Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ginger Carrot Soup

I'm an unabashed sweets lover but I've had enough sugary things for a while. Now all things savory and healthier are calling me and I'm wanting to serve those foods that have more nutrition.

When I told Ole Sweetie-Pi we were having ginger carrot soup he nearly had apoplexy.  That piece of information prompted him to lift the lid of the soup pot, stir the ingredients around into a whirling vortex, taste a sample, grimace in pain, and then go hide in the living room. Honestly, he can be so dramatic.  It didn't stop him from eating a whole bowl of it though when I served it to him, grins.

This ginger carrot soup is subtly warm from the fresh ginger and pepper, with a pleasing sweetness from the fresh carrots and orange juice. The onions, I think, help to balance out the spice and the sweet.  This pureed into a nice thick soup, though to be honest, I only used one box of  vegetable stock, which was less than the five cups called for.  I wasn't about to open up a second box just a cup of stock. I could have made up the difference with water, I suppose, but I found the thickness of the soup to be pleasing and just went with it. 

I would and will definitely make this again. I'm pretty sure after eating all those carrots I'll be able to read in the dark without a flashlight.  Ole Sweetie-Pi said he could pass on eating this again, but I don't know.  I think he's still recovering from the shock.

Ginger Carrot Soup
Earthbound Farm Organic

2 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil
1 piece (3 inches long) fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
4 cups peeled, sliced carrots
5 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Sour cream, as garnish

In a large sauce pan over medium heat, heat the oil.  Add the ginger and the onion and cook until the onion is translucent. 

Add the carrots, vegetable stock, and orange juice and bring to a boil.  Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low, allowing the soup to simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender or allow the soup to cool slightly and puree in batches in a blender. 

Return the soup to the pot and add the seasonings:   the pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, add a small dollop of sour cream on top.

For more information about making this soup ahead or serving it cold, click on the link I provided under the recipe name.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mahogany Beef Stew and Never Fail Biscuits

Doggone it's been cold here.  We probably don't have as much snow on the ground as some of our southern and western cousins do, but we sure have plenty of the low double and single digit temperatures.  Once we get chilled, the cold goes to the bone, and it seems to take forever to thaw out.  (Have you ever noticed that in some places folks use the colloquialism  unthawed, such as unthaw the meat, when they really mean thaw? I digress but felt a need to point it out, grins.)

It's a good day to turn the oven to bake something hot...

and set a pot on the stove to simmer something long and slow and comforting...

It was just one of those days when no one minded the kitchen being heated up.

For a short while during the Depression years, my grandfather cut wood for a living and, in conjunction,  my grandmother ran a small boardinghouse of sorts where the workmen could stay and she'd feed them. She provided very simple fare she told me, but her baking powder biscuits were a staple, and her biscuits were her pride and joy.  To this day I don' t know of anyone who can make them higher or fluffier or more golden.  I can still see her knobby knuckles, splayed fingertips, the heavily veined hands, working the flour and lard together until "it felt just right."  Brows furrowed, no measuring, just working quickly.

I did not inherit the baking powder biscuit gene.  I have to give my beloved, sainted grandmother credit; she did try to teach me.  I made rocks, hockey pucks, door stops, cannon ballast, but not biscuits.  I gave up. years passed.  And then I saw this recipe on Allrecipes.  And you know what?  They're just as advertised.  They are no fail!  I've made them a dozen times at least since discovering them and every time they have risen beautifully, are tender and flaky, and taste (not quite like Gram's, must be the lard!) good.

Cold weather inspires heartier meals.  I like cooking with wine; it makes the recipe seem so much more elegant, but I mostly cook with white wine, sherry, the occasional Merlot, and of course champagne in my mimosas.   As I'm not a huge beef eater and as Ole Sweetie-Pi isn't much for gussied up food, red wine stays on the shelf until it becomes vinegar.  So, when I found this recipe for Mahogany Beef Stew with Red Wine and Hoisin Sauce on Epicurious I didn't have the recommended Cabernet Sauvignon  and had to substitute Merlot.  I think the Cabernet might have been a better choice, as this stew was a bit too sweet for my tastes, but Ole Sweetie-Pi gave it a big thumbs up.  This stew has a decidedly different, but delicious, flavor because of the hoisin sauce ~ sweet, rich, hearty, winy.  It's not the beef stew I grew up with, but one that I would make again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Peppermint Brittle

Peppermint is one of the flavors and scents I associate with this holiday season.  I don't have the confectioner's gift of candy making and debated whether or not to post this as this recipe is so simple, but it's one of those that simply wins your heart if you like white chocolate and peppermint.  Two ingredients, and you have a delightful confection in a matter of minutes.  Ole Sweetie Pi's eldest daughter Erin has declared this  is "to die for" and even Ole Sweetie-Pi, who's not much of a sweets eater, can't seem to stay out of this candy dish.

Peppermint Brittle

2 pounds white chocolate (I used white chocolate chips)
30 small peppermint candy canes

Line a large jelly roll pan with tin foil, set aside.

Unwrap the candy canes and, in batches, put them inside a zip lock bag.  Using a rolling pin, meat mallet, or other similar heavy object, give the candy canes a good smack, breaking them into small pieces, but not into dust.

Melt the white chocolate.  There are a couple of methods.  One is to put the chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl, and on medium heat, heat them for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

Personally, I have better luck jimmying up a double boiler a pot filled with simmering (but not boiling) water, with a pyrex-type bowl set so that the rimmed lip of the bowl is over the edge of the pan.  (The bowl is not resting inside the pot of hot water; it is above the water.)  Stir until the chocolate is mostly melted, remove from the heat source and continue stirring until all the chips are melted and the chocolate is smooth. Take care not to allow any water inside the chocolate, or the chocolate will seize, become quite disagreeable, and you will have to start over again.

This starts to set up pretty fast, so working quickly, mix in the broken candy canes into the white chocolate and give it all a good stir to combine.  Pour the mixture onto the tin-foiled lined cookie sheet and spread in an even layer.  Let cool in the refrigerator, maybe an hour or so.  When thoroughly cool, remove the pan from the fridge and give the pan a sharp smack on the counter to break up the candy.    I use a knife and try cutting it into regular sized pieces, which doesn't exactly work,  but I find that I don't get as many itty bitty irregular pieces.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maple and Banana Nut Pancakes

It's been a little bit since I've had you over for breakfast, so when I woke up this morning, I decided to make a pancake recipe that caught my eye a short while back.  Now that I have this picture posted, I wish I had sliced up some bananas to pretty up the plate and to show that these really are banana pancakes and not  look like all the other pancakes I've posted on this blog, but hindsight is 20-20.  I'm going to have to ask you to use your imagination here.

Gosh, these were good; Ole Sweetie-Pi and I liked these a lot.  They remind me of  banana bread, so if if you like banana bread, I think you'd like these pancakes.  The maple that is added to the batter adds the right amount of sweetness, sour cream makes them tender, and the banana flavor, while present, is subtle.  I like the addition of the whole wheat flour; to me it revs up the nutrition as well as deepening the flavor. 

These were a little tricky to cook; I ruined the first half dozen I tried (recipe states it makes 14 four-inch pancakes). Even though I had the heat on medium, the first batch burned rather quickly and badly; the second batch didn't burn quite so badly.( I presume it's because of the high sugar content of the maple syrup and the bananas.)  I  reduced the  heat to a medium low, thinned the batter a tad, reduced the size (to the four inches recommended in the recipe, grins)  and it seemed to work much nicer. 

Maple and Banana Nut Pancakes
(Maple Syrup Cookbook by Ken Haedrich)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

2 eggs
1 1/2 to 1 1/3 cups milk
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons butter, (one half stick)  melted
1 ripe banana, mashed

In a good-sized mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, stirring to blend.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until forthy, then whisk in 1 1/3 cups of the milk, the sour cream, maple syrup, melted butter and mashed banana.  (I used an egg beater here to mix the wet ingredients and to further mush up the bananas.)

Make a well in the dry ingrdients and add the egg mixture.  Stir, just to blend, taking care not to overmix.  You may want to add a little more milk, a drop at a time, to achieve a desired consistency.  The batter will foam up, that's okay, it's supposed to.  Let the batter rest for a couple of minutes.

In the meantime, preheat a large skillet or griddle on medium high heat. (I found this to be too high.)  Butter or oil lightly.  Drop the batter by heating tablespoonfuls and cook until the pancake bottoms are golden and bubbles are popping on the surface, about one minute.  Turn and cook the second side one minute more.  Repeat with remaining batter.

This is best served with warmed maple syrup.  You can heat a small, microwave safe,  pitcher of it in the microwave for about 30 to 60 seconds, or gently in a saucepan on the stove.  Your food will stay warmer longer and taste better with warmed maple syrup.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chicken Costa Brava

All righty, now here's something that's a far cry from our typical New England Yankee fare, Chicken Costa Brava. I'm always on the lookout for new chicken recipes as we eat a lot of chicken here, but we're also limited in what new recipes are tried as one of us (hint: not me) is reluctant to try new combinations of flavors and new ingredients. I can't lay claim to knowledge of what prompted me to try this, as the addition of cumin and cinnamon to a chicken dish was deemed to have a dubious welcome, but surprise of all surprises, we both enjoy this.

I found this recipe on Allrecipes and I see that reviewers refer to the flavors as being a party in your mouth, having complex flavors, or having a melody of flavors. I like the description of a melody of flavors, as I can taste each ingredient individually, the sweet, the salty, the earthy and spicy, each full and bright, like individual notes, and yet they come together in perfect harmony. Okay, enough musical allusions.

I followed the recipe as written, with the exception of reducing the amount of chicken to only four thighs, which made for a lot of sauce. As a result this was probably more like a stew, but I just love the sauce poured onto rice.

If you'd like to spice up your life just a little, here's the recipe.

Chicken Costa Brava

1 (20 ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained, liquid reserved
10 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion cut into thick chunks
1 (14.5 ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained
2 cups black olives, drained
1/2 cup salsa
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
salt to taste

Drain the pineapple and reserve the liquid. The directions say to sprinkle with salt, but are not specific as to what gets sprinkled with salt, the pineapple or the juice. I personally added it to the juice so that it could cook with the chicken when the liquids are added.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then add the chicken. Brown the chicken on both sides.

Combine cumin and cinnamon, and sprinkle over chicken. Add garlic and onion; cook until onion is soft. Stir occasionally so that the onions and chicken don't stick and burn to the pan. Drain excess oil and grease.

Add reserved pineapple juice, tomatoes, olives, and salsa. Cover, and simmer 25 minutes.

Mix cornstarch with water; stir into pan juices.

Add bell pepper, and simmer until sauce boils and thickens. Stir in pineapple chunks, and heat through.

And believe it or not, I think I might even like a little more cumin and cinnamon in this.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pork and Beans Spice Cake

We've had our first official snowfall this season, two inches of snow that is here to stay . It fell softly, pristinely, flurrying, in dizzy spins , obscuring the view of the hills that make our valley, cloaking everything in white silence. It was a day to cuddle up, watch some old movies, and eat cake and drink hot coffee.

My thoughts turned to spice cake. Specifically, pork and beans spice cake. Yes, you read it right. Pork and beans. In a spice cake. Now, don't get all oogly on me here. While this sounds like an unlikely combination, this is a delicious, heavy, but moist cake, with a subtle flavor of cinnamon. If I didn't tell you about the pork and beans, you'd never guess, and you'd like it, too. I think it's an overstatement to call this a spice cake, but what's in a name, right? And besides, what else are you going to do with a cup and half of leftover baked beans.

Before I share the recipe that I found on Recipezaar, I'd like to say that I deviated from the directions a bit. The directions say to mush up the baked beans and a can of crushed pineapple, leaving a somewhat chunky appearance. I cannot do that. I put mine into a blender and puree the two ingredients together until smooth. It's a textural thing. It's a visual thing. It's because of a book I read while I was in grade school.

When we were in grade school, we had to read a biography called Mrs. Mike written by Benedict and Nancy Freeman. The story is set in the early 1900's and is a love story that takes place in the Canadian wilderness, and details the hardships of a young Canadian Mounty and his young bride. One episode describes the young couple at a long table shared by other diners. The details escape me, but I think snow must have been boiled for water, and a tin cup of it was being passed around for everyone to take a swallow. When it was passed to Mrs. Mike, she looked into it and saw a single baked bean floating in it. She passed the mug to the next diner. After 45 years, I still cannot get that revolting imagine of the one baked bean floating in a shared tin cup of water. And I cannot have bits of baked beans bobbing about in my spice cake.

Pork and Beans Spice Cake

16 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) pork and beans
8 ounces crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil
4 eggs

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick butter) at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1-pound box confectioners' sugar
1 16-ounce bag pecans, finely diced, reserving one half cup for decoration

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously grease and flour two cake pans. The original directions do not include the size; I used two 8 inch x 2 inch pans, but found the cooking time listed to be too short. A 9-inch cake pan would probably be better.

In a blender of food processor combine the baked beans and the undrained can of crushed pineapple. Process until it's a smooth puree. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Add the eggs, sugar, and oil. Beat at medium speed for two minutes.

Add the bean-pineapple mixture and beat until combined.

Pour into prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Because my pans were smaller than what was probably intended, I baked mine for an additional 15 minutes or so and had to cover the cakes with tinfoil to prevent overbrowning.)

Remove from pans and cool thoroughly on racks.

To make the frosting: For the smoothest frosting, make sure that your cream cheese and butter are at room temperature so that when you beat them there won't be any hard chunks. Put the cream cheese and butter in a medium sized bowl and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the vanilla, beat to combine. Add the confectioners' sugar, stirring with a spoon to combine in the beginning to prevent the sugar from flying all over your workspace, and then using your mixer to thoroughly blend together. Add the chopped pecans (remembering to hold back one half cup).

When the cakes are cooled, level the tops of the cakes if you need to, and place the topside of the cake facing the bottom of the plate (bottomside is facing up towards you). Frost. Do the same with the second cake. Frost the top and the sides. With the one half cup of reserved pecans, liberally sprinkle the top.

Once again I deviated. I did not use an entire 16 ounce bag of pecans; I used walnuts because that's what I had. Also, because nuts are expensive and I'm the only one who enjoys them in baked goods, I eyeballed a generous amount and sprinkled them just between the layers and on the top.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Candied Orange Peel

I love citrus. I love citrus more than chocolate. I go weeks and months without eating anything chocolate (chocolate Easter candy lasts until Thanksgiving, gasp!), but show me something with citrus and I get all weak-kneed and weak-willed.

In this house, holiday breakfasts usually are often comprised of eggs Benedict and mimosas. I like freshly squeezed orange juice and it such a small extra effort that it's no bother to me. The nice thing is, I have the peels of half a dozen oranges just beckoning to be used, and the candied orange peel is the way I make frugal use of the entire orange.

So why has it taken me so long to discover my new favorite sweet, the candied orange peel? I cannot begin to fathom the reason, but now that I have, I am in orange heaven. If you like those jellied orange slices so often sold in drug stores, or occasionally seen in boxes of better candies, I can virtually guarantee that you will love these. The pungent, tart orange flavor is sweetened with a sugar coating, a little chewy bite that explodes with flavor. If you can boil water and make a simple syrup, you will have no problem making these delicious orange slices that look so fancy but are so easy. And what to do with the orange flavored simple syrup after you've boiled your orange peels in it, use it for sweetening tea, of course. Nothing gets wasted!

I found my recipe on the Foodnetwork, and I really like it. The entire peel is used, pith and all. In the past I peeled the orange using a vegetable peeler, but I've decided I like this method better. I prefer the thicker slices and the more assertive orange flavor. If one wanted to, these slices could be dipped in melted chocolate, a beautiful and delicious presentation. These candies last quite a while, about two months or more if tightly covered and refrigerated, but I attest to it; they don't last that long here.

Candied Orange Peel

6 thick-skinned Valencia or navel oranges
4 1/2 cups of sugar plus extra for rolling
1 1/2 cups water
Peel the skin and pith of the orange in large pieces (preserving orange for another recipe). Cut the peel into strips about 1/4-inch wide. Put the orange peel in a large saucepan with cold water to cover, bring to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, pour off the water. Repeat 1 or 2 more times depending up how assertive you want the orange flavor to be. Drain. Remove the orange peels from the pan.
Whisk the sugar with 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8 to 9 minute, or until it reaches 230 to 234 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Add back the peels and simmer gently. Cook until the peels get translucent, about 45 minutes. Resist the urge to stir the peels or sugar crystals may form. If necessary, swirl the pan to move the peels around. Drain the peels, reserving the syrup for tea, if you wish.
Add maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 cup in a medium bowl and add the orange peels. Roll the peels about in the sugar, coating them thoroughly. Dry on a rack for several hours. Store in a tightly covered container.