31 December 2013

Collard Salad with Lemon Dressing


New Year’s Day Dinner

Are you planning to dine on black-eyed peas and greens this New Year’s Day? Tradition tells us it will bring good luck and prosperity in the New Year. I cannot speak to the efficacy of this practice, though I admit that when I consider the events of 2013 I could use some of that luck. In any case this New Year’s Day will find me in the kitchen with my peas and greens. I love black-eyed peas and look forward to New Year’s Day as the perfect opportunity to cook them.

The greens are always a bit more of a challenge. I do eat greens but they are not my favorite, especially collard greens. Having recently moved back to the south I have had my share of opportunities to eat collard greens over the past year. Once or twice I would say they were good. More often their taste was bland and their color, less than inviting. That lackluster result discourages me from using the slow-cooked method to prepare collard greens.

A New Way

At Thanksgiving I flagged a recipe in Southern Living that took a new approach. It was for a beautiful salad that featured collard greens. I liked that it was a green salad you could dress in advance, in fact needed to dress in advance, to tenderize the greens. The dressing and added ingredients were also appealing.

Here I have simplified the recipe. Rather than an assortment of pricey greens for the salad I have focused on the collard greens. Cranberries add a touch of color and tangy flavor. Avocado and bacon add texture and round out the flavors. The dressing balances the bright flavor of fresh lemon juice with the spicy depth of garlic and Dijon mustard. The sum is a lovely salad that will add a fresh perspective to a traditional New Year’s Day meal.

Happy New Year!


Collard Salad with Lemon Dressing

Adapted from a recipe in Southern Living

Collard Salad

1 bunch fresh collard greens (8 ounces)
½ cup dried cranberries
1 avocado
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped
4 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

Lemon Dressing

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Wash collard greens. Trim and discard stems and tough stalks from the center of the leaves. Stack remaining leaves and roll up beginning at one long side. Slice the roll at ¼-inch intervals to yield long thin strips of collard leaves.

Prepare Lemon Dressing by whisking together ingredients until smooth.

Toss collard strips, cranberries and Lemon Dressing in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until almost ready to serve.

Just before serving toss avocado, pecans and bacon with collard mixture.

Serve and enjoy!

29 December 2013

Black-Eyed Pea Croquettes with Avocado Corn Salsa


After a season of feasting on rich foods and nibbling on elaborate cookies I’m ready to get back to basics. In my kitchen that often begins with the tradition of cooking black-eyed peas and greens to inspire luck in the coming year. The origins of this southern tradition are debatable but from a nutritional point of view it remains a profitable reminder to value the humble components of a healthy diet as I kick off the new year.

This year I’ve found some recipes that give a new spin to this old custom. This recipe for Black Eyed Pea Croquettes is one I may turn to again and again throughout the new year. I think most any type of bean would work as a substitute for the black-eyed peas and other types of beans might draw out different ethnic influences to complete the meal.

Here Avocado Corn Salsa adds a nice touch of color and a contrast of flavor and texture, brightening the plate and adding a bit of crunch. It is delicious with the croquettes but would also add a nice touch to a more traditional bowl of Lucky Black-Eyed Peas or simply accompanied by a bowl of tortilla chips as game-day snack.


Black Eyed Pea Croquettes

Adapted from a recipe in Southern Living

½ cup minced red onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ - ½ teaspoon cayenne red pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2 cans black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 large egg, lightly beaten
more panko crumbs (for dredging), if desired

Heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and sauté until tender. Stir in the garlic. Remove from heat.

Mash two cups of the black-eyed peas with the cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt. Stir in the panko, cilantro, egg, onion mixture and remaining black-eyed peas until combined.

Form patties using 1/3 – ½ cup of the mixture for each cake. Dredge in panko crumbs, if desired.

Heat remaining oil in a large nonstick skillet. Place black-eyed pea cakes in the hot oil and cook over medium heat until golden brown, approximately 3-4 minutes per side.

Serve with collard greens, cornbread and Avocado Corn Salsa.


Avocado Corn Salsa

From Southern Living Magazine

Zest of 1 lime
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cups corn kernels
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 small avocado, diced
1/3 cup minced red onion
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, whisk together lime zest, lime juice, oil, mustard and red pepper until well blended.

Stir in the corn, tomatoes, avocado, onion and cilantro.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with black-eyed pea cakes or with tortilla chips.

Enjoy!

25 December 2013

A Christmas Dinner - 1945


Bits and Pieces

Looking through memorabilia in preparation for my Father-in-law’s 90th birthday party in October was a treat. I find historic detail fascinating and enjoyed getting to know my father-in-law better. At 90 his memory is still sharp and his detailed descriptions of his depression-era youth and years of service in the army during WW2 were compelling.


I learned a lot about my father-in-law’s family and the challenges he faced growing up. I especially enjoyed seeing what bits and pieces he had saved as souvenirs. He had some intriguing photos, a few postcards from Europe and even a few menus tucked away in a folder. Not only did we discover a Thanksgiving menu from 1938 but, owing to my interest in history and food, he also pulled out several holiday menus he had hung onto from his Army days.


One of them was from the 115th Station Hospital in Augsburg, Germany where he was stationed for several months at the end of WW2 before being honorably discharged in the spring of 1946.


A Christmas Dinner from 1945

Once again I was struck by how little had changed in our expectations at the holiday table this past half-century or so since the end of WW2 and the beginning of the atomic age. This celebration menu for a meal served just months after the end of WW2 included a roast turkey and dressing, potatoes and gravy served along with cranberries and hot buttered rolls. There was fruit and nuts and a Plum Pudding for dessert.

Again I was charmed by the attention to abundant detail and special offerings including pineapple juice, coffee and candy as well as the printed inclusion of cigarettes, that mid-century staple, on the menu.


I was also impressed by the optimism that accompanied goals accomplished in the war. While those present at this Christmas Banquet were still far from home they were encouraged that their hopes and dreams were realized in victory and that freedom and democracy prevailed. They were also unashamed to claim that victory as an answer to prayer.

May we also be mindful of God’s power and presence in our lives as we follow in their legacy, celebrating the birthday of our Lord and proclaiming peace on earth and good will toward men.

Merry Christmas!

23 December 2013

Easy Pecan Bars


Cookie Recipes

I have always loved holiday baking. As a girl, I spent many December evenings in Aunt Hen’s kitchen. After school I would walk up to her house and dig through her vast collection of cookbooks and holiday publications in search of the best recipes for Christmas cookies and candies. Aunt Hen would make a list of the recipes we wanted to try on the white writing tablet she always kept near her dining table. Once the list was made and she had collected the ingredients we would spend our evenings baking.


Aunt Hen tended toward traditional recipes with butterscotch chips or candied fruit and coconut. I tended toward new recipes with chocolate or nuts and spices. Together we mixed the ingredients, tended the oven and sometimes added decorations. Aunt Bet would often join us for conversation and coffee breaks and would help pack the finished product in big Christmas tins. Later we arranged plates of the cookies and candy we had made together to give as gifts to family and friends.

Christmas Baking

I still love to make and bake during the Christmas season. These days I am alone in the kitchen but some of the recipes I use, Peanut Butter Fudge, Chocolate Crinkles and Scandinavian Almond Cookies for example, haven’t changed since those baking marathons with Aunt Hen. Other recipes have been discovered or updated over the years. I still enjoy finding new ways to create holiday favorites.

This year I tried a new recipe for Pecan Bars. Though I have already posted a recipe for Pecan Pie Bites that is quite delicious I found this recipe from Better Homes and Gardens appealing because of its simplicity. The crust does not need to be rolled out, no candy thermometer or parchment paper is required and the addition of lemon zest to the crust layer sounded refreshing.

The finished cookie did not disappoint. It baked as described, was easy to remove from the pan and cut into pretty pieces. The finished recipe makes 54 cookies, (enough for a crowd) and, best of all, they taste wonderful!


Pecan Bars

From Better Homes and Gardens "Christmas Cookies" Issue, 1994

Crust:
½ cup butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla
1¼ cups all-purpose flour

Directions for Filling:
1/3 cup butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1¾ cups coarsely chopped pecans
¼ cup whipping cream

Directions for Crust:

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a large mixing bowl, with an electric mixer, beat ½ cup butter at medium speed until smooth. Add ½ cup sugar, lemon peel, and vanilla, beating until combined. Beat in as much flour as possible with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon.

Press dough into the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325F.

Directions for Filling:

In a medium saucepan, combine 1/3 cup butter, brown sugar, honey, and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar. Cook over medium heat stirring until the mixture comes to a full boil. Remove pan from heat. Stir in pecans and whipping cream. Immediately pour the pecan mixture over crust, spreading evenly. Bake at 325F for 25 minutes.

Cool completely.

Cut into bars, 6 x 9. Makes 54.

Enjoy!

17 December 2013

Dressing the Perfect Soft Boiled Egg


Rediscovering Eggs

One September, several years ago, on the sun-kissed shores of Lake Geneva, my husband and I fell in love with soft-boiled eggs. At the end of a continental breakfast buffet that featured croissants, cheese, fresh fruit and good coffee there was an arrangement of little egg cups beside a basket of boiled eggs. They seemed like an elegant breakfast choice as we ate them looking out onto the streets of Lausanne and the lake beyond.

Of course that wasn’t the first time we had eaten soft-boiled eggs. Both my husband and I also remembered them fondly from our childhood. Exploring those memories we found that they were less about the taste or quality of the egg itself than they were about the process and the accessories that eating soft-boiled eggs demanded. There was also a sense that those softly cooked eggs were something special our mothers wanted to share with us.

I remembered my mother serving soft boiled eggs at our chrome and formica kitchen table. Mine wore a pointed felt hat and sat in an egg cup that was decorated to look like a storybook character. My husband remembered cracking the top of soft boiled eggshells with the back of a knife and carefully peeling off the shell before spooning out the soft center.


Recreating Breakfasts Remembered

Home again, we began to collect our own set of implements to accompany soft-boiled eggs. We bought egg cups, egg spoons and an egg timer. Then we began our quest for the best method to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg, one where the white was firmly set and the yolk was thick and golden but not yet pale and crumbly. Through many trial runs we noted the details: depth of water, temperature setting of the burner, eggs added to cold water or after the water began to boil, number of minutes at a boil, etc. It may seem silly but, as with many simple things, the details matter.


As we experimented, we continued to collect. We now have a variety of egg toppers and several egg cozies. One set I found at Etsy reminded me of the felt hat my mother’s soft-boiled eggs wore.


Another set came from my talented sister-in-law who crafts the most amazing things. These snowmen cozies are paired with a handsome Christmas tea cozy she gave to us a few years ago.


Here is my husband’s current method for cooking soft-boiled eggs. It worked well this past weekend, yielding a firm white exterior that cradled a thick soft golden yolk. Once again we remembered how wonderful something as simple as a boiled egg can taste on a leisurely weekend morning.


Soft Boiled Eggs

4 large eggs
water, to cover
pinch of salt
a few grinds of pepper

Place eggs in a small saucepan. Barely cover the eggs with cold water.

Place saucepan on the stove over high heat. Heat water just to a boil.

Turn off heat, leaving the saucepan on the burner. Leave in place, uncovered, for 3 minutes.

Drain and place eggs in eggcups. Cover eggs with cozies. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or so before serving.

To eat:

Remove top of shell with an egg topper, or by gently tapping around the circumference of the egg, near the top, to break it, and peeling away the bits of shell over the top quarter of the egg. Sprinkle exposed egg with a few grains of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

It is nice to have egg spoons or other small spoons with a rounded bowl for eating the egg and scooping out the last bits of white from inside the shell.

Serve eggs with toast and sausage or bacon. Discreetly dip toast bits into the egg yolk if desired...

Enjoy!

Note: For another approach to the perfect soft-boiled egg read this post about the Cook’s Illustrated method. Or these tips from Cathy at Wives with Knives. Though we have had some success lately, I am still fascinated by the quest for the P.S.B.E. Plus I love the photos and serving ideas.

11 December 2013

Spicy Molasses Crinkles


Big Flavor…

Ginger is one of my favorite holiday flavors. Most every year I bake Gingerbread Cookies for the holidays. I like them crispy or chewy, with a robust blend of spices including chocolate, coffee and even pepper or with a breezier palate of ginger and citrus. Whatever the recipe I love the way the spicy notes scent the kitchen and invite memories of Christmases past.

This year I observed that spicy tradition with a new recipe I found in an issue of Cook’s Illustrated. This recipe is said to be the result of over 50 batches of experimentation to come up with the best blend of crisp and chewy and the best medley of warm spicy notes. I loved reading about the process and reasoning behind each step of the recipe as well as a breakdown on the best brands of molasses to use.


…In Small Packages

With all that research going into the recipe there was little room for constructive adaptation, and still….

I really wanted smaller cookies. I am willing to risk my spice cookies turning out on the crunchy side and I prefer Christmas cookies that are small enough to allow for tasting several kinds with a single cup of coffee. So I made mine about half the size suggested, roughly 2 teaspoons of dough in each rather than a heaping Tablespoon, yielding nearly 5 dozen cookies.

I also avoided rolling the dough into balls by hand. Instead I used my 1¼ inch cookie scoop to form the dough, leveling it off on the rim of the bowl and then dropping it into the sugar to coat.

The result was my idea of perfect: small, fragrant, spicy, a bit crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside. These spicy gems offer a little taste of Christmas in every delicious bite.


Molasses Spice Cookies

From Cook’s Illustrated "Holiday Baking" Issue
Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies 2-inch cookies

1/3 cup granulated sugar (plus ½ cup for dipping)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup molasses

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place ½ cup granulated sugar in an 8 or 9-inch cake pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, soda, salt and spices.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, brown sugar and 1/3 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy (approximately 3 minutes.)

Add the egg yolk and vanilla. Continue beating until blended.

Add molasses. Continue beating until fully incorporated.

Add the flour mixture stirring or beating until just incorporated, forming a smooth soft dough.

Using a 1¼ cookie scoop ( or a rounded teaspoon) scoop dough in balls and drop into the sugar in the cake pan, 4 or so at a time. Toss gently until the dough balls are well coated in the sugar. Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake 1 cookie sheet at a time until edges have set, about 8-10 minutes. (In my oven 9 minutes was the right number for crisp but still chewy. 8 minutes yielded a very soft cookie and 10 minutes was enough to make them crispy. Watch carefully. Ovens vary. )

Remove cookies. Place cookie sheet on wire rack, leaving cookies on the cookie sheet to cool for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Notes:

For a crunchier texture and more sparkle, use turbinado sugar to coat the balls of dough rather than plain white sugar.

To add variety I drizzled Dark Rum Glaze over half of the cookies. Whisk together ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and 1 – 1½ Tablespoons dark rum. Arrange cookies on a baking rack. Using a spoon, drizzle the rum glaze over the cooled cookies. Allow glaze to set before storing in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

04 December 2013

Chestnut Roasting


The Christmas Song

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose….”
~ Torme and Wells

My knowledge of chestnuts is forever colored by the work of two men: my grandfather and Johnny Mathis.

Johnny Mathis provided the atmosphere. When I was small my mother had a collection of Firestone and Goodyear Christmas Albums featuring popular performers from the 1960’s: Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, Andy Williams and Barbara Streisand among others. I can still hear the exact inflection of Maurice Chevalier singing Jolly Old St. Nicholas, one of my favorites.

Those albums also introduced me to the silken strains of Johnny Mathis delivering a golden version of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”. In his accomplished voice I could feel the warmth of a holiday fire, the welcome of family celebrations and the wonder of the season. In that opening line chestnuts were forever polished with the glow of all that is beautiful about Christmases past.


Experiencing Chestnuts

While Johnny Mathis wrapped the word 'chestnuts' in dulcet tones it was my grandfather who introduced me to the experience of chestnuts and their sweet earthy flavor. Just the sight of chestnuts can take me back, crunching through the fallen leaves as I walk across my grandparents' farm wearing a big corduroy coat someone has put on me. The sleeves are too long and the tan fabric smells of the breath of farm animals and of eggs gathered from the hen house.

Past the horses and chickens, back to where the interstate cut across the farmland making a good portion of the property difficult to reach, chestnuts and persimmons grew. Every autumn those chestnuts were gathered by the bagful. Curious, I once asked for one. Pappaw cut into it with his pocket knife and gave it to me. I peeled away the brown shell. Beneath that was a fuzzy skin clinging to the nut. I probably peeled that too. The nut itself was a little soft and very convoluted with a deep rib, much like a pecan or walnut but with the nut meat clinging more closely to the rib and holding on. The meat of the raw chestnut tasted mildly sweet and almost crisp, unlike other nuts. Back at the house, Mammaw gave us a lunch sack full to take home. Pappaw sold the excess for a good price to local markets.


A Holiday Treat

Now whenever I see chestnuts for sale it brings a smile to my lips. I hear Johnny Mathis and smell the cool autumn air on Pappaw’s farm. I reach out and hold one for a moment, then choose a few, looking them over carefully to make sure they are clean and have a nice weight and color.

Chestnuts can be peeled and eaten as is, but roasting them deepens the flavor and adds its own charm while making them somewhat easier to peel, at least while the nuts are quite warm. As a slowly savored snack accompanied by your favorite seasonal beverage, chestnuts add enchantment to a quiet evening. So put on some Johnny Mathis, light a fire and settle in for a festive holiday treat.


Roasted Chestnuts

Preheat oven to 400F.

Buy chestnuts from reliable vendors or gather them from a known source. Edible chestnuts look much like horse chestnuts and buckeyes, both of which are toxic. After finding a good source, choose chestnuts that are smooth and glossy, feel heavy and full, and are free of dirt and mold.

Rinse chestnuts and pat dry.

With a small sharp knife, carefully (and I do mean CAREFULLY! Those smooth firm shells can be slippery and it was here that I cut my thumb, not badly, but let's avoid that part by being EXTRA careful on this step!) …


Carefully cut through the shell of each chestnut until the tip of the knife reaches the flesh of the chestnut. Cut a broad X through the shell of each nut. (The X I have pictured here is on the small side. When I roasted mine, even though I had cut a small x in each shell, one still exploded in the oven. Cutting a larger X across one side will insure that steam can escape and will make the chestnut easier to peel.)

Scatter scored chestnuts on a shallow baking pan. Place in the oven and roast at 400F for about 20 minutes. When the chestnuts are done the shell will have curled back at the X. You want to roast them long enough to allow the nut to pull back from the shell and the brown skin but not long enough to become dry. Either extreme will leave the chestnuts harder to peel.

Remove chestnuts from oven. Place the nuts on a towel or hold them in your hand using a potholder and squeeze them to roughly crush (crack) the shells. Let cool slightly.

As soon as you can hold them in your hand peel the chestnuts. This can be done with your hands, though your thumbs may hurt after a few. While the nuts are still warm the shells will come off more easily.

Reheat as needed to aid in peeling the whole batch.

Enjoy!