Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Halloween Game: Treats, No Tricks

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, everyone! Sadly, I'm not really celebrating or even decorating at my house this year, as I have too many other things going on--namely, the dreaded packing, which has begun. :-( And I've started by cleaning out the fridges, freezers, and pantries. Do y'all listen to "The Splendid Table" with Lynne Rosetto Kasper on NPR? LOVE that show, and one of my favorite things is when people call in and list five things that they have in their fridge, then Lynne has to come up with something wonderful that the person can make for dinner from those ingredients. I find this game very inspirational in trying to use up the odds and ends that I'm unearthing around here. Thus, over the next month, I will be sharing whatever interesting (and hopefully, delicious) mystery meals that I can concoct with just the contents of my current kitchen (dig that crazy alliteration!).

I will begin my new blogging series with a quick and easy pasta dish. As I was cleaning out one of the smaller freezers, I found a bag of baby scallops and a package of imitation krab. I began by thawing the seafood, then in a large skillet with a couple of tablespoons each of olive oil and butter, I browned the scallops on all sides. Then I removed them from the heat and added the krab, about a tablespoon of minced garlic, a good pinch of red pepper flakes, and another couple of tablespoons of butter to the hot pan. Once the fish and garlic had both softened, I added the juice of one large lemon and some salt and pepper. Then I threw in a carton of leftover spaghetti that I found in the fridge and cooked everything until warmed through. I added the scallops back to the mix, along with a tablespoon of dried parsley, and a generous handful of parmigiano-regiano. That was it! Easy-peasy Lemon-Garlic Seafood Pasta, elegant enough to serve in a fine Italian restaurant, all from odds and ends that I found in the fridge and freezer! YUM!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, though this announcement comes at least a decade late in my evolution as a grown-up, I have some important news. Despite my very modest salary teaching at a community college, spotty credit issues of the past, and monumental student loan debt, I have, at long last, become a homeowner! Thanks to relaxed qualifications for the no-money-down USDA Rural Housing Loan and the allure of major federal and state tax incentives, I was finally ready to take the plunge! After more than a year of searching listings and viewing properties, three realtors, four mortgage brokers, and a substantive homebuying education program provided by HGTV (Property Virgins, House Hunters, and My First Place), I managed to find a cute little 1900 farmhouse on 1.2 acres--plenty of room for the dogs and for my gardening efforts--that is closer to work and just five minutes from town, yet still in a country setting.

Originally listed for $125K, I used my rigorous HGTV training to negotiate a heck of a deal at $113K with the sellers paying $5000 in closing costs. And the best part of all, though there are many projects to be attended to eventually, the house has a FABULOUS updated eat-in kitchen with adjoining computer desk that is just PERFECT for a food blogger like myself!

I am so excited to make the move over Thanksgiving weekend, though NOT excited to pack up a house where I've lived (and accumulated crap!) for nine years--especially right at the busiest part of the semester. God help me! So as you can imagine, I am more than a bit OVERWHELMED right now, so I am not spending as much quality time in the kitchen. But I do have a couple of quickie recipes to share nevertheless.

The first is an autumnal salad idea that I first sampled at my friend June's fabulous Canadian Thanksgiving celebration over our Columbus Day weekend. It's ridiculously simple, but SO amazing! You'll want some greens of your choice, crumbled blue cheese, sliced apples, candied pecans, and balsamic vinaigrette. SO YUMMY! Speaking of apples, have you tried the new SweeTango variety, an offshoot of the Honeycrisp? Well, you should! For the pecans, I browned them in some butter, then sprinkled them with a couple of tablespoons of maple sugar (though brown sugar would do). And for the vinaigrette, I whisk together a half cup each olive oil and balsamic vinegar, along with a tablespoon of spicy brown mustard, and a little honey to taste. Season with salt and pepper, and if you're feeling adventurous, a pinch of cinnamon. Of course, if you add some sliced, cooked chicken, you would have a terrific entree salad. In any case, you MUST try this salad...simply MUST! You'll thank me...and my friend, June.

Lastly, I have a quick treat for you. Other than the intricate apple pie that I made as a birthday gift last weekend, I haven't been doing any real baking. But the other day, I wanted something sweet to nibble on, and I came across a recipe on Farmgirl Fare for Baby Shortbread Cookies with Mini Chocolate Chips and English Toffee Bits. Not only are these cookies tender and buttery and delicious, but they are CUTE as can be, and can be whipped together and in the oven in no time flat! In fact, this recipe should be earmarked for holiday baking, as it would be a very welcome addition to any festive cookie platter.

Baby Shortbread Cookies with Mini Chocolate Chips and English Toffee Bits
FarmGirl Fare via The Kitchn)

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup English toffee bits, such as Heath (pecans would be a good swap-out, too)

Heat the oven to 350°.

With a electric mixer, cream the butter and powdered sugar until smooth, about one minute. Beat in the vanilla, and then add the flour and salt. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the mini chocolate chips and toffee bits.

With a small scoop, drop cookies onto a heavy duty baking sheet lined with unbleached parchment paper or a Silpat. (Two dozen of these cookies will fit on one sheet, so the whole batch will bake on two trays.)

Bake until the edges are just starting to brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container or freeze.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Prizewinning Pie Prepared for Pal

One of my favorite things to watch on the Food Network each year is the National Pie Championships from Celebration, FL. I also enjoy trying out many of the prizewinning recipes. I'm not sure how I missed it this year, but thankfully, my buddy Anna over at Cookie Madness alerted me to a very special apple pie that won in the professional division from a recipe created by chef, Dawn Viola. It's called Vanilla-Vanilla Bean Roasted Apple Pie, and it has some very interesting and unusual twists to it. In fact, it seems at first glance like an extremely fussy recipe, but I think the resulting pie may be well worth the extra effort! The apples in the filling are roasted and caramelized ahead of time, giving them more depth of flavor, and as an added bonus, by pre-cooking the apples, you don't get the dreaded filling shrinkage that accompanies so many traditional apple pies. But the real star of this pie is the crust. While Ms. Viola actually makes her own butter, any higher-fat European-style or Danish butter can be substituted. The richer, more flavorful butter yields a pastry that is delicate and so shatteringly flaky, that it's almost like eating baked apples inside of a crispy croissant rather than regular pie crust.

Of course, for someone who lives in a very small city with only three proper grocery stores, finding the high-end butter proved...problematic. After searching all of Plattsburgh, including the health food co-op, I realized that I was going to have to cross the border. That's right--I had to go to another COUNTRY to find appropriate butter! And even that was more complicated that I had originally anticipated. I thought I would try the butcher in Covey Hill, but they were already closed the night I went. So then I continued on into Hemmingford proper, but the main grocery store there was closed, too! Frustrated, I decided to pop into the merry little Irish resto-pub called Witsend for some fish and chips to boost my spirits and strengthen my resolve before continuing my quest. Once I'd finished my dinner, I headed east to Lacolle to the IGA, which I knew stayed open later than the places in Hemmingford. Et VOILA! I found a brand of Swiss-style butter called Lactancia. There were a lot of different varieties, including something called "antique" butter (scary thought--but you know I had to buy some to try it!). In the end, I used the one that came in sticks called "My Country," a cultured variety. Man, is that stuff DELICIOUS! It's very dense and rich and has a slight tanginess to it that I knew would be delicious in the crust of the apple pie.

I tried to follow Ms. Viola's directions fairly closely, but I did do a few things differently. First, my freezers are overstuffed, so I did chill the food processor blade and the pie plate, but not the processor bowl or the dry ingredients. Also, I used regular flour and sugar, not organic. And instead of Granny Smiths, I used a combination of Jonagolds and Cortlands. When roasting the apples, I used a couple of tablespoons of maple sugar (instead of granulated) for an added boost of flavor. Because I had read reviews that said the filling was very runny and would not set up, I used two tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate in place of the half cup of apple cider, and I only dotted the top of the filling with two tablespoons of the very rich butter, not four! I thought the filling was sweet enough, so I didn't add additional sugar on the top crust. Lastly, I found that it took some extra time for the bottom crust to get golden brown, about one hour total baking time.

Now I made this pie as a birthday treat for my dear friend, Janice, so I didn't get to see it cut. But some of the filling exploded out of one side of the pie, knocking off a couple of pieces of the crust in the process, so I tasted a bit of it, and it was truly YUMMY! Not quite two hours after it came out of the oven, I delivered it, still warm, to the birthday girl and her family. They were coming home from a celebration at their hunting camp in Churubusco, so we met at a halfway point, in the dark, by the side of the road on the Military Turnpike for the hand-off, covert ops-style. (Tee hee.) As soon as they arrived home, I got a text message assuring me that it was amazingly delicious, etc, etc, so I think it turned out well! (The Padulas are a true "foodie" family and fabulous cooks in their own right, so if they say something is good, it must be good!)


Vanilla-Vanilla Bean Roasted Apple Pie
Dawn Viola, National Pie Championships)

For the crust:
2 1/2 cups Organic all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting/rolling
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla powder
3 tablespoons organic sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 1/2 sticks unsalted Danish or European-style butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 tablespoon white vinegar, chilled
6 – 8 tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
4 tablespoons Danish or European-style butter
12 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced in large chunks
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup organic sugar*
4 tablespoons organic all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon heavy cream

For the egg wash:
1 egg
1 tablespoon of cream
coarse sugar, optional

Measure out all ingredients and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. Place the food processor blade and bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. (I just chilled the bade.)

Make the dough:
Place the food processor bowl back on the motor with the blade, as directed by the manufacturer. Combine flour, salt, vanilla powder, sugar and vanilla bean seeds in the food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter cubes and pulse 10 times, or until the mixture begins to resemble coarse meal with pea-sized pieces.

Add the vinegar and pulse to mix. Add one tablespoon of water at a time, pulsing to incorporate, until the mixture begins to clump together. Pinch some of the dough in your hand. If it sticks together, the dough is ready. If the dough does not stick to itself, add another tablespoon of water, pulse, and pinch the dough together again. Repeat until the dough holds together without being overly wet. Dough should be slightly crumbly, but hold together when pinched.

Remove dough from the food processor and transfer to a work surface. Divide the dough into two equal parts and gently shape into two flat round discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Prepare the apples:
Preheat the broiler. Add apples, vanilla bean seeds, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar (I used maple sugar here) to a roasting pan; toss apples to coat. Broil until the tops of the apples begin to brown. Apples can burn easily under the broiler, so don’t walk too far away. Toss apples as soon as you notice browning. Once apples are caramelized but not cooked through (I would say 6-8 minutes total), remove from heat and add the remaining sugar, the flour, vanilla extract (oops--this must be an accidental omission in the recipe, but I added one teaspoon) and salt. Add the apple cider (I used 2 T of frozen apple juice concentrate instead) and cream, stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning – add additional salt, sugar, vanilla or cinnamon to taste. (At this point, I put the filling in the fridge to chill while I got on with rolling the crusts. You don't want to put hot filling into a cold crust. That defeats your purpose of keeping the pastry very cold.)

Finish the pie:
Place a 9” pie plate into the freezer. Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 5 – 10 minutes, or just long enough for it to become easy to roll, but still chilled. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out to a 12” circle. Place in the bottom of the chilled 9” pie plate. Return to the refrigerator to chill.

Remove second dough disc and roll out to a 12” circle on a lightly floured surface. Remove after bottom crust and filling from the fridge and add apples to bottom crust. Place top crust over the apples and pinch the top and bottom dough edges together to enclose the apples. Add decorative edge if desired, and slice 1” air vents around the top of the pie.

Make the egg wash:
Beat the egg in a small dish and mix in cream. Lightly brush the egg wash over the top of the pie and along the edges. Sprinkle with coarse sugar, if desired.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Cover edges with aluminum foil if browning too quickly. Turn the pie in the oven, and continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Continue to cook for 7 minutes, as needed, until the crust is golden brown and flaky. (I covered the edges with a pie shield after a half hour, then covered the top with a sheet of tin foil after 45 minutes, but continued baking for an hour until the bottom of the pie was golden brown.)

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least two hours before cutting and serving.

Follow-up (11/22/09): I recently remade this pie to celebrate my former roommate's return, and because she's a brown sugar kind of gal, I used half white sugar and half brown in the filling. I also added a pinch of allspice, and instead of heavy cream in the filling, I used a little bit of vanilla latte coffee creamer that we had open. The brown sugar made the filling taste like a CARAMEL apple pie and was about the same, soft consistency. So you might consider that very tasty variation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Time for One Last BBQ

I know I am SO LATE in offering today's, MONTHS late! But I have a good excuse! I actually first tried these dishes back in July. A friend of mine from school invited a small group of colleagues that had become chummy over the summer via Facebook to his house for a fabulous cookout. Besides starting us off with some killer margaritas, my friend, Chris, served up some very tasty baby back ribs, this AMAZING potato salad, and also some wonderful marinated and grilled chicken skewers called "spiedies," that are apparently a specialty in the chef's hometown of Binghamton, NY. Chris tells me that everyone has his or her own "secret" recipe for spiedies, so I am honored that he'd share his secrets with me...and now you, dear readers! (Though it took me MONTHS of cajoling to wheedle all of these recipes out of him!)

I haven't made the spiedies yet, but today, in celebration of a four-day fall break from school, I tried a version of the ribs (though I made boneless beef ribs in my crock pot) and also the incredible corn and potato salad. As far as I'm concerned, we can close the book on the search for the best potato salad recipe--THIS IS IT! And if you hurry, you just might be able to prepare a batch with the very last of the farm stand produce. (There have been threats of snow here, and dustings in the higher elevations, but by some miracle, we still have local corn!)

Larry's Best Baby Back Ribs

2 racks baby back ribs
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
5 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups catsup
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tablespoons spicy mustard w/horseradish
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Melt butter in 2 quart pot. Add onions and garlic. Cook over low heat until onions are soft.
Stir in remainder of ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool completely.

Cut each rib rack in half. Place in tins and pour a liberal amount of BBQ sauce over ribs. Cover with tin foil and place in preheated 190°F oven for 9 hours. (Yes, 9 hours!*)

Remove from oven. Discard drippings or save for other use. Transfer ribs to grill or place under broiler for about 10 minutes. May be refrigerated and grilled at later time. Serve with extra BBQ sauce. Enjoy!

*Chris cooks his ribs in the oven for 225 degrees for two hours uncovered then two hours covered. I made mine in the crock pot. I sauteed the onions and garlic in the butter until soft, then added them and all of the other sauce ingredients to the slow cooker. Then I browned the ribs on all sides in the same saute pan and added them to the pot (my ribs were boneless, but if you're using bone-in or baby backs, you'll need to cut them into sections that will fit in the pot). Cook the ribs for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low, or until exceedingly tender. I also only made half of the sauce and STILL had lots left over (which I saved for future uses)!

Potato and Corn Salad with Bacon, Blue Cheese, and Sherry Vinaigrette
(Source: Bon Appétit, August 2004)

Yield: Makes 8 servings

3 ears fresh corn, unhusked
2 large red bell peppers
2 pounds 1 1/2- to 2-inch-diameter unpeeled red-skinned potatoes (about 24), quartered
4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 cup chopped green onions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

Prepare barbecue (high heat). Grill corn until husks are blackened on all sides, turning occasionally, about 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Remove husks and silk. Cut kernels from cobs.

Cut 1/2 inch from top and bottom of each pepper. Quarter each pepper lengthwise. Trim ribs and seeds from peppers. Flatten pieces, breaking slightly, if necessary. Place peppers on grill, skin side down. Grill without turning until skins are blackened and blistered, about 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes. Peel peppers; cut into 1/2-inch squares.

Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain; let cool 5 minutes in strainer. Transfer to large bowl.

Sauté bacon in medium skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels.

Whisk oil and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/4 cup dressing over potatoes; toss to coat. Add corn, bell peppers, bacon, cheese, onions, oregano, and 3 tablespoons additional dressing; toss to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper. Add remaining dressing by tablespoonfuls to moisten, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Because I can't leave well enough alone, I made the following amendments to this recipe: to the vinaigrette, I added a tablespoon of grainy mustard, a half teaspoon of granulated garlic, and a pinch of cayenne. Also, I shorted the olive oil by a few tablespoons and swapped out some of the bacon drippings. And, I didn't have fresh oregano, so I used fresh thyme leaves instead. YUM!

Chris Ford's Special "Spiedies"

4 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons parsley
2 tablespoons mint
2 tablespoons chives
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon sage
4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 orange (cut up)
1 lime (cut up)

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes. Mix all other ingredients together in large bowl. Stir up mixture and add chicken. Marinate for 24 hours. Put chicken on metal or wood skewers and grill.

*Traditional way to eat spiedies is to take a piece of Italian bread in your hand, fold it around the skewer, and pull the meat off.

Monday, October 05, 2009

I know, I know...

The only thing you must be more tired of than summer squash recipes is Amish friendship recipes. But too bad! I got one more for ya. And it also includes a type of squash, so all my culinary worlds will now converge. ;-)

My latest Amish loaf is pumpkin walnut, and besides being seasonally appropriate (nay, perfect!), the pumpkin puree adds extra moisture, so I was able to cut the oil by half. Therefore, not only is it nummy, but it's higher in fiber and lower in fat. What further rationale do you need to make some for yourself? (What's that you say? You don't have any of the starter? If you are in the greater Plattsburgh, New York area and want to get on board the Amish friendship wagon, please let me know. I am more than happy to hook you up.)

Amish Pumpkin Walnut Loaves

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 (3 ounce) package instant pumpkin spice pudding mix
1 cup Amish friendship bread starter
1/2 of a 15 oz. can pumpkin puree (about 3/4 cup)*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

In a large mixing bowl blend together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, and pudding mix. Make a well in the center of the bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the Amish starter, pumpkin, oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and blend until just combined. Stir in the walnuts. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans (I spray mine with flour-added baking spray.)

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for one hour. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a wire rack. Remove bread from pan and cool completely on the rack.

*You can easily freeze the remaining pumpkin puree for your next batch of pumpkin walnut bread!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Year of Yellow Squash (Continues)

Are you sick of posts related to summer squash? Well, imagine how sick I am of having to think of new things to do with it! For every one squash I use up, three more appear in its place! I thought I would make a significant dent in my supply last weekend when I put up a half dozen pints of my famous zucchini relish (now summer squash relish), but nooooooo! Given the weather of late, it can't be much longer that my garden keeps offering up its plentiful yellow bounty. But until we reach the end, I still have a seemingly endless supply of squashes eyeballin' me on the counter.

So as I often do, I turned to the wise advice of posters from GardenWeb's Harvest Forum and a thread called "101 Things to Make with Zucchini or Summer Squash." Some nice person posted a recipe for something that sounded savory and hearty called "Zucchini and Sausage Stew." I whipped up a batch earlier this afternoon and let it bubble away in the crock pot all day, making the house smell delicious. Most people would serve it over some kind of pasta (tortellini would be especially good!), but I went with rice because, well, I LOVE rice, and serving it over rice also makes it gluten-free (are you reading this, Jen/Spike?). And with all those veggies in there, it's pretty darn healthful, too! Most importantly, it's tasty stuff--very warm and filling--and it will provide lunches for me (and perhaps my work colleagues!) all week.

*Follow-Up: Um....did I say ALL WEEK? I brought a crock pot full of the leftovers to school today (10/5), and it's almost empty! LOL! Oh well...I'm glad my co-workers enjoyed it. (I'll was better the next day.)

Summer Squash and Sausage Stew
(Source: adapted from
GardenWeb's Harvest Forum)

1 pound ground sausage (I used 1 1/2 lbs. garlic Italian links)*
2 cups celery, 1/2-inch pieces (I finely chopped mine)
1 cup onion, chopped
2 green peppers, 1/2-inch pieces (I chopped a variety of chiles*)
2 - 28 oz. cans chopped tomatoes (I used one quart of home-canned and 2 small cans of fire-roasted)
2 lbs. zucchini or yellow squash, 1/2- inch pieces (you may also slice it--I shredded mine)
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated garlic (or 2 t. if not using garlic sausage like I did)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, optional

shredded parmesan or Italian cheese blend to garnish

Brown sausage, drain. Add celery, onion, and peppers and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture into a preheated slow cooker (set to high), then add the tomatoes, squash, and seasonings. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for 3-4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low. Taste to correct seasonings. Serve over pasta, tortellini, or rice. Garnish with shredded parmesan/Italian blend cheese.

*I wanted to use the hot peppers that I grew in my garden, so I used a mild Italian sausage. But if you use sweet peppers, you might wish to use hot Italian sausage.