Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking Ahead to the Holidays

It's not even December 1st but I'm already thinking about ways to make this season a little less stressful. I've been writing an article on appetizers and looking at ways to make them ahead or for very easy recipes.

Here are some ideas for "fast and easy".
Make spiced nuts or snack mixes to have on hand.
Red pepper jelly keeps well in the refrigerator and is delicious on top of a black of cream cheese surrounded by crackers.
For last minute guests, pop a batch of popcorn and season it with some chili powder and ground cumin or create your own herb combination. This is perfect with drinks.

Here's an old favorite that is served warm with crackers or rye bread.

Chipped Beef Dip

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-3 ounces) package dried beef, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Crackers or cocktail rye bread

Beat the cream cheese in a medium bowl until it's smooth. Stir in the sour cream, milk and salt until smooth and creamy. Add the chopped beef and onions and mix. Spoon into an ovenproof baking dish (pie plate). Sprinkle with the walnuts.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until heated through and walnuts are toasted. Serve with crackers or rye bread.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Simplify Your Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is probably the holiday most imbued with traditions. This year shake it up- but just a bit.

Last night I saw Bobby Flay lose a throwdown Thanksgiving Dinner because he didn't have any mashed potatoes! Well, duh! But you can make them ahead and keep them hot in a crock pot eliminating the last minute rush. Consider having a fresh vegetable side dish, too.

If you have a large frozen turkey, it should already be thawing in the refrigerator. If it's not thawed in time, defrost in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.

Cranberry Sauce is always a favorite and can be made several days ahead. You might want to try a new salad or side dish but don't stray too far.

When someone offers to "bring something", let them. Light appetizers, fresh bread or wine are easy to bring and are one less thing to worry about.

Plan ahead for the big dinner and look for recipes that say "MAKE AHEAD!" Set the table the day before and evaluate your oven space.

Remember, the best part of the day is sharing with family and friends. Here's a recipe for a pumpkin pie from Baking Basics and Beyond that's just a little different.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin Streusel Pie

Contribute a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner, and you will be a very popular guest.

Pastry for a 9-inch single-crust pie
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Sweetened Whipped Cream

Heat oven to 425°F with oven rack in lower third.

Roll out pastry into an 11-inch circle. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and lift it into 9-inch pie pan. Unroll and press dough into pan edges and bottom, making sure that the pastry is not stretched.

Combine pumpkin and 3/4 cup brown sugar in large bowl and mix until sugar dissolves and no lumps remain. Add eggs, cinnamon, and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in milk. Pour pumpkin mixture into pastry shell.
Bake 15 minutes.

Combine 1/4 cup brown sugar with flour. Cut in butter with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-sized pieces. Stir in pecans.
Reduce oven to 350°F. Crumble topping around outer edge of pie. Bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until set in center and a knife comes out clean although it will be wet. Cool on wire cooling rack at least 4 hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream. Store in the refrigerator.

BAKER’S NOTES: Test for doneness about 1/2 inch away from pie’s center—the filling should look set and not jiggle. When pumpkin pie is baked too long, the crust will become soggy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cranberries add Sparkle to Any Dinner

This is the time of year to stock up on cranberries. Hopefully there will be some specials this week and next, because like everything else, prices have risen. Take advantage and freeze a couple bags for later. Just place the unopened bags in the freezer. Don't wash the berries until you are ready to use them and use them frozen,there's no need to thaw.

The best news is that cranberries are high in antioxidants that help us to stay healthy. Scientists are discovering new compounds in cranberries and other fruits that slow the destruction of cells, also slowing aging. A half cup of cranberries also contains 10% of the RDA for vitamin C.

Probably Cranberry Nut Bread or Muffins and Cranberry Sauce, Relish or Chutney are the most familiar foods starring this brilliant red berry.

Here's another great recipe using cranberries from Baking Basics and Beyond.

Cranberry Walnut Tartlets

Be sure to try this with crème fraiche—the puckery cranberry filling of the tarts contrasts delightfully with the silky crème.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut-up
3–4 tablespoons ice water

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen, cranberries
1/2–3/4 cup crème fraîche (see page 290)

Heat oven to 350°F with oven rack in lower third.

Place flour, sugar, and salt in food processor bowl. Pulse about 5 times to mix. Add butter. Process until coarse crumbs form with some pea-sized pieces. Add 3 tablespoons ice water and process until dough begins to clump together. Process about 10 seconds. If large clumps do not form, add a little more water, 1 teaspoon at a time. Place dough on well-floured work surface, and gather it together into a ball.
Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Press into bottoms of 8 (3-inch) tart pans. Press firmly against sides of pans. Extend the dough a little above the sides to prevent filling from sticking.

Combine brown sugar and flour in medium bowl. Add corn syrup, vanilla, and eggs. Whisk until mixture is smooth. No lumps of brown sugar or flour should remain.
Stir in butter, walnuts, and cranberries. Divide filling into prepared shells, using about 1/4 cup for each. Gently even out surfaces of the tarts so that nuts and cranberries are evenly spaced.
Bake 28 to 33 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Crusts should be golden brown. Cool tarts on wire cooling rack. Remove from pans. Serve warm or at room temperature with crème fraîche.

BAKER’S NOTES: Place tarts on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper in case filling runs over the sides.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What OrganicProduce is Worth the Extra Cost?

Because organic foods tend to be more expensive, it makes good sense to make some economic choices. Buy organic for foods that traditionally carry pesticide residues such as apples, potatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, carrots, peaches and nectarines. Although these foods can be peeled, many nutrients and some fiber are lost in the process.

Apples absorb pesticides more than other fruits so if you can't choose organic, peel them or look for apples from New Zealand where fewer pesticides are used.

Organic baby food doesn't contain chemical residues and is best for their delicate systems.

Because cows eat grains cultivated with pesticides, the milk and butter produced from these cows, will have some residues.

Even though you don't eat the rind on cantaloupe, this fruit easily absorbs pesticides. I am trying to remember to wash cantaloupe before cutting to prevent contamination but it's a new concept.

Cucumbers can contain pesticide residues inside and also in the wax used for preservation, so always remove the skin.

Grapes are treated with multiple chemicals, especially grapes from Chile. Look for domestic grapes.

Strawberries are one of the most contaminated fruits. Eat local berries in season to limit your exposure.

Winter squash absorbs dieldrin into its flesh but Mexican squash is dieldrin-free because the soil is free from it.

When you buy local you will know what you are getting. Organic is a step is a healthy directions.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Thanksgiving for Two

If there are only two at your Thanksgiving table this year, start a new tradition and roast a Cornish hen instead of a turkey. Cornish hens are the perfect size for two. Coarsely ground peppercorns and chopped thyme add flavor and color. Complete the meal with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Kitchen twine can be used to tie the legs together but I've started using silicone cords that lock together and make it easy. After roasting the hen, remove the cords and wash them in the dishwasher and then you can use them again.

Lemon Thyme Roasted Cornish Hen

Serves 2

1 onion, cut into thick slices
1 (24 oz.) Cornish game hen, thawed
1 lemon, cut into wedges
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Place onion on bottom of a small roasting pan (or use a small rack).

Remove the giblets and neck from the hen if necessary. Rinse and pat dry. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Stuff 2 lemon wedges and thyme sprigs into hen. Tie legs together and tuck wings under.

Combine chopped thyme with butter. Brush over hen. Season outside with salt and pepper. Place breast side up in roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes.

Baste with pan juices. Continue roasting 15 to 30 minutes until meat thermometer registers 160 to 165 degrees F. and juices run clear. Remove from the oven. Cover loosely and let stand 10 minutes so that the juices are reabsorbed.

Divide into two servings and serve breast meat and leg. Spoon the pan juices over the meat, if desired.

Food Safety: Always use a meat thermometer to judge the doneness of poultry. An instant read thermometer works well and is inexpensive but my favorite is a digital thermometer with a probe. Because the probe is inserted in the meat, when it registers the preset temperature it sounds an alarm. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone. To insure food safety, it is important to cook all poultry to 160 to 165 degrees F.