Monday, December 22, 2008

Sugar and Spice Pecans

If you think it's too late to make homemade Christmas gifts, think again! In less than 30 minutes (including preparation, baking, and cooling), you can have a batch of Sugar and Spice Pecans ready for gift giving. I started making these four years ago, and they are still one of our favorite Christmas treats. Yesterday I made two batches to share with our neighbors. I intended to make cookies and all kinds of other treats, but was too busy (cleaning to get ready for Christmas and our Alamo Bowl party).

Here is a quick semi-illustrated summary (full recipe at the end) -

First, melt 6 tbsp. unsalted butter:

Next, add 4 cups pecan halves to the butter and stir to coat pecans evenly: Then add 6 tbsp. worcestershire sauce, 3-4 tsp. sea salt, and 1 tsp. cayenne pepper; stir to coat. Finally, add all but a few teaspoons of 1/2 cup sugar (reserve some for sprinkling after the pecans come out of the oven). Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, stirring once during baking:
Remove from oven and stir (to prevent clumping); dust with remaining sugar. Stir once more and/or transfer to wax paper to cool completely before serving or packaging:
Sugar and Spice Pecans

4 cups pecan halves
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
3-4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cayenne (red) pepper
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter; in a large bowl, combine pecans with butter, stir to coat evenly. Add worcestershire sauce, salt, and cayenne pepper, stir to coat evenly. Add sugar, reserving 1-2 tsp., stir lightly.

Spread in a single layer on a lightly greased rimmed baking sheet; bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees. Stir once during baking. When finished baking, stir at least once to prevent clumping; dust with remaining sugar. Transfer to wax paper to cool completely (or stir once or twice more if cooling on baking sheet). Store in an airtight container.
- Adapted from Southern Living

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Honey Crunch Peanut Spread

Peanut butter isn't something I use very often, aside from the occasional batch of peanut butter cookies. For everything except baking, I usually use almond butter. However, I had some extra peanut butter taking up room in our refrigerator, so I decided to make an old recipe from my childhood.

My dad used to make Honey Crunch Peanut Spread when I was a kid; I'm not sure where he found the recipe or why he decided to make it initially, maybe to try to get me to eat more apples and celery. If that is it, I guess it worked - this definitely makes celery worth eating!

Honey Crunch Peanut Spread
2/3 cup uncooked oats
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
1/2 cup honey

Toast oats in an ungreased rimmed baking sheet for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool and combine with peanut butter and honey.

Serve with celery and apples, or on sandwiches. Store in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide - Part 2

In the first part of my holiday gift guide, I gave you some ideas for gifts to give people who like to cook. However, I know there are lots of people who may not need another cookbook or kitchen gadget . . . so here are some great food/ingredient gift ideas:
  • Vital Choice Seafood - great gift options for seafood lovers
  • Grass-Fed Beef Gift Box - if you've never tried grass-fed beef, this is a good way to get started (yes, it tastes just as good as grain-fed, trust me)
  • Flower of the Ocean Sea Salt - this finishing salt is perfect for savory dishes - or for chocolate and caramel
  • Christopher Elbow artisinal chocolates - made in Missouri - beautiful and delicious chocolates
  • Mini lemon tree - grow your own lemons, even in the Midwest
  • Penzey's Spices - if you think you don't need new spices, you should smell Penzey's, then smell your current selection - you'll notice a huge difference
  • Anything from Zingerman's - their "of the month" clubs go way beyond fruit - try coffee, bread, bacon, olive oil, brownies, and more
No, it's not too late to have gifts shipped for Christmas - and when all else fails, sign up for a trial of Amazon Prime and get free 2-day or $3.99 overnight shipping on those last minute gifts!

Finally, you can't forget about food gifts for kids! I'm definitely not an expert when it comes to gifts for children, but if I had kids on my list, I would get them these toys:

Monday, December 15, 2008

Game of Tag

I don't have anything exciting to blog about - we're still eating from the freezer. Tonight was a Kashi pizza topped with leftover roast beef. I did make Christmas cookies and treats Sunday, but I froze most of them and will finish that project this weekend.

However, Mandy, an awesome food blogger from the great state of Texas, tagged me in a little blog game. Mandy is getting ready to take the CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) Exam, so stop by and wish her luck!

Here are 7 random things about me (that you probably don't care about):
  1. I like to dip french fries (preferably McD's or Steak & Shake) in a chocolate Frosty (from Wendy's). I know . . . it is not only weird, but terrible for me as well. But once every three or four years can't be that bad, can it?
  2. I hate fish. Actually I hate all seafood. Even shrimp and lobster. Even if it is breaded and fried. Even if it is dipped in a fr. . . just kidding, I've never tried to dip seafood in a Frosty. That would just be wrong.
  3. I also hated tomatoes until a year or two ago. The tomato/mozzarella dish on the Ruby Tuesday salad bar converted me. Now I am obsessed with tomatoes. Black Krim tomatoes in particular.
  4. I would like to learn how to can so I am able to make my own tomato sauce and salsa. I would also like to learn to make cheese.
  5. Over the past year, I have tried a lot of new foods - organ meat sausages, pate, kombucha, raw milk, miso, ghee, and sprouted grain bread, to name a few. Most of them I really like, others I may develop a taste for over time.
  6. I cannot cut onions - they make my eyes miserable. I use the frozen, diced kind 95% of the time.
  7. Someday I would like to open a bakery. I hate it when restaurants use cheap, processed muffins/pastries/cookies/etc. Coffee shops are especially bad about this. Life is too short to eat junk that doesn't even taste good. Right?

Now, I'm tagging:
Lesley/The Meiers
Leah/My Favorite Things
Dana/It's A Wonderful Life
Jaime/Good Eats 'n Sweet Treats
Julie/A Cook in the Kitchen
Lane/Home Cooking is What I Like
Heather/Diary of a Fanatic Foodie

Friday, December 12, 2008

TGIF Sundae for Two

As we continue to clean out our freezer, I continue to find random things I forgot I had. Today I found two puff pastry cups, leftover from our anniversary dinner. I decided to make a quick and easy version of a dessert I had once at the Garth Mansion (theirs is a banana wrapped in puff pastry with ice cream and chocolate - it is awesome). We were really happy with how it turned out - but then again - look at the ingredients . . . how this not make you happy?

TGIF Sundae for Two
2 frozen puff pastry cups
2 bananas (not too ripe), sliced
1 tbsp. butter
1-2 tbsp. brown sugar (or to taste)
vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt

For chocolate ganache:
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet)

1. Bake puff pastry cups according to package directions (in my case, 20-25 min. at 400 degrees).
2. Meanwhile (5-10 minutes into baking), melt butter in a small skillet, add bananas and sugar and cook until bananas are tender and begin to caramelize.
3. While bananas cook, heat cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not let cream boil. When bubbles begin to form at the edge, remove from heat and add chocolate chips, stirring until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside. (Alternatively, you could use prepared chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce)
4. Allow pastry cups to cool for a few minutes after baking.
5. To serve: Fill each cup with 1/4 banana slices, top with a small scoop of ice cream, spoon 1/4 of bananas over ice cream, drizzle chocolate ganache over entire sundae and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Oh, and the final step . . .
6. Thank God for blessings such as chocolate, bananas, ice cream, puff pastry, and Friday!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

BB: Coq Au Vin

Bethany chose the first Barefoot Bloggers recipe for the month of December - Coq Au Vin. The recipe can be found on the Food Network website or in The Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics cookbook. Many of the Barefoot Bloggers recipes I either really look forward to or kind of dread, but this didn't fall into either category. I wanted to try it because it is a classic recipe, but at the same time . . . it's just chicken cooked in wine. That is the great thing about Barefoot Bloggers -it pushes me to make things I might normally skip over or put off until later (when I get a Dutch oven, when I don't already have so many dirty dishes in the sink).

So what was the outcome? I feel the same way I did before cooking Coq Au Vin. Kind of neutral. I think I made one major mistake: I used a bottle of red wine I found on our wine rack. It was a cheap bottle of red zinfandel (no offense to whomever is responsible for that - I say " found" because I know I have never bought a bottle of red zin). The recipe called for Burgundy . . . red zin is probably not a good substitute. There is a reason people advise against cooking with a wine you wouldn't drink.

Bad zinfandel flavor aside, we enjoyed the moist, tender (and yes, purple on the outside) chicken. My favorite part of making Coq Au Vin, however, was burning off the cognac. It almost melted our above-the-stove microwave, but it was exciting to see it flame up. (FYI - the recipe online doesn't include this step). I think I'll try this recipe again - with better wine and with the pot moved away from the appliances when I set it on fire!

See what the other members of Barefoot Bloggers thought of this recipe here.

Holiday Gift Guide - Part 1

Great gifts for cooks, bakers, and people who like to eat

If you haven't finished your Christmas shopping yet and have any cooks on your list, I have a few suggestions to make your last-minute shopping easier:

Kitchen tools

BeaterBlade for KitchenAid Mixers - A built-in spatula/scraper for your mixer. I haven't tried this product, but it looks like a great idea!

Le Creuset Skillet - A groundbreaking product this is not; however, anyone who uses a skillet could benefit from having a Le Creuset. Cast iron skillets heat evenly and are a healthier option (both for people and for the planet) than using a nonstick skillet coated with Teflon.

Thermapen Professional Infrared Instant Read Thermometer - Thermapen thermometers are recommended by the folks at Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen . . . think of it as an investment . . . the dividends will be perfectly cooked meat.

Stocking Stuffers:

Garlic Zoom - This is my favorite new gadget - yes, it looks silly . . . but it works! It chops garlic in a fraction of the time it would take to use a knife. And it is easy to clean (open at the seam in the middle and remove the blades - it's dishwasher safe). I actually look forward to recipes that call for fresh garlic because of the Garlic Zoom.

Kuhn Rikon Paring Knife - Nothing new here, but these are still must-have items. Not only are they cute, they also have a protective cover (great for brown bag lunches or picnics) and they cut - and release food - perfectly.

Microplane Zesters and Graters - The "must-have" of all "must-have" kitchen gadgets. Recipes calling for citrus zest, grated Parmesan, nutmeg, chocolate, etc. are instantly accessible with a Microplane. Like the Garlic Zoom, Microplanes are easy to clean. I know most serious cooks already have a Microplane (or two), but if yours doesn't - get them one. Now.


Barefoot Contessa - Back to Basics - One of the hottest new releases this holiday season. Great for Ina Garten fans or anyone looking for something new - or a good version of a classic recipe. I just got this book, but I already have tabbed several recipes I want to try and I've always had good luck with Ina Garten's recipes.

Any books from the editors of Cook's Illustrated - In America's Test Kitchen, they test every recipe 30 to 70 times before publishing it, making it practically foolproof. All their books and recipes are awesome, but if I were forced to live with only one cookbook, I would pick The New Best Recipe.

The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper - If you read my blog regularly, you already know I'm a huge fan of How to Eat Supper. Check out some of the recipes I've sampled: fettuccine alfredo, flash chicken saute and roasted chicken with preserved lemon. I'm not always a fan of their food politics - but the good content and great recipes outweigh that aspect. This would be a great gift for anyone who enjoys cooking dinner and/or needs new weeknight recipes.

Magazine Subscriptions:

Magazine subscriptions are great gifts for people who love to cook because they give the recipient 12 months of fresh new recipes and inspiration. Here are a few of my favorites:

Bon Appetit

Everyday Food

Cooking Light

Watch for gifts of food and gifts for kids in part two of my holiday gift guide!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

30 meals for $3 per serving

Hy-Vee, my favorite grocery store in this area, has a new section on their website - 30 Meals for $3 per Serving. It includes recipes, shopping lists, and nutritional information for most of the main dishes. Here is one example:
Carribean Jerk Pork Tenderloin with baked sweet potatoes and applesauce
(Photo courtesy of
Even if you don't have a Hy-Vee nearby, I'm sure these recipes could be equally affordable using ingredients from your favorite local grocery store. What are your favorite low cost dinner ideas?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cleaning the freezer + a recipe

We're in "clean out the freezer" mode. We need to get it organized and clear out some space - we should have some new beef arriving (grass-fed Shorthorn beef from Dad) in January. I try to minimize the amount of food I waste (although I still have room for improvement), so I end up shoving lots of stuff in the freezer. Over-ripe bananas, for example. I made spelt banana muffins (the recipe was from the VitaSpelt bag - good but nothing special), which helped clear out 3 bananas. However, I froze half the muffins to have on hand for breakfast when I'm in a hurry. 3 bananas out = 10 muffins in . . .

Tonight I made "True Fettuccine Alfredo" because I had fresh pasta and cream on the verge of expiration. I also baked a thin crust spinach and garlic frozen pizza and cut it into breadstick-like slices to serve with the pasta (and I can take the leftovers to work tomorrow). One frozen pizza out of the way, one or two to go.

"True Fettuccine Alfredo" comes from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper cookbook. It is an excellent recipe, both easy and delicious. How to Eat Supper would be a good book for almost any cook you know. It has a nice mix of recipes, from basic to exotic, but none are overly complicated. It also has good stories, poems, quotes, and little bits of useful information. Since I got it this summer, it has become one of my go-to cookbooks - and I've given a copy to my mom and my dad as well. Anyway, on to the recipe:

The True Fettuccine Alfredo

5 quarts salted water
1 pound fettuccine (I like the "fresh" kind from the refrigerated section; the recipe actually calls for imported)
6 tbsp. butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
(My addition: a few tablespoons (chopped) of whatever fresh herbs are available - tonight I used thyme, rosemary, and Italian parsley)
(You could also add cooked chicken breast or shrimp)

1. Bring pot of salted water to a boil, drop in the pasta and boil it, stirring often, for approximately 7 minutes or until the pasts is slightly undercooked. Immediately drain it into a colander.
2. As soon as the pasta goes in the water, put the butter in a straight-sided 12-inch saute pan/skillet and place it over medium-low heat. Melt the butter, taking care not to let it brown. Set the pan aside until the pasta is done.
3. Once the pasta is draining, reheat the butter over medium-high heat. Turn the pasta and cream into the saute pan, and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles. Continue to toss the pasta for 2-3 minutes, so the cream can permeate the pasta. There should be very little cream in the pan.
4. Finally toss in the cheese, starting with 1 1/2 cups and adding more to taste. Toss for 20 seconds. Season the pasta to taste with salt and fresh-ground black pepper. Add fresh herbs. Serve immediately. - Adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

P.S. If you get the book, you can read about the history of fettuccine alfredo and find out why this version is "The True Fettuccine Alfredo."

Monday, December 08, 2008

Candied Orange Peel

I've always been intrigued by candied orange peel, maybe because I just couldn't imagine how an orange peel - something you normally throw away - could be transformed into edible candy.

I made this to garnish my orange-cranberry cake for Advent by Candlelight. To be honest, I printed out a recipe . . . and threw away the recipe when I was finished, because the piece of paper was sticky. Of course, now I can't find that recipe online, but if you're interested in trying candied orange peel, here are a few options: Use Real Butter and Epicurious.
My only tips are: a) make this ahead - not the same afternoon you need it; and b) beware any recipe that calls for paper towels . . . I saw one that called for drying the peel on paper towels after boiling in sugar water - my orange peels were sticky and would have been permanently coated in paper towel if I had done that!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Orange Cake with Cranberry Filling

I found this recipe last winter in Paula Deen's Christmas magazine. It is a perfect holiday dessert - the cranberry filling, sweet orange icing, and light, airy cake are a great combination. I made this to take to our Advent by Candlelight at church last Sunday night. My neighbor Carolyn asked me to co-host a table with her and offered me the choice of putting together the table setting or making the dessert. I am so glad I chose the dessert because her table setting was absolutely beautiful - I wish I had taken a picture of it. The cake recipe follows (it is a little more time consuming than . . . using a cake mix . . . but it's well worth the effort!):

Orange Cake with Cranberry Filling

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 tsp orange extract
1 tsp orange zest
3 cups cake flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup whole buttermilk
5 egg whites, beaten until stiff
Orange Cranberry Filling (see below)
Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.In a large bowl, beat at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in orange extract and orange zest.

In a small bowl, combine cake flour, baking powder, and salt, sift twice. Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Gently fold in beaten egg whites.

Pour batter evenly into prepared pans, and bake 20-23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread 1/3 of cranberry filling between each cake layer. Spread Orange Cream Cheese Frosting on side and top of cake. Pipe remaining frosting around top of cake, if desired. Spread remaining cranberry filling over top of cake. Store in refrigerator.

Orange-Cranberry Filling
1 (16 oz) can whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 tbsp orange-flavored liqueur*
1 tbsp sugar

In a small saucepan, combine cranberry sauce, orange-flavored liqueur, and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, 12 minutes or until thickened.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting (make about 4 cups)
1 (8 oz) package of cream cheese softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tbsp orange-flavored liqueur*
1 tbsp orange zest
6 cups confectioners' sugar

* Freshly squeezed orange juice can be substituted for if you do not have or do not wish to use orange liqueur.

Candied orange peel recipe coming soon!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pheasant with Leek and Pecan Stuffing

Last week, while I was baking pies and shopping for Black Friday bargains, my husband was pheasant hunting in Montana. He had a great trip and returned home with several birds, so I'm now searching for phesant recipes. Our first pheasant recipe of the winter (with exception to Ken's beer battered stuff) came from The Silver Palate cookbook. The photo in the cookbook shows two perfectly roasted pheasants, with beautiful golden stuffing. As you'll notice below, mine turned out slightly less picturesque.

Ken really enjoyed this recipe. Despite my phobia of eating wild game, I actually thought the pheasant was good. However, I thought the leeks overwhelmed the stuffing.

I originally planned to make this Sunday night, but we moved it up to Wednesday so we wouldn't have to freeze and thaw the birds. I think that was a mistake, because getting home from work and trying to get this on the table at a reasonable hour made me feel a little rushed. While I was cooking, I had to fight the urge to add lemon and garlic to the recipe. I probably should have given in - the citrus might have helped balance the leeks. I also felt compelled to add flour to the sauce to create gravy. It would have been smart to ignore that urge, because we ended up with lumpy sauce . . .

Pheasant with Leek and Pecan Stuffing
2 young pheasants, thoroughly defrosted if frozen
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
3 cups chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter
10 medium-size leeks, white part only, well rinsed and thinly sliced
6 cups crumbs from good-quality white bread
2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup finely chopped fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
4 strips of pancetta (about 4 oz.) (I used prosciutto)
1/2 cup heavy cream

1. Rinse pheasants thoroughly inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Chop the neck, heart, and gizzard (save liver for another use).*

2. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Brown the neck and giblets well in oil, turning frequently. Add the onion, carrot, and 1 tsp. marjoram. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan, add thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and stock, and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Strain the stock, discarding solids, and reserve.

4. Melt butter in a skillet over low heat. Stir in sliced leeks and cook, covered, until the leeks are very tender, about 30 minutes.

5. Toss the leeks, including their butter, with the bread, pecans, chopped parsley, and remaining 2 tbsp. marjoram. Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper. Toss again. If the stuffing seems dry, add 1/4 cup of reserved broth.

6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stuff the pheasants loosely and drape the breasts with pancetta. Tie in place with kitchen twine and set the pheasants in a shallow roasting pan.

7. Set the roasting pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for about 1 hour, basting occasionally with any juices that accumulate (or with broth if no juices accumulate). Halfway through cooking, I added 2 strips of bacon to the top of each pheasant, because no fat or juices were accumulating from the pheasant or the prosciutto. The pheasants are done when the thighs, pricked with a fork at their thickest part, dribble clear yellow juices. Remove pheasants from the oven, cover with aluminum foil and keep warm.

8. Pour excess fat out of the roasting pan (wild pheasants are not likely to have excess fat . . . ). Pour reserved stock and heavy cream into the pan and set over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until the sauce is reduced by about 1/3. Taste and add seasoning (salt/pepper) if necessary.

9. Carve the pheasants and arrange meat on a platter. Mound stuffing in the center and drizzle the meat and stuffing with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. Serve immediately, passing remaining sauce in a gravy boat.

* Ken had already removed the giblets, hearts and necks, so I skipped this step.
I think this recipe was created for farm-raised pheasant, because wild pheasant has very little, if any, fat - so I had no "accumulation" in the roasting pan. If you make this with wild pheasant, you might want to add some butter or olive oil to the pheasant.

Thanksgiving in Pictures

This is a short photo essay of my Thanksgiving. I didn't take a picture of any entire meal, including the main T-day dinner (because everyone was ready to eat and I didn't think turning the table into a photo studio - and keeping people from their food even longer - was a good idea) . . . but here are some bits and pieces:

We started Wednesday night with Raclette (my mom had to have the grocery store special order Raclette cheese - it was worth it!) . . .
My dad made a tart - I'm not sure what it is called, but it is chocolate crust, marscapone cheese-based filling, and cranberry topping with crystallized ginger.
Mmmm . . . so good . . .This is the pie & wine table. I wanted to turn it into the grown-up kids table (who needs stuffing when you have a table full of pie and wine?) . . .

Dad and I taught Caleb how to make pie crust and apple pies; he did a great job with the crusts!

I made mini mincemeat pies for my uncle Gary - like our little holiday studio setup?These were labeled as blue fingerling potatoes - but the look a lot like Peruvian purples to me . . . either way, you have to agree this is a pretty potato . . .Of course, everything is pretty when it's covered in cream and Parmesan . . .
This, by the way, was a great potato recipe (but it doesn't make great leftovers, so eat it up right away).

Monday, December 01, 2008

Menu plan

Monday - Baked mac & cheese with ham (leftover Eden Farms spiral sliced ham from Thanksgiving weekend)

Tuesday - Whatever soup is in the freezer - taco soup or Mexican chicken soup

Wednesday - Chicken forestiere with sauteed collard greens

Thursday - Hamburgers and baked fries (sweet potato fries???)

Friday - eating out

Saturday - @ football game party/holiday party

Sunday - Pheasant with leek and pecan stuffing, buttered sweet potato knots