Eggnog Surprise

I’m one of those people who likes eggnog, especially around the Christmas season.  This year I got started a little early thanks to spotting pumpkin eggnog in the dairy case.  That I couldn’t resist and except for the calories, it’s a real treat!

A  bonus was the recipe for pumpkin spice muffins that is right on the carton.  Thinking they sounded pretty good, I gave the recipe a try.  Talk about yummy! For sure they will be on our Thanksgiving table.  If you can find pumpkin eggnog, you might like to add them to your menu as well, and in case there’s no recipe, here it is.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

2 1/3 c. flour

2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1 t. pumpkin spice

2 large eggs

1 c. brown sugar

1 c.  pumpkin eggnog

1/2 c. melted butter

1 t. vanilla

3/4 c. chopped pecans or walnuts

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, pumpkin pie spice, and walnuts. 

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs and brown sugar until well combined. Add the eggnog, butter, and vanilla. Blend well on low speed. 

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Mix the wet and dry ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Do not over mix. The batter will be slightly lumpy. 

Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake 12 to 14 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffin comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan and allow to cool.

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Foodie Adventure Revisited

Several of our Maine gourmet group joined us in Cortona for the April Foodie Adventure, so when we met for our first summer meal it seemed right to recreate some of what we made.

IMG_1487Setting the table to inspire memories of Italy was easy.  The centerpiece was a $3 find from the local Goodwill.

IMG_1488Clusters of red grapes repeated the look of the clusters on the candelabra.  Talk about an easy creation!

IMG_1394Dishes, each with a different Italian landscape and wine, bought some years ago at TJ Maxx completed the theme.

IMG_1393It’s hard to imagine a table coming together more quickly than this one.  With the plates having so much color and energy, there was no need for more than a simple background.

Now for the meal.  We prepared so many good dinners that it was hard to pick favorite dishes, but I finally decided on mozzarella with prosciutto and tomato confit for an appetizer and seafood pasta for the main course.  The appetizer was a big hit, and you might want to give it a try at your next Italian themed dinner gathering.

IMG_1400PROSCIUTTO BAKED BUFFALO MOZZARELLAWITH GARLIC & TOMATOES

2 T. olive oil

6 thin slices prosciutto

Tomato & Garlic Confit

6 6 oz. balls mozzarella

2 T. basil, coarsely chopped 

Brush the insides of small ovenproof ramekins with olive oil.  Line them with prosciutto, allowing some of it to extend to the top of the dish so it will crisp when baked.

Add 2 T. of the confit and top will a ball of the mozzarella.  Top with another tablespoon of the confit and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes and allow to cool for 5 minutes.  Tope with basil and serve with crisp crostini.

Tomato & Garlic Confit

10 plum tomatoes

5 T. olive oil

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

1/2 c. finely chopped yellow onion

4 large garlic cloves, minced

8 oz. tomato sauce

1/2 t. sweet paprika

1/2 t. sugar.

Core and halve the tomatoes lengthwise.  Place them cut side up on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle them with 2 T. of olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 40 minutes at 350.

Heat 3 T. olive oil in a medium pan and sweat the onions for  2 minutes over medium high heat.  Add garlic and cook briefly.  Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, paprika and sugar.  Cook for 30-35 minutes or until the mixture becomes very thick.

Place the mixture in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.

Note:  I suggest using only 1/2 mozzarella ball or 3-4 little ones as this is quite filling.  Also, when you bake be sure to put the dishes on a cookie sheet to avoid trashing your oven with grease from the prosciutto.  I wouldn’t let the meat overlap  the sides of the dish.

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Tablescape Thursday

 

Odds & Ends

Trying to use up everything in the refrigerator before leaving for Maine requires some creativity.  The fruit we can snack on, milk can go on cereal or in a smoothie, but the chicken sausage, spinach, kale, onion and salad fixings are another story.

IMG_1094So what to do with a collection of odds and ends?  Soup  seemed to be the best answer, and here’s what I pulled together.

IMG_1093Add to these a teaspoon of Hungarian sweet paprika which I have enough of to last a lifetime.  I will have to do as what was done in Hungary and put some in everything.

IMG_1101The end result of this concoction was pretty darned good and the accompanying salad’s ingredients used up the rest of the odds and ends.  The only thing missing was a good piece of cornbread!

If you are a soup lover, you might like this one that is hearty but not too heavy and very easy to prepare.

3 c. chicken broth

2-4 chicken sausage links

2-3 c. spinach and kale, torn into small pieces

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cans of cannellini beans

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 heaping t. of sweet paprika (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients except for the greens together and simmer for about 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Add spinach and kale and continue cooking until  they are wilted.

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Vegetarian Delight

Over the years with no one home but two, most of my friends have quit cooking dinner opting for takeout or restaurants.  That works for me every now and then, but I still enjoy preparing the evening meal because there are so many  things to try.  That makes the hubby very happy as he’d rather eat at home any day!

Another friend and her hubby are the same, so every week or so we share a meal.  They are not meat eaters which at first made meal planning a challenge, but it has gotten easier and done creatively, those meatless meals are downright tasty.

IMG_0566For ideas, I go no farther than these two cookbooks loaded with recipes to suit any palate.  There’s no chance I’ll ever get through the two!

The last dish tried was a mushroom/asparagus/cannellini bean combo that was so tasty not a bite survived.  Of course, meat lovers could add chicken or pork to go with it, but when something is as good as this it’s really not necessary.  Enough said, I’ll share the recipe!

Polenta with Asparagus, Mushrooms & Cannellini Beans

1 1/2 c. vegetable stock

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, thickly sliced

2 T. olive oil

1 bunch green onions, including as inch or so of green, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

15 oz. can cannellini beans

1 brunch of asparagus, steamed or roasted

1/2 c. Parmesan (serve on the side for a vegan friend, otherwise add it to the cooked polenta)

1 T. butter (can be left out)

chopped basil, parsley, chives or marjoram for garnish

Make the polenta using a packaged mix or yellow cornmeal cooked with water over a double boiler.  While it is cooking, do the chopping and mincing required to prepare the sauce.  

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add the mushrooms, season with sea salt and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes over medium heat. (It may be necessary to do the mushrooms in 2 batches depending on the size of your pan.)  Add most of the scallions and garlic and cook for another minute. Then pour in the stock and add the beans.  Simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, add the butter and the remaining scallions to the mushrooms.  IMG_0455Spoon 1/2-3/4 c. of polenta into the center of a plate.  Arrange asparagus around it and spoon the sauce over the polenta. Garnish with chopped herbs.

What I like about this recipe is that it’s pretty easy to fix and all you really need to go with it is a hearty, crusty bread to use for soaking up the liquid.  Don’t be surprised when appreciative moans accompany this dish!

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Easy Fixins

Do you ever have those days when you’ve been busy all day and when it comes time to preparing dinner you’re out of gas? That’s when I hope there’s something in the pantry or refrigerator that will combine in a simple to fix and tasty meal.

IMG_0291This night there were two salmon filets and a bunch of asparagus, and in just a few minutes they were in the oven roasting away.

IMG_0297While they were cooking, I whisked together a tangy sauce of key lime juice and soy sauce to pour over the fish and asparagus.

IMG_0302In less than half an hour, a healthy and satisfying dinner was ready to go on the table.

Roasted Salmon and Asparagus

2 salmon fillets, skin on

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

1/4 c. fresh lime juice

1 T. soy sauce

1/2 t. sugar

1 t. Ground coriander

Asparagus

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut dry ends from asparagus. Arrange salmon and asparagus in shallow baking pan,  season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Roast until salmon is no longer pink in the middle and flaky and asparagus is tender but still a little crisp, 20-25 minutes.

Whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, sugar and coriander. Spoon sauce over fish and asparagus and serve.

Now, that’s what I call simple and while the salmon and asparagus were roasting, there was even time to sit for a few minutes!  I guess I could have fixed a salad, too, but sitting was just too hard to  resist!

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Cooking Light

If you are standing in line at the grocery or drug store checkout and see this magazine, buy it.  I can’t promise you will slim down but be assured you will prepare some very tasty recipes.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried many….chicken and vegetable hand pies, meatloaf with mushroom gravy,  basil ricotta ravioli with spinach, lentil shepherd’s pie to name a few, and all were delish.  

A real favorite that sent mouth watering fragrance while cooking was Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet.    We are crazy about the traditional cassoulet, but this one is a close second and much easier to prepare.  The recipe is definitely one worth sharing.

Slow Cooker Sausage Cassoulet

1 t. olive oil

1 1/2 c. chopped yellow onion

1 1/2 c. diagonally cut carrot

1 c. chopped peeled turnip

1/2 c. chopped celery

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

2 (4 oz.) links fully cooked sweet Italian chicken sausage, chopped*

1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes

3/4 c chicken stock

2 t. chopped fresh thyme

1/2 t. kosher salt

1/4 t. black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 T. unsalted butter

1/2 c. whole grain breadcrumbs

1/4 c. grated Parmesan

2 T. chopped parsley

Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet.  Add onion, carrot, turnip, celery and garlic; cook , about 5 minutes.**

Place mixture in a slow cooker.  Add beans, sausage, tomatoes, chicken stock and seasonings.  Cover and cook on low 8 hours or until vegetables are tender.

Melt butter in a small skilled.  Add breadcrumbs; cook until browned, stirring frequently.  Remove pan from heat, stir in cheese.  Stir half of mixture into cassoulet in cooker; sprinkle remaining mixture and parsley over each serving.

*I wasn’t able to find chicken sausage links so I used a ground Italian turkey sausage and browned it with the vegetables.  It worked fine as would any Italian sausage.

**If you have a multi purpose cooker, this step can be done in the cooker which means one less pan to clean.

This recipe makes about 6 servings and thankfully, there was enough left for another meal.  The cassoulet may  may have even even better the second time around.

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What to do With Egg Whites?

For our last gourmet gathering my task was dessert, a delicious pumpkin pots de creme. Topped with cream whipped with bourbon and maple syrup it was like eating pumpkin pie without the crust.  In fact, I liked it better than pumpkin pie because it was lighter.

Left from the effort were eight egg whites.  I never know what to do with them and if it’s just one or two I usually throw them out.  With so many, I knew there must be a good way to use them, and it occurred to me that coconut macaroons, the hubby’s favorite cookie, might be an option.

On the internet were more recipes than I could believe.  There were ones made with condensed milk.  There were vegan macaroons and gluten free ones.  There were recipes with craisins and sprinkles and pineapple and on and on. Finally, I settled on David Lebowitz’s recipe simply because it used the most egg whites and the baked cookies were dipped in chocolate.  How can you beat that combination?  Additionally, he said that it was one of the favorite recipes in his book Ready For Dessert

Coconut Macaroons 

4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups (250g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 cups (200g) unsweetened shredded coconut (see note)
1/4 cup (35g) flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
2 ounces (55g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1. In a large skillet or wide saucepan, mix together the egg whites, sugar, salt, and honey.
2. Over low heat on the stovetop, stir the egg whites and sugar together until the mixture is tepid, but not warm or hot. You don’t want to cook them; just warmed slightly so they are looser.
3. Add the coconut, flour, and vanilla. Continue to stir the mixture over medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens to a cohesive mass. (It’ll be like very thick oatmeal and the bottom will very slightly start to scorch.) Remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl to cool to room temperature.
4. When ready to bake, line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking matand preheat the oven to 350º F (180ºC).
5. Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch (4cm) rounds in your hands, squeezing the dough to coax them into rough rounds (remember, the French call them “rocks,” so they can be a uneven – for smoother rounds, dampen your hands), then place them evenly spaced on the baking sheet. Bake the macaroons until deep golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool completely.
6. To dip the macaroons in chocolate, melt the chocolate in a clean, dry bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a microwave.) Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap or parchment paper. Dip the bottoms of each cookie in the chocolate and set the cookies on the baking sheet. Refrigerate 5-10 minutes, until the chocolate is set.

Notes: Unsweetened shredded coconut is available in most natural food shops or you can purchase it online. Flaked coconut is larger and I haven’t tried these macaroons with the flakes but if that’s all you have, I would pulse the flakes in a food processor a few times until they’re finely shredded.

Storage: The baked macaroons will keep for up to three or four days if stored in an airtight container. If dipped in chocolate, store the cookies in a cool place. The dough can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for at least two months.

Making them I did learn a thing or two.  

  1.  It really is important to keep your hands wet otherwise the sticky mixture won’t roll.  Next time I might try using an ice cream scoop and see if that is easier.
  2. Be careful not to overcook.  My first batch was a little too brown which made the macaroon overly chewy.
  3. Semisweet chocolate chips melted in the microwave work great and don’t mess up as many pans.
  4.  Let the macaroons cool just a bit before dipping them in chocolate to avoid burning your fingers and squishing the cookie.
Without question, macaroons will appear here more often as they are not hard to make and they disappear very quickly!
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Buttermilk + Oysters

IMG_6831Before we were frozen out of Maine a few days ago, we had dinner at one of our favorite Rockport restaurants, Nina June, in the heart of the village.

IMG_6833It is the brainchild of Sara Jenkins who combines her love of Mediterranean food with her Maine roots.  She is also a cookbook author, the most recent one written with her mother Nancy Harmon Jenkins, a food guru in her own right.

On a cold night, we started with soup that combined leeks, potatoes, oysters and buttermilk in a creamy base.  It was so good that I had to see if I could recreate it for dinner on a chilly Houston night.  

IMG_0114I started with the known ingredients and added chicken broth and half and half.  I can’t promise that it was as good as Sara’s, but it wasn’t bad.  Here’s how it went together.

Buttermilk Oyster Soup

1 pint oysters, cut in half if they are large

l leek, finely chopped

3 red potatoes, finely chopped

1 c. chickens broth

1 qt. half and half

1/2-1 c. buttermilk

salt and pepper to taste

Saute oysters in about 1/4 c. of their liquid for about 2 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside.

In a large saucepan, cook leeks and potatoes in chicken broth until potatoes have softened.  Add half and half and heat through.  Add buttermilk and oysters with salt and pepper to taste and heat until all ingredients are blended.

IMG_0117Simple enough, the soup was very tasty and a perfect meal with a green salad and  cornbread muffin.    Next time I make it I might add a few drops of Tabasco and I can also imagine it with spinach or kale as an ingredient.  Hmmm, what started at Nina June may take on a life of its own.

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Blueberries Any Way

blueberriesThe season for those sweet little wild Maine blueberries has come and gone, but each year I pick/buy enough to last until the next season.  They freeze beautifully which ensures that we can have all our favorite things made with them.

Blueberry muffins are always on hand as they are oh so good with morning coffee.  

They are especially good topped with lavender blueberry jam which is also a great topping for ice cream or panna cotta.

Scones oozing with blueberries are a special treat for Sunday brunch.

When the kids come to visit, their favorite is blueberry pancakes with GrandP’s secret syrup, better known as maple syrup.

As yummy as other things are our hands down favorite is blueberry crisp.  Sometimes it’s all blueberries, but it’s equally good with peaches or with mixed berries.

I’ve been making this crisp since I was a teenager thanks to the recipe shared by our next door neighbor.  For that reason, I always call it Miss Myrtle’s pie.  Since she was generous enough to share her recipe, I will share it with you and hope it becomes one of your favorite desserts.

Blueberry Crisp

4 c. blueberries, peaches or mixed fruit

1/3 c. sugar

1 heaping T. flour, cornstarch or tapioca

1 t. lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together in a pie pan or baking dish.

For the topping, combine 1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar and 1/2 c. brown sugar.  With a fork, add a slightly beaten egg and mix until the dry ingredients are crumbly.

 Sprinkle on top of the fruit and generously dot with butter.  Bake at 350 until the topping is nicely browned.

There you have it.  At our house we like cinnamon so I often add a teaspoon to either the fruit or the berries.  Of course, the finishing touch is a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Hmm, I can taste it now, so I’m going to the kitchen and get started.

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A Crowd Pleaser

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Whether you are expecting a crowd to watch the Super Bowl or enjoying it with family or a friend or two, a yummy Mexican cheesecake is an appetizer that’s sure to please everyone. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, there’s still time to make a quick trip to the grocery.  Here’s what you’ll need.

Mexican Cheesecake

1 c. crushed tortilla chips

3 T. butter, melted

2 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1 package taco seasoning mix

2 eggs

2 c. shredded Mexican cheeses

1/2 c. thick and chunky salsa

1 c. sour cream

green onions, ripe olives, tomatoes chopped

Stir together crushed tortilla chips and melted butter.  Press onto bottom of 9″ springform pan.  Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Beat cream cheese and taco seasoning at medium speed until well mixed.  Add eggs and continue beating until smooth.  Stir in shredded cheese and salsa.  Spoon mixture over cooled crust, spreading to smooth.

Bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes until edges are set.  The middle may be a bit soft.  Top with sour cream and cool completely.  Cover and refrigerate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI like to make the cheesecake a day ahead and leave it in the refrigerator until time to serve.  Just before serving, all you have to do is remove it from the pan to an attractive platter and garnish with  green onions, olives and tomatoes.  Serve with tortilla chips, sit back and wait for the raves.

I’m on my way to the grocery right now.  See you there!

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