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Sunday, November 25, 2007

WTSIM...Big Fat Greek Topless Pear Tart!


This month, WTSIM... is being hosted by Jeanne of Cook Sister! fame. The theme she has selected is Topless Tarts, that is, a tart with no top crust. It can be savory or sweet, but it cannot have a crust, crumble or any other kind of topping on it. The good news is, that I have a lengthy list of great tart recipes that I've been wanting to try. The bad news is, that I have to go out of town in a few days and I have just as long a list of things I need to do before I go. I really wanted to participate in this event, so I had to put my thinking cap on and come up with a relatively easy recipe that didn't require too many ingredients or steps to prepare.

The first thing I did was take stock of what was already in my pantry and my freezer. I actually had a lot more than I thought. There was a package of filo dough in the freezer that I had bought a long time ago for something that I can't even remember now. The old light bulb went on in my head. I haven't ever worked much with filo, but I love how it bakes up so crunchy and flaky. I could use it for a tart crust!

The next step was figuring out what to fill it with. My husband always call my pantry the "Bermuda Triangle" of food. This is actually not far from the truth. I am always buying interesting looking things at the market with the intention of somehow using them in something. The problem is that I develop "pantry-related ADD" and often forget about them. The result is an overstuffed maze of cans, jars and boxes. I need a search party to find things in there! Luckily, I was able to locate a few cans of pear halves. I was hoping for apricots, but pears were a good alternative.

I pretty much made this recipe up as I went along. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do when I started, but I decided that since I was using filo dough, I would try to give the tart a Greek flair. I love baklava, so I dug out some honey and cinnamon. Then, I grabbed some slivered almonds and Demerara sugar for crunch. Pretty soon, I was instinctively creating my Big, Fat, Greek Topless Pear Tart!

Since I usually cringe at the thought of making pie crust or tart dough from scratch, this was an ideal choice for me. There was no mixing, blending, cutting or rolling involved. I basically just layered the sheets of filo in a starburst pattern on a large, flat surface, brushing each sheet lightly with melted butter. Every fourth sheet also got a generous sprinkling of a mixture of Demerara sugar, cinnamon and chopped almonds. I used about 16 sheets of filo and then I placed the pears in the center as prettily as I could. I rolled up the edges of the filo around the pears and I baked it on my pizza stone. When the tart was finished baking, I drizzled honey all over it.
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It was absolutely delicious! It tasted just like baklava, only stuffed with pears. The filo stayed crispy and light, even though it was drenched in that delectably gooey honey. The pears held up to the baking really nicely. I served it with a scoop of Kieran's fantastic Gelato alla Crema and it was instant bliss. I would absolutely make this tart again. Next time, though, I'll make sure I have apricots!
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My Big Fat Greek Topless Pear Tart!

2 large or 4 small cans Bartlett pear halves in heavy syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup Demerara sugar + 2 tbsp. extra
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup slivered almonds, roughly chopped
1 box frozen filo dough sheets, thawed
1/4-1/2 cup honey

Heat oven to 350 degrees
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Drain pears, reserving syrup. Place pears on paper towels and pat dry. Slice into thin slices and set aside.

Mix sugar, cinnamon and almonds together in a small bowl.
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On a baking sheet or pizza stone, begin layering filo, one sheet at a time, placing each sheet at a different angle to make a kind of starburst shape. Brush each sheet lightly with butter. On every fourth sheet, sprinkle some of the sugar/cinnamon/almond mixture on top, and resume layering. Repeat this process four times. .



Arrange pears in a circular pattern, centered on top of the filo.
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Carefully fold up the edges of the filo toward the center, brushing with more butter if too stiff.

Sprinkle extra sugar on top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Drizzle honey all over the top and serve.

Enjoy!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

SHF: Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle


My entry for SHF this month is Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. This month, the event is being hosted by the lovely Leslie from Definitely Not Martha. The theme she has selected is Beta Carotene Harvest. The idea is to create a dessert using typical harvest gourds and roots, such as pumpkin, squash or sweet potato. The perfect Thanksgiving theme!

This trifle is a really simple recipe that gets lots of help from a few boxes, namely, boxed vanilla pudding and gingerbread mixes. Now, before you recoil in horror and run screaming into the night, let me explain.

First of all, I was going to submit the gorgeous Bourbon-Pumpkin Cheesecake that I made for Thanksgiving. It is a favorite of mine and I had decided to make it weeks ago. Unfortunately, in my blog travels, I noticed that a few other bloggers had also made the exact same one. Not wanting to look like a big, fat copycat, I had to regroup and come up with something else. It had to be something easy, because I need to go out of town next week and my time is limited. So, Paula Deen came to the rescue with this nifty little recipe. I have made it before and it is really delicious. The kids absolutely love it.
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........................................(My beautiful cheesecake!)

Second, I just don't get some of the kitchen snobbery that I sometimes encounter towards using boxed mixes. Sure, it's always preferable to create a fabulous dessert from scratch. However, many home cooks don't have either the time or expertise to do that. Beginning with a box can be a great shortcut, and can also be a great foundation to build something wonderful on, like this trifle. There. Now that I've finished needlessly defending myself, let's get on with it.

The base for this trifle is gingerbread. I used Betty Crocker brand, mainly because that was the only one I found at my market. It works really well in this dish. The filling consists of cook and serve vanilla pudding, canned pumpkin, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice mix, cardamom and Cool Whip. I doubled the amount of vanilla pudding, because, well, because I wanted to! I also prepared the pudding using a 2/3 ratio of whole milk to heavy cream. Yes, I said heavy cream. (Paula would be soooo proud!) This little trick makes the pudding mixture turn into something very closely resembling a sinfully rich pastry cream. I also sometimes fold some whipped cream or Cool Whip into it too. The original recipe calls for canned pumpkin pie filling, but I prefer to use plain pumpkin and add my own spices. That way, I can control the sweetness and spiciness of the custard.

This is a really luscious and decadent dessert. I sometimes serve this in a big trifle bowl, which makes a pretty dessert centerpiece for your table. I have also served it in individual glasses, which is a little neater. Either way, I hope you won't let the boxes scare you off. No one will ever know!



Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
Adapted from Paula Deen

2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix
2 (4.6-ounce) boxes cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix, prepared
2 (15-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping
1/2 cup crushed gingersnaps, optional

Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely.

Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool.

Combine the pumpkin, sugar and spices. Stir into the pudding.

Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping.

Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping.

Sprinkle the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired.


Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving From My Table to Yours


No time for idle chit chat or recipes today! Instead, I will leave you with this adorable card, here, and this cute poem that a friend sent to me.

I hope you all have a very happy and delicious Thanksgiving!


'Twas the Night of Thanksgiving

'Twas the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep.
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned--The dark meat and white,
But I fought the temptation with all of my might.

Tossing and turning with anticipation,
The thought of a snack became infatuation,
So I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door,
And gazed at the fridge full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
Pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.

I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
Till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground!

I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky,
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie,
But I managed to yell as I soared past the trees,

HAPPY EATING TO ALL!
PASS THE CRANBERRIES PLEASE!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Holy Grail of Sweet Potatoes


I think I could live without any other dish at Thanksgiving dinner, as long as I have these Candied Sweet Potatoes. Sticky, gooey, creamy and chewy, they are truly the Holy Grail of sweet potatoes! It is my mother's recipe and she has faithfully made it every year for as long as I can remember. Even when we went to someone else's house for Thanksgiving, she would be asked to bring them. I get farklempt just thinking about them!

The recipe is very easy and only requires a few ingredients. The trick is reducing the syrup a little on the stove, before you pour it over the sweet potatoes and bake them. They take a while to make, but I promise, they are worth it!

Candied Sweet Potatoes

2 lbs. sweet potatoes
3 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup Karo dark corn syrup
3/4 cup Karo light corn syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 bag miniature marshmallows

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake sweet potatoes until half-baked, about 40 minutes. Remove, cool, peel and slice lengthwise into wedges about 1 inch thick. Line a large baking dish with the potato wedges. Dot all over with thin slices of butter.

Add the next 4 ingredients to a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. It will bubble furiously. Continue boiling over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it starts to thicken.
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Pour over sweet potatoes and bake for 45-50 minutes, until syrup is thick and gooey.

Top with marshmallows and bake another 3 minutes, until marshmallows are nicely puffed and toasted.

Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Great Stuffing War


Everybody loves stuffing on Thanksgiving. Even though, most people rarely eat it on the other 364 days of the year, they've got to have it on Turkey Day. To many, the stuffing is even more important than the bird. It certainly is more versatile. If you do a Google search for stuffing recipes, you will be rewarded with almost 2,000,000 possibilities. Staggering, isn't it?

There are cornbread, white bread and sourdough stuffings. There are meat and seafood based offerings, as well a some great vegetarian versions. Some add fruits and nuts into the mix. Many feature the seasonings and spices of various cultural and ethnic cuisines. I even found some recipes using rice and potatoes. Yes, it appears that stuffing is a very personal thing, often reflecting the personality of the person who makes it.

In addition, I have also found that many stuffing makers are adamant in their belief that theirs is the one and only true Thanksgiving stuffing and nothing else will do...ever! They also assume that everyone else feels the same way too, and if they are coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, they are going to damn well bring some with them. I won't mention any names, but one of these people gave birth to me.

Whenever I host Thanksgiving, which is often, I always make two different kinds of stuffing. One of them is always oyster stuffing. That is non-negotiable at my house. If I dared not make it, my husband would probably run away from home, or at the very least, pout all day. He loves it that much! I must admit, it is an oyster lover's dream. Big, succulent oysters are surrounded by soft pillows of three different kinds of bread and soaked in eggs, butter and cream. What's not to love?
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I have a little more leeway with the other stuffing I choose. Unless I get a special request, I usually make my favorite, which is a cornbread, sausage and apple stuffing. My recipe for this has evolved over the years and is basically a mishmash of several different recipes I have collected. It is a really rich and flavorful dish, especially when I have the time to make a homemade turkey stock from the neck bones and giblets.

When I was growing up, my mother always, and I do mean always, made a basic white bread stuffing with Italian sausage and diced pepperoni in it. Now, it wasn't a bad stuffing, mind you. I would actually say that it was pretty good. But, after thirty-something years of that same dish, wouldn't it be nice to try something else? Isn't variety the spice of life? I think so. However, not everybody agrees with me, if you know what I mean.

Every year that we gather at my house, come hell or high water, Mom lugs over a big old baking dish filled with - you guessed it - her trademark sausage and pepperoni stuffing. Never mind that there are already two different and perfectly wonderful stuffings already on the table. We shift everything around to make room for it. And so, the great stuffing war begins.

Anytime anyone asks for some stuffing, before I can even reach for the bowl, Mom has already piled their plate high with her interloper dish. The poor recipient, looking a bit dazed, obediently begins to eat what's on the plate, all the while glancing longingly at the other choices he or she didn't get to make. Pretty soon, people are resorting to hand signals and subtle eyebrow raising to get my attention. Plates are being surreptitiously passed to me under the table to be filled with some tender morsels of cornbread or oyster stuffing.

Of course, no one would ever say anything and risk hurting my mom's feelings. She means well, and eating her stuffing is certainly no hardship. But, does she secretly hate my stuffing? Is she trying to spare me the humiliation in case the others hate my stuffing? Or, is she not quite ready to pass the Thanksgiving torch over to me? I think it must be difficult to go from years of being the "Hostess with the Mostest", to being a mere guest at someone else's table, especially someone whose diapers you once changed.
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I wonder who she sees when she looks at me. Sometimes, when I look at my own daughter, I still see my four year old moppet, with golden ringlets and dimpled cheeks, even though she is now a teen. It is hard for me to accept the fact that she is growing up and getting more independent. Does my mother see me as I am now, or as the child I once was? Surely, she must realize that I'm a grown woman, capable of making my own stuffing. How could I not be? After all, I had her for a teacher.


Our Favorite Oyster Stuffing

4 cups day old white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 cups crumbled homemade cornbread (I use Jiffy brand)
1/2 of 15 oz package herb stuffing mix(I use Pepperidge Farm)
2 cups diced celery
1 large onion, chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3-4 cups chicken broth (canned or homemade; amount depends upon the dryness of the breads)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
4 eggs, beaten
2 pints drained oysters (strain and reserve liquor)
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The day before:
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Prepare cornbread, if making, according to package directions. Leave exposed overnight.
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That day:
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
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Spray a large casserole dish with non-stick spray and set aside.
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In a large bowl, combine breads and stuffing mix together and set aside.
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Saute celery and onion in butter until soft, about 10 minutes. Pour over bread mixture.
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Add broth, oyster liquor, cream, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning and beaten eggs. Mix well.
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Gently mix in oysters and pour into the the casserole dish.


Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Serve.

Enjoy!

Here's a freebee!

Cornbread, Sausage and Apple Stuffing

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 large sweet onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I use Golden Delicious, but any cooking apple will do.)
1 pound bulk breakfast sausage with sage (I use Jimmy Dean brand.)
4 cups crumbled day old corn bread
4 cups crumbled day old whole wheat bread
4 cups crumbled day old white bread
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, chopped
1-2 tsp. poultry seasoning, to taste if needed
4-5 cups turkey stock (homemade is best, but canned will work just fine)
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and ground black pepper, to taste

The day before:

Prepare cornbread according to the package instructions. Leave all breads exposed overnight to dry out.

That day:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease or spray a large casserole or baking dish. Set aside.

Put all of the breads into a large mixing bowl.

Melt 4 tbsp. of the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, crumble and cook until lightly browned. Pour sausage, along with drippings over bread.

Melt the rest of the butter and saute the apples, onions and celery over medium heat until soft and tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the sausage and bread.

Add thyme, sage, poultry seasoning, stock, eggs and parsley to the stuffing mixture and mix well.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Bake for about 35-40 minutes, then drizzle the top with a little of the pan drippings from your turkey.

Bake another 15-20 minutes more, until the top is golden and crusty. Serve.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 16, 2007

My Kitchen is Dark Today


My kitchen is dark today. There will be no simmering sauces on the stove nor fragrant loaves in the oven. I just can't do it. I am too incredibly sad. It was one year ago today that my beloved father was taken from me. Cancer stole him away, leaving a big gaping hole in my heart.
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Cancer is a cruel and cunning foe. It sneaks up on you silently. Sometimes, it lies in wait for a long time before it pounces on you. It doesn't play fair. It follows no rules. It is ruthless.
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My father was a wonderful man. He was kind and loyal and generous to a fault. Charisma oozed from his pores. He was what you would call a "character". Few who met him, didn't love him. Those who didn't, at least respected him. He was a shrewd businessman and could be a formidable opponent, when necessary.
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Loving Husband of Forty-Eight Years
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Dad was the last person in the world that you would expect this to happen to. At 73, he was one of the most robust and vital men I knew. He either walked or rode his bicycle for miles every day. He golfed several times each week. My father was an avid gardener, growing almost all of our fruits and vegetables in his carefully tended patch of earth. He was scrupulous about his health and had no significant medical issues. When we found out he was sick in September of 2005, it was like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer! None of us could believe it.
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For the next fourteen months, there were many ups and downs. Every step forward brought two more steps back, but never once did I lose faith. It simply never occurred to me that he wouldn't get well. But, ultimately, he didn't. His last several weeks were spent at Hospice. Let me tell you, he was the most popular guy there!
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Devoted Father
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I really don't want to dwell anymore on the "C" word in this post. I've already lived and relived it enough to last me a lifetime. What I really want to convey is what a special person my father was and how lucky I was to have had him as long as I did. I couldn't have asked for a better dad. I love him dearly and sorely miss him every day.
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I'd like to share a poem that I read at my father's funeral. It has always been one of my favorites because of its uplifting perspective on death. This is how I like to think of him now; that he is somehow still with us.
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Doting Grandfather!

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
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Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
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--Mary Frye

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals #8: Soup & Sandwiches


In my mind, there is nothing comfier after a long, crazy day than sitting down in front of the television and having a soup and sandwich supper while watching Jeopardy. Of course, you must only do this dressed in your pajamas and fuzzy slippers. And, you must use TV trays. When I was little, enjoying a meal this way was always such a treat for me. Now that I'm a grown up, I still view it as a bit of a guilty pleasure.

As my husband, daughter and I sit in front of our trays, I can close my eyes and feel the nostalgia wash over me. It is so easy. We eat and talk and laugh, as we each try to be the first to shout out the Jeopardy answers. I hope that when my sweet child is all grown up, she will remember nights like this with the same fondness and warmth that I do.

While soup and sandwiches can be a quick and easy fix for dinner, they don't have to be humdrum. In fact, my "Go To" meal for this week is anything but. This spicy pumpkin soup is a snap to make, but one smooth, velvety taste will prove that it's not ordinary. You can cut and chunk a whole pumpkin yourself, but I was able to cut down on the prep and clean-up time by using pre-cut pumpkin from the the produce section of my grocery store. If you can find it, try it. It really is a time saver and the taste isn't compromised. From start to finish, this dish took about thirty minutes to prepare.

These brie, ham and pear panini are also a breeze to prepare and they are simply fabulous! Each bite is a harmonious marriage of sweet, salty and creamy. I used my trusty Griddler to get a nice pressed panini. Any other electric grill will give you the same results. If you don't have an electric grill, you can also make this sandwich in a regular skillet. Just press down on it using a pot lid with a smaller circumference than your skillet. However you do it, in less than ten minutes, your inner gourmand will be thanking you!


Spicy Pumpkin Soup

2 tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
2 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp smoked paprika
2 lbs. fresh pumpkin cubes
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Saute onion and apple for about 2 minutes. Add cumin and paprika and continue to saute until soft (about 5 minutes).

Add pumpkin and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium. Simmer, covered, until pumpkin is tender, about 10 minutes.

Transfer in batches to a food processor and puree until smooth.

Pour the soup back into the sauce pan and stir in the cream. Heat through and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve.


Brie, Ham & Pear Panini with Apricot Honey Mustard Sauce

1 loaf crusty French or Cuban bread
1 large wedge of brie, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
1 pear, cored and thinly sliced, lengthwise
1/2 lb sliced deli ham
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 tbsp honey mustard

Split bread in half. Set aside.

In a small bowl, heat preserves and mustard for 30 seconds in the microwave. Spread both sides of bread with sauce.

Layer ham, brie and pear slices on one side of bread. Cover with the other side of the bread and grill until heated through and cheese is melted.

Slice and serve.

Enjoy!

Mini-Byte: Drop In & Decorate


I just recently found out about a wonderful program created by Lydia of The Perfect Pantry. Drop In & Decorate Cookies for Donation was established by Lydia five years ago. The concept is simple. Bake cookies. Invite family and friends over to help decorate them. Then, donate the cookies to a local community charity, such as a food pantry, senior center or church group. It's a great way to spend some quality time with people you care about and give a little back to your community as well. It sounds like a lot of fun, and a great way to introduce your kids to community service.

This year, the King Arthur Flour Company is partnering with Lydia to help promote Drop In and Decorate Cookies for Donation. Now, through November 15, they are offering a free dough scraper with every starter baking/decorating kit ordered to help those who would like to host their own DI&D event.

I am looking forward to hosting my own Drop In & Decorate party next month, and I hope some of you will consider it too.

For more information, visit Lydia's web site, Nine Cooks.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Subject Out of Focus


If you're reading this post right now, then you probably either arrived here by accident, or are one of the small number of my slow-growing readership. However you got here, welcome to my little slice of the blogoshere. I'm happy that you've found me.
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Since you are here, you must have noticed that my last post was almost a week ago. Everyone has periods of time when life takes over and there isn't enough time to cook, bake or blog. Vacations, illness, family and work obligations and even apathy can all contribute to this. I, however, have not been on vacation, sick or plagued by any of these other issues. Actually, I have been cooking up a storm lately, taking advantage of the cool, dry weather we've had. Why then, you ask, haven't I been posting about my recent kitchen exploits? BECAUSE OF THE DAMNED PHOTOGRAPHS, THAT'S WHY!
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Now, I have never professed to be a great photographer, or even a good one, but I have always managed to adequately capture my life's most significant moments on film (or whatever they call it with digital cameras). The photos that I've posted on this blog haven't been award-worthy, but some have been pretty decent, considering I have a little point and shoot camera and no experience. There were some that I thought were really nice, especially after a little help from Photoshop. Although I have lusted after the lush and vibrant pictures displayed by many of my fellow food bloggers, I didn't feel like a failure. Until I began began submitting some of my images to TasteSpotting, that is. That was when I realized how sorely lacking my photography skills really were.
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I started small, only submitting a few shots of my SHF and WTSIM... entries. Then, I waited.....and waited.....and waited. With great anticipation, I clicked on the site hourly, longing to feel that rush of seeing MY work displayed with all the other luscious offerings - to be a part of the "In" crowd - to belong. But, nothing.....and nothing.....and more nothing. I certainly knew what THAT meant. You don't have to hit me over the head with a Canon-EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens! I didn't get it, though. Yes, there were hundreds, even thousands, of beautiful and creative photos on TasteSpotting, but not ALL of them were that great. Frankly, I noticed more than a few that looked muddy and mushy and a little "unappetizing". I thought mine were better than that.
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One evening while I was looking at my pageload activity on StatCounter, I came across an entry that went like this: wwwDOTtastespottingDOTcom/trash. TRASH? WTF? I was crushed! I felt like the kid in gym class who was the last one left after choosing teams for volleyball. Not that that's ever happened to ME!) Not only was I rejected, but I was relegated to trash. I know it wasn't personal, but it felt personal.
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Smarting from my wounds, I spun into overdrive. I twiddled and tweaked every halfway decent picture I had. I had something to prove! One by one, I submitted them to TasteSpotting, eagerly awaiting the outcome. But, nothing.....and nothing.....and still, more nothing. I was ticked off then. What the hell did I have to do to get a &*#%@ picture posted! Now, I am absolutely not bashing TasteSpotting. I love the site. It is a great resource and a lot of fun to browse around in. I'm just being candid about my experience.
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I reluctantly grasped the fact that it wasn't enough just to be a good cook or even a good writer. You eat with your eyes first. That was when I began to feel self conscious about my pictures. So, while I have been baking and cooking all week, you haven't seen it. Instead of posting, I have been studying, analyzing and practicing; trying to learn, grow and make my blog better.
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I have found numerous very helpful sites and other blogs with really helpful tips and information on food photography. My sincere thanks goes out to Kalyn, Kitchen Wench and Smitten Kitchen, to name just a few, for their recent posts on the subject. I have greedily devoured all of them and have found them very helpful. In fact, I spent two hours yesterday afternoon taking pictures of this pear. I never did get the lighting perfect, and the shots weren't as sharp as I'd like, but there was a definite improvement by the end.
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Why am I telling you all of this? Well, sometimes it feels good just to rant a bit. But more importantly, I discovered something about myself. I lost sight of why I started this blog in the first place - because I love to cook and I love to write - and I wanted to share that. I wanted my voice, no matter how small, to be heard. But, you know what? It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to be honest and sincere. I missed that. I couldn't see the salad for the radishes! My subject was out of focus.
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Now, since you've gotten this far in this self-indulgent rant of mine, the least I can do is offer you something sweet for your trouble. Here is the recipe for my very favorite banana bread. It is THE BEST I have ever had. It is so dense, moist and full of fresh banana flavor that it really should be described as a cake. But then, how could you justify eating it for breakfast!



Banana Banana Bread
Adapted from Shelley Albeluhn and Allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS:
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2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas
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DIRECTIONS:
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Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
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In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten.
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Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
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Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Going for the "Go To" Meals # 7: Asian Chicken Noodle Soup


They say that chicken soup is good for the soul. I say they're right. In my mind, there exists no greater comfort food in the world than a steaming hot bowl of brothy goodness, brimming with juicy chunks of chicken, vegetables and, for me, noodles. Of course, chicken soup is also good for the body. After all, this has been the dish of choice for mothers to spoon into their ailing children for centuries. They knew then what science tells us now; that chicken soup really can cure what ails you, body and soul.
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Every culture has its own version of this soothing and restorative elixir. The Italians have their brodo; the Greeks, their avgolemono; the Belgians, waterzooi; the Portuguese, canja, and the Koreans, their samgyetang. Each is unique, utilizing a plethora of different seasonings such as cumin, ginger, garlic, lemon, ginseng and jujube fruits. Some have cream based broths and some are clear. All have some combination of chopped vegetables mixed in. Equally distinct, are the many different types of starch product used. Rice, potatoes, pasta and barley all make an appearance at one time or another. And, let's not forget the matzoh balls!
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My contribution to this long and illustrious list is Asian Chicken Noodle Soup. I love this soup for several reasons, the first being, that it is really delicious. The cocktail of seasonings added to the broth creates a rich and deeply satisfying backdrop for the crisp, fresh vegetables and silky noodles.
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I also love this soup because it is simple to make and can be ready in about thirty minutes. The base of the soup is canned chicken broth. Any kind will do. You can also be creative with the vegetables you choose. The original recipe calls for Napa cabbage, which is what I prefer, but you can switch it out for bok choy or whatever else you like. I have tried many different combinations, including snow peas, bean sprouts and shredded carrots. I like to use a couple of different kinds of mushrooms in this dish too. They absorb the broth and add good flavor and texture. My favorites are shitake, oyster and enoki. While the taste of this soup is a bit exotic, most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. The rest are easily found in any supermarket.
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As we edge closer and closer toward the Winter abyss, this main dish soup is a great way to have a healthy, warming week night meal with a minimum of time and trouble.


Asian Chicken Noodle Soup
Adapted from Kathleen Daelemans

4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil, plus 1 teaspoon
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Asian chile sauce
8 cups chicken broth
1 lb. chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut crosswise into thin strips
4 cups chopped Chinese vegetables or Napa cabbage
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 (8-ounce) package rice noodles, prepared according to packing directions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
6 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias

Mix soy sauce, mirin, 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, garlic, ginger, sugar, vinegar, and chile paste in a small bowl.
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Heat the broth in a medium saucepan. Add the soy sauce mixture, the chicken, and the vegetables and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.
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Pour over prepared Chinese noodles. Garnish with cilantro and scallions.

Enjoy!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Welcome, Autumn! Better Late Than Never


Come, said the wind to the leaves one day,
Come o're the meadows and we will play.
Put on your dresses scarlet and gold,
For summer is gone and the days grow cold.

Autumn slipped in while I wasn't looking. It sneaked right by me, hiding under November's coat tails. But, it is unmistakably here. I can feel it. Yesterday morning, there was a crispness in the air that wasn't there the day before. The breeze was cool and dry. If you squint your eyes and look really, really carefully, you can almost see the difference in the air.
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Living in Florida, it isn't always easy to pinpoint when the seasons change. There often is no rhyme or reason to our weather. It can be 85 degrees on one December day and 45 the next. I've learned to live with this, though I don't like it. Even though I have lived here for most of my life, I still miss the loud and riotous entry the Fall makes when it appears in the North.
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As I read all of my fellow bloggers' accounts of blazing carpets of leaves on the ground and nippy nights, I'm a little jealous. When I see all of the comforting pumpkin soups and deeply satisfying roasted root vegetables being presented, I am wistful. How can I take advantage of Autumn's bounty when the temperature outside is still balmy and humid and hot? I want to, but it feels out of sync. It's seems almost hypocritical! I suppose I could toss a cinnamon stick and some nutmeg into my pina colada and pretend, but I would still know. So, when the temperature finally dipped below 60 degrees, albeit for only a few short hours, I seized my opportunity and turned on the oven.
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I made a pumpkin pie - a deliciously spicy, sweet and smooth autumnal offering. As it baked, I basked in the heady fragrance of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger. The pie was good...really good. Fluffy, yet rich and creamy, it was a respectable way to welcome the season. Better late than never.
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I have included the recipe for the pie crust, though I did not use it for this pie. I still had some left over crust in my freezer from the apple pie I made a few weeks ago. You'll note that the recipe for the filling and the topping calls for mascarpone cheese. I just can't get enough of that stuff! This addition gave the pie an almost mousse-like quality. I think that the next time I make this pie, (and I will), I might add extra mascarpone to see if I can get more of a cheesecake texture. Also, even though it was not in the original recipe, I drizzled a little homemade dulce de leche over the top, because I happened to have some, thanks to Pim. I think it really added some pizzazz.


Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine, November, 2007

Crust:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chilled non-hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup (or more) ice water

Filling:
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese

Topping:
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
dulce de leche or caramel sauce for drizzling (optional)

Prepare crust:

Blend flour and salt in processor. Add butter and shortening; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1/4 cup ice water; pulse until dough begins to clump, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dry.

Gather into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out dough on floured work surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 1 inch beyond rim. Crimp edges. Chill crust while making filling.

Prepare filling:

Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs and next 7 ingredients and beat until blended.

Add mascarpone cheese and beat just until mixture is smooth. Transfer filling to prepared crust.


Bake pie until custard is set, about 55 minutes. Transfer pie to rack and cool.

Prepare topping:

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat to soft peaks.


Serve pie with topping and drizzled with caramel sauce, if desired.

Enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Foodie Blogroll

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Hey, all you foodies out there! You know who you are. (And if you don't, read up above.) I'm happy to announce that I have recently joined the Foodie Blogroll. For those who don't know, this is a blogroll especially for those who are passionate about all things food. It was started and is hosted by Jenn from The Leftover Queen as a way for foodies and food bloggers to find and connect with each other. There are over 100 members and counting!
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If you are either a new or veteran food blogger, please consider joining. It looks like a great community to be a part of. Take a scroll down my sidebar and you will find, both the link to join and a list of all member blogs.
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Have a great day!