Turkey-Cranberry-Brie Grilled Cheese

>> Monday, December 30, 2013



Turkey-Cranberry-Brie Grilled Cheese


Christmas is our second-favorite occasion for a good turkey dinner, and this decadent grilled sandwich oozing with melted brie is just about the best way to finish off the holiday leftovers.

This year we were doing a whirlwind Midwestern family tour, starting in Iowa, then celebrating with the Dueas in Minnesota. We were home for a day and a half and are now packing to spend Christmas with my family in Ohio.

Since everyone else planned something different for holiday meals, I got my turkey fix when Joe roasted a turkey breast and made his light garlic mashed potatoes. Since we'll be on the road all afternoon, I grilled up a few of these sandwiches to keep us company on the drive. Yum!

Ingredients

4 slices Italian bread
2 tbsp butter
4 oz brie
4 oz thinly sliced turkey
1/4 cup cranberry relish

Instructions

Spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread. Slice the brie (you can peel off the white outer covering if you want - Joe likes the way it tastes, but I take it off of my slices). Arrange the brie on the bread and then spread the relish over it. Top with the turkey slices and the other slice of bread.

Grill or toast the sandwiches on a hot skillet until browned and heated through.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

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Grownups' Mocha Hot Chocolate


Grownups' Mocha Hot Chocolate


This is a grownup's kind of hot chocolate, full of cream and whiskey and other good things. It's great on ice or heated. At Christmas, we all walked out to my dad's pole barn, which used to house his collection of antique tractors, but now holds all his O-scale train tracks. I think we all become kids again when we play with his trains.





This was perfect for sipping by my parent's wood stove after we walked back through the woods and shook off the snow.


Ingredients

1 cup light cream
1 (14 oz.) can evaporated milk
3 tsp instant coffee
1/2 cup chocolate syrup

1 2/3 cups of Irish Whiskey
1 tsp almond extract
Marshmallows (optional)

Instructions



In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and evaporated milk until hot but not bubbly. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pour into four mugs. Sprinkle with marshmallows, if desired.

Makes 4.

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Kathleen's Light Fruitcake with Grand Marnier Icing

>> Friday, December 27, 2013


Light Fruitcake with Grand Marnier Icing
I like to scoop up the moist little crumbles at the bottom of the pan and eat them like a bit of butterscotch brownies.


I've heard all the jokes about fruitcake, but could never really understand them. My mom's fruitcake was always so buttery, crumbly, and nutty, full of all the fruits I loved and none of that bitter fruit rind I've heard some people put into theirs. I looked forward to it every year.

This year, my mom made it especially for me. Yeah, other people got to eat it too, but I'm certain she made it just for me. Try this, and you might become a fruitcake evangelist, too.

Ingredients

4 cups pecan halves
2 cups walnut halves
2 cups candied cherries (we use both green and red)
2 cups candied pineapple
1 cup golden raisins
1 tsp orange zest
1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 tsp lemon extract
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp Grand Marnier or 2 tsp orange extract and 2 tsp milk
1/3 cup powdered sugar

Instructions

In a large bowl, combine, add top 6 ingredients, toss. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar with mixer. Add eggs, orange juice, and lemon, mix. Add flour and baking powder in thirds and mix after each third. Add batter to fruit bowl and coat well. Put in well-greased tube pan. Cover top in foil. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hrs. Uncover top for last 5 minutes.

Place on a rack until nearly cool. Stir together the Grand Marnier and powdered sugar, and drizzle over the cake.

Makes 1 large fruit cake.

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Vegetable Tamale Pie with Green Salsa

>> Sunday, December 22, 2013


Vegetable Tamale Pie with Green Salsa


The origin of this recipe is a funny, if slightly embarrassing story. A couple of my friends came over once for a tamale-making party. We also decided to make some roasted pepper salsa and cranberry-apple chutney, and I was teaching them how to can the extra sauce.

There was also a bottle of tequila, fresh limes, and some Grand Marnier that we shook into some very strong Margaritas. And a mason jar of cranberry-soaked moonshine.


Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon moonshine
Cranberry moonshine. Lord help me.

By sunset, we'd canned eight pints of salsa and seven half-pints of cranberry chutney, the chicken mixture had stewed all day into a luscious shredded filling, and the portobello and corn filling smelled fantastic. The limes were all gone, and one or all of us might or might not have done a shot of tequila.


Vegetables for Vegan Tamale Pie


And man, those cranberries had soaked up a powerful amount of moonshine. They were little Molotov cocktails bursting in our mouths.

We were working diligently on spreading homemade masa dough into corn wrappers and these tamales - oh, they were the most beautiful ones I've ever made. I was feeling wonderful about my recipe-teaching skills.

But I unwrapped the first ones and they were dry and crumbly...make that powdery, actually. The filling was out of this world, but the corn dough was dry as dust. I read back over my recipe and realized, somewhere in the midst of joking and sipping and stirring and filling, I'd forgotten to add the broth to the dough. Gah!

The next day, after I asked my friends if anyone remembered what happened to the beaters for my mixer, we decided that the remaining tamales could be saved by unwrapping them, mixing the dough with some broth and salsa, and layering them in a casserole dish.

It turned out so well that this may become a staple in our home. You don't have to wrap a casserole in leaves, after all, and this is the hardest part.

Ingredients

2 cups shortening
4 cups masa flour or tamale flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp garlic powder
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tsp oil
1 pound portobello, button, or other mushroom mixture, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
2 cups salsa verde
Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

Put the shortening in a mixer or food processor and mix until soft and creamy. Stir together the flour, baking powder, and garlic, then slowly add it to the shortening. Pour the broth in a little at a time while mixing until the dough is thoroughly mixed. It should be similar to a very sticky bread dough or a very firm muffin batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 11 casserole dish. Spread half the dough into the dish.

In a large frying pan, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and onions and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the corn and 1 cup of salsa. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes.

Spread the vegetable mixture over the dough in the casserole pan, then spread the rest of the dough over the top. Drizzle the remaining salsa over the top. If you are not a strict vegan, this is an excellent time to top the pie with a mixture of shredded chihuahua and cotija cheeses.

Cover the dish with foil, set it in the middle rack, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the pie is cooked through and the tamale dough is crumbly.

Serve with chopped cilantro and additional salsa verde, if desired.

Serves 4-6.

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Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup

>> Thursday, December 19, 2013


Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup


Joe's test of a good Asian restaurant is the quality of their Sichuan hot and sour soup, so I gave him a kitchen challenge: impress me with your version of hot and sour soup. Oh, and I've been craving Thai shrimp spring rolls, can you do anything to help?

He exceeded my expectations.

I hear that this soup is one of those concoctions that can cure a cold, or just make you feel a whole lot better while you're eating it. Maybe we should start a new category for medicinal recipes.

Ingredients

1/3 lb pork
1 tbsp dried wood ear mushrooms
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup bamboo shoots
1 small carrot
3 oz. tofu
1 green onion
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tbsp (30ml) Sichuan preserved vegetables, or 2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
5 cups pork broth
2 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 eggs


Garnish:
Red pepper flakes
Sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup sliced green onions

Instructions

Place the pork, salt, and woodear mushrooms into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until cooked, about 30 minutes. Reserve the cooking liquid, adding more if necessary to make the 5 cups of broth you'll need at the end.

Cut the pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, scallion, carrot, and Sichuan preserved vegetables into matchstick slices. Add to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer.

Whisk together the cornstarch, soy sauce, and vinegar, then slowly stir into the broth. Whisk the eggs.
Pour them in a thin stream into the soup while stirring the broth, so that it forms flaky threads as it swirls into the soup.

Serve in single bowls with the garnishes on the side for the diners to add as they choose.

Serves 4-6.

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Norwegian Potato-Ham Dumplings (Kumla, Kumle)

>> Monday, December 16, 2013


Kumla dumplings boiling in ham broth


Joe's Norwegian ancestors came from the Bergen area of Norway in the 1800s. As they moved across the U.S. to establish the town of Roland, Iowa, they kept their heritage fairly intact. Today that whole area is settled with very tall fair complected people, and the name "Duea" is often seen in the town records.






My first Christmas with the family, I was introduced to these hearty, dense potato dumplings in ham broth. I think you might remember that ham and potatoes are two of my most favorite foods ever. The next day my future sister-in-law Chris sliced them and fried them in butter for breakfast. Yes, I love butter so much. It was love at first bite with kumla, obviously.

Thankfully, his family is not big on lutefisk, a powerfully-flavored dish of cod preserved in lye. I understand this is a meal for the strong-hearted and the brave, and I'm glad they didn't want to test my courage before allowing me into the family.

So back to kumla (KOOM-lah). I have since learned that people also call these potato balls klimpor, klubb, kompe, kumpe, potetball and raspeball - I guess these must be regional differences. Clearly this is not lean and light food, but it's a big satisfying meal in your belly during a midwestern winter, when the wind can tear across an entire state without hitting much that would slow it down.

On old farms, here and in snowy Scandinavia, settlers would often tie ropes from the house to the barn so that they wouldn't get lost in a blizzard while tending the animals a couple times a day. For weather like that, you need food that will fortify you.

If you make this for a holiday meal, I'd suggest a good snowball fight or a long walk in the woods to work it off afterwards. For me, food like this makes me appreciate the exuberance of a people who find winter life-affirming with the joy of an ample meal and a warm home filled with family and friends. I truly felt this warmth a few Christmases ago when Joe's brother Alan and sister Carolyn finally shared their family recipe with me. It's their wonderfully talented hands that are cooking in these photos.

P.S. I forgot to mention that I hardly ever cook without listening to music. When I was making this recipe last time, and writing it yesterday, I was listening to the movie soundtrack "We Bought a Zoo" on Spotify. The music is from Scandinavian singer Jonsi, frontman for the group Sigur Ros. It's wonderfully upbeat.




Ingredients

1 4-5 pound ham
10-12 cups water
5 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
About 4 cups white flour (some people use a mix of white, whole wheat, ground oatmeal, and/or rye flour)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp butter, melted


Instructions

Place the ham in a large stock pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer into a rich broth, about 1 1/2- 2 hours. Remove the meat, slice it, cover it, and refrigerate until just about to serve.

Cutting potatoes for Norwegian dumplings


Shred the raw potatoes by hand, or grind them in a food processor until crumbly. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the potatoes, flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder. The dough should be thick like bread dough, but still sticky.

Stirring flour into Kumla potato dough


Bring the remaining ham stock to a boil. Scoop out dough about the size of an egg or a plum, form it into a 2-inch ball, and drop it into the boiling stock. If you'd like, you can press a bit of the ham into the center of each dumpling.  Stir the broth often while dropping in the dumplings, so that they don't stick to each other or the bottom of the pot.

When all the dumplings are in the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 hour, then remove from the broth. Pile them on a platter, drizzle them with the melted butter, and serve with the hot ham on the side.

Makes 25-35 dumplings.

Hungry for more? Find more of these great recipes at Sons of Norway. 

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Holiday Cocktails and Chocolates

>> Friday, December 13, 2013


Spiked Egg Nog, Cinnamon Toast Hot Toddy, Cranberry-Pomegranate Cosmos, and Carrot Cake Cocktail - 'tis the season to be merry! These cocktails are fun for a party, or sipping while you're wrapping presents, assembling kids' toys, or playing a holiday game. Warms you all over.

Talea's Spiked Egg Nog

One of our family Christmas traditions is to set out a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, olives, dips, pate, fruits, and a pitcher of egg nog while we slowly decorate the Christmas tree. Trimming the tree takes quite a while, because so many of the ornaments have a memory or some special significance that we talk about before placing them one-by-one on the tree. Our Christmas tree is really a family record.

In the end, Jessie puts the star on top of the tree and lights it. Jenn sets up the manger scene with all the animals and kings in different positions each year, and then the cats crouch under the tree, knocking over baby Jesus and pretending they live in a forest.

Egg nog is essential to the tradition, but it's never been spiked until the girls were old enough to indulge. My friend Talea's hard eggnog is superb, but she likes it strong - drink it slowly and savor every bit.


Talea's Spiked Egg Nog

Recipe

64 oz. egg nog
1 cup Frangelico liqueur
1 cup dark rum
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
1/2 cup Malibu rum
1 tbsp freshly grated nutmeg
3 tbsp orange zest
2 tsp cinnamon

Stir together all ingredients, and keep chilled between servings.

Serves a crowd!



The Walnut Room's Cinnamon Toast Hot Cocktail

Generations of Chicagoans have traveled to the Walnut Room in Chicago's downtown Marshall Field's shopping emporium for Christmas gifts and a very special meal. Even though Macy's took over the Marshall Field's property some years ago, if you go down to State Street and Randolph today you'll still find the luxurious service, Frango mints, and the stunning two-story Christmas tree in the walnut-paneled dining room.

Macy's Walnut Room Restaurant


I'm a relative newcomer to the Walnut Room; my first trip there I was interested in the handsome and elusive Joseph Duea who eventually asked me to marry him a few blocks away at the Art Institute. That year, the first Harry Potter book had blasted away all sales records, Marshall Fields' was still Marshall Fields', and the Walnut Room tree was decorated with hundreds of snowy owls from the novel.

This year I went for lunch with a few of my friends, and the menu has retained some classics while updating for today's tastes. The restaurant still serves a dish called "Mrs. Hering's 1890 chicken pot pie". It also offers "Field's special salad" which is similar to a club sandwich in a bowl, and is all that my friend Robin really remembers from holiday trips downtown with her Grandma.


Macy's (Marshall Field's), downtown Chicago


I'm guessing a more recent touch is the "fairy princesses" who travel the dining room offering you sparkling magic dust to help you when you close your eyes and make a wish. Their satin tip bags, with dollars dangling suggestively from the openings, were the only tacky touch of the entire experience, and I assure you my tack-o-meter has been finely honed over time.

Still, we all made our quiet wishes. My friends and I spent the rest of the day distracted by the glitter on our noses and eyelids, rather joyful from warming up with a signature cocktail they called "Cinnamon Toast".

Recipe

48 ounces apple cider
2 cups Amaretto
1 cup whipped cream
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
4 cinnamon sticks, to garnish


Heat the cider until near boiling, then stir in the amaretto.

Stir together the cinnamon and sugar on a plate. Wet the rim of a large mug, then swirl the rim in the cinnamon mixture. Pour the cider mixture into the mug, stir in the whipped cream, then garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Makes 4 cocktails.


Cranberry-Pomegranate Cosmopolitans

Cranberry-Pomegranate Cosmopolitan


Last Christmas I held a candy-making party at my home, and served these delectable cosmos while we made chocolate truffles, chocolate-covered pretzel rods, and salted caramel dreamboats.


Dreamy Chocolate Truffles

These cocktails go down easy - very easy. Joe made a second pitcher and left it cooling on the balcony before going to another holiday party. Around eleven, our platters of homemade candies were full and both pitchers were empty. Our bellies hurt from laughing together. What a jolly, funny, loving group of friends I have!


Chocolate Candy Party


Cranberry-Pomegranate Cosmo recipe





Carrot Cake Cocktail

Carrot Cake Cocktail


At the very end of 1999, I had been working feverishly as a business systems analyst at a corporation that was redesigning its financial systems, in part to solve those Year 2000 problems. New Years Eve came, and I was part of the calm group of people who knew how little we had to worry about a global computer shutdown and a resulting apocalypse, because I knew how much rework had been done.

Remember when that was the crisis of the year?

Y2K Tabloid predicting armageddon


My parents came to celebrate New Year's Eve with us, straight after a visit with my grandma in Minnesota. They brought a recipe from Grandma Tarr for a 'carrot cake cocktail'.

All day long, my mom tantalized me by saying how delicious it was and how I was going to love it, but every time I suggested she make it, she insisted that she would only make us one and it would be at midnight, and then she was going straight to bed.

This is the exact opposite of the way I'd plan a cocktail party for New Year's Eve, but if you know my mom, you know that she's always the boss.

Midnight arrived, we sipped this lusciously rich drink, then bundled up the girls, and my friend Michael and I took them outside to light off fireworks and sparklers in the snow. Mom went right to sleep, since midnight is about four hours past her bedtime.

This drink is really a liquid dessert, and it's just the sort of thing you might want in your hand if you think the world is going to end in a few minutes.

Recipe

1/2 cup Irish cream
1/2 cup cinnamon schnapps
1/2 cup butterscotch schnapps
Ground cinnamon for sprinkling

Shake together the liqueurs, then pour into 4 small glasses. Garnish with ground cinnamon before serving.

Makes 4 3-oz cocktails.

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Beer-Braised Beef and Mini Yorkshire Puddings

>> Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Beer-Braised Beef and Mini Yorkshire Puddings

We found this beer-braised beef recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". She says beer is typical for a Belgian braise, and the recipe is called "Carbonnades a la Flamande". The beef is cut into small cutlets, quickly browned, then braised with onions and beer until it is falling-apart tender. The beer, brown sugar, and vinegar give it a wonderful sweet-and-sour flavor.

Joe and I didn't know for sure the difference between braising and stewing, but Julia tells us that to braise food, you cook it in oil first, then finish it with some liquid. Stewing is nearly the same, with or without the browning step, but the food is cooked with a large amount of liquid, and the end result is much more soupy.


beef cutlets browning in pan


We decided to tackle Yorkshire pudding, something we've never made before, because we're making it as an accompaniment to my mom's standing rib roast for Christmas dinner. Joe's English side of the family, the Finchams, come from Yorkshire, so it seemed a nice tie-in. And as I've read so much Victorian literature, I've been curious about Yorkshire pudding.

Actually, the British concept of pudding is rather puzzling to Americans in general. Yorkshire pudding is a light batter that bakes up like a popover, but their black pudding is essentially a sausage, and plum pudding is similar to a fruitcake, and often people say pudding to mean any kind of dessert at all.

Yorkshire pudding is easy to make and a traditional accompaniment to a Sunday roast. Joe found that the first mention of it was in a cookbook in the early 1700s. Cooks would place a pan of the batter underneath a roast and let the juices drip down to flavor the pudding. Nowadays cooks spoon a bit of the roast's drippings over the batter as it bakes, and the result is a fluffy, savory muffin whose crown rises then collapses when it cools.

Miniature Yorkshire Puddings
These puddings are not burnt - they are brown from the rich beef juices we poured over them.

While bakers often make Yorkshire pudding in on pan and cut slices for diners, we made these in mini muffin tins so that people at dinner could try just a little bit without taking too much if they happened to not enjoy it. I don't think there will be any left, though!

Ingredients

Yorkshire Pudding

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons beef drippings and fat

Beer-Braised Beef

1 3-lb top round roast or tenderloin
2 tbsp oil
6 cups onions, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup beef stock
3 cups Pilsner-style beer
2 tbsp light brown sugar
6 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp fresh marjoram
1/2 tsp thyme
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp white wine vinegar


Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

To make the Yorkshire Pudding batter, stir together the flour and salt. in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Gradually add to the flour to the egg mixture, beating it into a thin, smooth batter, but being careful not to over-mix it. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour.


Yorkshire pudding ingredients

Cut the beef into 2 x 4 inch cutlets, about 1/2 inch thick. Place between layers of paper towels and allow it to dry so that it will saute properly. Heat a large skillet, then add the oil and heat at medium-high until nearly smoking. Add the beef strips a few at a time, and quickly brown them on both sides. Set them aside, then pour the oil and beef drippings into a bowl to be used with the pudding.

Reduce the heat to medium and add 1 more tbsp oil. Add the onions and brown them for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Set them aside, then saute the garlic until tender. Pour the stock into the pan and bring it to a boil, scraping up the browned bits of food from the pan. Stir in the brown sugar and beer and remove from the heat.

Tie the herbs together in a double layer of cheesecloth or a coffee filter to make a "bouquet garni". That way, the herbs will impart their flavor to the meal without overpowering it or causing the diners to pick stems and leaves from their food.

a bouquet garni - an herb bouquet for cooking
A bouquet garni - an herb bouquet for cooking

In a casserole dish, arrange half the beef strips and season with salt and pepper. Spread half the onions over the beef, place the herb bouquet in the center, then repeat with the rest of the beef and onions. Pour the beef broth mixture over the casserole.

Cover the casserole and place it in the bottom third of the oven. Cook at a slow simmer for 2 hours, or until fork-tender.

Remove the herb bouquet and drain the cooking liquid into a saucepan. Whisk the cornstarch and vinegar mixture into the liquid and simmer for 3-4 minutes, until thickened. Pour the sauce over the meat and keep warm.

Turn the oven to 450 degrees.

Spray two mini muffin pans or a 9 x 11 casserole dish with oil. Pour the pudding batter into the pan or dish about 2/3 full. Measure the beef drippings - you should have 3 tablespoons. If not, add melted butter to make the right amount. Pour this mixture over the batter.

Bake the pudding, without opening the oven door, until risen and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve immediately with the meat.

Serves 6.

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Butter Bean - Butternut Squash Soup

>> Monday, December 9, 2013


White Bean and Butternut Squash Soup
Thanks to Talea Bloom for this beautiful photo.

Butter beans and butternut squash are well-named - they both taste especially creamy. This savory winter soup, which is a combination of Midwest winter staples and southeast Asian flavors, was a hit at a friend's holiday party. Luckily, she shared the recipe with all of us. We hope you love it as much as we did!

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion - diced
1/2 cup chopped orange bell pepper
3 tbsp Fresh ginger - peeled and diced
4 cloves Garlic- finely chopped
1 large Butternut squash- peel, seed, chop into 1 inch cubes
28-oz can butter beans – drained and rinsed
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste (a pepper medley is preferred, as black pepper on its own has very little flavor, but red, green and white peppercorns add a lot of pizzazz.)
3 cups garlic croutons

Directions

Heat your soup pot for 90 seconds or until hot, turn down heat to medium, add olive oil then diced onion and bell pepper. Sauté  until translucent, 3-5 minutes but not until browned.

Next add ginger, garlic, squash, beans, stock, and basil. Simmer about 45 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Turn down heat to warm. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup so it becomes completely creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste (note: beans and butternut squash need a healthy dose of salt to shine - don't be stingy!). Serve hot with garlic croutons sprinkled on top.

Serves 8-10.

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Candy Cane Lollipops

>> Saturday, December 7, 2013


Candy Cane Lollipops


On Thursday, I was going to my friend's holiday cookie exchange, and I really wanted to do something different this year. Twenty or thirty ladies get together for this party, all wonderful cooks and creative women, so these cute little lollipops were the perfect thing to bring.

The day before, I was at the hospital for some medical tests and while I was waiting, they turned on the Food Network channel for me. I don't watch daytime TV, so this was the first time that I was introduced to Giada de Laurentiis, the perfectly beautiful woman with a life that makes everyone else's world seem drab. Especially if you're watching her show in an uncomfortable hospital gown with your behind hanging out the back.

Despite Giada's everlasting perfection, I decided to leap into this new recipe while waiting for the test results the next day. I headed over to my friend Becky's with my trusty chocolate truffle recipe and the new recipe for these suckers. The problem was, I couldn't find mini candy canes anywhere. For years I've been passing store displays bursting with mini candy cane packages, everywhere I turned.

Until this year when I actually wanted to buy some, which turned out to be the year of the Tragic Mini Candy Cane Shortage.


I felt decidedly un-Giada-like while tramping through store after store, grumbling about the holidays in general and candy cane manufacturers in particular. Luckily, Becky knew exactly where to find what we needed, and at that store we decided that we also needed sushi and champagne cocktails to restore my shaky holiday spirit. I assure you that a couple of Bellinis later, I was much more jolly.



I didn't know that if you put mini candy canes into a warm oven for a few minutes, they soften enough to mold around lolly sticks. It turns out there is about a ten-second window between "softened enough to mold" and "melted into a flat red-and-white blob".



It took us quite a while to figure out the correct moment to pull them out of the oven. What I can tell you is that candy canes vary in softness so that temperatures and times are just suggestions. Try testing one or two first so that you don't ruin an entire pan (or two) and have to run back to the store for replacement candy canes. Yes, we had to do that the other day.

Heart-shaped Candy Cane Lollipops


Don't let this intimidate you, though. These are super easy to make and I got SO many compliments at the cookie party. Giada couldn't have done any better, although she probably would have eaten less ham at the party.



Ingredients

32 mini candy canes
16 6-inch lollipop sticks
12 oz almond bark or white chocolate chips
3-4 drops peppermint oil
Christmas-colored candy sprinkles

Directions

Heat the oven to 235 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange pairs of candy canes into a heart shape, leaving room underneath each one to insert the stick after they come out of the oven.

Heat the candy canes for 4-7 minutes, until just soft enough to press a stick into each heart. We noticed that our canes developed little candy bubbles along the surface at just the right moment.

Slide the parchment and candy onto a counter and quickly press the lollipop sticks upward into the curved center of the two canes, then pinch the two bottom edges around the stick. If they don't stick securely, don't worry - the chocolate will hold the whole heart together. Let cool for a few minutes.

On the stove over low heat, or in the microwave, heat the almond bark or white chocolate until melted smooth, stirring frequently. If you heat it too long, it will become grainy with sugar crystals; just stir in a bit of coconut oil or shortening and beat it until smooth. Stir in the peppermint oil. Spoon a little chocolate into the center of each heart, then decorate with the candy sprinkles. Let the chocolate harden before serving.



Makes 16 lollipops.

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Pork and Tangerine Stir-Fry

>> Monday, December 2, 2013


Pork and Tangerine Stir-Fry


I don't know why pork tastes so good in fruit-based sauces and dishes, but it certainly does. Ripe tangerines or those clementine "cuties", along with aromatic Chinese five-spice powder, make a luscious Christmas-tinged meal.


Ingredients

1 lb pork tenderloin, but into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp canola or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
 3 tangerines or clementines, peeled and pulled into sections
1 tsp cornstarch whisked into 1 tsp warm water
2 tbsp Asian sesame oil, divided
1/4 cup Asian sweet chili sauce (we like Mae Ploy brand)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
6 baby bok choy, hard bases removed, and cut into 1" diagonal strips
5 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal, divided
White or brown rice for serving

Directions

Heat the oil  in a wok or large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Toss in the pork and stir-fry until browned on all sides, 3-5 minutes. Remove the meat.

Add the pepper, ginger, and clementines to the wok and stir-fry until slightly tender, about 3-5 minutes. Return the meat to the pan. Stir together the cornstarch, sesame oil, chili sauce, soy, and five-spice powder and pour into the pan. Add the bok choy and half the green onions and toss and cook until the bok choy is slightly wilted. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the rest of the green onions, and serve with rice on the side.

Serves 4-6.

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Cheddar-Beer Fondue Soup

>> Monday, November 25, 2013


Cheddar-Beer Fondue Soup


This recipe started out as something completely different: a potato-cheese soup with a bit of apple to brighten it up. Then I said, "Joe, can you invent a soup that tastes like a cheese fondue?"

Turns out, he can. And man, do we love fondue. Since the girls were little, restaurants like Fondue Stube and The Melting Pot were their favorite places to go for special occasions. And cheddar, beer, and homemade pretzel bread - what's a better combination for watching the Sunday football game?

Joe put together this soup by cooking classic cheese fondue dippers like potato, carrot, apple, and celery, while making the cheese sauce according to classic fondue prep techniques, then slowly stirring the cheese into the soup pot. This recipe comes together even quicker if you use Kraft's packets of shredded cheeses. We made a batch of pretzel bread for the side, and dipped it in as we ate. Swoon.

If we could have sent a big pot of this soup to the Chicago Bears yesterday, I'm sure they would've trounced the Rams. Next time we'll invite them all to dinner.

Ingredients


3 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, peeled and cut into 1" dice
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 tsp salt
3 cups Kraft sharp cheddar, shredded
1 cup Kraft Swiss cheese, shredded
1 cup beer
1/2 cup white wine or sherry

Directions

In a large pot, add the potatoes, carrot, onion, celery, garlic, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apple, then continue simmering, covered, until the vegetables are tender - about 20-30 minutes.

In a smaller saucepan, melt the butter. Slowly stir in the flour, spices, and seasoning, until the texture is creamy. Pour in the beer and sherry, and simmer until the alcohol is evaporated.

Strain the broth from the vegetables and return the vegetables to the soup pot. Cover the pot and keep the vegetables hot. Slowly stir the broth into the beer-flour mixture until it is creamy, about 10 minutes. Gradually add the cheeses, stirring constantly so the cheese melts and is incorporated into the broth.

Pour the cheese mixture over the vegetables and continue to heat over a low flame until heated through. Stir frequently, and be sure not to boil the soup, since this will cause the cheese to separate from the broth. This soup will keep all day in a slow cooker pot on warm heat, if you stir it occasionally.

If you'd like, garnish the soup bowls with thin slices of apple and a sprinkle of paprika.

Serves 4.

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Apple-Cranberry-Currant Relish

>> Friday, November 22, 2013


Apple-Cranberry-Currant Relish


My friend Becky gets compliments and requests for this cranberry sauce every year, and with good reason. It's a perfect make-ahead chutney when you want something a little more sophisticated, but still enjoy those Norman Rockwell-like traditional flavors of tangy cranberry and sweet orange.

This Thanksgiving, we are celebrating at The Boy's parents' house, so that Jessie and Erich don't have to dash from our house to theirs to Jessie's dad's, and try to eat enough to be polite at each home. We love their family, and we're going to skip the jar of jellied cranberry and bring this instead.

We're also bringing this luscious pecan-orange sweet potato casserole. Happy holidays all!

Pecan orange sweet potato casserole

Ingredients

1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup dry red wine
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tsp curry powder
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup dried currants (if you can't find currants, try dried cherries, or add more apple)

Directions

Place the onion, sugar, and wine in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5 minutes.

Stir in the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer again. Crush the cranberries slightly with a spoon, then cook for 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Make about 2 cups relish.

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Risotto Milanese (Saffron Risotto)

>> Wednesday, November 20, 2013

cooking risotto to a creamy consistency


Joe taught me how to cook risotto, which is a much different technique than cooking rice. You put rice and water and seasonings into a pan and simmer it for 20 minutes or so, then fluff it up at the end. Risotto is cooked with small amounts of liquid stirred in here and there while the short fat grains become tender and creamy in the sauce.

This risotto with saffron (ground or in threads) is perhaps the most classic preparation. I intended to look up the reason why this recipe is called Milan-style and why it uses saffron and onion together. But Thursday I had a photo shoot on Chicago L trains and a French small plates cooking demonstration.

Commuter on the Skokie Swift
Commuter on the Skokie Swift


L train pulling into the Merchandise Mart stop
L train pulling into the Merchandise Mart stop

Waiting for the L, Chicago
Waiting for the L, Chicago

Train platform stairs, Chicago
Train platform stairs, Chicago

This weekend we cooked Thanksgiving casseroles to freeze for a busy holiday week, then made pretzel bread and cheddar-beer fondue soup (recipe to come). Sunday we were at church all morning, attended a meet & greet with our new pastor and had a long worship band rehearsal, then created a slide show of charities we helped for the Thrivent Chapter Board annual dinner that night, and came home late.

I'm not complaining a bit. I love this kind of busy - the kind with lots of good food and great company and a long rainy Saturday cooking companionably with my love. Actually, we're lucky this recipe was written this weekend at all. I bet the Milanese would love the risotto Joe cooked Friday night, though I still don't know why they prepare it this way.

Ingredients

3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup onion, minced
6 cups hot chicken broth
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 tsp ground saffron
1 cup grated Romano cheese
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


Directions

Melt together the butter and oil at medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and salt and saute until tender. Add the rice and saute until white and covered with oil, about 2 minutes.

Slowly stir in 1/2 cup broth, allowing the rice to start to absorb the broth and thicken it. Stir in the saffron.
Continue adding the hot broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the broth thickens before adding the next 1/2 cup. After 5 1/2 cups of broth are absorbed by the rice, taste for tenderness. If rice is still hard, continue stirring and add the rest of the liquid. The risotto is ready when the grains are tender on the outside with a small firm al dente core.

stirring broth into risotto

When the rice is ready, stir in half the Romano cheese and the parsley. Divide into 6 portions and top with the remaining cheese.

Serves 6.

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Orange-Cranberry-Rosemary Muffins

>> Monday, November 18, 2013


Orange-Cranberry-Rosemary Muffins


Rosemary isn't the first ingredient you'd think of to put in muffins, right? Well, in this recipe, the fresh herb adds a little tang and zest without becoming too pine-y or overwhelming. It's a delicious addition.

I came across this recipe a few years ago when I was writing the herb section of my book
The Complete Guide to Food Preservation. When I started writing my next book, The Complete Guide to Growing Windowsill Plants, I put a pot of rosemary on a sunny windowsill. The next winter it was huge and bursting with pale lavender flowers that lasted until May.

Now that rosemary plant is a bush near a sunny window in my kitchen, and I can't use the branches fast enough to keep it decently trimmed. Rosemary is a wonderfully hardy houseplant for a sunny location; it handles neglect and drought well, and smells lovely every time you brush up against it.

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2/3 cup orange juice
½ cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (can substitute dried)
1 cup dried cranberries, lightly chopped
2 tbsp orange zest, divided
3 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. In a smaller bowl, mix the egg, orange juice, milk, and melted butter until combined.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, until just combined. Fold in the rosemary, cranberries, and 1 tbsp of orange zest.

Spoon the batter into muffin cups, nearly to the top. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Stir together the powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and the last tbsp of orange zest, and use this to frost the tops of the muffins as they cool.

Makes 12 muffins.

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Black Bean Mango Salad with Shrimp

>> Friday, November 15, 2013


Black Bean Mango Salad with Shrimp

A few weeks ago, our friends John and Peg invited us over to dinner and a play down at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. John is a fabulous cook who was working on a tropical theme - this mango and black bean salad, chicken with mango, papaya, and coconut, and a dessert of chocolate ice cream balls coated in toasted coconut.

John peeled and deveined raw shrimp, marinated them in the lime juice, then grilled them before adding to the salad. We went a less expensive route with frozen precooked tiny shrimp, but if it's in your budget, I'd really recommend cooking the shrimp fresh for the best taste.

Ingredients

For the shrimp:

10-12 oz. cooked salad shrimp
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

1 ripe mango
2 cups canned black beans, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp finely chopped mint
4 scallions, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lime juice

Directions

Stir together the shrimp ingredients and let them marinade in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Peel the mango and cut into 1/2" pieces. Saute the shrimp for 2 minutes, then mix into the rest of the ingredients. Let set for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

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Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle and Spicy Roasted Almonds

>> Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle


Last Christmas, we send bundles of herb blends to our family, including this Sriracha sea salt sprinkle, Joe's Rib Rub, and his Grillmaster's Blend. People are already clamoring for refills on all the bottles, and we're happy to make more!

The home smells wonderful while the Sriracha salt is drying. We keep a bottle of the seasoning right next to the stove because we add it to a lot of dishes that need just a little kick and a bit of salt at the same time: omelettes, roasted potatoes, corn on the cob, steamed veggies, and so on. It's also wonderful on popcorn, or one of our favorite snacks, roasted nuts.

Tuesday night our bible study group met at our place, so we were making snacks for people to nibble on while we studied the story of the wedding in Cana. We learned some pretty interesting things about Jewish marriage customs in the first century A.D. For example, men would ask their father's opinion on a woman he wanted to marry, before formally going to the woman's father to ask permission to marry her. When the father and the bride-to-be agreed, they made a covenant together, then the bridegroom would build a wedding chamber in his father's house for them to live.

When the place was ready, the man would do a mock kidnapping in which he and his friends would take the woman, her friends, and sisters on a parade through the street, laughing and joking and singing. Pretty festive, right? Once they got back to his father's house, they would have a seven-day party that ended with a huge feast. That's where the story of Jesus turning water into wine would have happened.

It sounds just as elaborate as weddings are today, or maybe even more so. I can't imagine having to plan a seven-day celebration! It's pretty likely they would have served almonds and sea salt at the feast as a Mideast food staple, so I will use that as my very awkward segue into two quick and delicious recipes.


Spicy Roasted Almonds

Sriracha Sea Salt Sprinkle

2 cups fine sea salt
1 cup Sriracha sauce
2 tbsp lemon pepper
2 tbsp dried oregano

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Stir together all ingredients and spread onto a baking pan. Bake slowly in the oven, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for about 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 225, and continue baking and stirring for 30-60 minutes more, until the salt is completely dry.

If the salt is too coarse after it's fully dry, whirl it in a blender, food processor, or spice grinder until it is the consistency you like. Store in an airtight jar.

Makes 2 cups.


Spicy Roasted Almonds

12 oz unblanched whole almonds
4 tbsp butter
1/4 cup Sriracha sea salt (or more, to taste)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread out the almonds on a baking sheet. Melt the butter, then allow it to cool slightly, Stir in the Sriracha salt. Pour the mixture over the nuts and stir them so that they are completely coated.

Bake for 5 minutes, then stir the nuts and bake for about 5 more minutes. Take them out before they look completely browned and toasted; they will continue cooking for several minutes after you remove them from the oven. 

These are best if you make them a day ahead and let the spices develop. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container until ready to serve. These make great little gifts too, packed into plastic gift bags and tied with some pretty ribbon.

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