Thursday, January 30, 2014

Derby Pie

One of my go-to Thanksgiving pies is derby pie, that great concoction of pecan pie with added bourbon and chocolate. I started making this when I lived in Nashville and, thus, used Jack Daniels. I would be remiss, however, to fail to point out that it is not true derby pie unless Kentucky bourbon is used. 

Recently, someone on Instagram asked about it, after seeing a picture from this past Thanksgiving. Failing to find the recipe here easily, I am posting it now so that I can share it with her and all of you.

Crust for 9" pie
3 eggs
1 c. sugar
1 c. Karo syrup
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. bourbon
A pinch of salt
1 c. whole pecans
1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs. Beat in the sugar, then Karo. Mix in the next 4. Fit the pie crust into a 9" pie plate and flute the edges. Scatter nuts & chocolate in crust. Pour egg mixture into crust. Bake 40-50 minutes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Good, Old-Fashioned Beef Stew

With all the single digit and below-zero temperatures and snow we're having, you won't be surprised to know that we're really digging comfort food this month. Last week, I made a big pot of soupy beef stew, plenty for nice hot lunches, too. I served it with a beautiful loaf of Pugliese bread (Jeannene has fun calling it "pugilist bread") from the grocer's bakery and my new favorite orange, the pink-fleshed Cara Cara. Have you tried them? Fab!

Old-Fashioned Beef Stew
2 lb. beef, cubed (I buy the pre-packaged stew beef for convenience.)
2 tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 tsp. thyme
2 bay leaves
48 oz. beef broth
3 potatoes, diced
7 small carrots, sliced
1/2 lb. frozen pearl onions
1 can diced tomatoes
Salt & pepper

Melt butter in soup pot. Toss beef with enough flour to coat all the pieces, shaking off any excess. Brown in butter. Add the rest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 1 1/2-2 hours. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Egg Monday---Casserole & Quiche

Jeannene bonds with people by feeding them. Well, don't we all? But there is a strong tradition in her family of showing love and respect by feeding people. Her dad was brilliant at it and she's following in his footsteps. At every plant she has managed, she makes sure to feed her people well. Earlier in the year, we were at the plant until 2 a.m., making sure there were burgers, hot dogs, and all the trimmings for third shift just as for first & second. I loved helping her, piling great mounds of potato salad on plates, smiling as people turned into little kids choosing their cookies. 

This time, it was breakfast and I got to lend a hand again, going into action to recreate variations on our traditional family Christmas breakfast casserole. I generally throw a sausage & cheddar one together in the crockpot on Christmas Eve. For the team at work's kickoff of the Year of No Excuses, I put together a ham & swiss version and a chorizo version. We did our shopping Sunday afternoon and I put them together before we went to bed so they'd be ready when Jeannene headed to work early. Here's the basic recipe, given to me by a Russian friend, Kira, years ago.

Breakfast Casserole
30-32 oz. package frozen hash browns (make sure to break up any large clumps)
1 lb. diced ham or cooked, crumbled sausage (vegetarians can omit or sub veggie sausage or beans---black beans are especially nice using the extra spices I used with the chorizo)
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced (omitted from the ham & swiss version)
2 c. shredded cheese (I used a Mexican blend of pre-shredded cheese for the chorizo version, but crumbled cotija or asadero would be good, too)
12 eggs
1 c. milk (skim is fine, as is 2% cheese)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Make a couple layers in the crockpot in the following order: potatoes, meat, onion, pepper, cheese. Beat the eggs with the milk & seasonings. I added chile powder, cumin, & oregano to the chorizo casserole. Pour over layers in crockpot. Cover & cook on low 8-10 hours.

We awoke to the mouthwatering smell of a delicious breakfast. The food was whisked out the door, but the aroma lingered, forcing me to make scrambled eggs for myself. Jeannene had breakfast casserole for breakfast & lunch, then arrived home to artichoke quiche for dinner. She wasn't complaining. I served a Greek-inflected cauliflower casserole, a green salad, and grapes with it. The quiche was delicious and tender. As a bonus, it reheats quite nicely for lunch the next day. Some folks even like it cold or room temp.

Artichoke Quiche
1 crust for a 9" pie (my friend, Nicola, is trying to assure me that this is easy to make from scratch, once you get the hang of it---you can do that or use Pillsbury)
4 tbsp. butter (it won't be the end of the world if you use 2)
9 scallions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
12 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
A handful of grated parmesan
2 c. shredded cheese (I used cheddar)
1 1/4 c. milk (again, skim is just fine, as is 2% cheese)
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Fit crust into pie plate and bake 10 minutes. Pie weights are not a bad investment to help prevent the crust from puffing. Remove crust and lower oven heat to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add scallions & garlic and cook 3-5 minutes. Add artichokes and cook another minute. Sprinkle the crust with parmesan. Spread artichoke mixture into an even layer in the bottom of the pie plate. Top with cheese. Beat eggs, milk, & seasonings together. Pour over cheese. Bake 35 minutes. It is wise to place a cookie sheet underneath in case of overflow. Let stand at least 10 minutes before cutting into wedges for serving.

Greek-Inflected Cauliflower 
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 c. diced tomatoes (I would probably omit this next time, though. I would add a squeeze of lemon and some chopped olives)
A pinch of oregano
A pinch of salt
A pinch of garlic powder
A grinding of pepper
About a cup of feta cheese
A sprinkling of dry bread crumbs
A healthy drizzle of olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or just throw in with the quiche for the last little bit of its cooking time, if serving together). Steam the cauliflower until tender. Toss with the other ingredients & place in a greased 2 qt. casserole. Bake 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Burger Night, Asian Style

Boot has been on a real burger kick lately and Jeannene had to leave for work at 4 this morning, so last night was a good night for a burger night. Since Boot is prone to eating several burgers at a sitting (the boy works out 3+ hours a day), I used 2 pounds of burger. Into that, I mixed a bunch of soy sauce and 5 scallions, sliced thinly. I formed this into 5 patties and cooked them through in a couple of skillets. Since the meat was 85% lean, I coated the skillets with cooking spray first. I served them on sesame buns with warmed hoisin sauce and cheese.

With the burgers, we had wavy chips and French onion dip, baby carrots, & sugar snap peas. I cut up a pineapple into chunks for our dessert. Easy and tasty!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Zero Is Not Enough Degrees

It is currently very sunny where I am. It is also one degree. We got a heavy blanket of snow over the weekend and then the temperature plummeted. Facebook feeds filled up with friends' experiments with throwing pots of water into the air to become mere puffs of cloud, blowing bubbles to see them freeze, and discovering how many excuses they could come up with to use the oven.

Our oven's been pretty well-used this week, as well. Sunday night, I slathered a chicken with mashed garlic, lemon juice, rosemary, and olive oil. Before roasting it, I stuck the juiced lemon halves and several sprigs of rosemary inside. It was delicious, very tender and flavorful. To accompany the chicken, I cooked rice in chicken stock and added onions and garlic I'd sautéed in olive oil and heated up some corn.

Last night, I made a Cuban dinner with puerco asado (roast pork loin), black beans & rice, maduros (fried ripe plantains), and a green salad. Jeannene often says that our relationship was sealed when I made fried plantains for we the first time. I like mine very, very ripe. I don't know about other places, but it's very hard to find ripe plantains at my grocery, so I usually buy them a couple weeks before I plan to cook them, so they have a chance to get nice and black. I peel them, slice them on the diagonal, heat some oil in a skillet, and cook them until they're deep golden brown all over.

I was disappointed not to be able to find any yuca in our new area. I know they have it in Mexicantown, but I was not about to drive an hour with the roads in terrible condition, so I had to forego the fried yuca. I also forgot to get avocados, so our salad was plain spring mix. I usually slice up some avocado and onion to serve with butter lettuce and a dressing of olive oil & lime juice. I also cheated with the black beans, simply doctoring a can of Goya black bean soup with a splash of lime. Ah, well. It was tasty, if not my own.

My pork loin was gorgeous and the house smelled divine when Jeannene arrived home after a long work day bookended by rough drives. Without a meat thermometer (still packed somewhere from our move), I just relied on the usual cook time & it turned out well. I just served it with pan juices, but you can also make or buy mojo criollo to serve with it.

Puerco Asado
5 lb boneless pork loin
3-5 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp oregano
Salt & pepper
1/4 c lime juice
1/4 c orange juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1 c dry red wine
A few bay leaves

Early in the day, poke the roast all over with a knife. Mash garlic with oregano, salt, and pepper into a paste. Rub paste all over the roast and place it in a gallon ziploc with bay leaves. Pour the liquids over it and seal. Marinate at least 2 hours, turning from time to time. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove roast from marinade and pat dry. Discard bay leaves, but save marinade. Put meat in a roasting pan and insert a meat thermometer. Roast about 2 and a half hours, to 165 degrees, pouring marinade over the roast halfway through the cooking time and basting often. Place on platter and tent with foil, allowing it to stand at least 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 8 & makes great sandwiches if you have less than 8.

If you want to try your hand at mojo sauce, mash 7-10 cloves garlic to a thick paste with a teaspoon of salt. Mix with a very thinly sliced onion, 1/4 c. orange juice, & 1/4 c. lime juice. Allow to stand 1/2 hour. Just before serving, heat 1/2 c. Spanish olive oil until very hot. You can use oil from Italy or other countries, but I think Spanish tastes the best. Add the garlic mixture (be careful, because it will likely spatter) & mix well before serving hot with the pork. It's also good with chicken, fish, root veggies (like yuca!), and plantain chips.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Yes, I Eat Cold Cheese Sandwiches

The other day, Boot was devouring a take-out container of sweet & sour chicken from the Chinese joint next to his gym. He had offered me some, but I declined in favor of a cheese sandwich. He asked if I was going to toast it and goggled incredulously at me when I said I wasn't. He said, "You're not going to cook it??? You're a weirdo." I said, "I grew up eating plain cheese sandwiches. I love them." I love a good grilled cheese, too, of course, but when you can eat something like this, why bother cooking it?

Spread a couple slices of beautiful whole grain bread with mustard and mayonnaise. Add extra-sharp cheddar slices, avocado slices or mash, tomato slices (if you like them), onion, and alfalfa sprouts. Slice your favorite way---mine is diagonal---and devour like you're a 21-year-old guy who just worked out for 3 hours. Try to resist having a second one.

Cold Weather Green Salad

I love a beautiful salad, even in cold weather and especially after the indulgence of the holidays. This one, inspired by The Splendid Table's How To Eat: Supper, is a stellar salad and if you want to make it a main, just add a little more protein. You could throw in extra cheddar or even some cooked chicken.

Mix half a red onion, thinly sliced, with 3 tbsp. good vinegar, salt and pepper, and a couple tbsp of a dark, grainy mustard, in a large salad bowl. Combine curly endive, baby spinach, and red leaf lettuce and toss with dressing in bowl. Add apple and pear slices or chunks. Throw in some cubed extra-sharp cheddar (Cabot & Tillamook are especially great), a handful each of dried cranberries and sunflower seeds. Toss in some fresh, mild herbs such as mint or basil, if you wish. Drizzle the whole shebang with 4-6 tbsp olive oil, walnut oil, or hazelnut oil. Serve promptly.

Minted Lamb Burgers with Feta and Hummus

Sometimes, I get weird about lamb. I think it tastes great, but sometimes, if I think about it, I can't use it. However, when I am lamb-tolerant, I love it in burgers like this! If you are lamb-averse, use ground beef instead. This is great with fattoush on the side. The recipe comes from the February 2006 issue of Bon Appetit.

1 1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 c. minced mint leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. olive oil
7-8 oz. sliced feta (you can use crumbled feta if sliceable feta is hard to find where you live)
4 kaiser rolls, toasted
8 sweet onion slices
4 romaine leaves

Mix meat, mint, and spices. Shape into 4 patties. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the burgers until browned on one side. Flip, add feta on top, and brown the other side. When cooked through, serve on rolls with onion, lettuce, and hummus.

Parmesan Chicken with Mixed Baby Greens

When you want something simple and elegant enough for company, this dish fits the bill. It's good served with baked potatoes and broccoli, with something homey like apple crisp for dessert.

2/3 c. panko
1/2 c. grated parmesan
2 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram (2 1/2 tsp. dried)
1 egg, beaten
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2" thick
4 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
6 c. mixed baby greens (spring mix prepared salad is good)

Mix panko with parmesan and marjoram. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, dip in egg, and dredge in panko. Heat 2 tbsp. oil in a skillet on medium-high heat. Cook the chicken through, making sure it is golden brown on each side. Set aside and keep warm. Cool the skillet slightly. Add 2 tbsp. olive oil and white wine vinegar to skillet, heat, and stir to deglaze the pan. Divide the greens among 4 plates. Drizzle with warm vinaigrette from the skillet. Top with chicken.

Got My Mojo Workin'

One of my favorite flavors in the world is the tangy mojo sauce so predominant in Cuban food. It's fabulous for marinating (especially pork), for drizzling over yuca, for adding to beans. While you can often find bottled mojo sauce (Goya is a popular brand) even in northern grocery stores, mojo is so easy to make and I think homemade is lots better. Just mash about 10 cloves of garlic into a paste with a teaspoon of salt. Add a cup of sour orange juice. You must use sour orange juice rather than regular orange juice, but it can be hard to find. If you can get it bottled in your area, use it. If you can't, you can use equal parts regular orange juice and lime juice. Heat the oil just to boiling. Remove from the heat and whisk in the garlic-orange juice mixture. Use right away as a marinade or sauce.

Warm Green Bean Salad

One of my favorite veggies ever, green beans have so many possibilities. While we've been eating the canned version in green bean casseroles lately and I tend to default to roasting or steaming and serving fairly plain with the fresh ones, sometimes I like something a little fancier. This salad is very good. The dressing, if you taste it before adding it to the green beans, may be a little much, but do not be alarmed. When paired with the salad, it's perfect. This recipe, which I got from my friend Kira and adapted, makes much more dressing than you will need. You can make less or, an option I like better, you can use it for other veggies the next day.

16 cloves garlic, with skins left on
2 1/2 tbsp. + 1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced red onions
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into matchstick strips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle 2 tbsp. oil over garlic and bake, covered, 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then squeeze garlic from skins. Process into a smooth paste with 1/2 tbsp. oil. Add vinegar and mix well. In large bowl, slowly add 1/4 c. oil, whisking as you go, until thick and smooth. Add basil, salt, & pepper. Cook beans until crisp-tender in boiling water, about 2 minutes. Drain and place in ice bath to stop cooking. Drain and pat dry. Toss with 1/2 tbsp. oil and season with salt & pepper. Preheat broiler (if preparing in summer, you can grill, instead). Broil beans until they're just starting to brown, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Place in large serving bowl. Add onions and tomatoes and toss with enough dressing to coat.  Serves 4-6.

A Delicious Twist on Rice

I am a big fan of plain, old Jasmine rice, steamed or boiled and embellished with nothing but a pinch of salt in the cooking water. However, every so often, I love to try something different with the rice. This recipe came from the Rice Council of America and it's fantastic. When I made it, I adapted the recipe for my vegetarian mom. I include both veggie and non-veggie possibilities here:

Cumin Rice
2 tbsp. bacon drippings or vegetable oil
1/3 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. chopped green pepper
1 c. long-grain rice
2 c. beef broth or veggie broth, boiling
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce (vegetarians, be aware that this contains anchovy---soy might work in its place, or Bragg's Aminos, if you are strict)
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cumin seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat bacon drippings or oil. Add onion, green pepper, and rice and sauté until rice is golden brown. Put in a greased 2-quart casserole. Add everything else and stir well. Cover and bake 1/ 2 hour. Fluff lightly with a fork before serving. Serves 4.

A Couple Quickies---Pizza & Quesadillas

Most of the time, I love cooking. Now, I almost always have time for it, too. When I was working an hour and a half from home, with lots of evening meetings, that wasn't so much the case. These two recipes are perfect for those nights you want something really delicious and have no time to make it.

Veggie Quesadillas
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced
1 small yellow pepper, finely chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro (feel free to omit if it tastes like soap to you)
2 10" flour tortillas
1/3 c. shredded queso blanco or monterey jack
2 tbsp. Greek yogurt

Mix the veggies together. Warm a tortilla in a dry skillet, flip, and cover evenly with veggie mixture. Top with cheese. Add the other tortilla on top. Cook, flipping once, until lightly browned on each side, with cheese melted inside. Cut in half or in wedges to serve. Delicious with salsa (I like Newman's Own Medium) and sour cream. Serves 2.

Antipasto Pizza
Pre-baked 12" pizza crust (or 2 smaller ones for individual pizzas)
1 tsp. garlic powder or a clove or two of minced garlic
2 tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
2 tbsp. grated parmesan
1/4 lb. prosciutto, cut into small strips
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 roasted red pepper, cut in strips
16 slices pepperoni (or fewer, if using sandwich pepperoni, which is really nice for this)
A bunch of fresh mozzarella, sliced
20 of your favorite olives, halved (we used castelvetranos)
20 halved cherry tomatoes
3-4 tbsp. olive oil
A drizzle of red wine vinegar (or balsamic, if you like it sweet)
Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix butter with garlic, herbs, and parmesan and spread on the pizza crust. Top with mozzarella slices & bake 10 minutes or so. Arrange everything else on the crust. Mix oil and vinegar and drizzle over the pizza. Season with salt & pepper, if needed.

Thanksgiving in January

More comfort food! Turkey and mashed potatoes aren't just for November. In fact, I was once invited to a Thanksgiving dinner right around Easter. It was delicious. Here are a couple twists on the stars of That Meal in November.

Thyme & Garlic Turkey Breast
                 2 tsp. minced fresh thyme                  2 garlic cloves, crushed
                 1 tsp. lemon pepper                            1 (approx 2 lb) turkey breast half
                 1/8 tsp. salt                                         Sprigs of thyme for garnish

        Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix thyme, lemon pepper, salt, and garlic. Loosen the turkey skin, rub the thyme mixture on the meat beneath, and press the skin to secure. Coat broiler pan with cooking spray and place the breast, skin side up, on it. Insert meat thermometer and bake about an hour and a half, until thermometer registers 180 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes. Cut into thin slices and garnish with thyme sprigs. 

Lemon Mashed Potatoes
Boil & drain about 5 peeled, diced potatoes. Mash with 1/2-1 c. Greek yogurt, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper until smooth & the consistency you like. I like to use a manual potato masher, but if you like an electric mixer or potato ricer, by all means, use that!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Chinese Chicken Salad

Well, I doubt many Chinese people would recognize this as coming from their culture. This is actually one of those dishes you find at luncheon gatherings involving a bunch of ladies and the words "carry-in," one of those foods prevalent in church and PTA cookbooks across the U.S. Whatever its provenance, it is very delicious and easy to throw together.

3/4-1 lb. cooked chicken (leftovers or a grocery store rotisserie chicken are perfect for this)
1 head romaine, shredded
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 c. smoked almonds (I have a strong---and largely sentimental---preference for Blue Diamond, which always remind me of the first trip I took to Monterey with Jeannene)
1 c. chow mein noodles
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. teriyaki sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Shred the chicken. Mix the lettuce and scallions together. Toss with the chicken. Mix oil, teriyaki, sesame oil, salt, & pepper. Drizzle over salad. Top with almonds and noodles.

A Simple Meal to Eat Under the Covers...or Wherever It's Warmest

Yes, yes, I love making a big pot of soup, a delicious roast, a soul-warming casserole in the winter. I love the extra heat in the kitchen and the cozy feeling of eating cold weather meals. But sometimes, I get sick of heavy winter food and sometimes, it's so cold that I just want to hibernate! This would be great with a green salad or a fruit salad and some excellent crusty bread.

Garden Frittata
2 tbsp. oil
2 small potatoes, diced
1 c. shredded zucchini, squeezed dry
1 green pepper, cut in thin strips
1 red pepper, cut in thin strips
4 scallions, sliced
8 eggs
2 tbsp. milk
2 tbsp. parmesan
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat and add veggies. Cook 5-8 minutes. Spread them in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Beat the rest together and our over the veggies. Prick the mixture in a few places and, as the edges get firmer, gently lift them to allow uncooked egg mixture to flow underneath. Do not stir as you do this! Cover and cook on low 10-12 minutes. Invert onto a serving plate and cut in wedges to serve.

Black Bean Chili for Deep Chill Week

I have been informed that we are supposed to have a HIGH of zero degrees next week. A high. That's not very many. It was zero when I got up this morning and I begged on Facebook for someone please to help Princess Elsa control her magic. I don't like to be frozen! If you are somewhere in the brr zone this week, too, you might consider putting on a pot of black bean chili and making a pan of cornbread. This is how I do black bean chili. If you're vegetarian, sub another can of beans for the beef. I like mine with plenty of sour cream and shredded extra-sharp white cheddar.

1 lb. lean ground beef
2 tbsp. peanut oil (you can sub whatever kind you have on hand)
1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. whole cumin seeds (or a tsp. of ground cumin)
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 green pepper, chopped
15 oz. can black beans
Salt and pepper, to taste

Brown the beef with the onion, garlic, and chili in oil. Drain the fat and add everything else. Simmer, covered, about an hour and a half.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Breakfast in Bed Day!

My mom and I found or created a holiday for every day of the year back when I was a teenager. Some of the holidays have changed, but, since the 1980s, January 2nd has been Breakfast in Bed Day for us. This year, I finally tried the crockpot oatmeal recipe I've been hanging onto for the last few years. I never was a big oatmeal fan, reserving my hot cereal love for cream of wheat (which, incidentally, is magnificent with a little apple butter and a handful of walnuts). However, this overnight sensation could make an oatmeal lover out of anyone! It's the perfect consistency and tastes wonderful. It's perfect for breakfast in bed, too, because all you have to do is scoop some up and climb back into bed. I recommend adding some of your favorite nuts and a little cinnamon.

Slow Cooker Oatmeal
Coat your crockpot with cooking spray. Add 2 c. regular oatmeal (or steel-cut oats. Just no instant or quick cook oats.), 1 c. fruit (I used dried cherries & raisins. You can use whatever you like. Apples or peaches would be good.), 4 c. water, and a pinch of salt. Cook on low 8-10 hours. Serves 6-8.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Christmas Breakfast

When I was growing up, we would often make a Christmas Eve run to Young's Dairy for pecan sticky rolls to have in the morning. My mom and I would also make eggs and a basil potato pancake to complement the sweetness of the rolls and stocking candy we inevitably got into along with our stocking oranges. One of my favorite Christmas breakfasts, at my almost-grandma's house in St. Petersburg, Florida, included orange juice squeezed that morning from fruit we picked in her back yard.

As a young woman, I continued to spend Christmas with my mom, stepdad, and almost-grandma. My almost-grandma and my mom made stollen every year, a tradition from my almost-grandma's side of the family. We also had eggs & the potato pancake.

Since I began spending Christmases at home with Jeannene, 13 Christmases now, we've had a breakfast casserole I can pop in the crockpot before bed on Christmas Eve. We awake with breakfast already prepared and all I have to do is make our sweet. I've done cinnamon coffee cake, cheater sweet rolls, and stollen. But ever since I came across Paula Deen's recipe for gorilla bread and tried it, that has been our go-to sweet treat Christmas morning. If you like monkey bread (another of my almost-grandma's favorites), this is the same thing, amped up with cream cheese. Decadent, for certain! The first time I made it, Jeannene said, "That is a food group of its own. And it is elevated above all food groups."

Christmas Crockpot Breakfast
32 oz. frozen hash browns
1 lb ham (diced) or sausage (browned)
1 onion, diced (I just threw in a handful of minced, dried onion this year and it was great)
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
2 c. shredded cheddar
12 eggs
1 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

Layer first 5 ingredients in a crockpot. Beat eggs with milk & seasonings. Pour over layers in crockpot. Cook about 10 hours on low. 

Gorilla Bread
1/2 c. sugar
3 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter
1 c. brown sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, cut into 20 cubes
2 (10 count each) tubes whomp biscuits (as Jill Conner Browne describes them, on account of you whomp 'em against the counter to open 'em)
1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray. Mix the cinnamon & white sugar. Melt the butter with the brown sugar over low heat. Sprinkle each biscuit with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon sugar and then seal a cube of cream cheese in each. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts into the Bundt pan. Add half the biscuits. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and pour half the butter-brown sugar mixture over the top. Repeat, starting & ending with nuts. Bake half an hour to 45 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before inverting into a plate. Serves 12-15.

Easy New Year's Brunch

When I was a little kid, my mom and I made all kinds of baked goods like teddy bear bread and cookies. But one of the things I loved best of all was Pillsbury sweet rolls, either cinnamon or orange. They were so much fun! It was fun to pop open the tube, fun to separate the rolls and place them in a cake pan, not so much fun to wait for the oven to preheat, but lots of fun to slather the hot rolls with glistening icing.

Turns out Jeannene loved them, too, and still does. She especially loves picking up a couple tubes when the boys are in town. She wants gorilla bread Christmas morning, but we always have a tube of prefab rolls in the fridge during the holidays. Boot especially loved them as a kid and would eat as many as he could get away with and always gravitating, like his stepmama, to the ones most heavily iced.

I didn't want to spend all of New Year's Day cooking, so I came up with a quick and easy brunch that also felt special. Jeannene had said, a couple days ago, that she was in the mood for eggs in a nest. So, I made those with the orange rolls we had on hand and home fries made from last night's leftover baked potato. The home fries are so easy. Just slice leftover baked potatoes and fry in a combination of butter and olive oil until they're golden brown on each side.

To make eggs in a nest for two, cut or tear holes about 2" in diameter from the center of two slices of bread. I love to use a cookie cutter to make hearts, suns, stars, or whatever shape seems fun. It was hearts today, using a vintage cutter that belonged to my grandmom, a little way of including her in my 2014. 

Melt a tablespoon of butter in a skillet on medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the bread & the cut-outs. Carefully crack an egg into each hole. Season with salt & pepper and cook about 3 minutes, until bottoms are golden. Flip carefully and cook another minute or so. Serve with the cut-outs.

Last Dinner of 2013

Jeannene and I have a tradition of cheese fondue for New Year's Eve dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert. However, since Boot is with us for the holiday and is not a fondue man, I booked us a reservation at the Melting Pot for our anniversary on the 30th. Their cheese fondue is not as good as mine, but it's pretty good. We had a marvelous time and a great laugh. 

When her dinner arrived, the waiter tilted her plate ever so slightly and her lobster tail slid off, as if across a glassy lake of ice, and plummeted onto her (new, white) sweater in a shower of juice and paprika. I learned later in the meal that Jeannene had decided to practice mindful eating, based on instructions I'd posted on my spiritual coaching Facebook page (Dragonfly Joy: a Spiritual Oasis in a Parched World). She said, "Before my meal, I took a few breaths. Then, I got a lobster on me. Then, I took a few more breaths." It cracked me up.

Anyway, since we'd had our seasonal fondue, it was incumbent upon me to come up with a special, but manly, meal for New Year's Eve. Jeannene frequently does the cooking when our boys are in town and makes things like wings and ribs and hulking buffalo and elk burgers. I didn't dig that idea, so I ran my planned dinner by Boot. Filet mignon, baked potatoes, and broccoli. "Sounds good!" "Do you want a bigger steak, a ribeye or something?" "No, I'm good." I dropped him off for his 3-hour workout & hit the grocery. I was worried about the availability of the green peppercorns called for in the sauce, but there they were! So, our NYE dinner consisted of filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce, beautifully fluffy baked potatoes, and simple steamed broccoli. I suspected the sauce would be too frilly for Boot, but he really liked it. Turns out his very favorite steak these days is a Delmonico (who doesn't love a good Delmonico?), so maybe next time he visits, I'll make the sauce for some of those. The recipe comes from the May 2007 issue of Country Living.

Pan-Seared Filet with Green Peppercorn Sauce
4 (4 oz. each) filets, about an inch thick
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 c. dry red wine
3/4 c. beef broth
1 tsp. freshly-ground green peppercorns (I found my trusty mortar & pestle perfect for this task. I do think it matters to have green peppercorns specifically.)
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. butter

Mix the salt and black pepper and rub into the steaks. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Grease the pan using your preferred method---oil, cooking spray, butter. Cook the steaks about 3 minutes per side or to your preferred degree of doneness. Remove from pan and keep warm. Sauté shallots about 30 seconds before adding wine. Cook wine another couple minutes, scraping the bottom of the skillet to deglaze. The wine should be almost evaporated. Add the beef broth and ground pepper. Cook another couple minutes. Mix the cornstarch with the tsp of cool water to dissolve it. Add to the skillet and bring to a boil. Cook a minute, stirring, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted. Serve over the steaks.

Midnight found me eating a piece of my flourless chocolate cake with my champagne, but dinner was so good as to render dessert unnecessary. This would make a wonderful Valentine's Day dinner, as well.