A Toast Addiction

I watched a cooking show the other day.  There is nothing extraordinary about that, and in the opinion of my husband I probably watch them more than I should.  It was a show I had never seen before, and honestly I can’t even tell you the name of it.  What I can tell you is that after that show I acted like a pregnant woman out of control, on a quest to satisfy an overwhelming craving.  It was a craving for toast…..oh, but not just any toast.

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It was toast browned in a skillet with a mixture of maple syrup and butter. It was toast that was caramelized until it had a sugary, crunchy coating and then topped with a slice of creamy, yet savory cheese.  It was more than toast and I wanted to try it.

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I am not usually a maple syrup on anything kind of person.  Not even as a child did I like French toast or pancakes smothered in that syrupy sticky sweetness.  I do like the taste of maple syrup, but more in the one little bite kind of candy you get when you go back to New Hampshire or Vermont for a visit.

For some reason, however, this had really caught my eye.  For the next week I thought of nothing else and so finally over the weekend I decided I was actually going to make it.

I wish I hadn’t.  I was like a drug addict on crack I loved it so much.  I made it three times and went through a whole loaf of bread and a round of brie.  I did have a little help eating it all, but quite honestly,  if I didn’t have to share, I probably wouldn’t have.  It was just that good.

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I curse you and thank you Amy Thielen of the Food Channel.  I am now an official Maple Bread lover,  or otherwise known as a toast addict . My disclaimer is,  I cannot be responsible for you once you try this.  I will, however, welcome you with open arms to my support group.

It really is that good.

Pecan Squares and Class

No matter what we do in life, we all need to continue learning our craft.  It only makes us better at what we love..  I started this blog a year ago, jumping in and not really knowing what I was doing.  And if we’re really being honest here, I still wonder if I know what I’m doing!

A friend and local food expert teaches a class in food writing, called “Expressions in Food”.  It’s instructional in writing blogs, journals, and food reviews so I thought it might give me some insight and help improve my blog I share with all of you.  (you’re still out there….right?)

Our first class suggested we bring snacks to share.  I had a weekend of Super Bowl, moving into a new office and this class so I decided to bake Pecan Squares, courtesy of Ina Garten.  The recipe makes so many I could cover everything with one dish! So I trudged in with my plate of bars, everyone brought their food of choice and our instructor, Patrick brought wine.  Now that is my type of class!

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For two and a half hours, we shared our interest in the class, drank wine and ate our snacks, all while learning how to describe what we were eating.  It was a cornucopia of smells, textures and flavors, from creamy onion dip that jumped off the salty crunch of the potato chip around the plate to the sweet caramel and sandy texture of the pecan squares.  What a tasty way to spend my Sunday afternoon!

I left the class, happily anticipating the next one and I hope it helps me to relay to you my love of food and recipes in such a way that you will love to read my blog even more than you do now.

Happy reading (and eating everyone)!

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Pecan Squares and Class

20 large or 40 small squares

Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 20 large

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 extra large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Topping
  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 cup good honey
  • 3 cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teapoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 pounds pecan, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  2. For the crust, beat the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, until light, approximately 3 minutes.

  3. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix well.

  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter with the mixer on low speed until just combined.

  6. Press the dough evenly into an ungreased 18 x 12 x 1 inch baking sheet, making an edge around the outside. It will be sticky, sprinkle the dough and your hands lightly with flour.

  7. Bake for 15 minutes until the crust is set but not browned. Allow to cool.

  8. For the topping, combine butter, honey, brown sugar, and zests in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

  9. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted, using a wooden spoon to stir. Raise the heat and boil for 3 minutes.

  10. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream and pecans.

  11. Pour over the crust, trying not to get the filling between the crust and the pan.

  12. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is set. **NOTE**

  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

  14. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

  15. Cut into bars and serve. (at this time if you wish to make your bars a bit more decadent, dip or drizzle with warm chocolate.)

  16. **NOTE** This filling may bubble over the edge. Place a large baking sheet or aluminum foil on a lower oven rack to catch the drips.

Cream Cups with Raspberry Sauce

Several weeks ago, I had an opportunity to do a cooking demo for a smallish group of women.  The smallish group turned out to be about thirty, so I was a little out of my comfort zone.  However, they made me feel such a part of the group and were so fun, that I couldn’t be nervous!

I had put together a menu that was easy, could be prepared ahead of time and hopefully tasteful and something they would be happy to serve to their guests.  I decided upon Shrimp Toasts (recipe posting in the near future), Roasted Fennel and Sausage  (one of my earlier posts) and for dessert, Cream Cups with a Raspberry Limoncello sauce.

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I’ve always loved the Cream Cups. I first had them at a dinner party hosted by my former neighbor and friend Leanne Yocke.  I’m not sure where she got the recipe from but I adapted it a little and have an easy yet elegant dessert that literally could be thrown together at the last-minute.

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The recipe follows as I made it, but you can do so many things with this.  You could make it with just a fruit sauce or a reduced wine sauce, for just a couple of ideas.

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If you have unexpected guests, are planning a romantic dinner for two or stepping out of the box and wanting to do something a little different, give this a try.  I really think you’ll be glad you did!

Cream Cups with Raspberry Sauce

Course Dessert
Prep Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup confectionary or powdered sugar
  • 1 8 ounce package cream cheese
  • 1 8 ounce container mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons confectionary or powdered sugar
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 2 Tablespoons limoncello

Instructions

  1. Beat together 1 cup powdered sugar, cream cheese, mascarpone and vanilla.

  2. Spoon into muffin cups or with a #1 tip, pipe onto parchment paper in large circles.

  3. Place on a flat pan and freeze until firm.

  4. For sauce: Mix powdered sugar, raspberries and Limoncello together, mashing slightly, but trying to keep the raspberries intact.

  5. Let rest for 30 minutes.

  6. To serve: About 15 minutes before serving, remove cream cups from freezer. Top with raspberry sauce and serve.

  7. NOTE: You could also substitute Chambord or Wine for the Limoncello or omit entirely.

French Onion Soup

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it like I have but everything we do in life lately seems to be all about the new and improved, the bigger and better version of what has already been done.  Most movies are remakes of classics, technology is something we all must have the newest version of and the old version is usually only six months old.  Even restaurants and chefs have to try to do something new with the old and revered.  Maybe I’m just getting older but sometimes I don’t want the new and improved.  I want the classic, the thing that’s been tested time and again and can stand on its own merit.

I want French Onion Soup.

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I could have done this the easy way and gone to some restaurant, but I don’t think even they take the time to do it right, as it always seems bland and tasteless.  It’s a classic and deserves the respect and the time needed to make it wonderfully satisfying and flavorful.  I turned to the one person I knew that gave it that respect, the one person that started us all down the road of loving food.

I turned to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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Don’t be intimidated by this book or the fact that Julia is the guru of fine cooking.  She makes everything so simple to follow.  She also uses wine and cognac in this recipe, so if you’re anything like me, you like it already!

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To do this right it is a process.  You can’t skimp on the time or the effort it takes.  If you do you will lose the richness and the flavor it gives you.  This is one of those recipes where you will again take the first spoonful, close your eyes and savor the deep beef broth, the sweetness of the onions and the texture of the toast.  The only word you will be able to usher in a soft breath is “YUM”.

It’s that good.

Pesto Crusted Roasted Pork Rack

Thanksgiving is over.  Finally!!  I was really looking forward to the holiday but after a week of leftovers it’s about time it’s done.  Turkey, turkey gravy, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches and turkey hash.  Don’t get me wrong….I have always loved turkey but after a week of trying to use it all up, I was certain that I would not be eating turkey again for a very long time!

That being said, it is time for something different.  So I decided to do something a little out of the box….at least that was what I had thought..  I have never been one that liked pork chops, but the husband has always liked them.  Since I am the one in the kitchen most of the time, I have usually won that battle.

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Out shopping one day, we came across a pork rack.  A little different that the standard thick ugly pork chop I had grown up with, so I decided to give it a chance.  The husband was feeling happy.

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Not knowing the best way to make it, I did Google my idea and came up with a recipe from the Craig Mostyn Group.  Although I had never heard of this site I gave it a shot and oh boy, was I glad I did.  The pork was moist and so very flavorful.  Not the pork chops that I had come to know from the past.  I served it with roasted potatoes and wilted greens and it tasted like a dinner I would have served at a party for guests…but incredibly easy.

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I always say, when you’re tired of turkey….eat pork chops.

Pesto Crusted Pork Rack

Course Entree
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/12-3 pound pound pork rack
  • 1 cup basil pesto (homemade or if in a pinch I use Harris Teeter’s brand)
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

  2. Trim pork and clean bones. Wrap bones in foil to protect.

  3. Combine pesto, Parmesan, panko and olive oil in a bowl. Mix well.

  4. Press mixture into a thick crust over the entire roast. Weigh roast and cook for 25 minutes per 1.1 pound or approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

  5. Allow roast to sit for at least 10 minutes prior to serving.

A Lighter Stuffed Pepper

This is my favorite time of year.  THE HOLIDAYS!  It’s about good friends, good times and good food.  (Good parties aren’t really so bad either).  Christmas is actually my favorite, with Thanksgiving a close second as far as food and parties go, but I really do love the Thanksgiving leftovers.  (I know there are more out there like me, so admit it)  Seriously, I could cook everything up, skip the dinner and just save all the food for the next day.  That is how much I love it.

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The standard turkey sandwich is one of the best ways to go, but my mom’s turkey rice soup is pretty incredible too.  The only problem is I have so many leftovers left over, that it becomes boring with the choices I have to use them all up.  I think, however, I may have stumbled on a pretty good addition to the leftover madness that ensues.

This is a recipe that I have worked out with turkey sausage and the recipe follows.  An alternative of course would be to use the equivalent of chopped turkey. If you do use the chopped turkey, it may tend to be a bit on the drier side so definitely add a bit more olive oil to the mix when you’re cooking it with the onions.  You could also add a bit of leftover gravy to keep it moist.  The options are endless!  I also used Tatsoi, which is a hardy green, sort of like a spinach or kale relative.  If you can’t find it (I found mine at the farmer’s market) you can always substitute with spinach or kale.

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The fun thing about this is you can really use anything you want.  Stuffed peppers are typically made with rice and ground beef and lots of cheese, but I’m trying to go the heart healthy way more often, so this is why I decided on this formula.  Get creative and use those leftovers up!  After all, it’s going to be another whole year before we can do this again!

A Lighter Stuffed Pepper

Course Entree
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 large bell peppers, cleaned out of membranes and top removed.
  • 1 cup Israel couscous, cooked according to directions
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes (if using canned, drain first)
  • 1/2 cup chopped Tatsoi (you can also use spinach or kale)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated asiago, cheddar or cheese of choice (optional) for topping

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Bring a pot of water (enough to cover peppers) to a boil.

  3. Place peppers in the boiling water and boil for 5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

  4. Cook couscous according to directions. Set aside.

  5. Add a small amount of cooking oil to a pan and add turkey sausage. Cook for about 5 minutes or until brown and break into small pieces.

  6. Add onions and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes until onions are soft.

  7. Add diced tomatoes and heat through for another 2 to 3 minutes.

  8. Add reserved couscous and stir into sausage mixture until well combined.

  9. Remove from heat and add goat cheese and Tatsoi. Stir to combine.

  10. Season with salt and pepper.

  11. Fill reserved bell peppers with sausage mixture, packing slightly. Top with additional cheese if desired.

  12. Place in a casserole dish small enough to fit tightly so they don’t fall over and bake for about 20 minutes until heated through. (they can be frozen at this point if you choose)

  13. Serve immediately.

Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the leaves changing, the smell of fires in the air and the cool temperatures.  Every now and then, I will even watch a football game (go Pats!), but what I really love and it’s mostly the idea of, is a tailgate party.  How fun is that?  A group of people at the back-end of a car with good food, drinks and lots of laughs.

I need to digress here.  (Don’t worry, the two tales will eventually come together.)  There is a restaurant in upstate NY called The Boatyard.  A favorite of my dad’s and my brother’s, so we would go there at least once every time I was up there.  They are known for several dishes, but one of my personal favorites (and that of my entire family’s) are the Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls.  Yes, I did ask for the recipe, but no…they apparently didn’t want to share.  It was okay, I thought I could figure this out on my own.

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This is where the two stories come together.  It was Sunday afternoon and we were watching a football game. I decided that we were going to have a tailgate party…in our home.  It was just a casual day to make fun finger foods and along with the hot wings I was making, I decided I was going to figure out what these egg rolls were all about.

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It did take several tries (so the first tailgating, although good, wasn’t exceptional), but I think once you make this you will find that this is well worth the time and trouble and calories.  People are correct when they say that anything fried is good.  I don’t eat fried food…but I definitely would eat these on occasion.  The nice thing about these are that you can make them ahead of time and freeze them.    So try these on your next tailgating party, or cocktail party, or just a party of two.  You will want these again and again….they are that good. They are spicy, crunchy and tasty.  All the things your taste buds will need from a tailgating party.

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Go Pats, happy tailgating and a very happy Fall season to all of you!

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Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

Course Appetizer
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 34 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Package egg roll wrappers
  • 3 cups finely diced chicken (you can poach breasts, use prepared rotisserie, leftovers, etc)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1/2 cup buttermilk (depending on creaminess desired)
  • 8 ounce cream cheese (use whipped or soften the cheese beforehand for easier mixing)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons hot sauce (more or less for your personal taste)
  • 2 Tablespoons minced shallots
  • 4 ounces blue cheese crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste

BLUE CHEESE DIP

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/8 cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Instructions

  1. Mix mayonnaise and sour cream together.

  2. Add buttermilk, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and combine until well blended.

  3. Add shallots and blue cheese and combine.

  4. Season to taste and set aside.

  5. Place wrapper flat and place approximately 1 to 2 tablespoons of chicken mixture onto the middle of the wrapper. Roll according to package directions, seal with water and set aside.

  6. (at this point you may freeze if desired)

  7. Heat peanut oil in heavy duty pan until it reaches frying stage 350 degrees F to 400 degrees F

  8. Place rolled wrappers in hot oil for 4 to 5 minutes turning occasionally. Remove and drain on paper towels.

  9. Slice in half on the diagonal and serve immediately with blue cheese dip. (directions follow)

  10. BLUE CHEESE DIP

  11. Whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, honey, lemon juice and chives. Fold in blue cheese crumbles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  12. Refrigerate before serving.

What’s in the Pantry?

Let’s face it.  There are always going to be those times where you just don’t feel you can find another minute to get things done.  For the last two weeks, it seems I did not have any time at all.  I had been overwhelmed with baking (cheesecakes for a friend), taking a continuing education course for my profession (it certainly would have helped if I had not waited until the last-minute), food judging for the area home shows and the list goes on and on.

The other night I came home and my husband asked me what was for dinner.  I just looked at him, probably like a deer in headlights.  I hadn’t even considered dinner and now it was already late.  I didn’t want to go back out to the grocery store, so we had to figure out something.  That’s when operation pantry surprise went into action.

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We have always kept something in the pantry we can work with.  You never know if there would be people collecting for a food drive or the electricity is going to go out.  I took a look in the pantry to see how my creative juices were going to flow.  I had soup, noodles, canned chicken and a jar of roasted vegetables.  The creativity started to flow.

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I was able to put together a meal that was easy, fairly quick and satisfying for the family.  The next time you don’t have time, but you have hungry eyes waiting for you to feed them, don’t order a pizza.  Look in your pantry and see what you can find.  I’ll bet it will be something good.

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Sunday Dunk

It was a Sunday afternoon and it was cold and rainy.  Fall was definitely here and the weather was definitely matching my mood.  Football games were on and I really didn’t want to spend my day cleaning (even though we all know that is what I should have done), so I started focusing on what I could make for dinner.  When in doubt, cook.

It was a perfect day for comfort food, but I wanted something different from my standard go-to pasta dish.  I didn’t feel like soup and I was really over cooking chili.  And then that momentary flash-back occurred and I remembered the garlic show I had seen the day before.  There were a couple of dishes that I liked but didn’t like either of them enough to make one.  I did however like parts of them enough to combine them and create a dish that was exactly what I was looking for.  A warm, comforting, sit on the couch and dunk dish.

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Who doesn’t like garlic?  This was a perfect combination of a warm soup, a hearty dish and the feel good that you get from a pasta.

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You could easily pour this over pasta or rice, even mashed potatoes and make a nice dinner out of it. For me, however, sitting there dunking my crusty bread loaf into the roasted garlic yumminess was the inside tailgating atmosphere I had been looking for.

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The Patriots won a great game and much to my husband’s disappointment the Giants lost….again.  It can’t get any better than that.

 

Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

It seems like I’ve been out of commission for a little while, although it’s only been a week.  I have no excuse except the cool crisp air has made me want to go to bed earlier.  It’s darker in the morning when I wake up and darker in the evening so my evenings feel shorted.

What is great about this however, is I love the Fall!  I want to have a fire in the fireplace, wear sweaters and cook comfort food.  I’m seriously ready to wear jeans and boots but living in the south I feel ridiculous doing that now….especially when everyone else is still wearing shorts and flip-flops.

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The one thing I can do when it’s colder in the evening is make a satisfying dinner that makes the soul warm.  That usually involves some form of pasta because I am apparently a carb freak, but in trying to make it semi healthy, I have adapted this recipe so I don’t feel so guilty.

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Leaves are changing color, nights are cool and despite the fact that your neighbors are still wearing flip-flops, you can still enjoy the Fall with comfort.  That will include a satisfying dinner.

So turn up the air, put on a sweater and enjoy!

Smokey Chicken Stuffed Shells

Course Entree
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 4 links chicken sausage ( I use the garlic and roasted red pepper from Whole Foods)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed chopped basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1 12 ounce package jumbo pasta shells, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 ounces chopped roasted red pepper, drained
  • 4 ounces chopped fire roasted tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Instructions

  1. Remove the chicken sausage from casings and cook over medium heat, breaking into small bite size pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Add onion, garlic and paprika and cook for 2 more minutes. Add tomatoes and basil, mixing in well and set aside.

  2. Mix together ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, beaten egg, Add chicken mixture and combine well.

  3. Stuff cooked shells with chicken and cheese mixture and place in a baking dish.

  4. Bring the oil to medium heat in a saucepot. Sweat the onions until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sweat until fragrant, about one more minute. Stir in the peppers and tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Working in batches, process the sauce on high in a food processor until smooth. Return the sauce to the pot, reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cream. Remove the heat an stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

  5. Pour sauce over pasta shells and top with grated parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and hot.

  6. Serve immediately.

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