Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Holiday Dressing

(Printable Recipe)
My mom always said, "If you don't have celery and sage, don't make dressing." This has plenty of both and proves her point. I've made this more times than I can count and it's always been a favorite at Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts. Both bready ingredients are easily made on the spot (or even several days ahead since stale bread works wonderfully in a dressing). And both are "cheater" breads although if you'd prefer to make from scratch, have at it. I toast your virtuous nature.

Here I have baked one can of southern style biscuits and two boxes of Jiffy cornbread. I prefer Jiffy because a sweet cornbread enhances the natural sweetness of the pecans and balances beautifully with the savory sage and vegetables. Crumble both into a large baking dish at least 9x13. I've used one size larger, please don't ask me to go measure it.
Add a large onion and 2 or 3 ribs of celery, chopped. 
And be liberal with that sage. I mean throw in 3 or 4 palms full. If it doesn't smell fragrant, stop now and go buy a new bottle. I realize a whole year can slip by without breaking out the sage and it bottled herbs just don't live forever.
I've added a heaping cupful of whole pecans and most of a stick of butter cut into small pieces and scattered over the top. Lastly, pour on a full quart of chicken stock. It should be very wet, almost swimming in the stock. Add more until you can see liquid within 1/4 inch of the top of the dry ingredients. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes or even an hour, until the top is browned and slightly crunchy but the inside is moist. The final dressing will be loaded with flavors, herb fragrant, and nutty delicious!

Fall Fest finishes out this week with these other delicious ideas for Holiday   sides. But check back in two weeks as we begin to blog together for Comfort Food Feast.   Have a wonderful holiday season!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kahlua Baked Acorn Squash

(Printable Recipe)
A little liqueur is a delicious enhancement to the natural sweetness of many a winter squash. These festive looking babies are Carnival Squash, love child of the Sweet Dumpling and the Acorn squash. (Sounds rather carny, I know, I know.) They are beautifully sweet and orange on the inside and make a lovely side dish to replace those overly sweet sweet-potatoes. And prep time is maybe 5 minutes including reaching into the fridge for the butter.
Use your sharpest large knife - let thin and sharp trump size if you only have a medium size chef knife. You may split from stem to stern if you prefer. I like to slice a thin piece from the pointy bottom to make it sit flat in the pan and I also cut off the top like a small lid.
IF you have one of these grapefruit spoons, you'll find it to be the best of tools for scraping out the seeds down to the smooth flesh.

Aluminum foil makes cleanup so much easier, but you still need to spray with a little Pam for non-stick-to-it-tiveness. Place the squash face down with a tablespoon or two of water and bake 30-40 minutes at 350.

Assemble the finishing touch! Melt 1-2 Tbs of butter and choose Kahlua or Amaretto. There's more than enough for half a dozen squashes in one of these tiny "airline" bottles that every liquor store carries these days. (Prefect size for all sorts of desserts and cheap, so it's worth it to stock up on a variety of flavors.)

When the squash is softened and almost cooked through, flip them over with tongs. Brush each with butter first and drizzle in a teaspoon of liqueur. Brush that all around the rim and insides several times.
Return to the oven for 15 minutes or until completely done. When the fork easily pierces soft flesh it's suppertime!
Check out these other delicious ways with winter squash. FallFest continues several more weeks as we blog together with the Food Network to celebrate winter produce. Stay tuned for Broccoli ideas next week, followed by Holiday Sides!

Feed Me Phoebe: Baked Acorn Squash with Maple-Siracha Glaze
Jeanette's Healthy Living: Thai Red Curry Chicken with Winter Squash
The Lemon Bowl: Stovetop Mac and Cheese with Winter Squash
Big Girls, Small Kitchen: Provencal Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash & Chickpeas
Weelicious: Cinnamon Roast Butternut Squash
Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Creamy Squash Rigatoni
Blue Apron Blog: Acorn Squash Tempura Tacos
Taste With The Eyes: A Hearty Tomato Soup with Sausage and Spaghetti Squash
Devour: Winter Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Dishin & Dishes: Roasted Acorn Squash Crescents with Sage Pecan Pesto
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Roasted Pumpkin & Apple Slices with Maple Syrup
Red or Green: Butternut Squash Salad with Kale, Cranberries and Cayenne
Virtually Homemade: Spaghetti Squash Lasagna with Basil Walnut Pesto
Domesticate Me: Chipotle Pork Tenderloin and Butternut Squash Tacos
FN Dish: Comforting Winter Squash Sides

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fresh Figs with Lemon Cream

Oh, joy! Fresh fig "flowers" adorned with a dollop of lemon cream, what could be naturally sweeter? I know, I know, they need NO adornment, being perfectly sweet enough in their own skin, but I couldn't help but gild the lily a bit with the complimentary flavor of lemon. I've heard the flavor of figs described as strawberry crossed with a peach, but it's just more complex than that, maybe add honey or mango to that list. Best to do some extensive taste testing and note making and I'll get back to the meantime let's put together a nosh to gnash on.

Look at those Turkeys! Really, I mean look at those Brown Turkeys in the back there, and the lovely Candy Striped Adriatics all nuzzled up to our one lone Black Mission Figgy right up front. Such a lovely collection of Mild, Sweet, and Extra Sweet (from back to front again). And these are all perfectly ripe which you'll know if they give without feeling mushy when you squeeze.

 First we'll clip the stem completely off. If any white latex exudes from the cut, clip again to get completely past the stem and just slightly into the flesh of the fig.
A quick crisscross cut not quite all the way through and you'll have pretty little flowers. Or crazy little FEED-ME aliens, whichever way you tilt your head to look at them.

Not Perfect. Toss it.

Now for that dollop of lemon cream. Just takes two ingredients:
Lemon Curd and Whipping Cream

I think there is simply no substitute for good old fresh whipped cream and since it takes a whopping 5 minutes to make I try to always have some cream on hand. Thank you Trader Joe's for this perfect tasting Shelf Stable Whipping Cream that stores right in my pantry. Now, having bragged around about that just now, I have to admit that you've got to get it cold for it to whip, so shelf stable or not, toss it in the freezer for 15 minutes (EXACTLY) or fridge for a few hours ahead of time along with bowl and beater, of course.
Unless you're throwing this together at the last minute and then just use some ice water to ready the bowl and beater in a minute or two, dried well. Gotta have icy cold cream so the fat is stable enough to hold the air bubbles you'll be whipping in. (Warm fat is weak fat, people.)

Your cream will whip it together in no time. When it is well thickened, add Lemon Curd a tablespoon at a time and taste. It took about 3 of this brand for the cream to reach Nirvana.
That's it. You're done. Get the dolloping spoon and have at it.

Check out these other delicious ways with figs and keep checking back in each week. All summer long we'll be blogging together with the Food Network to celebrate SummerFest with loads of ideas for your Farmer's Market finds. Stay tuned for Beets next week!

Feed Me Phoebe: Gluten-Free Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey
Jeanette's Healthy Living: Roasted Fig Greek Yogurt Chai Spiced Sorghum Parfait
Devour: A Perfect Pairing of Figs and Pizza Dough
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Fig and Grand Marnier Jam
Red or Green: Roasted Fig, Beet and Orange Salad with Maple Syrup and Jalapeno Vinaigrette
Dishing: Fig Lassi (Fresh Fig Yogurt Smoothie)
Weelicious: Homemade Fig Bars
Virtually Homemade: Fig and Plum Crostata
The Sensitive Epicure: Figs with Goat Cheese, Honey, and Thyme
Domesticate Me: Flatbread with Fresh Figs, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese
Taste With The Eyes: Frozen Fig with Rose, Almond and Rosemary
FN Dish: Go Big with Fleeting Figs

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Marinated Peppers and Shrimp New Orleans Style

If you've never had marinated shrimp and peppers like this, you're in for a rare treat. In Louisiana it's more often referred to as pickled shrimp, but I feared the dill-pickle connotation might taint an otherwise marvelous dish. We'll call it marinated, which it is, and you'll savor every last morsel down to the tiniest caper at the bottom of the jar. When I prepare this I usually make at least one small jar as a gift for some lucky friend that week who really appreciates such a hard-to-come-by treat.

There are two layers of complex flavors working here and the first is in the boiling brine for the shrimp. Before the shrimp ever touches the water, we'll boil it 20 minutes to develop the brine with these ingredients (yep, it's quite a list - don't leave anything out and the end result to be well worth your while):

20 whole allspice
8 whole peppercorns
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 TBS Worcestershire Sauce
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime and the rind
20 cloves
1 lg onion quartered
6 cloves of garlic
3 Celery Stalks broken in several pieces
1 dried red pepper

Add these to a large pot with 10 cups of water, bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes.

Into the cauldron of brine, add 2 to 2-1/2 pounds raw peeled shrimp and immediately lower the heat to the very gentlest simmer. Shrimp cooks very quickly and we want it to have time to absorb the flavor of the brine without getting tough. Let it cook very gently for 12-15 minutes.

While it's cooking thinly slice red, orange, and yellow sweet bell peppers. Also thinly slice a large Vidalia onion and assemble the other items which will be layered with the shrimp:
Several peeled garlic cloves
2-3 Tbs capers
1/2 Jar Bay Leaves
15 Whole Allspice

I usually start with a clove of garlic, using just one of those per jar. Next a layer of onion and peppers, then shrimp, a sprinkle of capers, and finally a bay leaf or two. Just keep following this pattern, pressing down to compact everything about halfway through.

When the jars are filled to the top it's time to make the marinade and finish them off. You may like this blend so well that you find other ways to use it! (Like this jar of colorful peppers only.) It's basically a very flavorful vinaigrette that works for pickling any vegetable or as a salad dressing.
1-1/4 cups Canola Oil (normally I use Olive Oil for everything, but this is one time that Canola is better)
3/4 cup White Vinegar            
1-1/2 tsp Salt
2-1/2 tsp Celery Seed
2-1/2 TBS capers and Juice
Dash of Hot Sauce
1/4 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1 TBS mustard

Whisk together in a large measuring cup until well blended. Pour slowly into each filled jar to completely cover shrimp and all ingredients. It may help to use a chopstick or thin knife along the inside wall of the jar to ease the marinade through the layers with no air bubbles. Everything should be submerged at the top also. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours. It will keep at least a week or more. This is delicious as an appetizer as is. Or spoon some over a green salad with just a bit of the marinade for a supreme lunch dish!

Check out these other delicious ways with peppers and keep checking back in each week. All summer long we'll be blogging together with the Food Network to celebrate SummerFest with loads of ideas for your Farmer's Market finds. Stay tuned for the fabulous fig next week!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Colorful Sweet Pepper-Avocado Salsa

(Printable Recipe)
A fresh alternative to avocado with the crunch and tang of fresh bell peppers. This tomato-less salsa comes together in a quick 5 or 10 minutes and makes a perfect dip, topping for salad, or side dish - take your pick.

Three different colored bell peppers (though I skipped the green variety as a bit too pungent and raw tasting for this dish), 1 lime, 1 bunch of scallions, and a bag of mystery fruit.
Nah, that's just avocado in there. They weren't quite soft enough yesterday but one day in a paper bag will usually do the trick as they stew in their own ethylene gases and ripen themselves up.

Reduce it all to a nice evenly chopped assortment of rainbow beauty. I like about half as much of each color pepper as total amount of avocado. Just my preference. 
Now juice up that lime and give it a pinch of cumin and pinch of cayenne pepper or ground chipotle chili pepper if you've got it (McCormick's makes a nice one). Fold together gently with a spatula so the avocado stays in nice cubes instead of smashing.

Lastly, blend in a spoon or two of sugar, tasting for a good balance of tangy but slightly sweet. The level of sweetness of the peppers will determine how much sugar you need.

Serve now or let it get even happier awhile in the fridge. The acidic lime juice will keep the avocado nice and green for days!

Avocados are so much more than guacamole fare! Check out all these other wonderful ideas for avocado dressing and stuffing and even egg salad. All summer long we'll be blogging together with the Food Network to celebrate SummerFest with loads of ideas for your Farmer's Market finds. Join us, right here, every week!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Blackberry Cheesecake with Fresh Peach Topping

(Printable Recipe)
When blackberries and peaches are at their peak, marry them together with this deliciously light cheesecake that showcases the fresh perfection of the season's fruit. (Yet not without a slightly decadent cookie crust!) 
Pick the sweetest, most fragrant peaches you can find, that give a bit when squeezed, but not so much that they are mushy. Peel and cut into bite sized pieces, sugaring them only enough to enhance their flavor. Reject any that aren't already flavorful without the sugar.  Just a few gratings of nutmeg - or the tiniest pinch - will enhance their flavor.

Start with crust. Melt 4 Tbs of Butter in the microwave, which we will add to one full bag of Pepperridge Farm Chessmen Cookies in the food processor. I know of no other suitable substitute for their buttery sweet shortbread flavor so don't choose anything else. Really. The cake and topping are both light on sugar and are balanced by the richness of this crust. Start the food processor running with all cookies first then pour in the butter and stop when all is damp and darkened by the butter. No sugar is added to this because the cookies are sweet enough.

Press into a Pam-sprayed 9 to 9-1/2" springform pan and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until just slightly browned and a bit darker around the edges.
When it smells irresistible, you'll know you're on the right track.

While the crust cools, let's start that cheesecakey filling. Either rinse the bowl of the food processor (superior method) or use an electric mixer to thoroughly blend the following into a smooth batter: 2 softened pkgs of Cream Cheese, 1/2 C Ricotta, 3 Eggs, 1 tsp Vanilla, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 Tbs Fresh Lemon Juice, 3/4 C Sugar.

 A note about the cream cheese: it MUST be very soft to blend well. I heat mine, out of the pkg, on a plate for almost a minute in the microwave or until it is slumping off the plate, otherwise you will have unevenly blended pieces of white cream cheese bits throughout your imperfect cheesecake in the end.
The filling may seem fairly thin and liquidy, almost like pancake batter. That's OK. It will be just right when baked!
Now, to scatter and submerge the berries which will turn bright fuchsia-pink as the cake cooks. These are wild berries I picked from the fence row in our orchard and popped in the freezer on a cookie sheet for an hour or so. This keeps them from falling apart or bursting and staining the entire cake an ugly purple. If you purchase frozen berries, get the dry pack type and feel the bag to make sure they are individually frozen and moving around like little marbles in there, not one solid chunk.

Make sure they are pushed just below the surface of the batter. And yes, I'm using a fancy orange chopstick for this little chore.

You can use the back of a spoon if you prefer, just don't disturb the berries much and your reward will be a most lovely dotted slice of cake with luscious whole berries therein.

Bake at 375 checking it at 30 and 45 minutes. It may even take an hour depending on the exact size of your pan and temperamentality of your oven. The middle should be set and not wiggly at all when lightly shaken. Allow to cool several hours on counter (and even overnight in fridge) before cutting. If the sides have not pulled away from the edges, run a thin sharp knife all the way around before unbuckling the springform to remove, then slide onto a large platter with base of pan intact.

Ah, beauty. This only works if you're serving the entire cake immediately. (Unfortunately, you'll have a soggy cake the next morning if you store it topped, such are the powers of the juicy peach.) Just spoon some peaches over each slice as they are plated and store the remainder separately if you intend to attempt to make this baby last more than 24 hours!

SummerFest at the Food Network website is offering up the best ideas for your Farmer's Market finds all summer long. You'll find me right there and we'll be blogging together with the FN Dish to produce fabulous ways to enjoy your produce!  Next week watch for eggplant thoughts, but right now check out these other ideas for peaches:

Jeanette’s Healthy Living: Peach Kiwi Salsa
Chez Us: Upside Down Peach Bourbon Cake
The Heritage Cook: Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone Filling
Virtually Homemade: Peach Cobbler Muffins
Made By Michelle: Mint Peach Popsicles
Taste With The Eyes: The BLP Sandwich (Bacon, Lettuce and Peach)
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Healthy Peach Crisp Smoothie
Red or Green: Spiced Peach Daiquiri
Feed Me Phoebe: Peach Lassi
Domesticate Me: Grilled Halibut Tacos with Peach Salsa
Weelicious: Kenya’s Peach Cake
Blue Apron Blog: Seared Trout with Peach and Arugula Salad
The Sensitive Epicure: Grilled Peaches with Greek Yogurt, Honey, Lime Zest and Vanilla
FN Dish: 5 Unsung Sides of the Summer Peach
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