the dough flat, and cut with a pizza cutter into strips.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

In a food processor, add the butter, cheese, flour, salt, and cayenne and process until a smooth dough is formed. Scoop it into a cookie press, fitted with a flat ridged tip. Pipe the dough in 2-inch strips onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. (Alternatively, refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes and roll on a lightly floured surface into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle. Cut into smaller rectangles, about 2 by 3-inches, with a pizza wheel or sharp knife.)

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to racks to cool.

--Adapted from Paula Deen

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sausage-Cranberry Balls

These are really good. They would work equally well as an appetizer or as a side dish, in place of dressing. I'll definitely be making these again soon.

1 lb. bulk country sausage
1 pkg. (6 oz.) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
3/4 cup cranberry sauce (about half a can)
1 egg
1 cup water (or as much as needed)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Cook sausage in large skillet until cooked through, stirring frequently; drain. Place in large bowl; cool slightly. Stir in dry stuffing mix.

Add cranberry sauce, egg and water; mix well. Shape into 16 balls; place on foil-covered baking sheet. Brush evenly with butter.

Bake 20 min.

--Adapted from Kraft Food and Family

Broccoli and Bowties

This is a fantastic side dish. The lemon gives it a very bright, light flavor. Cooking everything in the same pot makes it as easy to clean up as it is to make.

Kosher salt
8 cups broccoli florets (4 heads)
1/2 pound farfalle (bow tie) pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 lemon, zested
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pignoli (pine) nuts
Freshly grated Parmesan, optional

To toast pignolis, place them in a dry saute pan over medium-low heat and cook, tossing often, for about 5 minutes, until light brown.

Cook the broccoli for 3 minutes in a large pot of boiling salted water. Remove the broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon or sieve. Run the broccoli under cold water to stop the cooking, and ensure the broccoli retains its bright green color. Place in a large bowl and set aside.

In the same water, cook the bow-tie pasta according to the package directions, about 12 minutes. Drain well and add to the broccoli.

In the still-warm pot, heat the butter and oil and cook the garlic and lemon zest over medium-low heat for 1 minute. Add 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and lemon juice and pour this over the broccoli and pasta.

Toss well. Season to taste, sprinkle with the pignolis and cheese, if using, and serve.

--Adapted from Ina Garten

Chicken Scallopine with Sage and Fontina Cheese

This recipe really isn't as much work as it first appears. Just make you have every set out in little piles, so that you don't cross-contaminate. Set up a little assembly line, and they go together quickly. Also, you need a big pan to fit the roll-ups - and the toothpicks.

6 (4 1/2 to 5 1/2-ounce) chicken cutlets, pounded thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 sage leaves
3 ounces grated fontina cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cup of bottled spaghetti sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Special Equipment: toothpicks

Place the chicken cutlets on a clean work surface, narrow end facing you. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place one sage leaf crosswise on each of the pieces of chicken. Sprinkle each of the pieces of chicken with 1/2 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of fontina cheese. Roll up the chicken and seal with one or two toothpicks.

Warm the olive oil and smashed garlic clove in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Remove the chicken from the pan and remove and discard the garlic. Add the wine and deglaze for 2 minutes while scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the spaghetti sauce to the reduced wine in the pan, and stir to incorporate.

Return the chicken to the pan. Simmer the chicken in the tomato sauce for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and simmer until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan. Season the tomato sauce with salt and pepper. Spoon the tomato sauce onto serving plates or a serving platter. Remove the toothpicks. Place the chicken over the sauce and serve immediately.

--Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Monday, December 17, 2007

Castilian Garlic Soup

Don't be intimidated by the lengthy process. You can easily do it all at the same time. This soup gets amazing flavor from the simplest of ingredients. I used saffron because I had it on hand, but I'm sure you could go without. Also, I didn't realize I only had one can of chicken broth. I used water in place of the other two cans, and it was still very flavorful. We didn't miss it at all.

Note: baking" the soup to set the eggs causes it to bubble rapidly - use a big baking sheet to avoid making a mess.

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 ounces Spanish serrano ham, diced (I just used smoked sandwich ham)
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika or sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
3 (15.75-ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 cups (1-inch) cubed hearty country bread (about 4 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika or sweet paprika

Remaining ingredient:
4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°.

To prepare soup:
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 4 crushed garlic cloves; sauté 1 minute. Add ham and 1 teaspoon paprika; sauté 30 seconds. Stir in cumin, pepper, saffron, and broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes

To prepare the croûtons:
Combine 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and 1 crushed garlic clove in a large bowl. Add the bread cubes, tossing to coat. Place bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until toasted. Sprinkle bread cubes with 1/2 teaspoon paprika; toss well.

Increase oven temperature to 450°.

Break 1 egg into each of 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the broth mixture evenly among bowls. Place bowls on a baking sheet. Bake at 450° for 15 minutes or until the eggs are set.

Top each serving with croutons.

--Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Brown Butter

I generally like asparagus best with the simplest of preparation - just grilled with a squeeze of lemon. This recipe is a close second. One note though... be prepared for splatter when you add the vinegar to the hot butter. If you are not careful, you can make a real mess.

40 asparagus spears, trimmed (about 2 pounds)
Cooking spray
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400°.

Arrange asparagus in a single layer on baking sheet; coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until tender.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat; cook for 3 minutes or until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally. Remove from heat; stir in soy sauce and vinegar. Drizzle over the asparagus, tossing well to coat. The sauce will further reduce in the hot baking pan.

Serve immediately.

--Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bacon and Egg Casserole with Tomato/Scallion Relish

Pay attention to the bread in this one. As it is the primary ingredient, you want to make sure you use one that will add a lot of flavor. The casserole is good by itself, but the tomato/green onion relish really takes it to the next level.

1 (16-ounce) french bread loaf, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 cups (8 ounces) finely shredded Mexican four-cheese blend
1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled (8 slices)
8 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Arrange bread cubes in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with shredded cheese and crumbled bacon.Whisk together eggs, milk, salt, pepper, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour over prepared dish; press down bread cubes with a spoon to allow bread to soak up liquid.

Cover and chill 8 hours. Let stand 30 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until set and golden.

Tomato/Scallion Relish
1 large tomato - peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup scallions
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper (or chipotle powder)
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients; serve immediately.

--Adapted from Southern Living magazine

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Cracked Potatoes

I was skeptical of how this was going to turn out, but everything seemed to work well. You need to smash the potatoes into large chunks, rather than leaving them mostly whole. A medium Yukon Gold broke into 3 or 4 pieces. Smashing them gives it a nice rustic feel that slicing them just wouldn't have. If you have some kind of flavored oil, that would be an excellent addition here.

12 small-medium Yukon potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
2 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 clove garlic, sliced

Special Equipment: a rolling pin or heavy pan

Using the rolling pin or a heavy pan, gently smack the potatoes, 1 potato at a time, until the potato breaks into large chunks. You may need to pull some apart, once they have split.

Over low heat, add the olive oil to a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan, then add the potatoes and thyme sprigs and season generously with salt and pepper. Place the lid on the pan and allow to cook, undisturbed, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so, until the bottoms of the potatoes are browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. (Check occasionally to make sure the potatoes aren't browning too quickly and adjust heat accordingly.) Turn the potatoes to their second side, replace the lid, and continue cooking undisturbed a further 5 to 8 minutes.

Remove the lid and cook a further 2 to 3 minutes, for the condensation to evaporate.

Remove the thyme sprigs and add the sliced garlic and chopped fresh thyme and cook until the garlic is caramelized and chewy, about 2 minutes. Serve hot.

-- Adapted from Amy Finley

Apricot-Herb Chicken

This recipe needs some work. It has a good base, but the final product is disappointingly bland. I still think it is worth working with, but I'm not sure what to add to fix it. It needs a much stronger punch of flavor. The sauce is a bit runny, so maybe a cornstarch slurry would tighten it up a bit.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds chicken breasts and boneless thighs, cut into large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
20 to 24 dried apricots, chopped
5 to 6 sprigs thyme
A generous handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 lemon, 2 teaspoons zest and the juice

In a large skillet with high sides, heat the oil, 3 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper liberally. When oil ripples, add chicken and brown it on both sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Add balsamic vinegar and stir 30 seconds, add stock, apricots and thyme and reduce heat to medium-low to low. Place a lid on the pan and simmer 10 minutes. Take lid off, stir in the parsley, chives, lemon zest and juice and turn off heat. Let stand a couple of minutes, remove the thyme sprigs and serve.

--Adapted from Rachel Ray

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quick Chiliqueles

This is a really quick dish that is amazingly tasty. While we just mounded it up on a plate, it might be easier to serve it family style from a casserole dish. This would be a great recipe to use up the last of a big bag of tortilla chips.

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 pkg taco seasoning
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup chunky salsa
1/2 taco sauce
1 bag tortilla chips
1 cup shredded cheese

Brown the ground beef, drain. Return the beef to the pan, add the spinach, cook over medium-high heat 1 minute. Add the taco seasoning and water, cook 3 minutes (or just follow the directions on your particular brand).

Remove the taco mixture to another plate. In the warm pan, add the salsa and taco sauce. Cook 5 minutes, adding a large handful of chips each minute. The chips will have varying levels of texture and crispiness.

Spread a layer of chips, top with cheese and ground beef mixture. Repeat.