Friday, December 21, 2007

Don't tell the Italian...

So, I made this Skillet Lasagna recipe this week for a quick and easy dinner. Sure it is not the real thing, but it works well for a one pot meal, kinda like the Hamburger Helper days of the past. For mine, I added extra Italian Herb mix and salted well. There really isn't a lot of flavors going on here, but you can still end up with a tasty meal. You can break up lasagna noodles as directed or just use orecchiette pasta. Sorry, no picture, but I think the camera is coming back to life.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

German Christmas Markets

I thought I would do a quick post on the German Christmas Markets. This time of year is very festive all over Germany. The Christmas markets are the only thing that get me through this dreary time in Northern Europe when it doesn't get light out until after 8am and is pitch-black again by 4pm in the afternoon! In many German towns, Weinachtsmarkts pop up all over the cities. You can find all kinds of handmade wooden gifts, lots of snacks and sweets (such as the famous Nurnberg Lebkuchen, gingerbread) and hot drinks like Gluhwein (mulled wine). Here are some pics ... Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gluten-free Christmas Cookie Party

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I hosted my annual Christmas cookie party this weekend and even issued a "challenge" to my guest...bring one gluten-free item to share. It is interesting the number of things are are naturally gluten free, and what people try to adapt using gluten free flour and mixes. I am going to focus on the naturally gluten free items.

First of all, you have to finish you meal before you have dessert. At my cookie parties, I like to have some normal food to balance out the sugar in the sweets. Our families favorite hummus recipe is always on the menu.

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Per 1 can chickpeas
1 clove garlic
1 lemon, juiced
salt, pepper
olive oil

Combine chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in food processor and process. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency. Serve with pita (note: the pita I buy at the grocery story is always pretty sad, any tips?)

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Almond Crescents - Not gluten free, but a family favorite. Pictured here with mint chocolate cookies.
1C soft butter
1/3 C sugar
- cream together

1 2/3 C sifted flour
1/4 tsp salt
- stir in

2/3 C ground blanched almonds - add and chill

Roll into 2 inch sections and bend into crescents (thus the name). Bake at 350 for 14-16 minutes. Sift powdered sugar on top.

A wonderful cookie: rich, buttery, and melts in your mouth. My mom actually made these.

Chocolate macaroons
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4 oz semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
3 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
pinch salt

1. Heat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Bring a small saucepan of water to boil. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer. Place chocolate in small bowl and set over sauce pan. Stit until chocolate is melted, and set aside to cool.
3. In a large bowl, combine cooled chocolate, cocoa, sugar, coconut, egg whites, vanilla, and salt. Use your hands to mix well, completely combining ingredients.
4. Dampen hands with cold water. Form 1 1/2 tablespoons of mixture into a loose haystack shape and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining mixture, placing macaroons 1 inch apart.
5. Bake until just firm to the touch but still soft in the middle, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven to wire rack, and let cool on baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

**note: I did find unsweetened coconut, but when I got it home, I realized it was reduced fat! YIKES! It actually turned on well because it made the macaroons a little more crispy and I seemed to like that texture better.

Chocolate Pecan Butter Crunch
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2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1/3 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 cups chopped pecans, plus more for top
8 oz semisweet chocolate
2 T light corn syrup

1. Butter a 9 inch square baking pan and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place the butter and water in a large sauce pan. Cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugar and stir constantly until dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush away any sugar crystals on the side of the pan to prevent recrystallization. Cook until the mixture is dark amber in color. Remove from heat and stir in the pecans. Pour into prepared baking pan, and let stand at room temperature to cool completely.
3. Place the chocolate and corn syrup in small heat proof bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until combined and completely melted. Let cool slightly, and spread over the top of the cooled toffee. Arrange the pecan halves on top and let sit at room temp until the chocolate has cooled and completely set, at least 2 hours or overnight. Carefully unmold by lifting out the parchment paper. Break or cute into pieces and store in airtight container for up to 1 month. Yield 2 dozen.

**note: making candy is always messy and nerve wracking, but these are simply the best things you have ever put in your mouth.

Almond Croquant
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups finely chopped blanched almonds

1. Place silpat on baking sheet, set aside. Combine sugar and corn syrup in saucepan. Bring to a boil, st iring until the sugar dissolves. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush away and sugar crystals on side of pan to prevent recrystallization. Cook, swirling occasionally, until mixture reaces soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (238)
2. Stir in almonds, cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is light amber in color.
3. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet, spread quickly into a 1/4 inch layer with oiled metal spatula. Let set 2 minutes before cutting, or let cool completely and break into pieces. Set aside until completely cool. Store in airtight container for 1 month.

**note: more messy and nervewracking then the toffee. I made 2 batches and both ended up kind of chewy. I think I didn't let it get hot enough...stupid candy thermometer.

Sugared Cranberries
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I think these will become a part of my foodie Christmas gifts next year!!

Sorry no picture, but these are another great gluten free treat.

It was another successful cookie party, and I have another platterful of cookies in my kitchen. I just have to say that the toffee, brittle, and macaroon recipes, I actually got from lbmartinez, she is great at the baked goods. I wish all of you could have been at the party...maybe next year?

Quick and Easy - Salmon with Fennel and Pernod

This recipe was in the Bon Appetit Dec. 2007 Fast Easy Fresh Section. It was a really tasty salmon dish. The braised fennel was fantastic and I should have made more of it.

1.5 t. fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 c. butter, at room temp
2 T. minced shallots
1 large fennel bulb with fronds; bulb quartered, then cut lengthwise into 1/4" thick slices; 2 T. fronds chopped
2 (6 oz) salmon fillets
2 T. Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur (I used Jagermeister instead and only used 1 T.)

Stir fennel seeds in a large nonstick skillet over med. heat until fragrant, about 1.5 minutes. Transfer seeds to small bowl; cool. MIx in (with seeds) butter, shallots and 1 T. fennel fronds; season butter with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 T. of the butter mixture in the same large nonstick skillet over med. heat. Add sliced fennel bulb and 1/4 c. water to skillet; cover and cook until fennel is crisp-tender, about 8 minutes. Uncover skillet and saute until fennel begins to brown about 2 minutes. Transfer fennel to plate.

Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Add remaining butter mixture to same skillet and melt over med. heat. Add salmon; cover and cook 5 min. Turn salmon over; add 1/4 c. water to skillet. Cover and continue cooking until salmon is just opaque in center, about 5 min. longer. Slide salmon to 1 side of skillet return fennel to skillet. Add Pernod and remaining fennel fronds (if you have any left; stir, heat through. I let some of the alcohol cook off.

Divide fennel mixture between 2 plates. Top with salmon; spoon pan butter over salmon and serve.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thai Chicken

2 chicken breast cubed
Chicken Marinade:
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 garlic clove minced
1 tsp grated ginger root

3 tbsp chili sauce
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/4 c peanut butter
1/4 c water
1/3 c soy sauce

Mix chicken with marinade and set aside. Slice some carrots, squash, zucchini, etc. Saute or steam until tender. Set aside. Saute chicken in some olive oil, then set aside with veggies. Combine sauce ingredients and whisk together. Pour sauce into heat pan and stir until peanut butter melts. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Return chicken and veggies to sauce and simmer for a bit. Serve over whole wheat pasta.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chipotle Cashew Chicken with Brown Rice

Saw this one on an episode of 30 minute meals and just had to try it. It falls into the "quick and easy" category. After our hot, sour, salty, sweet challenge, this seems rather low brow, but I love the contrasting tastes and textures. I think the reason this one comes together so quickly is that after the chicken and the vegtables are cooked, you make a glaze instead of a sauce so it doesn't have to cook together. I made regular brown rice in the oven (2 cups brown rice, 1tsp salt, 3 cups boiling water, bake in 375 degree oven for an hour) to serve it over. The recipe calls for raw cashews, which I can never find, so I just use the roasted ones.

The picture is thanks to the food network.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Here we go a wassailing.....

Wassail. It's that thing I've been singing about for years that I have never once tasted, seen, or smelled. I have a chance to make a cool quasi-alcoholic beverage for my women's group on Monday. Does anyone care to submit a wassail recipe with alcohol? Thanks!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Nonna's Tiramisu

If we are anywhere near the vicinity of northern Italy at Christmastime, you better believe we will be stopping by Nonna's house for some Tiramisu. I love this Tiramisu because way before it was fashionable to lighten recipes, Nonna was ditching the high fat mascarpone filling you normally see in Tiramisu recipes and making her own custard fillings, which are considerably lighter than the traditional. This is basically a layer of ladyfingers, then a chocolate custard layer, then another layer of ladyfingers, then a vanilla custard layer with a sprinkling of chocolate to finish it off. I jazzed up the vanilla custard by scraping the seeds from a vanilla bean. Also, normally Nonna would use a little Stroh liqueur instead of the espresso, but Alex and I both prefer it with espresso.

1 package ladyfinger biscuits (or also called Savoiardi)
2 eggs, divided
6 T. sugar, divided
2 T. flour, divided
4 T. milk, divided plus
500 ml. milk, divided
1/2 vanilla bean pod, scraped of seeds or 1 t. vanilla
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
espresso coffee
chopped or shaved dark chocolate for sprinkling on top (or you can sift on unsweetened cocoa powder)

To make the custard layers (one vanilla layer/one chocolate layer):
Mix well 1 egg and 3 T. sugar in a mixing bowl. Add 1 T. flour and mix until combined. Add 2 T. milk to loosen the mixture and place on the stove in a saucepan. Add 250 ml. milk and vanilla flavor and stir with a whisk to combine. Bring slowly to a boil to thicken the sauce. Once thick, empty into a bowl to cool slightly.
Now make the chocolate sauce. Mix well 1 egg and 3 T. sugar in a mixing bowl. Add 1 T. flour and mix until combined. Add cocoa powder and 2 T. milk. Mixture will be thick. Place in saucepan on the stove and stir in remaining 250 ml. milk and stir with a whisk to combine. Bring slowly to a boil to thicken the sauce. Once thick, empty into a bowl to cool slightly.

To assemble the tiramisu:
In an 8x8 square pan, place a single layer of ladyfingers on the bottom. Drizzle several tablespoons of espresso liquid over the biscuits to soften. Carefully spread the chocolate custard mixture over the biscuits. Add another single layer of ladyfingers. Drizzle this layer with several tablespoons of espresso liquid to soften. Carefully spread vanilla layer over biscuits. To finish, sprinkle a layer of lightly sifted cocoa powder or crushed/shaved dark chocolate on top of vanilla layer.

Make a day ahead if you like. Tiramisu is much better the second day!

Saturday, December 8, 2007


So this is a two-fer: quick and easy AND a family favorite. I grew up on this meal, and we always seem to say it as one word, like in the title. Simply thaw extra steaks you bought last time they were on sale overnight in fridge. My favorites are t-bones or strip steak. Not cheap I know. One hour before dinner, wash potatoes and prick with a fork. Place in 450 degree oven until dinner time. Start charcoal grill. As the fire gets going, marinade the steaks. By "marinade" I mean open spice cupboard and sprinkle on both sides of meat whatever smells good that day. Top off with lots of worcestershire sauce, plus some red wine, some sort of vinegar, maybe some soy sauce. Fires should be ready 30 minutes plus after starting. Grill 5-8 minutes on a side then let the meat rest as you put the rest of dinner on the table. Serve with a green salad and Clemson Blue Cheese Dressing for extra artery clogging effect.

A healthier option is to do steak and baked sweet potato which is what we had last night.

Great for company and a good excuse to open that really nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Quick and Easy - Chicken Strips for Grown Ups

I think I'm the last person in America to have seen the movie, Supersize Me. I just finished watching it the other day - incredible. I normally have zero craving for anything McDonalds and even more so now after watching the movie. But, I must admit I found myself clipping this Chicken Strips for Grown Ups recipe out of a food magazine this morning and made it tonight. It satisfied my nuggets craving for now.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Serves 4

4 oz. flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
2 oz. sesame seeds
4 oz. bread crumbs
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into strips or 1lb chicken strips
oil for frying
5 T, sweet chilli dipping sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Start by prepping 3 bowls: one of the well seasoned flour, the next with 2 beaten eggs and last with the sesame seeds and breadcrumbs mixed together. Dip the chicken strips first into the flour, then the egg, then the crumb mixture. Put them onto a tray in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

Heat some vegetable oil in a large saute pan about 1/2" deep. Fry the chicken in batches, removing them to a baking sheet once browned. Put in the oven in a small roasting tin to cook through for 5 minutes. While the chicken is still warm, toss with the sweet chili sauce and transfer to a serving platter.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Homemade Egg Nog

Don't tell my parents, but I bought store bought egg nog this weekend. I was starting to decorate for Christmas and I just started craving it. Growing up, it was our tradition to make it from stratch during the holidays: spiked for my parents and virgin for me and my sister. Well, when I was craving it I would have loved to have made it, and would have, but egg nog contains all sorts of things forbidden in pregnancy i.e. raw eggs and alcohol. I might have chanced the liquor, but the raw eggs makes me a little uneasy, so I bought some. Hey, its organic, but still, it just isn't the same. Someone needs to tell these people that a pinch of nutmeg is just a pinch! It does make a tasty egg nog latte though. If anyone out there who isn't with child would like to try some yummy (although not low fat) egg nog, here is our family's recipe:

Egg Nog
12 egg whites
1/2 C sugar
12 egg yolks
1 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 qt heavy cream
1 qt milk
2 T vanilla
nutmeg (PINCH)

Beat egg whites until stiff. Beat in 1/2 C sugar. In separate bowl, beat egg yolks, 1C sugar, and salt until light.

Combine egg mixtures and blend well. Add next 3 ingredients and chill.

My parents recipe calls for 1 C bourbon and 1 C rum, but I prefer something closer to what I had growing up. However, since this does contain raw eggs, I like 1/2 cup bourbon and rum for some anti-microbial effects.

You can also beat the cream and chill all bowls and beaters.

This makes a ton, so unless you are having a HUGE party, a half of a recipe will do.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Mom's Bread Pudding with Chai Creme Anglaise

We just made this last weekend so the pic is hot off the press. The bread pudding is my mom's recipe and I jazzed it up with the Chai Creme Anglaise sauce.

Bread Pudding
3 c. soft bread chunks
2 c. milk
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
2 eggs

Heat oven to 350F. Place bread chunks in 2 qt. casserole dish. Scald milk with butter in a saucepan (scalding is just to the point where the milk steams but doesn't boil). Combine milk/butter mixture with sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a seperate bowl beat eggs lightly. Slowy, add a spoon of the hot milk mixture to the beaten eggs as you continuously whisk. Continue to add a spoon at a time of the hot milk to the eggs until they are combined. Pour this mixture over your bread chunks and combine well. Place the casserole dish in a 9x13 metal cake pan and fill the cake pan with water to a depth of 1 inch. Bake 40 minutes and check. Continue baking in 3 minute intervals until pudding is set to desired doneness.

Chai Creme Anglaise
2 T. sugar
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 c. whole milk
1-2 t. loose chai tea

Combine the sugar and egg yolks in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add chai tea to a tea steeper and place steeper in milk. Heat milk with chai in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat to 180F or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Gradually add hot milk to egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Place mixture back in the pan; cook over low heat 6 minutes or until mixture coats back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove from heat and spoon over sliced bread pudding.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The spirit of sharing for December

Since the holidays are such a busy time, and we worked so hard on that last challenge, I thought we could take it easy this month. For December, please share at least one "quick and easy" meal and one "family favorite holiday recipe". You can make them and take a picture, or if you just don't get around to all that, just post about it. I look forward to getting some new ideas this year!