Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mexican Wedding Cookies

I've said it before, I don't really bake.  It's not that I can't, it's just that I don't like to.... I know, I'm weird.  I love the way baking makes the house smell, and I love the end results, I'm just not a very patient person... so being precise when measuring things doesn't rank very high on my list of fun.  My husband was the baker in our house, he loved making breads, cakes, cookies... you name it.  I was completely spoiled for 16 years, I reaped all the rewards of baking without having to earn it.  Needless to say, my kids forgot that I COULD bake, and recently my 8 year old told someone that I must not be very good at making cookies because I never do.  Challenge accepted kiddo! 

These are an old favorite of mine, I started making these in high school and used to make them frequently when my son was little.  One of the reasons I like making these is that they're simple... a few ingredients and very little work yield a wonderful cookie that's fun and tastes like a lot more effort went into them than really did.  My 8 year old was too busy eating these today to have room for her words :) 

2 sticks butter, at  room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more for coating
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

In a medium bowl, mix butter with a hand mixer on high speed until fluffy.  Add confectioners sugar and continue beating until well combined.  Mix in vanilla and salt.  Stir in flour and cinnamon with a spoon until a dough forms (no longer crumbly).  Cover bowl and refrigerate dough 15-20 minutes.

Shape dough into 1" balls and bake at 350º for 12-15 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown. Allow to cool.  Roll in confectioners sugar to coat.  Makes 2 dozen.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Spinach Soup

This soup is the perfect autumn dish... it's hearty, a little sweet... a little spicy and just overall "cozy".  The original recipe is by Emeril, but as always I had to add my own little touches. 

This is definitely not a quick soup to make, unless you roast the squash before hand, but it's not by any means difficult or too time consuming in the hands on department. 

2 medium butternut squash, about 3 to 4 pounds, cut in half and seeded
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup chopped onions
12 oz smoked sausage, diced
2 cups fresh corn kernels (frozen is ok)
1 Tbs brown sugar
Cajun seasoning to taste
10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 pkg long grain and wild rice, prepared per package directions

Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Drizzle the squash with 1 tablespoon of the oil, season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet and roast, covered with foil for 2 hours or until tender. Remove from the oven and cool completely. Spoon squash from skins. In a blender or food processor, puree the squash with 2 cups of the chicken stock. Puree until smooth and set aside.

In a large saucepan, saute the onions, fresh corn and sausage until onions are soft.  Add in squash puree, and remaining 4 cups of a chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Stir in brown sugar, cajun seasoning, spinach and half and half, simmer an additional 10 minutes.  Add rice and heat through.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serves 10.

Zucchini Casserole

I have a go to zucchini casserole dish for potlucks and family dinners... you know the one... with the cream of mushroom soup, stuffing mix and cheese.  I have a bad habit of not looking for another recipe for something if I have one I'm already happy with, and I admit this sometimes keeps me from finding something new.  This weekend I decided to get out of my rut and try a new recipe, and luckily I was pleasantly surprised with the results.  This casserole turns out to be a bit like a quiche, and it's REALLY good.  It's also pretty versatile, you can change up the seasonings, the cheese and even the topping.... I think next time I might even horrify my children by throwing in a few mushrooms :)

2  lb. zucchini, sliced
4 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 lb grated sharp cheddar
1/2 lb grated 4 cheese Mexican blend
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion salt
1/4 tsp garlic salt
Dash pepper
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. flour
French fried onion rings (canned)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook sliced zucchini in boiling water 5minutes.  Drain well, blotting excess water with a paper towel if needed.  (You can also steam them in the microwave).

Beat eggs, milk, cheese, salt, pepper, baking powder and flour together. Add zucchini to pot, mix. Place in buttered 2 quart casserole. Bake 25 minutes.  Sprinkle onions on top and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Oven Roasted Tri-Tip

My kids love steak, but lately any kind of decent cut of steak is way out of the price range to feed a family of five.  Have you seen the prices lately? In Florida the average price for strip steak, ribeye, t-bones... around $8.99/lb!  Filet?  Forget it... $10.99 and up.  So, recently when I saw that our local produce and meat market had tri-tip not only in stock, but on sale for $3.99/lb I jumped on it.  Tri-tip was, for a very long time, a cut of beef usually found in the western part of the country.  For years I heard about this miracle cut of beef, nicely marbled with softer fat, and when cooked right it yields a juicy roast that stays tender.  Tri-tip is now starting to make its way across the country so the rest of us can enjoy what used to be California's little secret.  
I hear the best way to cook this is on the grill, however my grill is currently out of commission, so I had to settle for roasting it in the oven.  There are plenty of ideas for marinades out there if you want to try them, but for this I wanted a more simple, roast-like effect... so I kept the seasoning simple.  Tri-tip may come completely trimmed or may have a thin fat cap on one side.  You can remove the fat cap, but again, I was looking for the full experience and kept it on for a jucier roast... it's very easy to slice off after cooking.  

I have to say, I was so impressed with this cut of beef... I went out and bought 2 more to put in the freezer :)  On to the recipe!

2 1/2 - 3lb tri-tip roast
salt and pepper, or other seasonings to taste

The morning before roasting, season the entire roast with your choice of seasonings and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Place in the fridge.

About an hour before cooking, remove the roast from the fridge to bring the temperature up some.

Preheat oven to 450º F.  Unwrap roast and place in a roasting pan.  When oven is preheated, cook for 12 minutes.  After 12 minutes, reduce heat to 350º F and cover pan tightly with foil; roast an additional 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to cook at 350º for 15 more minutes (if your roast is closer to 3 lbs you may want to add another 5 minutes).  Remove from the oven, cover again with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes.  

Slice meat starting at the pointed ends and serve.

**Note:  As you can see from the picture, the center of the roast was a perfect medium rare, however the ends were a solid medium... making this a good "mixed company" roast.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Cauliflower Gratin

Well, it's that time of year again... I'm on the hunt for new Thanksgiving sides to bring to my Mom's.  Of course, I still make the traditional sides that have become holiday staples for our family, but I also like to bring one new dish each year.  As I said in my previous post, it was a perfect stay inside and cook weekend, so I started with this recipe.  The original is from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, but I changed a few things to suit my taste.  I have to say this was one of the best side dishes I've had in a long time... the texture and slight sweetness from the cauliflower is a nice fit with the creamy saltiness of the cheese sauce.  The best part... it's really easy to make!

2 heads cauliflower, cut into large florets
Kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp white pepper
3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
1/3 cup panko
1/3 cup french fried onions

Preheat the oven to 375º. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add cauliflower and cook for about 3 minutes.  Cauliflower should be just starting to get tender, but not cooked all the way through.  Drain, and set aside. 

In a medium sauce pan, melt 2 Tbs butter over medium heat. Whisk flour into melted butter and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two.  Slowly add milk and half and half, whisking constantly until smooth.  Heat to a simmer, continuing to stir the whole time, mixture should thicken slightly. Mix in onion powder, garlic powder, nutmeg and pepper and reduce heat to low.  Stir in cheeses a little at time until smooth.

Put drained cauliflower into a 9x13" baking dish and pour cheese sauce over, stirring to coat. Place in oven and bake 20-25 minutes.

Place french fried onions in a ziploc bag and crush into small crumbs.  Add panko and remaining 2 Tbs melted butter.  Close bag and shake well to coat all crumbs.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the cauliflower and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until topping is browned and crisp. 

Serves 6-8 as a side.

Pork Medallions in Dijon Cream Sauce

It's been raining here non-stop the whole weekend.  For a lot of people a rainy weekend is a bad thing, but for me it was a chance to slow down and do some cooking!  It was nice to get back in the kitchen, and I'm looking forward to sharing more recipes here now that the weather is starting to cool down a bit.

1 whole pork tenderloin, cut into medallions and slightly flattened
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
salt, garlic salt, onion salt and pepper
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 cup of dry white wine (or chicken stock)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbs country style/whole grain Dijon mustard
1 Tbs honey

Cut each tenderloin (there are usually 2 per package) into 4 -5 medallions, flattening each piece slightly with your fingers.  Season both sides to taste with salt, garlic salt, onion salt and pepper. 

Heat olive oil and butter in large frying pan over medium high heat, until butter foams.  Add in pork medallions and brown on each side, about 3 minutes each.  Remove pork and set aside.

Lower heat to medium. To the same pan add chopped shallots and saute until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 more minute. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and stir in mustard until well mixed.  Add in remaining ingredients and simmer 3-5 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken. Adjust seasoning to taste.  Add pork back to the pan, cover and simmer until pork is cooked through. 

Serves 6.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Perfect French Toast

I have a love/hate relationship with French toast, it's one of those things I love if it's made right, but hate if it's not (and it's usually not).  I admit that for most of my life I've been guilty of not having a clue how to make a good French toast, mine always came out too soggy.  Sure I could do a good job if I went to the bakery and bought some fancy, expensive challah or brioche, but those types of breads almost triple the cost of what should be an inexpensive breakfast.  I gave up on French toast for a while, but then I found "the trick"... using inexpensive Texas toast style bread and drying it in the oven before dipping it in the batter. This recipe will get you a French toast that's got a nice crispness on the outside and is soft but not soggy on the inside.  The batter makes exactly enough for 10 pieces of toast.

10 slices of Texas toast style bread, or other thick cut sandwich bread
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs melted butter
dash of salt
1 Tbs pure vanilla extract
butter for frying and serving
powdered sugar and maple syrup for serving

Preheat oven to 300ºF.  Place bread slices on a rack placed over a sheet pan.  Bake 15 minutes, turning halfway through.  Remove bread and reduce oven to 200ºF.

Preheat electric griddle to 350º or large frying pan over med-low heat.

Mix together milk through vanilla, whisking until thoroughly combined in a 13x9" glass dish.  Lay each slice of toast in the batter for a few seconds, repeat on the other side for each slice and then set aside. 

When griddle or pan is heated, spread just enough butter to coat the surface and add toast slices, don't crowd them.  Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side until nicely browned.  The heat should be low enough so the toast doesn't brown before this time, otherwise the middle won't cook through.  Flip the toast slices and continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes or until browned.  Place toast in the warm oven until all pieces are cooked. 

Serve with butter, maple syrup and powdered sugar.