29 December 2009

Lucky Black Eyed Peas


It’s almost New Year’s Day and I have everything ready to put my black eyed peas on the stove. I make them every year as a New Year’s Day tradition. People out in this part of the country ask me "Why?" as if I should know, as if no one in their right mind would cook black eyed peas at all without some special reason.

I suppose eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day is a southern tradition. I’ve read that they are eaten with greens for good luck. The black eyed peas represent coins and the greens, dollar bills. The more you eat the more prosperous your New Year is to be.

Myself, I see it as an opportunity to hover over a warm stove tending a pot of home-style comfort food. This recipe has quite a few ingredients but it is also forgiving and not at all fussy. A few ladlefuls of these black eyed peas over a bed of baby spinach leaves not only makes a nutritious meal but offers the warmth of tradition and the hope of prosperity as well. Who can't use a little more of that these days?

Happy New Year!


New Year's Black Eyed Peas

6 cups water
1 pound dry black eyed peas
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup carrots, shredded
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
¼ pound smoked ham hock (I used the bone from our Christmas ham)
1 can diced green chiles and tomatoes (I use Ro-tel)
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon basil, chopped
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 11.5 ounce can tomato or vegetable juice
1 jalapeno pepper, whole

Rinse and sort the dried black-eyed peas. Place them in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover 2 inches above the peas. Cover and let soak overnight.

Next day: Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas in a colander.

In the Dutch oven or soup pot, saute onion, garlic, carrots and celery in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil.

Add the black-eyed peas to the onion mixture in the large pot along with the remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 1 hour or until tender.

Remove the ham bone and carefully pick over any pork. Separate lean portions into pieces and return them to the pot. Discard fat and bone.

Serve hot over baby spinach leaves. Garnish with avocado chunks and serve with tortilla chips or cornbread, if desired.


Or serve in a shallow bowl over a slice of Basic Italian Polenta with a side of stir-fried Kale (cooked without the sun dried tomatoes and garbanzo beans) .

Enjoy!

23 December 2009

Frozen Holiday Terrine


Simplicity.

That word has a special meaning at this time of year. As Christmas Day approaches simplicity is something I seem to physically crave.

It's not that I don't enjoy complexity. December often begins that way with boxes of decorations to be rediscovered and arranged, a calender bursting with obligations and opportunities, and recipes that are long and challenging.

Eager to plunge into the magic of the season I often begin the month with energy and resolve determined to bring order and meaning to all of these threads, and even hoping to weave them into something brilliant.

By mid-December, however, my enthusiasm is often in need of rehabilitation, and by Christmas I have often pared things down to the essentials. After a month of navigating complex relationships as I try to balance hopes and desires with real needs I find myself craving the simple things: a breath of fresh air, the joy of brightly colored lights, the familiar melody of Silent Night and the knowing smiles of my dearest friends.

In this season of complex tastes it is nice to be able to turn to something simple and fresh, something that sings in clear unwavering tones. This dessert does that beautifully. It is based on simple notes: Tart, cold, bright, pretty. Easy to make and to enjoy this Frozen Holiday Terrine is a breath of fresh air and a perfect finish to a festive holiday meal.


Frozen Holiday Terrine

1 pint raspberry sherbet or sorbet
1 pint lime sherbet or sorbet
1 pint strawberry sherbet or sorbet
whole fresh cranberries, for garnish
mint leaves, for garnish

Set out the containers of sherbet until soft enough to work with.

Meanwhile, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving at least 3 inches of overhang on all sides.

Spoon the raspberry sherbet into the bottom of the pan, smoothing it to fill the pan evenly. Use only enough to fill no more than the bottom 1/3 of the pan. Return any unused raspberry sherbet to the freezer.

Repeat with the next two layers, evenly smoothing the lime sherbet over the raspberry to cover it and fill the next 1/3 of the pan, and then smoothing the strawberry sherbet over all.

Cover the top of the pan with the ends of the plastic wrap, adding another piece if needed. Place the loaf pan in the freezer for several hours to freeze solid.

To serve:

Remove from the freezer. Peel back the plastic wrap from the top and invert the pan so that the terrine rests on a cutting board.

Using a sharp thin bladed knife, carefully cut ¾ - 1 inch slices of the molded sherbet. (It may help to warm the knife under hot water, then wipe dry with a paper towel, before cutting.)

Place the sliced sherbet on a serving plate. Garnish with fresh whole cranberries (rolled in a little sugar if you like) and a mint leaf or sprig. Serve as is or with small cookies.

Note: To soften slightly and add a little sparkle, splash with a tablespoon of champagne just before serving.

Enjoy!

21 December 2009

Gingerbread Pancakes


I had big plans for the season this year, I really did. I tested holiday recipes and took pictures. I have a list of lovely recipes I’d like to post, and I will, but it will have to be in my own sweet time. It just isn’t going to happen before Christmas, at least not this year.

At this point in the season my big plans have been downsized and I am trying to focus on accomplishing what is necessary. In the process I am feeling busy and behind. Still this is a season of grace and wonder and moments of irresistable charm have a way of interjecting themselves here and there.

I have to think that was why, on a weekend with a long list of to-dos, I managed to sleep an hour or so later than usual and then to push away a mountain of shoulds long enough to indulge in a blissful gray morning that just begged for pancakes.

After finishing my first cup of coffee, which my husband had kindly made, instead of running to the mall, wrapping gifts, baking Christmas cookies, or finishing the laundry I made my way into the kitchen and came up with a recipe for Gingerbread Pancakes. It is a merger of several recipes I found taped in my old recipe collection binder. Spicy but not too rich, these were just the thing for a late December morning.



I still have a long list of things to do, but the things that need to get done will get done. Meanwhile, a few moments in the kitchen with flour and spices can be a great investment. As I began cooking my husband suggested I make Gingerbread Men shaped pancakes to post about. Then he buttered the cookie cutters for me and offered ideas on how to free the pancakes from the molds more effectively. We had fun and did something new together that I will remember. Had I been on task or more committed to my schedule it wouldn't have happened.

I'm not feeling all that eloquent today. At this point I am a little stressed about the expectations of the season like anyone. Still I do want to offer that it's the little things that often matter in the end, the unexpected opportunities that come from those moments when we are jarringly unfocused. So, in the midst of accomplishing those items on your to-do list, I encourage you to look around and capture the wonder of the season and, if at all possible, make time for pancakes.



Gingerbread Pancakes

1¼ cups flour
¾ cup of whole wheat pastry flour (substitute regular flour, if desired)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ginger
1½ teaspoons nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
3 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup oil
¼ cup molasses (substitute brown sugar, if desired)
1½ cups milk (I used a 12 oz can of evaporated skim milk)
¼ cup strong brewed coffee

In a large bowl thoroughly combine the flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.

In a medium bowl combine the eggs, oil, molasses, milk and brewed coffee.

Form a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Pour the egg mixture into the well and stir until smooth.

Pour ¼ to ½ cup batter (depending on size of pancake desired) onto heated and lightly greased griddle (A drop of water should skip and sizzle when the griddle is hot.)

Cook until top surface is bubbly and edges are dry. Turn and cook until golden. Remove pancake to a warm plate and repeat.

Serve with warm applesauce, syrup or honey. Garnish with fresh fruit, if desired.


To make shaped pancakes there are three choices:

1. Coat the edges of a metal cookie cutter with butter. Set the cookie cutter, sharp side down, on a hot griddle. Pour pancake batter inside the cutter. When the pancake has browned on the bottom flip the pancake with the cookie cutter. Using a butter knife loosen any stuck edges gently and let the pancake fall to the bottom of the cutter to cook the other side.

(Note: This can be tricky. The cookie cutter is likely not to be evenly flat so batter will creep out under the edge. This will make it more of a challenge to loosen the pancake when it is flipped, and cause more fiddling with the butter knife to get the pancake fully and evenly cooked. I held the cookie cutter down with one hand, wearing an oven mitt, while I poured in the batter with the other. Still it leaked a little but the edges tuned out nicely. The less small details in the cookie cutter the better i.e. Christmas tree and bell shapes work better than gingerbread man shapes).

2. Buy fancy pancake shaping gadgets like these heart shaped pancake molds.

3. Make a pancake large enough to overlap the cookie cutter then simply cut out shapes once the pancake is done.

Serve and enjoy!

18 December 2009

Petite Cheesecakes with Cookie Crusts



I recently came across a small discovery in the kitchen that made me smile.

First, I found an old recipe for Petite Cheesecakes. It is taped to a page of notebook paper in a homemade cookbook I put together when I was first married. The recipe is neatly written out in calligraphy and photocopied. I don’t remember where it came from and I’m pretty sure I have never tried it before.

I can see why I kept it. Simple and straightforward, it promises cheesecakes without the mystery of hot water baths or spring-form pans. These are as simple as any cupcake and sound delicious.

The recipe as written calls for seven simple ingredients, including the crust, and could easily be cut to six. Most of the six are ingredients many people are likely to have on hand, especially at the holidays: eggs, sugar, vanilla, cream cheese and sour cream. Add to that a box of store bought cookies and you have what you need to make a fabulous dessert or party treat for most any occasion.


It was great to find that old recipe. Still, that alone wasn't the discovery I mentioned. One of the things I like about this recipe is that it calls for a simple store bought cookie to be placed in a cupcake liner for the crust. The original recipe uses a vanilla wafer, and so did I, on my first try. The problem is, the Nilla Wafers I buy are smaller than the bottom of a standard cupcake liner. While the crust was still there and worked fine I wanted a crust across the entire bottom of the cheesecakes.

Next I tried Trader Joe’s Ultimate Vanilla Wafers. They are bigger around and have an even thickness and so they worked well as an alternative. The thing is, I didn’t love the texture. So I dug through my cabinets and found a few other types of store bought cookies to try. I used Triple Ginger Snaps from Trader Joe’s and liked the flavor and color though they were also a little too small.


And then I tried an Oreo cookie. Did you know that an Oreo cookies fits perfectly into the bottom of a cupcake liner? How cool is that... at least when you are making cupcake sized cheesecakes and looking for the perfect cookie crust? The Oreos I had that day were inverted, Golden Uh-Oh's with Chocolate Creme filling. They made a great cheesecake crust and I even found that, peeled of the liner and turned upside-down, the cookie sometimes looks pristinely attached and makes a great novelty.

That little discovery sparked lots of ideas for smile-worthy Petite Cheesecakes:

  • Golden Oreos with vanilla cheesecake drizzled with caramel syrup or Dulce de Leche.
  • Mint Oreos topped with mint flavored cheesecake or chocolate cheesecake, drizzled with chocolate syrup or topped with Andes Chocolate Mint Nuggets.
  • Plain Oreos with vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate drizzle on top with mini-chips or chopped Oreos to garnish.
  • etc.......
So have fun. These are easy, pretty and appeal to the child in everyone!


Petite Oreo Cheesecakes

20 - 30 vanilla wafer, Oreos or other cookies

16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract (or flavor of your choice)

8 ounces sour cream (or nonfat Greek yogurt)
3 Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Place one cookie in the bottom of each liner.

In a medium mixing bowl beat together the cream cheese and 2/3 cup sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla or other flavoring extract, continuing to beat until the mixture is well blended.

Spoon the cream cheese mixture into the cupcake liners, filling three-quarters full.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, blend sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

When cheesecakes have cooled for 20 minutes, frost them with the sour cream mixture. Return cheesecakes to oven for 5 minutes.

Remove and garnish with chopped cookie bits, Andes mint chips, mini chocolate chips or other garnish. Allow cheesecakes to cool and add a drizzle of melted mint chips, chocolate or white chocolate as desired.

Serve as is, or plated.

To plate for an elegant little dessert, skip the garnish and remove cheesecakes from their liners. Drizzle a small dessert plate with chocolate, caramel or other sauce. Place cheesecake on drizzled plate and add more drizzle over the top as desired. If you used an Oreo or other notable cookie on the bottom you might want to turn the cheesecake upside-down when plating.

Note: You can make a chocolate cheesecake version by adding 4 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate chips to the cheesecake batter and 2 ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate chips to the topping mixture. Or mix and match.

Serve and enjoy!

15 December 2009

Cranberry Pecan Cookies - Three Ways


Cookie Swap Memories

Last year, while we were snowed in during the weeks before Christmas, my good friend Alanna from Kitchen Parade called. She wanted to check on the ingredients in a recipe from a cookie swap I hosted many years ago. The recipe was for a drop cookie made with cranberries and nuts.

Cookies with fruit in them are generally not my favorites. Instead I gravitate toward the rich and buttery, cookies flavored with nuts and brown sugar, something chocolaty or fragrant with spices. Still, somehow I remembered the cookies she was asking about, though I had never tried making them myself. I went to my files, pulled out the one marked “Cookie Swap Brunch” and started thumbing through the recipes. Sure enough, there it was, a recipe for Cranberry Pecan Drops.

Bright Surprises

That week I did a lot of baking using whatever I happened to have on hand before the storm. It was pleasant in the kitchen with the snow outside and my oven warm and productive. With my family home and my youngest son’s friends coming and going as they slid from house to house, I had tasters for whatever came out of the oven.

I baked some of our favorites: Ginger Cookie Sticks, Russian Teacakes and of course I made some of Aunt Hen’s Peanut Butter Fudge. I was ready to try something different and now those Cranberry Pecan Drops were on my mind. Though I wasn’t sure I would like them I did happen to have all of the ingredients I needed to make them. I decided to give them a try.

I can't say these are the prettiest Christmas cookies ever but the red flecks of cranberry do give them a festive appeal without any additional steps for icing or garnishing. All in all they were easy to make; just mix, drop and bake.

Still, the best part of making these cookies was how surprisingly wonderful they tasted!

Despite the quantity of sugar, the fresh cranberries give these cookies a bright tartness that is a welcome contrast to the spicy richness of many of the other treats on my holiday cookie plate. I loved Alanna’s idea to use orange juice concentrate instead of regular orange juice. That added even more punch to the fruity tang.



Cranberry Pecan Drops

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
2 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1 egg
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

In a medium bowl mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar and brown sugar.. Add milk, orange juice concentrate and the egg, blending well. Mix in dry ingredients, cranberries and nuts.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, or until done.

Cool on a wire rack.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

Seldom one to leave well enough alone, I decided to make these cookies again this year but with a twist. Enchanted by the beautiful case of holiday sweets at my favorite Starbucks I began to wonder if their Cranberry Bliss Bars were anything like these Cranberry Pecan Drops. I ‘ve never tasted the Starbucks version but I really liked the festive look of their cream cheese frosting sprinkled with tiny bits of dried cranberries.

Gazing at those pretty bars behind the glass I decided to adapt the cranberry cookies I rediscovered last year to a bar cookie I could dress up in a similar way. I made the dough just as in the original recipe but stirred in a cup of white chocolate chips. Then I spread the dough in a 9 x 13 inch pan, baked it and let it cool before topping it with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.



Cranberry Pecan Bars with White Chocolate and Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Prepare cookie dough for Cranberry Pecan Cookies as directed above.

Add 1 cup white chocolate chips, stirring just until combined.

Spread dough in a greased 9 x 13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, or until done.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool.

Spread Orange Cream Cheese Frosting over cooled Cranberry Pecan Bars. sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons chopped dried cranberry bits.

When frosting has set, cut bars into squares or triangles to serve.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese
1 Tablespoon orange juice concentrate
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons dried cranberries, minced

In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, orange juice concentrate and vanilla until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar gradually and mix at high speed until the sugar is incorporated and the icing is smooth and fluffy.


The result was very pretty and the bars got good reviews from tasters. To my tastes, however, they turned out to be overly sweet and while the flavor of the fresh cranberries was still bright and tangy it was no longer the predominant impression left by the cookie. The white chocolate morsels and the cream cheese frosting looked pretty and tasted good but caused the cookies to forfeit their sharp tangy edge.


Simply Cranberry Pecan Bars

On the other hand, making this cookie as a bar cookie did work out well. It was easier than dropping the cookies on a cookie sheet and, even cut into plain squares, these were at least as pretty as the drop cookie version.



So here’s my plan for next time:

  • Prepare the dough as directed for Cranberry Pecan Drops (without the white chocolate chips I added to the bar cookies above.
  • Spread the batter in a 13 x 9 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes, or until done.
  • Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
  • After the bars have been baked and cooled, drizzle them lightly with melted white chocolate chips and scatter minced bits of dried cranberries on top.
  • Even easier, if time is short I will skip the frosting and drizzle altogether and simply dust the bars with a little powdered sugar just before serving.
Sometimes I think I make things overly complicated. Really this is just one simple recipe with a few possible variations. However you decide to dress these Cranberry Pecan Cookies they are sure to add a fresh festive note to your holiday celebration.

07 December 2009

Pfefferneusse (Peppernuts)


This recipe, another nod to my fascination with miniatures, was discovered by my oldest son when he was in high school. He has always enjoyed cooking and when he was younger he could often be found near the bookshelf thumbing through my cookbooks. This recipe for Peppernuts must have caught his eye.

One December afternoon my son pulled a cookbook from the shelf and told me he was going to make Christmas cookies. He sounded like he knew what he was doing so I stepped out of his way as he got out the flour, sugar and various spices. He mixed and rolled and before long a warm holiday fragrance was wafting through the house and he was sharing bites of these wonderful little gems.

We have eaten Peppernuts many times since. Easy to make, wonderfully fragrant and delicious, these have become a holiday favorite at our house. What’s more, the recipe itself, especially when called Pfeffernuesse, hints at tradition and alludes to our German heritage. Though there is no anise in this cookie, as in most traditional Pfefferneusse recipes, that is a plus in my book as I have never cared for licorice flavors. Instead these little nuggets are full of the festive scents of cinnamon and allspice along with a smidge of black pepper and cardamon to add some exotic interest.

When I make these little Peppernuts I double the quantity of ground spices in the original recipe and add some clear sugar crystals for sparkle and crunch. Try these little bite-sized cookies and enjoy the flavor and fragrane of the season.



Pfefferneusse (Peppernuts)
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens “Cookies, Cookies, Cookies”

1/3 cup molasses
¼ cup butter
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup packed brown sugar
1½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 egg, beaten
coarse decorator’s sugar, if desired

Combine molasses and butter in a large saucepan. Over low heat, stir until the butter melts. Remove pan from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Thoroughly combine flour, baking soda,brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamon, allspice and pepper in a large mixing bowl.

Stir egg into cooled molasses mixture. Add dry ingredients stirring just until combined.

Cover the dough and refrigerate approximately 1 hour, or until dough is easy to handle.

Divide dough into twelve equal pieces. Roll each piece on a lightly floured surface into a rope 10-inches long. Roll each rope in coarse decorator’s sugar, if desired. Cut these ropes into ½-inch lengths. Scatter the pieces on ungreased cookie sheets leaving approximately 1 inch between each.

Bake at 350 degrees 10 – 12 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on the bottom. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Share and enjoy!