Thursday, December 22, 2011

Salty, Sweet, Fast and Easy

Is there a more perfect combination of words this time of year than salty, sweet, fast and easy?  Ok, any time of year.

I stumbled across this tag on Pinterest, and knew I'd have to make these.  Oh, and if you haven't yet discovered Pinterest, you need to get on over there and join in on the best time-sucking activity since facebook.  Or random blogs.  Anyway, Pinterest is where it's at these days.

So, fast and easy?  Yes.  Probably the most time consuming aspect of making these is unwrapping all the hershey kisses.  And maybe that won't take you as long, if you don't eat one for every one you put on top of a pretzel like I did.

You'll need pretzels, hershey kisses, and m&m's; that's it.

If you can find round pretzels, as used in the original recipe, I think that would work best.  But if you can't, not to worry.  I made mine with regular mini pretzels and they came out fine.  And I used both peanut and regular m&m's.

Preheat your oven to 225 degrees.  Lay the pretzels out on a cookie sheet; I used a silpat, to make clean-up a bit easier.  Top each pretzel with a kiss.

Heat in the oven for 3-4 minutes, or until the chocolate has become soft.  Don't overcook or you'll ruin the texture of the chocolate.

Remove from the oven and press an m&m onto the top of each kiss, smooshing the kiss down into the pretzel.  Let cool at room temperature until the chocolate is firm again.  You may need to eat a few while they're cooling, to test the firmness of the chocolate.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Cake Pops

When Brad and I were planning our wedding earlier this year, we met Rachael Teufel with Intricate Icings Cake Design at the one and only bridal show I drug him to (yes, he was just about the only groom in attendance).  Rachael is a true artist of Food Network Challenge cred, but what impressed us most was her cake--and, in particular, her cake pops--tasted out of this world delicious.

Food and wine were the two most important things to us for our wedding reception, and Brad and I had at that point already tasted so many beautiful dessert options that ranged from mediocre to just plain awful.  We found that for so many gorgeous creations, appearance trumped flavor.

We wanted both, and Rachael delivered.

So when Intricate Icings offered a holiday cake pop decorating class, I jumped at the opportunity to learn from Rachael even though my schedule has been beyond ridiculous lately.  The class was loads of fun (she had wine!), and Rachael is a natural instructor.  I'll definitely return to take whatever classes she offers in the future.  

Oh, and I came home with an assortment of beautiful cake pops, so Brad was happy too.

These are my creations.  Reindeer, penguins, snowmen, Santa hats, Christmas trees, and a few plain old sprinkly pops.

The basic recipe for cake pops is easy:  A baked and cooled cake (Rachael had a single 8 or 9-inch round there to demonstrate) and some kind of binder, combined in a stand mixer.  Rachael used cream cheese frosting--1/2 to 1 cup, to achieve a workable consistency.  I think cream cheese frosting is a great choice, to add creaminess without too much sweetness, but I'm looking forward to experimenting with other kinds of binders as well.

To close, here's a photo of the beautiful display Racheal prepared for our wedding reception. 

We had a carrot cutting cake, with coconut and pecans and cream cheese filling. 

The cupcakes were chocolate with chocolate mousse filling and vanilla with creme brule filling, all iced with white buttercream.

The cake pops were zucchini lime and pumpkin spice.

Although we cut the carrot cake, it was a little high in the tier to easily remove a slice for the ceremonial tasting.  And since I'd already tumbled a passed appetizer down the front of my dress when we first arrived at the reception, I was feeling a bit paranoid.

So we used a cupcake instead.  

And it was perfect.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pickled Baby Beets

When Brad's family came to visit for the wedding his mom brought along some pickled beets that barely made it around the table at dinner.  They were so delicious, with a bit of spicy zip.

To make these pickled beets, I combined parts of Thomas Keller's basic pickling recipe from his ad hoc at home cookbook with a recipe in the Mercer County Historical Society of Beulah, North Dakota "Then and Now" cookbook.

(Sorry, no Amazon link for the Mercer County cookbook.  You'll have to marry a North Dakota boy to get your own copy.)

The result is a delicious, sophisticated twist on pickled beets.

Hope you enjoy them!

Pickled Baby Beets

Several bunches of baby beets
1 cup champagne vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup beet water (reserved from boiling beets)
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice

Remove beets from stems, reserving the greens for another use (we sauteed them with a bit garlic of olive oil).  Scrub and trim the beets, and place in a medium saucepan.  Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook until fork tender.  (Cooking time will vary according to the size of the beets.)

Remove beets with a slotted spoon and let cool.  Reserve the beet water.

Peel beets and cut in half.  Wear disposable gloves to avoid staining your hands.  And wear a dark colored shirt.  Just trust me on this.

Place the beets in a jar and add the spices.

Bring the champagne vinegar, sugar and 1/2 cup of the beet water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Pour this pickling brine into the jar, covering the beets completely.

Seal the jar, let it cool a bit, then place it in the refrigerator.  For best results, let them hang out in the fridge for about a week before eating them.  If you can.

They can be stored in the fridge for up to a month.  But they won't last that long.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Island Banana Bread

I love cookbooks.  An ideal Sunday for me would be spent curled up on the couch with a new cookbook, which I always devour from front to back just like a novel.  And let's say it's Sunday evening so I can (respectfully) have a glass of wine.  And Brad's on the couch with me, probably watching football.  

Sigh.  Perfection.

I began exploring cooking with my mom's copy of the ubiquitous Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  She also had a well-worn copy of Joy of Cooking.  I used them both often, but it wasn't until college that I truly feel in love with cookbooks.

It was Fall 1988 in Boulder, Colorado and my college roommate had just returned from summering with her family on Nantucket Island.  She brought back with her a copy of Sarah Leah Chase's Open-House Cookbook and stories of fabulous picnics on the beach with food from Chase's take-out shop, Que Sera Sarah.

This cookbook was so much more to me than a cookbook; it was the story of a life that I found utterly irresistible.  

When Chase's Cold-Weather Cooking was published a few years later, it too became a favorite.  Perhaps even more loved because so many of the recipes were well suited to cold Colorado days.

I couldn't tell you how many times I've made this banana bread from Chase's Cold-Weather Cooking.  It's my absolute favorite banana bread recipe. 

And when I realized I had some very ripe bananas, some macadamia nuts we'd brought back from Kona, and some rum we'd brought back from our Christmas trip to the Grenadines, I knew what to do with my cold and gray Saturday.
I've yet to run off to an island to open a shop like Que Sera Sarah, but flipping through Chase's cookbooks again I'm reminded of the passion I'd once felt for this dream.

Island Banana Bread
From Cold-Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase.

1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup good-quality rum (we used Mount Gay from Barbados)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 medium (or 4 small) very ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup roasted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray loaf pan with cooking spray with flour (such as Pam for baking) and set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring raisins and rum to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Place all dry ingredients in a medium bowl, combine with a whisk, and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add egg and beat until fluffy, then add vanilla.

Add dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with banana.  Mix well after each addition.

Gently fold in the macadamia nuts, coconut and raisins (along with any rum that remains in the saucepan).

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes to an hour.  

Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Serve either warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast

So, what to do with all that pumpkin butter?

Last night we had friends over for dinner and I made this Pumpkin Butter Cake from

The cake looked beautiful, and the flavor was delicious, but when I cut into it I discovered the center was still raw.  Ugh.  Our guests were good sports about it, and ate around the edges where the cake was done, but I hate flopping.

Our oven can be tricky, and it sometimes takes some trial and error to get the timing right when baking a new recipe.  And I think the toothpick test failed me here (it came out clean when I tested it) because the cake is so dense.  But there will be a Round 2 with this cake, because the flavor really was fantastic.

So this morning I tried again with the pumpkin butter, this time with much better results.

Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast
A friend of ours bought us a Cuisinart Griddler for a wedding gift, and we've been using it several times each week.  I love it and now wonder how I went so long without one.

For this french toast, I wanted to use enough bread that a nice pocket of pumpkin butter would be in the middle, but I wanted the final product to be more like a single piece of bread.  The griddler worked perfectly, flattening the bread while cooking it.

Cut four slices from a small round loaf of rustic Italian bread, about 3/4" wide.  Carefully remove some of the bread from the inside of each slice to create an indentation, leaving about 1/2" border.  Gather up the bread scraps and feed them to the cute Rottweiler who hangs out with you in the kitchen.

Fill each indentation with about 3/4 Tablespoon of pumpkin butter.

Place one slice on top of another, with the pumpkin butter on the inside.

In a shallow dish,  combine two eggs with two Tablespoons half and half.

Whisk the egg mixture and place the stuffed bread in the dish.  Allow the bread to sit for a minute or so, to soak up some of the egg mixture, but don't let it become too soggy or it may fall apart.  Carefully turn to coat the other side.

Place both slices in the Griddler and grill until golden.

Apply a fair amount of pressure to the lid for a minute or two at the beginning if you want to flatten the bread a bit.  (Alternatively, you can cook these in a nonstick pan on the stove top.)

Serve with warm maple syrup and sprinkle with walnuts or pecans, if desired.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Butter S'mores

True confession time:  I love s'mores.

And Brad and I eat them all the time.  We have a fire pit in our back yard, and s'mores are just about the easiest desert on a warm summer night.  We have tried all kinds of variations, but always come back to the traditional Hershey's chocolate, vanilla marshmallow and golden graham crackers.

Brad and I even set up a s'mores bar on our back patio for our rehearsal dinner, with homemade marshmallows (thanks, Martha!) and these super long grilling sticks Brad's parents brought us from Medora, ND.

Sometimes a classis is a classic because it's simply the best.

But the other night I suggested to Brad we try adding some pumpkin butter to our s'mores, as I'd seen on oh joy!  Since we still don't have Trader Joe's here in Colorado (!),

Pumpkin Butter
I scanned the web for a homemade pumpkin butter recipe and found a really easy one at

Following bakedbree's lead, I gathered all the ingredients:

2 (15 oz) cans of pumpkin puree (not pie filling mix)
1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup
1/2 cup apple juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (approximately one lemon)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combined everything in a slow cooker

and then let it cook on low for 6 hours.  If you make this, be sure and leave the lid OFF the slow cooker; I failed to do this until Brad suggested that maybe -- just maybe :) -- that's why it was taking so long to thicken up.  Yes, he's pretty much always right.

I wish a photograph could convey how amazing this made our house smell on Sunday.  It was the perfect fall day outside, with the perfect fall scent inside.

This recipe will yield about 3 cups of pumpkin butter, which would be delicious on toast or bagels, stirred into oatmeal, or on s'mores.

Oh, yes, the s'mores.  That's what we're all here for, right?

We spread a layer of this yummy pumkin butter on a graham cracker, toasted up that big, fat marshmallow and dove in.  

And it was good.  It was very good.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pork Chops and Fried Soup

Yes, you read that right:  Fried Soup.

I love soup and believe almost anything is better fried, but I never would've dreamed up this delicious combination on my own.  Thanks to Maria Helm Sinskey I didn't have to.

Fried soup came into our lives courtesy of the latest installment of the RSV wine club, along with their fabulous 2008 Los Carneros Merlot.  And the folks at RSV thoughtfully included a package of organic dried cranberry beans to get us started.

The first step to fried soup is making Ribollita, a bean and kale soup delicious in itself.  Brad made the Ribollita on Saturday night and, while I enjoyed it very much, all I could think about was frying it up the next day.  The starchiness of the beans, the crunch of the kale, the crispiness of the pan fried crust.  Yum.

It was a gorgeous fall day yesterday, so we were able to grill pork chops to serve alongside the fried soup.

Fried Soup
First you need to prepare the Ribollita; we used the RSV recipe pretty much as written.  We soaked the cranberry beans overnight and found they still required about twice the amount of cooking time as noted on the package.  This was likely the result of cooking at altitude, but you may want to plan accordingly.

Once the soup cools, stir in the reserved bread cubes and refrigerate until you're ready to fry it up.

In addition to the leftover soup, you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat.  Scoop the soup/bread mixture into the pan and flatten with the back of a spoon.

Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, and heated through.

Sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

We drank the Merlot with the Ribollita Saturday night, and we'd already laid down the second bottle from our shipment is in our off site wine locker.  So with the pork chops and fried soup we enjoyed a 2007 Malbec from hope & grace, another great Napa winery.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lobster Rolls with Duck Fat Fries

If you've been around these blog parts for a while, you know how much I've been looking forward to making lobster rolls.  After a little fake-out with the preserved lemons, the August RSV wine club came through with a recipe for lobster rolls to accompany their 2010 Pinot Gris Los Carneros.

We found split-top (New England style) buns at Marczyk Fine Foods and ordered two live lobsters from Cherry Crest Seafood.  Once we got down to cooking, this meal came together rather quickly.

We prepared the RSV lobster roll recipe, and also made plain lobster rolls dressed only with melted butter.  Both were delicious served alongside duck fat fries.

Lobster Rolls
We prepared the RSV lobster roll recipe pretty much as written to serve two people, but reduced the quantities for the dressed rolls by a fourth since we also made warm butter lobster rolls.

Two live lobsters, approximately 1 1/4 pounds each
1/2 large celery rib
2 Tablespoons good quality, full fat mayonnaise (light mayo is a little too sweet for this kind of dish)
Fresh lemon (reserve two wedges for serving)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 split-top rolls
Unsalted butter, melted
2 butter lettuce leaves

Place a few inches of salted water in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil.  Put the lobsters into the pot head first and replace the lid.

Steam the lobsters for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from the pot.

Remove the meat from the shell and cut into large chunks.

Place half of the lobster meat in a medium bowl.  Add the celery, mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon, and toss lightly.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To prepare the buns, heat a medium nonstick skillet over a medium-high flame.  Brush the sides of the buns with melted butter and toast.

After toasting the buns, add melted butter to the same pan.  Toss the rest of the lobster meat in the melted butter.  Divide the buttered lobster between two of the buns.  Place a butter lettuce leaf in each of the other two buns and fill with the mayonnaise dressed lobster.  Serve with duck fat fries.

Duck Fat Fries
These are based on another RSV recipe, from last year's shipment of 2006 Marcien.  These fries would be almost as tasty using all canola oil, if you can't find or prefer not to use duck fat.  Or you can make them in the oven, but then I don't think you can call them "fries" at all.  Fat is flavor, and in moderation should be a part of every deliciously healthy diet.  We sprinkled them with rosemary sea salt, but you can use plain sea or kosher salt.

2 medium russet potatoes, well scrubbed
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
2 cups duck fat
4 cups (approximately) canola oil
Rosemary sea salt

Cut the potatoes into 1/2" square sticks.  Rinse them with cold water and then soak for several hours (or overnight) in a bowl of water with vinegar; this will remove the starch from the potatoes.

Drain the potatoes and pat dry with a paper towel.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels and place a rack over it.

Place the duck fat and oil in a large pot.  To avoid the oil boiling over when the potatoes are added, it should come no further than halfway up the sides of the pot.

Insert a thermometer and bring the oil to 325 degrees.

Add the potatoes and immediately increase the heat to try and maintain the oil at 325 degrees.  Fry the potatoes for about 5 minutes.  This first step cooks the potatoes, but they may not turn golden at this point.  Do not overcook at this point or your fries may be dry inside when you finish the second fry.

Drain the fries on the prepared rack, and allow them to cool.  Meanwhile, raise the temperature of the oil to 375 degrees.  Fry the potatoes a second time until golden and puffed, about 8 minutes.  Drain and sprinkle with sea salt.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Winner, Winner, Tuna Dinner

Bradleen recently became an officially-sanctioned union, and Brad and I embarked upon our wedded bliss by honemooning in Kona, Hawaii.  We stayed at an amazing condo with a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean, where the sunsets were remarkable.

We chose to stay in a condo rather than a hotel after hearing from fellow travelers that the restaurants in Kona were unremarkable, and we found this indeed to be the case on our few nights dining out.  An exception was Merriman's up in Waimea, which was very good.

Our Kolea condo, however, served delicious food.  There were fresh waffles with coconut syrup and fruit for breakfast.

And a variety of tuna dishes, made with our fresh catch. 

Growing up in South Florida, I spent quite a bit of time fishing with my grandfather.  I don't remember what we typically caught, but I do recall it was your basic take a boat out, drop a line and wait-syle fishing.  I've also done some fly fishing here in Colorado, with my days spent mostly untangling my line.

What I experienced in Kona brought fishing to a whole new level for me.

The adrenaline rush when a large game fish is hooked is incredible; the scream of the reel as the fish dives toward the ocean depths sounds an alarm that caused me to cry out with delight.  Brad had a Blue Marlin on the line for about five minutes, long enough for us to see it leap from the water, before we lost it.  It happened so fast that I was unable to take a good photo, but the image of that beautiful fish flying out the water with its bill waving back and forth will be in my memory forever.

Brad and I both caught some tuna.  His were bigger, but mine was an unusually strong fighter.  At least that's what they all told me when I was barely able to land it, the captain cheering me on as I was fatiguing in the final hundred yards.  I'm definitely going to do some push-ups before our next trip.

Brad's second, larger, tuna became our dinner.  And our lunch.  Then dinner again, and lunch again. 

And even this little guy got some of our tuna.  But don't tell the people at our condo complex, as I doubt they'd be pleased we were feeding the stray cats.

Our fish was cleaned on the boat while we were still fishing

and then Brad prepared the fillets when we got back to the condo.

We had a sashimi appetizer

and then some tuna barely seared on the grill, which we served with a salad of greens, avocado, mango and macadamia nuts.

With tuna this fresh, few other ingredients are needed; just a little salt and pepper before searing.

We packed several bottles of our favorite wines because we'd also heard the wine selection in Kona was limited and pricey.  We found the local gourmet market actually had quite a good selection and prices were not that much higher than we find here in Colorado.

The next day, Brad made poke for lunch, which we served with the traditional macaroni salad found everywhere on the Island.

Dinner the following night was more tuna steak, with grilled zucchini and salad.  And this fabulous brioche we found at a local farmer's market.

Lunch the next day was tuna sandwiches, made with that yummy brioche and leftover grilled tuna.  It was delicious, but apparently we found it not picture-worthy.

After eating only tuna for a few days, we were more than ready for the Taste of the Hawaiian Range, an annual festival celebrating sustainable farming and ranching on the Big Island that just happened to be held during our trip.  How lucky are we?