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.