Saturday, October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, June...with cherries on top!

I know, I know! We just ate like kings (or birthday queens) last night at The Handlebar, but I couldn't let my good friend June's birthday pass by without making her a special treat. Of course, her birthday was yesterday (Friday), so I needed to bake something on a school night (Thursday) when I don't even get home until about seven, after a quick stop at the store. So this is admittedly a bit of a "cheater" recipe, making use of a ready-made chocolate crust and canned cherry pie filling. But when you need something scrumptious (and impressive-looking, despite the pre-fab elements), this might just fill the bill.

June LOVES chocolate, and she is always crazy about cherry pie, so I thought a chocolate cherry cheesecake would be perfect. This was certainly close--only homemade crust and topping made from fresh cherries could put it over the top. I also think that this dessert would be fantastic for a Christmas gathering, especially with its dazzling holiday red color and ease of preparation during the harried season which will soon be upon us.

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake‎

1 1/2 packages (12 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt
3 eggs
1 dark chocolate cookie crust (Oreo brand is best if you're not making one from scratch)
1 can (21 oz.) cherry pie filling (Lucky Leaf brand--the premium variety with extra cherries--trust me on this)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. In small mixing bowl beat cream cheese on medium speed of electric mixer until fluffy. Add sugar, chocolate, vanilla, and salt. Beat until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined after each addition.
2. Place crust on baking sheet. Pour cream cheese mixture into crust. Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes or until center is almost set.
3. Cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Mix cherry pie filling with vanilla and almond extracts. Spread pie filling over top. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Celebrating Birthdays with Liquids and Solids!

Back in July, I read an article in Burlington's Seven Days about a restaurant in Lake Placid with a most unusual name: Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar. I was intrigued, but Lake Placid is a long ways away, and with gas at nearly four bucks a gallon, I thought it best to wait for a special occasion to check it out. Since my birthday was on Wednesday and my dear friend June's was today, we decided that the time was right. So a small gang of us trekked over there tonight, a beautiful drive through the Adirondacks, where it was surprising to see some color (mostly golden hues) still on the trees.

But the gorgeous scenery didn't hold a candle to the FOOD! I know we're starved for decent cuisine in these parts, but WOW! I was so thrilled with our meal, that I actually sent the chef a fan letter before dessert! The menu changes often in reponse to the seasons and availability of local, sustainable ingredients. But below is a sampling of the dishes that we enjoyed so very much. Regardless of what they are serving on any given night, if any readers find themselves in the area, Liquid and Solids is a MUST dining destination!

Though I am not a drinker, I decided to splurge and have a cocktail. I chose the Balsamic Fizz: vodka, strawberry juice, basil, balsamic vinegar, soda water, and pineapple juice. Cyd had Thyme and Gin: Hendricks' gin, muddled lemon, lime, honey, pear, thyme, and a splash of ginger ale. But the best drink BY FAR was the Bacon Bloody Mary that my friend Lee Ann got: bacon vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, lemon and lime juices, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

For our first appetizer, Cyd and I shared a lovely parsnip soup topped with an apple and delicate squash bruschetta and some slivers of pickled ginger. So autumnally cozy!

The second appetizer we shared (with everyone!) was fried Brussels sprouts. Bearing in mind that I proclaim to HATE Brussels sprouts, these were perhaps the best thing we ate tonight! I'm not sure what they were fried in, but no one at the table could stop eating them.

We chose three "smalls" for our entrees. This is the L and S double burger, with cheese curds, spicy pickles, and "secret sauce." The housemade pickles were so good, I got an order to take home!

This was pulled BBQ beef and caramelized shallots on a crispy potato tartlet, with fresh chevre and a fried egg on top.

I've changed my mind. Forget the Brussels sprouts. THIS was the best dish of the night! Crispy sweet and sour pork belly with blue cheese, apple, and scallion black beans, topped with a canelle of sweet potato ice cream. WHATT?? A savory ice cream, you say? It can't be done! It shouldn't be done! But it was. And it was

Even though we were stuffed to the gills after two appetizers and three entrees, we couldn't leave without trying some dessert. We chose a dark chocolate burgundy tart with...wait for it...bacon whipped cream! (I adore these folks' passionate devotion to bacon.) The filling was decadently rich and flavorful, but the one criticism I have of the whole meal was the tart crust--it was tough, thick, and generally unenjoyable.

So there it is: a double birthday celebration in food. I can hardly wait until Cyd's birthday in early December so we can go back!

P.S. Sorry about the rather grainy photos. It was dark in that bar. which created a relaxed atmosphere but produced poor photography. ;-)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last of the farm stand fare...(sniff).

One day recently, I came into my office at work to find a bag with a half dozen ears of sweet corn and a copy of a recipe for smoked corn chowder on my desk. The gift was from my friend and colleague in computer science (and amazing cook!), Chris Ford. He lives near Rulf's farm stand in Peru (they have the best corn in the area), and he has been known to smoke up a storm on his Weber kettle grill. This is one of his favorite recipes for when corn is still in season but when the weather has started to turn a little chilly.

It is truly an AMAZING thing that we still have sweet corn being harvested (there are some perks to global climate change), but it is too cold to stand on the porch and grill stuff, IMHO. So I converted this recipe to begin in the oven and end in the crock pot, and it turned out GREAT! Furthermore, I see no reason why you couldn't roast up some frozen kernels in the off-season. Give that a try if corn is done in your area.

Roasted Corn Chowder
(Source: adapted from Weber's Art of the Grill)

6 ears of corn, husks and silks removed
2 red bell peppers
1/2 lb. smoky bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into one-inch dice
1 bay leaf
bunch of thyme, bundled with twine
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to broil at 500 degrees. On a sheet pan lined with foil, place the six ears of corn and two red peppers, and drizzle all the veggies with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, turning every five minutes or so. Remove the roasted veggies from the oven and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, seeds and ribs from the peppers, coarsely chop, then reserve. Cut the kernels from the corn, scraping the cobs, then refrigerate the roasted corn until needed later.

Place a large saute pan or Dutch oven on medium heat. Cook the bacon and onion, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crispy and onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour, and cook for about one minute, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat to medium high. Gradually add the chicken stock, whisking to prevent the flour from forming lumps. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, whisking constantly.

Add the bacon, onion, and broth mixture to a crock pot, then add the reserved chopped roasted red peppers, the potatoes, bay leaf, thyme bundle, granulated garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. Cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours until the potatoes are tender. Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme bundle. Add the half-and-half and parsley and reserved roasted corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Not that this fabulous chowder needs much in the way of an accompaniment, but as I have shared many times before, I have a roommate who believe that soup is not a proper meal in and of itself. Thus, I've invented what could be the word's BEST sandwich!

You start with Panera's three-cheese demi-loaf, sliced, buttered, and toasted under the broiler. Then brush with persillade (parsley and garlic sauce--because my parsley is still growing like CRAZY--or pesto would be good, too), top with blue cheese, thin slices of fresh apple, sliced chicken breast (from your favorite deli chicken), and swiss cheese. Pop back under the broiler to melt the cheese, then devour! YUM!!

Oh, and on top of Cyd's sandwich, I added slices of what is, no doubt, the last of the local tomatoes. Boo hiss. We wait all year for the harvest, and it's all over so quickly, non?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It's so good, it's...UMAMI!

Ever since we visited Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown over Columbus Day weekend, I have been thinking about recreating some of the great dishes that we had there. For example, one thing that I HAVE to try (once I figure out which box my ice cream maker is in--and yes, it has been almost two years since I moved, shut up) is the most AMAZING ice cream that I had in a shop on the main drag in Tarrytown called Brain Freeze. Get this: sweet corn ice cream in a pretzel cone. Just sit with that for a minute. It was FAN-freakin-tastic!

But the project this past weekend was to try and make a home version of the awesome truffled mac and cheese that we had at Umami Cafe in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. I found a NYT article that described the dish as involving gruyere and fontina, so I played around with that, adding different cheeses to a luscious bechamel sauce, then adding a good amount of truffle butter that my friend, June, brought me back from her trip to Paris. Instead of bread crumbs for the topping, I just used some smashed-up crackers because I had them on hand.

It turned out really yummy, and actually a lot creamier than the dish we had at Umami Cafe. My roommate preferred the texture, in fact. But I kind of liked the lighter version that they served. So imagine my chagrin when I happened to find the real recipe online while my version was already baking in the oven! ARRGH! Oh well. I'll try it next time. But my version was pretty good, if I do say so myself. Maybe make a half batch of each and then do a taste test? (Then please report your findings in comments.)

Gina's Truffled Mac and Cheese (An Homage to Umami)

1 lb. pasta (I used pipettes)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
good pinch of salt, to taste (depends on how salty your cheeses are)
4 cups shredded cheese (2 cups creamy--fontina or gouda, 1 cup sharp cheddar, 1 cup nutty--gruyere or parmesan)
1 tablespoon black truffle butter

1 sleeve buttery crackers (Town House), crushed
2 tablespoons melted
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Boil pasta until just al dente. Drain.

Melt a stick of butter in at least a 3.5 quart pot. Brown it until dark golden, then whisk in the flour. Cook for two minutes, whisking continuously. Add the milk, a little at a time, whisking the whole time. Cook until the sauce thickens--almost to boiling--constantly whisking. Add the granulated garlic, pepper and salt, then add the shredded cheese and stir until melted and the sauce is very smooth. Add the truffle butter and stir until melted.

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and thoroughly combine. Pour into a 9x13 (sprayed) baking dish. Mix the crushed cracker crumbs with the melted butter and granulated garlic and sprinkle on top of the pasta and cheese sauce. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Let set for 15-30 minutes before serving.

Umami Cafe's Truffled Mac and Cheese
(Source: Executive Chef, Jon Pratt, Umami Cafe)

3 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dry white wine (Pinot Grigio)
1 qt. heavy cream
4 oz. black truffle butter
2 tablespoons black truffle oil
3 cups fontina cheese, shredded
salt and pepper, to taste
3 lbs. elbow macaroni
panko crumbs or in a pinch, bread crumbs

• Cook pasta
In salted (don’t be shy with the salt) boiling water cook pasta until tender but not mushy, drain and empty out on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Reserve.
• Reduce cream
In non reactive sauce pan bring heavy cream to just boiling, reduce heat to low setting and simmer for 30 minutes or reduced to half. Reserve.
• Make sauce
In non reactive sauce pan sauté shallots and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until soft but not browned. Add white wine and simmer until wine is almost gone. Add reduced cream and bring just to simmer, then add grated cheese and whisk to incorporate. Add truffle butter and oil, add salt and pepper to taste.
•To serve:
Place pasta and enough sauce in sauté pan and bring to simmer. Transfer to a ramekin or casserole and serve garnished with butter-toasted panko crumbs. You can also top with untoasted bread crumbs and place casserole in oven to bake until crumbs are golden brown. Garnish with a few drops truffle oil and minced chives.

This recipe will make about a quart of sauce which can make ten to twelve 5” ramekins or one 9X12” soufflé dish.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ain't no party like an Adirondack party!

Several years ago, my friend, Vicky, invited a bunch of us from work to come out to her little cabin in the woods and have a big bonfire and cookout. It was so much fun being out in the crisp autumn night, looking up at the stars, and sharing some laughs with comrades from the college.

So I was very happy when Vicky decided to host another such bash last night. It was a little deeper into October this time, but the weather held for us, and we had a great time. There were also some great eats. Vicky made coney dogs, and then everyone else brought a dish to share. She asked me to bring a salad, so I made the yummy blue cheese, cranberry and cashew cole slaw that I fell in love with this past summer, only this time, I added some fresh apple chunks to it, as befitting the season.

But I really wanted to make a dessert, specifically a pumpkin bundt cake that I saw a pastry chef bake on a recent episode of Martha.  As usual, I made a few minor changes. I added some vanilla and pecans, swapped out some of the white sugar for brown, and I also used sour cream in place of creme fraiche in the topping (which is impossible to find in my little town). It turned out delicious, but as is the way of such things, it was even better the second day--not that there was much left after the bonfire!

Pumpkin Spice-Chocolate Chip-Pecan Cake with Sour Cream Glaze
(adapted from The Martha Show)

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I only used 1/8 teaspoon)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups canned pumpkin puree (I used the whole can)
2 1/2 cups sugar (I used 1 1/2 cups white + 1 cup brown)
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
*I added one teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips
*I also added 3/4 cup chopped pecans

For the Creme Fraiche Glaze:
3 tablespoons creme fraiche (I used sour cream)
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-to 10-cup Bundt pan with flour-added cooking spray; set aside.

2.Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg together into a medium bowl; set aside.

3.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together pumpkin, sugar, and eggs on medium speed. With the mixer running, slowly add oil. Add flour mixture and chocolate chips; mix on low speed until just combined. (I did not bother messing up my mixer. I just did this all by hand with a whisk in one bowl. Easy-peasy.)

4.Pour batter into prepared pan and transfer to oven. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 70, but that may have been five minutes too long. I also covered the top with tin foil after about 45 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes before inverting cake onto rack or serving plate.

5.Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together creme fraiche and cup of confectioners' sugar until smooth. Add more confectioners' sugar as necessary to reach desired thickness. Drizzle glaze over cake and serve.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

And lo, there were Hungarian shepherds abiding in the fields, making casseroles in their crocks by night.

So....Rachael Ray has a new show on the Cooking Channel called "Rachael Ray's Week in a Day" where she spends a few hours on a weekend afternoon making five dishes for the coming week. I love the premise, but a whole HOUR of Rach, bless her heart, is a bit much to take. Still, on a recent episode with a comfort food theme, she made an interesting hybrid of Hungarian paprikash and good old shepherd's pie that I had to try out.

Of course, I swapped out some pork chops that I unearthed in the freezer instead of sirloin tips, and I also used some leftover mashed potatoes instead of the parsnip and potato mash that she made, though that sounded very good. Oh, and I cooked the pork mixture all day in the crock pot while I was at work, then assembled the shepherd's pie when I got home. But in the end, I think it turned out to be a nice twist on the traditional casserole that we all grew up eating. And as a bonus, I finished the dish in one of the Rachael Ray ovenware pieces--in my signature purple, no less--that my super-sweet roommate bought for me ages ago, and that I finally busted out of the shipping box!

Hungarian-Style Shepherd's Pie
(adapted from Rachael Ray's Week in a Day)

6 pork chops, deboned and cut into one-inch chunks (or use 2 lbs. sirloin tips)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion or 2 medium onions, chopped
3-4 medium carrots, small dice
1 large roasted red pepper (from a jar), chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/4 cup sweet paprika
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2-3/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon dill weed

Season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and brown the meat along with the onions. Add the meat and onions to a crock pot, then add carrots, roasted red pepper, garlic, paprika, marjoram, caraway seeds (if using), tomato paste, beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine. Cook on low for about six hours until pork is tender.

Add the cooked meat mixture to a large casserole dish. Meanwhile, reheat mashed potatoes, then mix with sour cream and dill weed. Spread on top of meat mixture. Cool the dish completely and store for a make-ahead meal.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Reheat and bake until heated through and potatoes are brown on top, 45 to 60 minutes. If you do not make this dish as a make ahead meal, then brown potatoes under hot broiler on the middle rack of the oven 5 to 7 minutes until golden at edges.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Mystery Squash" Soup

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Melissa hosted a very cool inaugural event at our local co-op, a home-canned food swap and potluck. People also brought some veggies from their gardens to trade, and I made off with some dill relish, habanero hot sauce, pureed tomatoes, daikon radishes, summer squash (like a zucchini but round--the one closest to the camera in the picture on the left), plus a couple of winter squashes of unclear origin/variety. SCORE!

I used the tomatoes and zucchini-like squash last week, along with some of that fabulous homemade sausage that we got in Maine and stashed in the freezer, to make one of my favorite stews.

As for the winter squashes, I wasn't really sure what their flavor and texture was going to be like. One was a pumpkin-zucchini cross that my friend Diane lets self-sow every season, and the other was from a plant another friend of ours (another Gina!) gave her. All Diane could remember is that it was an heirloom variety. You can see a couple of them in the picture up there, all the way at the end of the table by the quiche. Someone please confirm or deny if you are in the know about heritage squashes, but a cursory search of Google images tells me it may be a cushaw/kershaw squash?

In any case, both seemed a little milder in flavor than most winter squashes, so I decided to ramp up the flavors and the heat with a spicy, curried soup tamed with a generous amount of creamy coconut milk. I also added extra tumeric to give the soup a richer color. Turned out GREAT! Here is the recipe, which I made in my crock pot...of course.

Curried "Mystery Squash" Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 stalks celery, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon garlic (3-4 cloves), minced
8 cups winter squash, peeled, gutted, and cut into large chunks
2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock (preferably, homemade)
2 teaspoons chicken or vegetable soup base
bunch of fresh thyme, bundled with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
1 habanero pepper (whole)
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
2 cans coconut milk

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, and sauté the celery and onions until tender. When the veggies have softened, stir in the garlic, and cook for a minute or two more.

In at least a five quart crock pot, add the chunks of squash and the sautéed veggies and cover with stock (you may need more than 2 quarts--eyeball it). Stir in a couple of teaspoons of soup base, then tuck in a bundle of fresh thyme, the bay leaves, and a whole habanero (do not cut it!). Cook on high for four hours or low for 6-8.

Fish out the thyme bundle, the bay leaves, and the habanero. Stir in the spices, sugar, and coconut milk (or half-and-half, if you prefer), and puree until smooth with a stick blender. Correct seasonings to your taste before serving.

Oh, one more recipe before I sign off. For the potluck portion of the swap, I made a vegetarian version of Cowgirl Beans for the co-op crowd (leaving out the bacon and hot peppers, adding sauteed mushrooms and a chipotle instead, and using vegetable soup base not beef, of course). I asked Cyd to be my taste-tester, as usual, and I asked her a trick question, to identify the meat I used in the beans. Her guess was sausage, then I surprised her by revealing that there was no meat in it! She said you definitely couldn't tell, and that they were very flavorful without it, so maybe try these beans for your next Meatless Monday or any occasion where vegetarians might attend.

In addition to the beans, I made a double batch of a very easy cornbread that I saw on Paula Deen's show recently. Normally, I might have jazzed it up by adding creamed corn, or whole kernel corn, or green chilies or jalapenos, or cheese (or all of the above!), but I kept it quite plain to serve with beans on top and a garnish of homemade corn relish. So you could play around with this cornbread, but it's a good boilerplate recipe to have on file.

Moist and Easy Cornbread
(Source: Paula Deen)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus butter for baking dish
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.

Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the corn bread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Yet another bake sale...

My dear friend, Ken, called me with another hospital bake sale request--and how could I say no after everything that kind little man does for us? I didn't go all out this time (because I was still a little worn out from our long Columbus Day weekend trip down to spooky Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow=FUN!), but Ken told me that the gluten-free treats were a real hit last time, so I thought I'd experiment with some GF banana nut muffins. I reasoned that the bananas are bold enough in flavor, and with the generous amount of butter, there should enough moisture to hold the the muffins together. And even if the GF baking mix is a little gritty (from the bean flours?), it should just read as "nutty" in this recipe that is loaded with chopped pecans or walnuts.

Actually, all I really did to my favorite banana bread recipe is to swap out the Bob's Red Mill baking mix for equal amounts of regular all-purpose flour, and I added an extra teaspoon of baking powder to help the muffins not be too dense. I filled the muffin cups almost all the way up (because they won't rise much or crown), and I baked them for about 30 minutes (give or take), until a tester came out with just crumbs and no wet batter. Oh, and the yield was 21 muffins. I had to do a taste test on that one odd muffin, of course, and the flavor was terrific! The texture was alright--denser than regular banana bread and just a week bit gritty--but I don't think anyone would even know that they were gluten-free unless you told them. I am sure that your gluten-free friends would love them. I know mine did, as Ken bought HALF of what I sent to the hospital for himself! LOL! Why didn't he just ask me to bake him special treats if he wanted some? Sheesh!

After baking, cooling, wrapping, and boxing all of those muffins for the bake sale, I wanted to make something sweet for us to have at home, but I had little energy or motivation left to create anything too involved. All I knew was that I wanted something chocolately....and FAST! If you find yourself in the same predicament and need a tasty treat/quickie dessert and that right soon, try this: Start with six cups of Cocoa Krispies or better yet, Cocoa Pebbles. Use a whole stick of salted butter and brown it before adding a package of marshmallows (or try the chocolate marshmallows if you can find them!). When the butter and marshmallows have melted together, add the cereal and mix. Press into a sprayed 13x9 pan, then top with about a cup (or more!) of mini chocolate chips. Let them soften on top of the treats (pop it in the oven for five minutes if necessary), then spread the chocolate evenly over the top with a spatula. Let cool a bit, cut, and DEVOUR! You're welcome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Ok, so I was just going on about how long it is until Thanksgiving, so I decided that I needed to focus on something more seasonally appropriate. Last weekend, when my roommate and I were visiting Sleepy Hollow, NY, and waiting for our tour of the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze, we had dinner at the delicious Umami Cafe.

We started with "small plates" (appetizers) of their signature truffled mac and cheese and some squash soup with candied pecans. Both were delicious, but I think the soup wanted a splash of cream. Maybe they were trying to keep it vegan? Or maybe I just think everything needs a splash of cream! Tee hee. For our entrees, Cyd had a Wagu beef burger with a truffle buttered bun, Fontina cheese, and sauteed mushrooms. It was quite good and perfectly cooked (medium rare), but clearly I chose best: bratwurst mit sauerkraut und rotkohl, mashed potatoes, and spicy German mustard. SEHR GUT!

When we got home to the Adirondack Region, Cyd insisted that I recreate that dish for us, and I managed to do it (say it with me now) in the crock pot! Thus, I am declaring this month: CROCKTOBERFEST! Here's how it went down:

Before work, I emptied a quart of my homemade sauerkraut into the crock pot, mixed in maybe a quarter teaspoon of black pepper, a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a generous tablespoon of brown sugar, and a bottle of Hefeweizen. Then I nestled eight German sausages (knockwurst and bratwurst) down under the sauerkraut mixture and let it cook all day on low. If I had had the time this morning, I would have also sliced an onion thinly and thrown it in there...perhaps some apples, too.

It was Cyd's job to make her wonderful mashed potatoes (I don't ask a lot of questions, but I know they involve a shload of butter), and I served it all with a dollop of the most AWESOME mustard that we got this summer at Raye's in Maine--their Winter Garden Blend with dill, garlic, and celery. YUM!!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I am thankful for TWO crock pots!

On the one hand--and this is going to blow your mind--Thanksgiving is NEXT MONTH! On the other hand, it's still seven weeks away, which is nearly TWO months, which is too, too long to wait for some poultry and herbed stuffing, in my none-too-humble opinion. So I thought I might tide myself over by trying the heretofore unattempted DOUBLE crock pot mini-Thanksgiving dinner!

Now you could do this with a turkey breast or hindquarters, but we must keep some things sacred so close to November! So I went with a large roasting chicken. Here's what you do to it (this methodology is courtesy of my good friend and former pastor, Wade Smith):

Place a whole chicken (inside cleaned out, washed, dried, and rubbed with EVOO and your fave spices) upside down (breasts on bottom) of crock pot. Fill with white cooking wine (~2-3inches—I used half a bottle of $5 chardonnay). Cook on high heat for an hour, then low for the rest of the day (I did eight hours all on low). Juicy off the bone chicken!

*To raise the bird out of the liquid a little bit, I placed canning jar rings in the bottom of the crock.

For the dressing:
Lightly spray your crock pot with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large skillet, melt 1/2 cup (=one stick) and sauté:
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery

Add to mixture:
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

You will also need:
1 loaf sandwich bread (tear into chunks—and I will toast the bread next time)
1 can (1 1/2 to 2 cups) chicken broth (the recipe originally called for two cans or 3 1/2 cups, but that made a very soupy dressing—-so, use enough liquid to suit your tastes)
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Add the sautéed veggies and spices to the toasted bread chunks and enough liquid to get it to the texture that you prefer. If the mixture is very hot, let it cool to warm before folding in the beaten eggs. I also think some chopped, fresh parsley is good to mix in at this point (about a half cup, optional). Another fine addition would be fresh apple chunks and maybe some chopped pecans, too.

Cook in your crock pot on high for 4 hrs (or I did low for eight).

Isn't this dressing/stuffing recipe a FABULOUS idea for using your crock pot during the holidays when oven space is at a premium? :-)

And here's one more great idea: After we ate the chicken, I threw the bones and grisly bits back into the crock pot (which was 1/3 full of wine and lovely juices), filled her up with water, and threw in some carrots, onions, celery, and a handful of fresh parsley. Then I left it on low for nearly 24 hours, strained it through a flour sack towel, and now I have the most beautiful, rich brown chicken stock! You KNOW you're going to need plenty of that good stuff on hand for the holidays, and it's SO easy to make in the crock pot, and SO much more delicious than canned broth or bouillon.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

My favorite made (you guessed it) in the crock pot!

As my longtime readers may recall, my favorite pasta dish is cavatini. It's also the dish that often bring to potlucks or to people when they are convalescing or mourning. I wondered if it could be converted to a crockpot recipe. Turns can! I really only made a couple of changes to my boilerplate recipe: to only cook the pasta halfway and then to add a couple of layers of cottage cheese to add extra moisture and because, well, I just like it! It turned out great--all cheesy and gooey and luscious--so much so that I'm not sure why I would ever make it any other way now!

Boil a box of somewhat substantive pasta (I used large shells), and cook it about half as long as the directions say to, just below al dente. Drain, then rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool. Drain again.

Brown a pound of ground beef (or Italian sausage or a half pound of each) with one large, chopped onion, a couple of minced cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Drain excess fat. Stir in a small can of sliced mushrooms (or better yet, sauté some fresh mushrooms as you’re cooking the meat and mushroom mixture). Add a regular-sized jar of your favorite pasta sauce. Stir everything together.

Spray the crock pot with nonstick spray. Add half of the pasta, then half of the meat sauce, then half of a large container (24 oz.) of cottage cheese, a layer of pepperoni slices, and 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella. Repeat these layers in the same order. At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the whole crock until you’re reading to cook it. Then it will need a couple of hours to cook on high, or about four hours on low until the pasta is fully cooked.

**If even this crockpot cavatini is too much work for you, I read about an idea that I might try when I'm at my most desperate hour...which is far too often these days. Tee hee. Try dumping a large bag (25 oz?) of frozen ravioli--any kind you like--into the crock pot and stirring in a large jar (32 oz.) of your favorite pasta sauce and one cup of water. Cook on low for four hours, make yourself a salad, and dinner's done! Doesn't that either like shameful cheating or like your salvation on a busy weeknight? Perhaps it's both. ;-)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Strawberry Cream Pie: FAIL!

I don't know how these things go in your neck of the woods, but we have a preponderence of strawberries from the latter part of June through early July, but then we get another smaller wave of autumnal berries in September. So before they disappeared for good and we are stuck with those ginormous California strawberries that are WHITE on the inside (bah!), I thought I'd try to make a strawberry cream pie that I saw on John Michael Lerma's Facebook page (you may have seen him a couple of times competing in the National Pie Championships in Florida that airs annually on the Food Network).

It was simple to put together, especially since I "cheated" and used a pre-fab shortbread crust. But I am sad to report that something went wrong, and the filling did not set up overnight. The flavor was delicious, but it was just strawberry fluff on the plate. So at that point, I chucked the rest of the pie into the freezer, and we ate it frozen the next day, which was quite good. And it was such a pretty pale pink--little girls would love this pie, I think, or those of us who are pretty little princesses at heart!

In any case, I'm going to have to try to make it again, perhaps with fresher heavy cream that hold its whip better. That's the only thing that I can think of that may have gone wrong, other than maybe I added extra strawberry puree? I will measure carefully next time. However, it was very nice as a frozen pie, and would be very refreshing in the summer!

Strawberry Cream Pie
(Source: John Michael Lerma at Garden County Cooking)

1 1/2 cups crushed cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookie (you know the one) or graham crackers
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 cup mashed fresh strawberries (I pressed the puree through a strainer to remove most of the seeds)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

Combine the cookie crumbs, sugar and butter and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 375F degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the strawberries. In small mixing bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken.
Gradually add confectioners' sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cream cheese mixture. Gently spoon mixture into prepared crust. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours or overnight.

Serves 8-10 (Um, I say this serves 6!)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Fall Finally Falls on the North Country, or Soup, Soup and More SOUP!

When we woke up this morning and came downstairs, it was 55 degrees in the living room, and 42 (and raining and windy) outside! I guess fall has finally fallen! So while my roommate started hauling in wood from the front porch and getting a fire roaring in the wood stove, I assumed my position in the kitchen and filled up the crock pot with all manner of good and healthful things to stick to the ribs and warm the soul. This recipe is based on one from Better Homes and Gardens that I tinkered with only slightly.  Savory and seasonally appropriate, and a great dish to use up whatever vegetable matter that you have lingering in your produce bin. Stay warm, y'all!

Crockpot Ground Beef and Barley Soup
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)

1 pound lean ground beef
2 cups thinly sliced carrots (4 medium)
1 cup chopped onion (1 large) or 1/2 large onion and one leek, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
1/2 cup chopped red pepper (or use roasted ones from a jar)
2-4 cloves garlic, minced (I love garlic, so I used 4!)
48 ounces beef broth
1 28-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup medium barley (uncooked)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed, or 2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

In a large skillet cook beef, carrot, onion, celery, sweet pepper, and garlic over medium heat until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain well; add to crock pot.

Stir in beef broth. Add undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, barley, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, dried or snipped oregano, thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and salt.

Cook on high for 4-5 hours until barley is tender. Discard bay leaves before serving.  Finely-shredded Italian cheese blend makes the perfect garnish.

Makes five quarts.