Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spiced Citrus Syrup

Although Jack says that I “over-do it with the vegetables”, neither of us eat much fruit. In fact the only time that we regularly do have fruit is in the morning, with breakfast. It has, fortunately, become a habit. I often read that eating a wide variety of both fruits and vegetables is the basis for a healthy diet, and every once in a while I will buy apples, or pears, and leave a big bowl of them on the kitchen table as a reminder to snack on these. It doesn’t work. I, unconsciously, seem to view the bowl as a decoration and, when the time comes, the apples are made into applesauce or the pears are pureed and frozen as an oil substitute for baking.

The fruit that we enjoy is seasonal. I see cantaloupe and honeydew in the stores at this time of year and just cannot bring myself to purchase any (as when I see oranges in the summer). In my mind, there are spring fruits, summer fruits, fall fruits, and currently, winter fruits. These consist of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, pears, grapes, and bananas. I realize that it’s rather limiting, but I prefer to eat fresh, seasonal produce.

During the holidays, I add a little spark to the morning fruit bowl with a light, spiced syrup. I boil water and sugar with orange and grapefruit peel, cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. Twice a week I will peel and section citrus fruits and keep them in a tightly-covered container with the syrup. To serve, I scoop the fruit out with a slotted spoon (allowing most of the syrup to drain back into the bowl) then add pears, bananas, grapes, etc. The added fruit is lightly flavored with the spices, and everything blends well.

This is a very nice change-of-pace for our morning fruit bowl, definitely appropriate also for company and for a brunch side dish.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spiced Citrus Syrup

Recipe By: Vicci

Makes about 1 cup

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1 stick cinnamon -- (about 3" long)

6 whole cloves

3 whole allspice berries

1 large orange, peeled

1 large grapefruit, peeled

Place the citrus peel on a cutting board, with the peel side down. Flatten (cut into pieces if necessary) and, with a small, sharp knife, carefully remove as much of the white pith as possible. Section orange and grapefruit (use more, if needed, since only the peel from one of each fruit is required for the syrup); set aside fruit in a plastic or glass container.

Stir water and sugar together in a small pan, heat over medium flame until sugar melts and the mixture starts to boil. Add remaining ingredients (spices and peels), turn the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes (stir occasionally)

Remove from heat and allow to steep for 30-45 minutes. Strain into bowl and add desired amount of citrus fruit. Keep, covered, in the refrigerator.

When serving, other types of fruit can be added.

NOTES : If you scoop the fruit from the syrup and allow the extra syrup to drain back into the container, you can add more citrus when needed. I repeat this for about two weeks, then discard the unused syrup.

Ground spices can also be used in the syrup, but they will not be strained out. If I ever do this, I will re-post the recipe with the revised amounts in. For now, make a guess!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Spiced Chicken with Sautéed Collards and Peppers

When I said yesterday that there would few, if any, newly-tried recipes posted here in the near future, I lied.

While I was grocery shopping today, I saw a 2 pound bag of collard greens on sale for $1.50. I have used kale before, and turnip greens, but collard greens would be a new adventure. I was thinking that, for dinner on New Years’ Day, I would locate a recipe for greens, black eyed peas, and (turkey) kielbasa.

A few hours later, I was stuck on what to make for our dinner this evening. I saw my November issue of Real Simple on the kitchen table (I’m a little behind in my magazine-reading) with a feature on “Quick, Any Occasion Dinners”. I flipped the magazine open and the very first recipe I saw was, amazingly, Spiced Chicken with Sautéed Collards and Peppers. Yep, it was fate!

The resulting dish was very good. We both love the flavor of cumin, and spicy foods are always enjoyed, so the chicken was delicious. I had thought that the accompanying vegetables might be bland, only being seasoned with salt and pepper, but the sautéed red peppers, onions, and collard greens were excellent, with a wonderful flavor to the collard greens. Who knew?!

I served the chicken and veggies with slices of whole wheat flatbread (which wasn’t planned to actually be a flatbread when I made it a couple of weeks ago, but I did not measure the yeast correctly; it has been in the freezer, since then, awaiting use).

The only change I made to the recipe was to alter the preparation a little. The instructions were to pan-fry the chicken breasts for 6-8 minutes then finish them in the oven. I really think that it is a waste to preheat an oven to 400F just to cook something for 6-7 minutes. I debated between using the toaster oven, or covering the pan with a lid to finish cooking the chicken (which would steam it rather than roast it, but how different could the result be?), and chose the toaster oven over dirtying another pan.

I do get a little annoyed when a recipe states the quantity of an ingredient to be something rather subjective, as in this recipe’s “1 large bunch collard greens”. Okay, so what exactly is large? So I looked on the package of greens which I bought and determined the quantity through serving size indicated in the nutritional information. In this case, it will be one pound of collard greens for 4 servings.

All told, a very, very good 25-minute dinner! And look at how Christmas-ey! :)

Spiced Chicken with Sautéed Collards and Peppers

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 large bunch collard greens, thick stems removed

Heat oven to 400° F. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast until cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the collard leaves crosswise. Add to the skillet along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, tossing, until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with the chicken.

Substitution: If you can't find collard greens at the market, Swiss chard or spinach will work just as well.

Yield: Makes 4 servings


Kate Merker
Real Simple, NOVEMBER 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pink Sauce

I feel as though I have been cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating, and entertaining for over a month without stopping... I have enjoyed it all, but I'm tired. There will be little, if any, "new" recipes posted here for the next week or two. Instead, let's take a trip in the WABAC machine to a whole 22 days ago...

One of the stars of our anniversary party earlier this month was Lobster Ravioli with Pink Sauce.

Since I was planing to serve two other types of ravioli, and a tortellini, I was having some difficulty locating sauces which would coordinate with the individual pastas, yet each be interesting on its own and not contrast with the other pastas and sauces. It drove me a little bit nuts.

I found this sauce recipe on www.razzledazzlerecipes.com, and it was perfect. Fresh garlic is sauteed in olive oil, then fresh tomatoes and cream were added. Finished with Parmesan, and salt and pepper, it was a beautiful, delicious sauce. The cream and tomatoes provided a sweetness which blended nicely with the delicate, sweet lobster filling. And it looks pretty, too.

Yes, I said cream. It was a special occasion and I used the high-fat, top-shelf ingredients which made everything taste wonderful. Don't look at the nutritional information....

Be certain to use the very best fresh tomatoes. If you have to splurge for the heirloom ones, do so. I found that the Campari brand (sold in plastic-- recyclable #1!-- containers with the stems attached) work just fine. And fresh basil. The dried stuff simply will not work for a sauce such as this.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pink Sauce

Recipe By: Razzledazzlerecipes.com
Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1/4 cup olive oil
9 medium garlic cloves -- finely chopped
6 medium ripe tomatoes -- chopped
10 large fresh basil leaves -- julienned
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese -- freshly grated
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper -- to taste

In a nonreactive heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Saute garlic for about 3 minutes, or just until it begins to color a bit; don't let it burn.

Add tomatoes, basil, and cream, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and let sauce reduce for about 2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan cheese until it melts; season with salt and pepper.

Don't let sauce boil after adding cheese or it will get stringy.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 177 Calories (kcal); 15g Total Fat; (73% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 8g Carbohydrate; 19mg Cholesterol; 140mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : You can make this a day ahead and reheat over low heat, in a double boiler, or at 50-power in a microwave (do not add basil until reheating).

once again, proof that a flash can absolutely kill a photo!!!
when will I learn????

This is a photo of the pink sauce with the lobster ravioli. This sauce would be incredible with any pasta, especially a plain one such as penne, since the incredible flavor of the sauce would just shine through.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chocolate Chip and Peppermint Crunch Crackles

I know, it’s late for a post such as this one, but I wanted to mention one of my favorite cookie discoveries of this Holiday season— Chocolate Chip and Peppermint Crunch Crackles.

I copied this recipe from Laura’s blog over at A Spiced Life. I have always loved the flavor combination of chocolate and peppermint. My Mom encouraged my baking, when I was a kid, and my favorite cake was chocolate with a peppermint-flavored buttercream frosting. My poor Dad, however, is not a fan of peppermint so I would be requested to frost only 2/3 of the cake; he would then squirt some Reddi-Whip on his plain, unfrosted slices…

My first batch, a double, was not enough and I needed to make another. First note, if you do make a double batch, after melting the chocolate and butter, add the crushed peppermint and then transfer it to a large bowl (I used my KA). The batter is too dense, when the ingredients are doubled, to hand-mix.

Next, instead of crushing those round peppermint candies (which are rather thick) I used mini candy canes. This worked great, I used my small food processor, although removing the static-charged cellophane wrapping challenged my patience. ;)

I tried a few variations on “finishing” these cookies. Laura said that pressing the crushed peppermint into the cookie after baking didn’t work very well, so I didn’t even try it. I rolled the unbaked dough balls in powdered sugar prior to baking, but the powdered sugar clumped and, when baked, the cookie was covered in a sticky, uneven coating of it. What worked best, for me, was rolling the dough in my hands then pressing the tops of the balls lightly into a saucer of snowflake-shaped sprinkles.

After baking, I allowed the cookies to cool for 5 minutes, then sifted powdered sugar over.

These are delicious—fudgey, dense, with an almost brownie-like flavor. And nicely “pepperminty”!

My changes are noted below in italics.

Chocolate Chip & Peppermint Crunch Crackles
Adapted from Bon Appetit

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used half dark chocolate and half semisweet)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies (or 22 mini candy canes, crushed)
6 1/2 T sugar
3 large eggs
2 t vanilla extract
1 t peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 cup (about 3 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup Andes peppermint baking chips (I didn’t have these, so I used semisweet chips)
Coarsely crushed peppermints (didn’t use)
Powdered sugar

Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolates melt and mixture is smooth. Remove pan from heat. Mix in finely crushed mints and 6 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Whisk eggs into the chocolate mixture, 1 at a time, then whisk in vanilla extract and peppermint extract. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Whisk flour mixture in to the chocolate mixture. Fold the chocolate chips and Andes baking chips into chocolate mixture. Cover batter and chill until firm enough to shape, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 325 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using 1 generous tablespoonful for each cookie, roll dough between moistened palms into 1 1/4-inch-diameter balls, then arrange on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until puffed and cracked on top but still soft to touch in center, about 11 minutes. (Mine didn’t exactly get cracked on top, but they were done when the edges looked dry and the centers were still a bit soft)

Let stand on sheets 5 minutes. Press coarsely crushed mints onto tops of cookies or sprinkle with powdered sugar. Transfer to racks; cool completely.

Well, this is it until after Christmas. I try my best, every year, to be organized and, every year, I find that I didn’t do so well… :)

Happy holidays, everyone!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Roasted Pear and Butternut Squash Soup

I had big plans of posting several recipes from our anniversary party, and also the many cookie recipes I've made this year. Unfortunately, because I am making all those cookies, and trying to get everything done before Christmas (6 days! gulp!), this will not be possible.

The cookie recipes will wait until next year (would it be possible to be organized enough to write the posts in January, then actually remember to post them next November??? Could I possibly do that??? :)

This will most likely be my final post before Christmas. We leave to visit my parents' next Tuesday and will not return until Saturday.

For the first course at our anniversary party, I chose Eating Well's "Roasted Pear and Butternut Squash Soup. Heaven. Roasting the pears and squash really brought out their flavors, and the soup has a sweet, caramel-y note from the roasting process. I served with crumbled gorgonzola on the side since Jack claims not to like blue cheese.

It was an easy, elegant soup, perfect for an everyday dinner (served with salad and bread) or a special occasion multi-course meal. I made it 3 weeks ahead of time, so it was in the freezer and ready to be thawed and heated-- couldn't have been a better choice for an easy and delicious first course!

Roasted Pear-Butternut Soup with Crumbled Stilton

Makes 6 servings, 1 1/3 cups each


2 ripe pears, peeled, quartered and cored
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced and washed thoroughly
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
⅔ cup crumbled Stilton or other blue-veined cheese
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh chives or scallion greens


1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Combine pears, squash, tomatoes, leek, garlic, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a large bowl; toss to coat. Spread evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, 40 to 55 minutes. Let cool slightly.
3. Place half the vegetables and 2 cups broth in a blender; puree until smooth. Transfer to a large saucepan. Puree the remaining vegetables and 2 cups broth. Add to the pan and stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
4. Cook the soup over medium-low heat, stirring, until hot, about 10 minutes. Divide among 6 bowls and garnish with cheese and chives (or scallion greens).


Nutrition Information

Per serving: 236 calories; 10 g fat (4 g sat, 5 g mono); 11 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 6 g fiber; 721 mg sodium; 721 mg potassium.

Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (350% daily value), Vitamin C (70% dv), Potassium (21% dv), Calcium (20% dv).

2 Carbohydrate Servings

Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 fruit, 2 fat

I may be able to make it back here for one more pre-Christmas post... I have a chocolate-peppermint cookie which I just have to share!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pear Cranberry Vinaigrette

Because of our anniversary party, I allowed my holiday preparations to slide. Horribly. Yesterday I decided that, no matter what the cost to my sanity, I would complete all of my gift purchases today. I was not looking forward to this, as I am not normally a "shopper". Last year I did most of my shopping online, but this year I waited too long.

Today was a complete surprise. The traffic was horrible. The weather was rainy, then snowy, then a mixture of freezing rain and snow. The stores, for the most part, were crowded and way too warm. But, quite unexpectedly, my day was made almost enjoyable by several very nice salespeople.

The woman at the jewelry counter who assisted me in choosing a gift for my Dad to give my Mom, then gave me a 20% off coupon as I checked out. A $190 heart-shaped pendant, after the sale discount, a "one day only" discount, and that 20%, cost $60. :)

The young man who checked me out in Circuit City who, when he asked if I found everything I wanted and I replied that, no, I would have to drive 20 miles to pick up an item which they were out of, called his manager over. They figured out that an assistant manager, who lived near that store, could stop by on his way into work tomorrow and pick it up. Jack will drive a much closer distance and get it tomorrow.

I was checking out in Wal Mart and the cashier had trouble scanning some metal cookie trays. The wrong price came up, had to be cancelled, then it happened again... I must have looked a bit frazzled (it was the last stop after almost 7 hours of shopping) so she gave me the tray for free. Yes, $1.50 is not a big deal but it was nice of her.

A woman who was working the floor in Target went out of her way to look for an item which was supposed to be on sale, but the display was empty. She didn't find any in the back, so she went up to the front of the store and there was a raincheck waiting for me at customer service after I checked out.

It's absolutely heartwarming how the kindness of strangers, and those strangers who were working in retail a week before Christmas, made such a difference in my day. And I thank them all.

Okay, now a recipe. There is no photo, but it's not difficult to imagine how pretty a dark-pink, creamy vinaigrette will look in a decorative cruet on your holiday table.

I found this recipe years ago in Jane Brody's Good Food Gourmet book. It originally called for raspberry vinegar, but I found that planning to make cranberry vinegar a few days in advance is worth the extra time.

Of course, since two cups of this salad dressing contain only 1/4 cup of oil, it is a healthy alternative to heavy salad dressings, and a welcome addition to a normally calorie-laden dinner menu...

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pear-Cranberry Vinaigrette

Recipe Adapted From: Jane Brody
Servings: 16

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup cranberries -- fresh or frozen
10 ounces pear -- very ripe, about 2 medium
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cashews, dry-roasted -- unsalted
1/2 cup walnut oil -- can substitute canola oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar to simmering. Add the berries and, over medium heat, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn the heat tovery low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes (stir occasionally). Remove from heat, cool, and pour into a clean glass container. Cover and set at a cool room temperature for 2-5 days. Strain before using.

Peel, core, and dice the pears. Place in a food processor or blender. Add 1/3 cup of the cranberry vinegar and remaining ingredients. Process until smooth. Adjust seasonings.

Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

"2 cups"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 85 Calories (kcal); 8g Total Fat (1g saturated); (80% calories from fat); trace Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 12mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Memories of a wonderful party; Ruby Sippers

There have been many times in my life where I have wanted to go back in time, live through a moment, an experience, one more time, and be able change it for the better. I’m hoping that most other people want to do the same at one occasion or another, and that I’m not the only one who feels is way. But also, there are those events which I would just like to relive, ever and over, as they occurred. Last weekend had many of those “relivable” moments stuffed in a 20-hour period.

We had a small party at our lake house to celebrate Jack and my 25th wedding anniversary. Because it was small, and we wanted something nicer than we could determine would be possible using a caterer or restaurant to provide the food, I spent a few weeks planning a rather easy (yet elegant!) menu. We cleaned the house, and decorated the heck out of it (as Jack said). At times, I thought as though I had made the wrong decision as, along with Thanksgiving and the upcoming Christmas holidays, there seemed to be way too much stuff to pack into each day recently. But I slogged through and, well, it was definitely worth it.

What I would really like to do is have a sort of rewind button for those occasions in life. There were several moments during this past weekend when I would like nothing more than to experience them again.

The lake house was dressed up in its rustic, lodge-y splendor. Karla had brought over an armful of hemlock branches and holly which I used to make a centerpiece then, with what was remaining, I proceeded to decorate the sideboard, mantle, etc. There were candles and tiny white lights everywhere. The stone fireplace wall and the red oak posts and beams just seemed to glow. Our lake house is not large, in fact if there are more than 6 or 8 people there at any one time it can feel rather crowded. But the high ceilings and large windows overlooking the lake give it a sense of spaciousness. And last weekend, with the trees bare, the lake icy, and snow on the boulders and rocks outside, it was the perfect, absolutely perfect, setting for this winter celebration.

Three of our guests had a rather bad trip down. Jack and I were unaware until they called en route, but a series of unexpected snow squalls had caused traffic delays and numerous accidents. So, of course, by the time that they arrived, they were more than set for a party! Our other two guests are neighbors, and they were at a Christmas party before they arrives, so both of them were in celebratory moods as well.

I can picture this all in my mind. The greenery, the twinkling lights and candles, our friends gathered around, drinking and laughing. I just want to keep it forever, somehow, so that I can rewind and play the various scenes over and over again.

I have to admit that this was probably my best all-around effort, and I am so thankful that it all went off without a hitch (except for Jack knocking a wine glass off of the counter onto the stone floor, but in the merriment of the evening, it was barely noticed).

My menu was:


Sparkling Citrus Punch

Ruby Sippers

Lucy's Sidecar


Assorted Crackers with

© Dutch Gouda with Walnuts

© Cranberry Chevre

© Pesto-Dried Tomato Torta

© Tuscan Cheddar

Spinach Dip with Crudités

Mini Crabcakes

Mushroom Turnovers

First Course

Roasted Pear & Butternut Squash Soup w/ Gorgonzola*

Salad & Bread

Mixed Field Greens* with Pear-Cranberry Vinaigrette*


Main Course

Lobster Ravioli in Pink Sauce*

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce*

Gorgonzola-Walnut Ravioli with Butter*

Artichoke Tortellini with Tomato Cream Sauce*


Dark Chocolate Cake* with Milk Chocolate Mousseline*


And yes, it was easy because I made only those starred items (the pasta was frozen and I pre-prepared the sauces), and mostly everything except the pasta was made ahead of time.

I would like to provide all of the recipes and photos, but that would take a very long time, in a season where my time is very tight. So I will hit on the highlights.

First, the Ruby Sippers. Featured in Cuisine at Home magazine in December 2006, this was a perfect cocktail for such an occasion. A cranberry syrup, infused with orange, was mixed with an Italian sparkling white wine.

Ruby Sippers

Makes 6

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup cranberry juice cocktail

1 cup sugar

rind and juice of 1 orange

1 bottle sparkling white wine, such as Prosecco

Pulse cranberries & juice in a food processor until the berries are coarsely chopped. Heat in a saucepan over medium heat, stir in the sugar, rind, and juice until the sugar dissolves. Cook until syrupy, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Strain. (I refrigerated this for 2 days)

If desired, rub the edges of a champagne flute or white wine glass with a wedge of orange. Dip the rim into red sugar and turn a bit to coat. Pour 2 tablespoons of syrup into the glass, then top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a few whole, fresh cranberries, if desired.

With any luck, I’ll be more productive in the next few days that I anticipate, and will be able to post a few more of the recipes.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crustless Pumpkin Pie

I will be absent for the next several days, but for a good reason.

Next week is our 25th wedding anniversary. After considering a few options, we decided to host a small dinner party at the lake house to celebrate. I’ve never hired a caterer, or a restaurant, to provide food for a party, but we decided that it would be appropriate to do so for this occasion. Well, that didn’t work very well. We couldn’t decide on the type of food, or the caterer/ restaurant, and so it was eventually decided that I would make the meal. It would be an easy, mostly made-ahead dinner. Nice thought, wasn’t it?

The resulting menu features a mix of purchased items, plus some which are made ahead, and it is supplemented with a few things to be prepared at the last minute. Really, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I wish I had held out for my choice of restaurant to provide our dinner! I should have known, I can’t do anything simply and easily. I over-do everything, make it into a production. I mean, we are having three different types of ravioli and tortellini!

Tomorrow we shall pack up and go to the lake house, to host our party on Saturday evening. I have baked the cake and the bread which are now in the freezer. I squeezed 2 cups of lemon juice, two cups of lime juice, and pureed mandarins for one before-dinner cocktail; made a cranberry-orange syrup for another. The ingredients for the non-alcoholic punch are ready to go as well. Two weeks ago, while we were spending the weekend at the lake house, I made a roasted pear and butternut squash soup and put that in the freezer along with the stuffed pastas (which I bought! See, it was easy on me!!!). The pomodoro sauce for the tortellini has been made as well, but the other 3 sauces will have to be prepared prior to serving.

I couldn’t find cranberry vinegar at the store for the pear-cranberry salad dressing, so I whipped up a quick substitute (basically heating white wine vinegar, then steeping chopped cranberries in it for a couple of days). I have made the cake frosting as well. I should be in good shape, but as I obsessively go over and over the lists, I am still afraid that I may have forgotten something!

Anyway, the next few days are going to be very busy and I will not be posting until next week sometime. Wish me luck! :)

One last food post, though, before my "vacation".

I was so “into” the party preparations, and decorating our farm for Christmas, that I made a very basic Thanksgiving dinner this year. These were all tried-and-true menu items except dessert.

I am not a big pie fan. Probably because I know how many calories and how much fat is in the crust! Pie crust, not my favorite thing any longer. But I love pie filling, especially pumpkin pie filling. With whipped topping, it’s such a wonderful thing. So this year, I made the filling and baked it in 6 ramekins.

Each serving was topped with a generous dollop of cool whip lite, and sprinkled with chopped, toasted pecans. And nobody missed the crust. :)


Monday, December 1, 2008

Chicken Pumpkin Curry

Now here’s a different use for that pie pumpkin!

I rarely buy the little buggers, they are so difficult to peel, but I will be more regular about purchasing these now. This pumpkin curry recipe rocks. It is fragrant, delicious, warming, and perfect for a cold evening. To make it a vegetarian dish, the next time I will replace the chicken with chickpeas. This is a really quick recipe, if you forget the time that it takes to peel the pumpkin.

I find that it is best to remove the stem, place the pumpkin stem side down on a cutting board, use a large, heavy knife to cut in half. Scoop out the seeds and scrape the fibers out a bit. Then cut each half in half again, and peel using a Y-peeler. Good luck! And be careful...

Serve over steamed basmati rice.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Pumpkin Curry

Recipe By: Vicci


Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- diced into 1/2" pieces
9 ounces chopped sweet onion -- about 2 cups
3 medium garlic cloves -- minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne -- or ground chipotle (for a smoky taste)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 pounds pumpkin -- peeled, seeded, chopped into 3/4" cubes
14 ounces canned diced tomato -- undrained
3 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 cup light coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons cashews, dry-roasted -- chopped
1 large lime -- cut into 4 wedges

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the diced chicken and cook, stirring, until opaque (about 3 minutes), add onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

Sprinkle the spices over the chicken mixture and stir for a minute until fragrant. Add the pumpkin, stir for a minute, then add the tomatoes, broth, and coconut milk.

Bring barely to a boil, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve each portion with cilantro and cashews sprinkled on top, with a wedge fo lime to squeeze over.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 335 Calories (kcal); 10g Total Fat (3g saturated); (25% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 49mg Cholesterol; 745mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 3 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Okay, I am noticing on previous posts that I make a lot of meals which are served in my stark white Pfaltzgraff soup bowls! Taking photos of food in these is difficult because the white is such a contrast to the food and I just don't know enough about food photography to adjust my camera settings (also, Jack is really patient about waiting to eat until I've photographed our meal, but sitting there while I adjust the camera may just be too much!). After the holidays are over, I shall seek out some new rimmed bowls. In colors. Oh good, a reason to shop for kitchen stuff!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jane Brody's Lentil Potato Stew

Our weather has been unseasonably cold lately, and I find myself craving nice, thick stews to warm myself up. For the past several years, this has been one of my favorite stews. It is thick and hearty and very healthy. We love Indian food, and the way this stew is spiced is very similar, so I either serve it over rice or with Trader Joe's tandoori naan.

Be certain to use brown lentils. The tiny French green lentils are too small (for me, anyway, the mouth-feel is too similar to "grains") and the red lentils fall apart and turn to mush. Brown lentils seem to be "sturdier". I also changed one part of the original recipe to use vegetable broth (the low-sodium variety) instead of water because it tastes better.

And add a dollop of nonfat plain yogurt on top (I would have liked to use minced fresh cilantro, too, but none was to be had).

Okay, now I have to admit that I make a double recipe just for the two of us, we enjoy it so much. There's nothing better for a quick lunch (I make the rice in advance, too) and the stew will keep for several days in the refrigerator, only becoming better as the flavors meld.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lentil & Potato Stew

Recipe By : Jane Brody
Servings : 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 cup lentils -- brown lentils, not red or the small green French type
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound white potato
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
14 ounces canned diced tomato -- undrained
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the lentils, broth, and bay leaf. Bring the ingredients to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15-30 minutes (depending on how old the lentils are) until they are just tender. Remove from heat, take out and discard the bay leaf, and set aside but do not drain the broth.

In a Dutch oven or large nonstick saucepan, heat the oil briefly and add the potatoes. Cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes.

Add the chopped onion and turmeric and continue to cook for an additional 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the remaining ingredients (cumin through sugar). Season with ground black pepper to taste .Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Add more water if stew seems to be too dry.

Serve with dollops of nonfat plain yogurt, if desired.

"Good Food Gourmet"
"8 cups"

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Per serving: 235 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (10% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 36g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 539mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : Serve over steamed basmati rice or with naan

Brody also points out that you can make a reasonable facsimile of garam masala by combining equal amounts of cardamon, cumin, cinnamon, coriander with smaller amounts of ground cloves and black pepper. I use Penzey's garam masala.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Bell peppers were on sale at the grocery store last week and I over-bought. I really do try not to so this, but sometimes I become giddy and common sense just flies out of my head. :)

A few were getting soft, so I took this opportunity to make peperonata. This decidedly Italian dish consists of sautéed bell pepper and onion, mixed with chopped tomato, and at the end, seasoned with red wine vinegar to add a bit of piquancy. It is very good as a side with roasted chicken, but delicious when mixed with pasta.

This is very quick to put together, the time is taken up with simmering the vegetables for the flavors to mingle. I use fresh tomatoes when I make this in late summer, but this time I went with the canned diced variety (which tastes so much better than those ones in the grocery stores now that “tomato season” is over). I served this over mini-rigatoni (ran out of the whole wheat penne I had planned to use) with a sprinkling of grated Asiago.

I apologize for the poor photo quality. At one point, I set my camera on "landscape" mode to take some outdoor photos, and never changed it back until I downloaded and saw how oddly the interior photos turned out.

* Exported from MasterCook *


Recipe By : Vcci
Servings: 2

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1 teaspoon olive oil
9 ounces bell pepper -- a mix of colors looks best; cut into 1/4" wide strips
3 ounces sweet onion -- halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4" strips
1 small garlic clove -- minced
14 ounces canned diced tomato -- undrained
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh parsley -- minced

In a medium sized nonstick skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame. Saute the peppers for 3 minutes, then add the onions and sauté for another 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic cook for one more minute.

Pour the undrained diced tomatoes in, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste, and the red wine vinegar. Simmer for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley.

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Per serving: 109 Calories (kcal); 3g Total Fat; (18% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 562mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Potato Tacos

A few weeks ago, Jack, Spooky, and I visited my family for a long weekend.

The fun never stopped. Friday was Halloween so Mom, Jack, Dad, and I went to the elementary school to watch the costume parade. My twin nieces were dressed as a witch and a vampire; we had a good time looking at all of the costumes displayed from kindergartners through fifth-graders. Afterward, we drove to a farm to buy potatoes. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much—they were potatoes.

We drove for a long while without passing another vehicle, and then (literally at the “end of the road”) turned into a rutted, dirt driveway. For some reason, my Dad knows where all of the obscure farms are located. He went to the back door, knocked, and an old woman came out, wrapping a cardigan around her. She walked across a tractor path and unlocked a door to a large storage shed. We went inside and the woman switched on a trouble-light which was hanging from a rafter.

Potatoes. More than I had ever seen in my life. Probably more than I had ever eaten cumulatively in my life! The ceiling was about 10’ high, the potatoes were piled up close to it in places, and there was an approximately 8' diameter cleared area beside the door to stand in. This photo was taken on the side where they were bagging the potatoes, so they're not piled as high.

Several huge bags were in front of the potato mountain, each filled. Dad bought one 60-pound bag for $12 and Jack lugged it to the car. I asked the woman if they lived on these potatoes all winter. “Oh no,” she replied, “all that will be left by Thanksgiving are what we keep to eat through next year.” Good heavens. Who is buying all of these?

As we could not resist, before we left, Jack and I petted several cats and kittens that were running about.

Now, the way that the potatoes were bought was interesting but, still, I wasn’t prepared for such a different taste. I’m not a big fan of white potatoes, but these were unlike any I have had before. The texture was so smooth and creamy, the potato flavor pronounced, yet subtle. I can’t describe it. But we had mashed potatoes with dinner that evening and they were wonderful!

I have to mention the size of these potatoes. The cost of $12 for 60 pounds were for the bag of ungraded ones, and they certainly were of varying size. The largest ones weighed up to 14 ounces each!

Mom gave me a big bag to take home, and we have had white potatoes more in the past few weeks than we have had all year.

One way that we enjoy potatoes is in, ready for this? Potato tacos. They taste a lot better than they sound! Cubes of boiled potato are browned in a skillet with onions, chunks of zucchini, and roasted poblano pepper; then a green tomatillo sauce is poured over all and the mixture is simmered and stirred until the flavors are mingled and the sauce has darkened. Served in steamed corn tortillas with cheese, these are simple and delicious. And uses a lot of potatoes!

I have been making these tacos for years and years, but only this time decided to streamline the prep a bit by using a jar of Trader Joe’s salsa verde instead making my own by cooking and pureeing tomatillos with onion, garlic, and jalapenos. This certainly was easier, and I didn’t notice a huge difference in taste.

In addition to tasting better than they sound, potato tacos taste better that they look in this photo!

I was too anxious to eat and had the camera on a wrong setting for the light conditions...

* Exported from MasterCook *

Potato Tacos

Recipe By: Vicci
Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
-------- ------------ --------------------------------
1 1/2 pounds white potatoes -- scrubbed, unpeeled, halved if large
2 cups onion -- sliced vertically
12 ounces zucchini -- 3/4" dice
4 large poblano peppers -- roasted, peeled, diced 1/2"
1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
24 ounces Trader Joe's salsa verde
1 cup low sodium vegetable broth -- boiling
6 ounces reduced fat cheddar cheese -- shredded
24 whole corn tortillas -- warmed

Place the potatoes in a saucepan, add about 3" of water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to medium, keep covered, and cook just until tender. Drain, cool, then cut into 3/4" dice.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, drizzle in a teaspoon of canola oil, turn the heat up a bit, and when hot add the salsa (it will sizzle and splatter-- beware!). Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Add the broth and continue to cook over a medium-high flame for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened a bit. Remove from heat and cool.

NOTE: The previous 2 steps can be done ahead of time and kept a room temp for a couple of hours, or refrigerated longer.

Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and fry for about 5 minutes or until they start to brown a little, stir often to prevent sticking. Add the onions and continue to fry for 3 minutes, then add the zucchini and fry, stirring often, for 5 more minutes. Add the chopped poblanos, turn the heat to medium, and stir in the sauce. Cook, stirring gently from the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking, for about 10 minutes or until the sauce is reduced and darkened. Remove to a covered serving dish.

Warm corn tortillas and place on table along with the potatoes and shredded cheese. Spoon potato mixture into the individual tortillas, sprinkle with cheese, and fold.

If desired, hot sauce may be added before folding the tortillas over, but check the hotness of the poblanos first!

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Per serving: 435 Calories (kcal); 6g Total Fat (2g Saturated); (11% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 6mg Cholesterol; 1490mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 4 Grain(Starch); 1 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

I love my big ol' hard-anodized saute pan, but if you are using nonstick skillets and pans, increase the oil in the recipe or add a coating of cooking spray.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

I love gingerbread in the fall and winter. I love chocolate all year long. So, when I saw a recipe for a chocolate gingerbread cake in my mega-file of recipes, I decided to make it for company this past weekend.

The source is unknown as it was torn out of a magazine, but it looks like a recipe developed by McCormick spices (as they are mentioned by brand). Anyway, as I often do, I altered the recipe to lower the fat content and made it my own.

Because the recipe calls for a cake mix, it’s rather simple to get together. Instant pudding mix is also required, so I bought a cake mix that did not already have pudding in it (and it was difficult to find a brand that did not have a banner across the front of the box proclaiming “Pudding In The Mix!!!”).

Unfortunately I did not have any canned pears on hand. I use pureed pears a lot as a fat substitute with success. Simply drain a can of pears, in their juices not in syrup, and puree until smooth. A 14- or 15-ounce can will produce 2/3 to ¾ cup of puree, and it can be frozen for later use. Instead, for this recipe, I used a half of a fresh, ripe pear (pureed) to replace some of the oil.

The resulting cake was delicious. I overbaked it a little, because somehow the slip of paper which I keep in my pan which warns “dark pans bake faster!”, was missing and I forget this every darn time (hence, the paper warning). Still, it was a moist cake, neither overpowering gingerbread nor chocolate flavor, but a nice mingling of the two. Whipped topping is traditional for gingerbread, so I used that, but a white chocolate drizzle would also be nice. Next time! :)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 14

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 large eggs

2 large egg whites

1/2 cup light sour cream

1/4 cup pureed pears

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 package Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Dark Chocolate

Fudge Cake Mix -- or any brand without pudding added

1 package Jello Instant Pudding Mix, Chocolate Fudge -- (3.9 ounce size)

Spray a 10-cup bundt pan with cooking oil spray. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350F.

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and egg whites in a large bowl until foamy. Add the ingredients sour cream through molasses and beat for 1 minute. Add water and spices and blend into the mixture.

Pour the cake mix, then the pudding mix, into the wet ingredients. Beat at low speed for 1 minute to incorporate ingredients, scraping the bowl frequently, then turn the speed up to medium for 2 minutes (again, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted between the center and side of the pan comes out with only a couple of crumbs attached.

Cool cake on rack for 15 minutes. Loosen cake from center and edges, tap gently once or twice on a hard surface, then invert onto a cooking rack sprayed with cooking spray. Allow to cool completely.

Slice and serve with whipped topping.

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Per serving: 265 Calories (kcal); 8g Total Fat (2g Saturated); (26% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 46g Carbohydrate; 27mg Cholesterol; 448mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates