31 January 2010

Colorful Entertaining - Pepper Jelly Cheesecake


Shopping in downtown Camas you are likely to stop in at Lizzabeth A's Home Decor on Birch. There is a lovely bench settled near the front door under a sweet little awning. Inside the atmosphere is cozy and inviting and the shop is filled with clever items to add warm interest to your home and table.

Near the counter you will find a display of food products including an appealing selection of Pepper Jelly made by Aloha From Oregon. There are pretty jars of brilliant green Jalapeno Pepper Jelly, bright Plum - Ginger Thai Pepper Jelly, even a vivd red Raspberry Pepper Jelly. Every jewel toned flavor looks beautiful and sounds intriguing.


There are also recipes. My husband brought one for a Pepper Jelly Cheesecake home during the holiday season. It calls for an unusual combination of cheddar, cream cheese and pepper jelly baked into a cake and topped with more richly colored pepper jelly. Having received a jar of Pepper Jelly for Christmas I had to give it try.

This recipe is simple to prepare. Served with crackers or baguette slices it makes a great appetizer. You can choose whether to make it spicy hot with Habanero Jelly, exotic with Plum Ginger Thai Jelly or sweet with the Raspberry, Pomegranate or Mango Jelly. Or you can choose the flavor of Jelly according to the seasonal color you would like to highlight. In brilliant tones of green, orange, red or yellow it makes a great accent to almost any festive table setting.

Pepper Jelly Cheesecake
from Lizzabeth A, in downtown Camas

1 8-oz. package cream cheese
5 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
1 8-oz. jar pepper jelly, divided

Combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, garlic, egg and half of the pepper jelly in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Mix until well combined.

Pour the mixture into a 6-inch springform pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 - 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. When cool enough to handle place the cheesecake, in the pan, in the refrigerator for several hours, until completely cool.

Carefully remove the cheesecake from the pan and transfer it to a serving plate. Pour the remaining pepper jelly over the cheesecake and garnish as desired.

Serve with crackers or slices of crusty bread.

Enjoy!

29 January 2010

Retro Tastes - Bourbon Cocktail Wieners


Ancient History

When I was married, some thirty years ago, I received a local cookbook, "Come Cook With Us," from a neighbor and long time family friend. Our neighbor had at least one recipe published in it which she proudly signed her name beside.

This local cookbood, despite it's tight plastic binding that allows pages to slip out, it's lack of pictures and it's overly absorbant pages, has been the source of a number of my family's favorite recipes over the years.

It includes a recipe for the Kentucky Chili I recently posted about. It also has a good collection of old fashioned recipes for simple appetizers like sausage balls, stuffed mushrooms and cheese balls. Perhaps our very favorite is this recipe for bourbon sauced cocktail dogs.


Old Favorites

In some ways it is an unlikely favorite. It begins with a fairly common recipe for cocktail wieners in barbecue sauce and takes it up a notch with the addition of a good sized splash of bourbon. The sauce cooks and bubbles as the cocktail dogs plump in the sauce and the flavors meld and mellow as most of the alcohol evaporates.

Maybe it is the allure of the bourbon which they would not normally be allowed to taste or maybe the natural affiliation of kids and hotdogs, à la those Oscar Meyer commercials of old, but my children have always, and still do, love this recipe. It is the one food that MUST be served at holiday gatherings. Making this recipe is possibly the most anticipated event when we get home from church on Christmas Eve. My oldest son chops a little onion while my daughter gathers the brown sugar, bourbon and catsup and my youngest son puts the pot on the stove to combine the ingredients.


Totally Retro

There is a particular and rather ancient Westbend Cooker Plus I also received as a wedding present. It is a sort of adaptable slow cooker that also serves as a chafing dish to keep the hotdogs hot throughout the evening, though we generally have to make a double batch to make sure there are enough to actually put in the chafing dish. Many of the Bourbon Wieners do not make it past the initial tasting while they are still simmering on the stove.

While we first made these as a Christmas treat, as was suggested in the cookbook, they are equally perfect for celebrating the 4th of July or feeding a crowd at a Superbowl party. The recipe is simple and the flavors blend nicely. The cookbook also suggests that any leftover sauce can be frozen and reused later. You gotta love those thrifty homemakers of an earlier generation. They didn't waste a thing.


Bourbon Wieners
Adapted from “Come Cook With Us”

1 large package of cocktail dogs (I use Little Smokies)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup catsup
½ cup bourbon whiskey
¼ cup onion, finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, catsup, whiskey and onion. Bring to a boil.

Turn down the heat to a simmer and add the cocktail dogs.

Simmer for thirty minutes or until the dogs look plump and the sauce thickens.

Serve and enjoy!

25 January 2010

Kentucky Chili


Bleak Midwinter

Midwinter can be a hard season. The charm of cold weather, the hope of snow and the cozy picture of the togetherness that brings, has worn thin and a more practical taste of lingering reality settles in. The winter rains turn the gray skies grayer, make the short span of daylight shorter and shroud the few brave blossoms that dare to show themselves on my Witch Hazel tree. This winter, like many, really isn't all that cold nor is it all that pretty. It is more like a damp gray stretch of limbo.

In this post holiday space of winter we tighten our belts to pay off the holiday bills, chastise ourselves for not working harder to lose weight or get fit, and look for signs of impending spring. We put our heads down and trudge on taking care of business. We crave practical comforts and simple down to earth amusements.

Antidotes

The country seems to huddle around the TV in January to watch football, or in our case, Netflix movies and "24". In the kitchen I cook family favorties: I roast chicken or stir up a creamy sauce for Macaroni and Cheese. I also think back to my childhood for recipes that are practical and breathe an aura of warmth and comfort.

One of my favorite dinners as a child was Chili. The chili I grew up with was a recipe handed down over the years. My cousins tell of my grandmother making a big pot of chili for them to eat when the arrived at her house for weekend visits. I don't remember my grandmother but my Aunt Hen made chili regularly and I remember it as an expected part of my mother's weekly menus.

Regional Variation

The kind of chili I grew up with was called Homemade Chili in a local Homemaker's Association Cookbook. It might better be called Kentucky Chili or Bluegrass Chili as it seems unique to the region. It is unlike any chili I ever had in Texas, and while it is similar to Cincinnati Chili in seasoning and the inclusion of spaghetti, it is still very different. The way I remember it, and in the recipes I've seen, it is a thin brothy chili made with ground beef and beans. Spaghetti is added to the pot shortly before serving, rather than the chili being served over it.

I have rediscovered this chili in the past few years. It makes a very practical meal, stretching a pound of ground beef to feed a crowd. It is a great chili to serve for a superbowl party or anytime your budget is tight or you simply crave a bowl of old fashioned comfort food. At the very least it will add a touch of spice to a bleak midwinter.


Kentucky Chili
adapted from "Come Cook With Us"

1 lb. hamburger
1 large onion, chopped (approx. 2 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 46-oz. can tomato juice
2 15.5-oz. cans red beans (I use chili beans)
2 Tablespoons chili powder
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
3 qts. water
½ lb. spaghetti, broken

Brown the hamburger, onions and garlic in a large soup pot or dutch oven.

Add remaining ingredeints, except for the spaghetti. Bring to a boil and simmer at least 15 minutes but up to two hours.

Add spaghetti. Cook until spaghetti is tender.

Serve and enjoy!

19 January 2010

Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal


Baking from Bookmarks

This month I have finally gotten around to trying a few of the recipes I carefully bookmark when I am looking through my favorite food blogs. One that struck my imagination hard last month was a recipe from Kim at The Ungourmet for Cranberry and Apple Baked Oatmeal.

I love the idea of baked oatmeal. I like to provide a homemade and nutritious choice for breakfast when my children are home from college or when we have guests from out of town. Oatmeal seems like a great idea but, though I often eat oatmeal on my own, I normally cook it on the stovetop and unless everyone is eating together it quickly gets lumpy and cold. Even fresh and warm my usual oatmeal is very plain and I must admit it appeals to almost no one except my husband and me.

This oatmeal jumped off the screen because it is so very different. It looks almost like a cobbler. Topped with a thin browned crust of toasted oats and flecked with fruit it has the appeal of a breakfast dessert though it is packed with wholesome ingredients. It is cooked just enough to produce a texture that is defined without being tough and smooth without succumbing to the glutinous stickiness that is too often the predominant characteristic of oatmeal. Nope, no mushy stuff here. Rather, when drenched in milk, it makes a creamy porridge with oats that are nicely al dente in texture.


Again and Again...

I’ve made this recipe three times now! I have to admit I made it differently each time. In the final version I cut the butter in half and reduced the sugar by one third to make it a bit less of an indulgence. I also changed the flavors around just a bit. The recipe I settled on is reminiscent of the delicious Cranberry Pecan Cookies I made several times last month. I added orange juice concentrate, instead of apple butter, for a sweet-tart tanginess along with a little ginger and cardamon.

Then, to add a festive touch that reminds me of a breakfast of Porridge with Brown Sugar and Whisky I had in the Cotswalds several years ago, I soaked the dried cranberries in a splash of whisky to plump them before stirring them into the oats. I thought it was an inspired touch (though you can use orange juice instead if you’d rather.) Or you can stir in a cup of chopped fresh cranberries if you have them. They add a delightfully bright fresh tartness to the flavor.



Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal
adapted from Cranberry and Apple Baked Oatmeal at The Ungourmet

3 cups rolled oats (I use Snoqualmie Falls Lodge Oatmeal)
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cardamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted
1¼ cups milk
¼ cup orange juice concentrate (or orange juice)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (or substitute 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries)
2 Tablespoons whisky (or orange juice)
¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts (if desired)

In a small microwave safe container stir together the dried cranberries and whisky or orange juice. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Set aside. (Skip this step if using fresh chopped cranberries)

In a large bowl stir together the oats, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, ginger and cardamon.

In a small bowl stir together eggs, butter, milk and orange juice concentrate.

Add the egg mixture to the oat mixture. Stir to combine. Fold in the cranberries and nuts, if desired.

Pour into a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes.

Serve warm with milk and brown sugar.

Enjoy!

12 January 2010

Roasted Dijon Potatoes


January is a great month for getting back to basics. After a season of celebrating and expansive entertaining it is something of a relief to organize and simplify.

After packing away the Christmas decorations I turned to my kitchen to strip it of superfluous items. It is almost calming to open the refrigerator now and find empty space inside. It makes me smile to be able to store items there without having to shuffle everything around first.

In January I find a new appreciation for recipes that are straightforward and rely on staples I always keep on hand. It keeps kitchen clutter to a minimum and avoids extra trips to the grocery as well as extra unbudgeted expenses.Of course that doesn’t mean I want to adopt a drab or tasteless diet. A recipe doesn’t have to be bland or boring to be simple.

This potato recipe is a good example. It calls for only a few ingredients that I keep on hand, yet it really delivers in terms of flavor and visual appeal. This is also a forgiving recipe. These potatoes can easily be roasted with other dishes at a somewhat higher or lower temperature than directed simply by adjusting the time. What’s more, the longer they linger in a warm oven the crispier they get, so I am happy to leave them in the oven warming for a short while after they test done while I finish preparing the rest of the meal.


Roasted Dijon Potatoes
Slightly adapted from a magazine clipping of an old Grey Poupon advertisement
Serves 4

1/3 cup Dijon mustard (I use country-style Dijon)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (or a mixture of dried thyme and oregano)
2 pounds of red or gold potatoes, cut into chunks

Mix the mustard, olive oil, garlic and seasoning in a small bowl.

Place the potatoes in a plastic or paper bag.

Pour the mustard mixture over the potatoes. Close the bag tightly and shake until the potatoes are well coated.

Spread the potatoes on a shallow non-stick baking sheet (or a regular baking sheet lightly coated with non-stick cooking spray.)

Stirring occasionally, bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes or until potatoes test tender when pricked with a fork.

Serve and enjoy!

08 January 2010

Pan Simmered Salmon in Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


Poaching?

What is it with poaching? The word itself sounds grim. It conjures up images of crazy free form egg whites gone wild. It suggests bland flavors and textures. By it’s second definition in Webster's dictionary it is even illegal.

Until a few years ago poaching was the last thing I wanted to do to any food I planned to eat. It seemed to me that there was no reason to go there, that there must be a better alternative no matter what the cooking objective might be. As it turns out, I was wrong.

Last year I discovered Poached Pears. It was the way they looked that got my attention. A poached pear can be a thing of beauty. Infused with wine, drenched in chocolate, or dressed with red fruit and ginger, Poached Pears are not only gorgeous but delicately soft and delicious too.

....By Any Other Name

Okay, so Poached Pears are luscious but that’s an exception, right? No, wrong again. I have also discovered that poached fish can be extraordinary.

It was my sister-in-law who introduced me to Poached Salmon. I was a little skeptical but she was cooking and I was hungry. Curious, I watched as she settled the salmon fillet in the poaching liquid and left it to simmer while she blended the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce. It looked simple enough and not at all wild or illegal.

The trick, it seems, is in the poaching liquid and in finding the right piece of fish, one that is fresh and flavorful. Lace the poaching water with a decent white wine. Infuse it with onion as well as herbs and spices. Then carefully simmer the fish in the liquid until just done.

Served with the beautifully flavorful red pepper sauce this poached salmon becomes an elegant indulgence. Subtly flavored by the cooking liquid, the soft smokey taste of the fish is perfectly balanced with the rich depth and delicate sweetness of the freshly roasted peppers. So why not give it a more elegant name? Maybe Herbed Wine Infused Salmon or Pan Simmered Salmon in Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

For All Seasons

This entrée is seasonless. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins C and A, it is as welcome in January when we are focused on healthy eating as it is the summer when we crave light dinners on the patio. The color is so dazzling, served with Walnut Pesto drenched pasta and crisp-tender petite green beans it made a festive and delicious Christmas Eve dinner for my family this season. Now, looking just a little bit ahead, it would also be the perfect main course for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.


Pan Simmered (Poached) Salmon

2 pounds fresh salmon fillets
2 cups water
1½ cup white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon peppercorns
several sprigs of herbs (thyme, parsley, basil and/or oregano, or others)
1 onion, coarsely chopped

Heat water to a boil in a wide covered saucepan (I use my Calphalon 12-inch Everyday Pan but a covered skillet with a domed lid or a 4 quart saucepan will work as well).

Add wine, peppercorns, bay leaves, herbs and onion. Bring back to a boil then turn down the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes or so to infuse the poaching liquid and blend the flavors.

Add the salmon to the poaching liquid. Cover and simmer until fish flakes when pierced with a fork. (Cooking time will depend on the size and texture of the fillet. One piece took 3 minutes, the other 7 minutes.)

Remove salmon from liquid and place on a serving platter.

Serve with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
from Great Recipes for Good Health published by Reader's Digest 1988

2 medium sized sweet red peppers
2 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of olive oil

Wrap the garlic cloves tightly in a small piece of aluminum foil. Place them on a lower rack in the oven to roast while the red peppers are roasting on the top rack.

Roast the red peppers by setting a pan six inches from the heat under the broiler. Turn the red peppers occasionally until they are charred on all sides. This takes about 5-8 minutes.

Place the charred peppers in a brown paper bag. Close the bag tightly and set it in a bowl. (Once the peppers have steamed for a short while the skin will peel away easily.)

Check the garlic to see if it is done. It should be soft and gooey. If not leave it in the oven a little longer.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel away the charred skin over the bowl to catch any juice. Discard the skin, stems and seeds.

In a blender or food processor, puree the peppers and their juice with the garlic. Add the vinegar and olive oil. Add salt to taste, if desired.

Serve and Enjoy!

05 January 2010

Twelfth Night Cake



The Twelve Days of Christmas

Yes, I know that Christmas Day is more than a week behind us. Still I am enjoying the Christmas season now that it has arrived and is nearing an end. While the pre-Christmas season can be stressful and demanding, the true season of Christmas, the twelve days between Christmas Eve and Epiphany on January 6, are often a peaceful interlude between the build up to Christmas and the renewed order and resolute intentions of a New Year.

With all of the holiday preparation behind me, during the twelve days of Christmas I finally have a chance to slow down and appreciate the gifts of the season: holiday cards and letters from friends and family, vacation days with my husband and children, decorations and conversation shared with friends, special foods of the season and, most of all, the wonderful gift of the baby Jesus, our Messiah, born some two thousand years ago.

Now, as the twelve days of Christmas come to a close, there is one more special treat to prepare. Since my children were small we have made a special effort to celebrate Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem to worship and offer gifts to the Christ child as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.


A Cake to Celebrate Epiphany

Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and is celebrated in many parts of the world. While the particular customs vary, what they all seem to have in common is a special cake. Traditional cakes include a Mexican Christmas bread known as Rosca de Reyes, a French almond filled Galette des Roi, a New Orleans style King Cake and a fruit studded English Twelfth Night Cake.

Really any cake you like will do. For several years now I have made a traditionally decorated King Cake, a braided yeast bread, drizzled with icing and sprinkled with decorative sugar. It is a wonderful cake but takes a space of time for the dough to rise and the cake to be shaped and decorated.

When less time is available I have been known to make a Cinnamon Coffee Cake baked with one large whole walnut or pecan half. It is easy to prepare and my family seldom leaves even a crumb behind.

A store bought cake with a nut or chocolate candy inserted from the bottom will also work just fine. What matters is that you have a cake with a special candy token or nut in it. Whoever finds the token in their slice of cake is rewarded with a small gift. It could be anything: a candle, a star or crown shaped ornament or a bag of gold foil covered chocolate coins.




Trying Something New

This year I decided to try something new. I adapted a traditional pound cake recipe using some seasonal leftovers in my refrigerator. To employ the tradition of a ring shaped cake, I baked the cake in my pretty Nordic Ware Bavarian Bundt Cake pan. I wanted to get the full impression from the details of the pan so I filled it near the top, leaving some space for the cake to rise but not as much as I should have. The cake rose beautifully, in fact it overflowed the pan. It smoked but I didn’t want to interrupt the baking process so I turned on the fan and opened the window.

When the cake was done I removed it to a rack to cool. Then I tried to carefully remove the overflow from the bottom of the oven to stop the smoking. That’s when I learned that pound cake batter not only smokes when it burns but will in fact burst into flames if prodded indelicately. Luckily no great harm ensued. Lesson learned: wait until everything cools down before attempting to clean up.

When the cake was completely cool I turned it over and made small incisions to insert not just one this time but three chocolate coins, one to represent each of the three gifts brought by the Magi to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. After turning it back over and settling it on a platter I dusted it with powdered sugar, to highlight the details from the pan, and decorated it with simple stars made of white and dark chocolate. It could also be decorated with icing and studded with gumdrops like this pretty Epiphany Cake I found at Bless Us O Lord... just this morning.



Twelfth Night - Eggnog Pound Cake

adapted from a recipe for Caramel Pound Cake posted by Kim at A Yankee in a Southern Kitchen

3½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, softened
6 large eggs
1½ cups eggnog

Powdered sugar, for dusting
½ cup chocolate chips, for making stars
½ cup white chocolate chips, for making stars
3 chocolate coins, for tokens to hide in the cake
3 small gifts, for those who find the tokens

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan or spray well with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

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

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter with an electric mixer.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition to fully incorporate.

Add the flour mixture one-third at a time, alternating with the eggnog. Beat until smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt pan being careful not to overfill. (Place any remaining batter in a smaller prepared pan, such as a loaf pan.) Bake at 325 degrees until it tests done, approximately 1 hour.

Remove cake from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and allow to rest on the wire rack until completely cool.

When cool, turn cake upside down. Make three hidden slits in the bottom of the cake with a sharp knife. Carefully push a chocolate coin or candy into the slit until hidden in the cake.


Turn the cake onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar. Decorate with chocolate stars, if desired.

To make chocolate stars:

Melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or white chocolate chips in a small container. When melted and smooth scrape the chocolate into a small Ziploc bag and trim 1/4 inch from a lower corner of the bag.

Pipe the soft chocolate in rough star shapes onto a baking sheet or cutting board covered with waxed paper or parchment paper.

After covering the surface with stars, place the stars in the refrigerator for five minutes or so, or until set and firm. Peel the stars from the paper and arrange on and around the cake.

Enjoy!