Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Caramels

This is a longstanding tradition in my life. You know I kinda like ya if I give you these as a Christmas present. If I don't like you I will probably give you socks or soap. This is a long pain in the butt process but the end result is well worth it. Thus being a gift of love.

3 cups of whipping cream or heavy cream, same dif really
1/2 of a 14oz can of sweetened condensed milk
2c. sugar
2c. light corn syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2tsp. vanilla

Line an 8x8 baking pan with foil or parchment and  heavily butter or Pam spray it.

Combine the cream and milk and warm it in a small pan. Set aside

In a heavy 3 quart sauce pan or dutch oven heat the sugar, corn syrup and salt. Mix well and cook over medium high heat til boiling. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon to dissolve sugar. Cook for one minute and stir once it starts boiling. Reduce heat to medium.

Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Very slowly add the warm cream mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time stirring well after each addition. It will take about 15 minutes to add all of the cream mix because it should take a couple of minutes to slowly stir in each addition. If you want creamier caramels then add more time for stirring in between adding the cream.

Continue to cook mixture stirring frequently and scrape the bottom of the pan frequently to prevent burnt bits.When the thermometer registers 242f

Remove from heat. Rapidly stir in the vanilla and pour into the prepared pan. Don't scrape the pan. Allow to cool. You can leave it overnight.

Lift the caramel out of the baking pan and peel off the liner. Cut the caramel into 64 pieces and wrap with wax paper or parchment. Or dip into melted dark chocolate and sprinkle with sea salt

These will last for at least 3 weeks
Eggs in a Nest (and the two more sophisticated offspring of this idea)

It's mid- December and I am getting all nostalgic. I am about to make my gifts of love by preparing small assortment boxes of homemade cookies and caramels As I am deciding what all to make this year, I am getting all melancholy for lazy holiday mornings when breakfast was the focus after unwrapping presents.
It was a tradition in my family to do Eggs Benedict for Christmas morning. But I'm too old to be so damn fussy and slave in the kitchen while the rest of my family is playing with their toys.
So I will start with the everyday easy comfy breakfast and go to fancy but easy and pop it in the oven while you watch and enjoy and interact with your family while they are enjoying their presents.

Eggs in a Nest

A slice of bread of your choice
1 large egg
1 Tbsp butter divided in half
salt and pepper
Take your bread and cut a whole in the middle of it with a cookie cutter or a glass. Heat half the butter in a nonstick pan on medium heat until foamy.
Lay the cut bread in the pan and the cut out piece in the butter. Crack the egg into the middle of the hole in the bread slice and season with salt and pepper.
When the bottom of the egg is solid enough to flip, get the egg and toast on a spatula and add the rest of the butter to the pan and flip until the yolk is done to your liking and as you flip the bread flip the cut out so it can toast up too.
Remove from pan and yum it up.

Egg Cup Muffins

6 slices of bread of your choice crusts cut off.
6 slices of bacon
6 large eggs
salt and pepper

In a skillet par- cook your bacon to render about a Tbsp. or  so of fat. When cool enough line 6 spaces on a muffin tin tin with the bacon grease.
Press the bread into the prepped muffin tin, making cups from the bread.
Take each slice of bacon and cut it in half and make an x with the bacon and lay it into the individual cups.
Crack an egg into each bacon lined cup and season with salt and pepper and bake at 375 for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on how well done you like your eggs.
Pop the egg mix onto a plate and enjoy.

Fancy Pants Eggs in a Boat, (but it's still easy)

6 artisan ciabatta rolls ( I like LaBrea) or 2 baguettes cut into thirds vertically. Hollow the bread out so that it is a shell or a "boat" if you will.
6 eggs
3 tbsp of milk or cream
salt and pepper
1 tbsp of already prepared pesto
1/4 cup Swiss cheese or goats cheese crumbled
1/4 cup bacon crumbles

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil
Place your hollowed out bread onto the cookie sheet.
In a bowl combine the egg, cream, salt and pepper, pesto, cheese and bacon and mix with a fork until well combined.
Evenly distribute the egg mix into the bread boats and bake them at 350 for approx. 15 minutes until the eggs have set and are just barely jiggly in the center. Let cool for 10 minutes until fully set and ready to eat up

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tips and Tricks I Have Learned by Making a Ton of Mistakes in the Kitchen

I started out as a very picky eater. Breaded chicken sandwiches every single day were my mainstay. Then my husband, who is now my ex, made me all competitive by telling me I could never cook as well as his mother. Challenge accepted mofo!!
So I started cooking new things and buying cookbooks and had some successes and some miserable failures. To this day I still have failures and it's always a learning process. However I have come across some constants that will make your culinary  life a lil easier.

  • I know you love to cook and most likely use recipes as your source. Read them at least twice before cooking and if you have the time to get all of your ingredients out before hand then do it. It makes your cooking process more efficient. Putting them away as soon as you use them is helpful as well.
  • While you are doing different steps through out the cooking process, season as you go. For example, add salt and pepper to the meat when you brown it. Add seasoning to the vegetables when you add them to the meat and then if a liquid is added season that too. Layers of flavors means that you don't have to adjust the end process.
  • Taste, taste, taste. There is a reason they say "Never trust a skinny chef" As you are cooking you need to check that your flavors are correct so that you can adjust through the cooking process.
  • It is best to under cook or under-season. This is why I told you that tasting is important. You can always add but you can never take away. And when I say under-cook, I mean that you can also add some more pan or oven time to your protein.You need to invest in a probe thermometer that is oven safe so you can temp your protein so that you don't end up with a chewy piece of silly putty. 
  • Don't be afraid to shop for off brands in the grocery store. You don't have to pay top dollar for quality ingredients.
  • Make sure your meats are thawed properly and brought to room temperature before you cook them. It takes less time to cook and you get a nice sear.
  • Never use water when making a soup or a braise. Use chicken or veg stock. Flavor layering is key and water has no flavor dammit!
  • When using tomato paste or pesto and there is more left in the can after you use it, take a sheet pan and slap tablespoons full on it and freeze it and reserve it in a freezer safe bag for later.

There are more tips and tricks to come and I invite you to add your own. 
West African Chicken and Ground Nut Stew

I recently made a major life changing decision to leave the area I had been in for 44 years and move to South Western MI right by the shores of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is an entity to herself. She shapes the weather here and right now she is a cold surly bitch. Never before have I experienced cold and snow like this. Don't get me wrong...I love the winter and the chilliness of the season, but the cold here is a whole new flavor of cold. So I offer to you a warm comfort food with flavors from a warmer climate. This is an easy and satisfying stew. Even kids are crazy about it because it has peanut butter in it. This is a small batch so feel free to double or triple if need be.

2 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts or 4 boneless skinless thighs, cut up into 1/2 inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. peanut oil or veggie oil
I med. yellow onion diced
1 inch knob of ginger peeled and minced
3 garlic cloves crushed or minced
1 28oz. can diced tomatoes undrained
1 15.5 oz. can northern beans undrained
1 small bag of frozen baby corn or regular corn approx 11 oz
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 and 1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp chili powder (I prefer Mexene)
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 cups of hot cooked rice

In a 4 qt. dutch oven heat the oil over med high heat, til ripply. Season the raw chicken cubes with the salt and pepper and add to the oil. Saute til the chicken has a nice brown on the edges and add the onion, saute til the onion is soft and add the ginger and garlic for about a minute longer.
Add in the rest of the ingredients except for the rice. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes til thickened to stew consistency and the potatoes are cooked through. If it is too thick then add more broth.
After the right consistency is reached, taste the stew and adjust your spices. Serve atop the rice and give yourself a comfy comfort food hug.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I am now realizing that bacon and orange zest are becoming a theme. But really who the crap cares? That stuff is delicious. Cook on, my minions!

Chicken Liver Free Rumaki
AKA Heart attack on a stick
12 whole water chestnuts. Poked with some corn skewers to let in the glaze
1lb or less of bacon
1c. store bought bbq sauce
1/4 teriyaki or soy sauce to taste
1 tsp. orange zest optional
1/2 tsp fresh ginger optional
preheat oven to 400i
n a saucepan combine sauces and spices if using them. Adjust your measurements til you get the taste you want. Drain and add your perforated chestnuts.
Bring to a simmer. When the chestnuts seem well coated and slightly sticky about 15 minutes.
fish the chestnuts out of the pan and let them cool on a plate.
Wrap the cooled chestnuts fully with a slice of bacon and secure with toothpick and set on baking sheet. Prefferalby on a wire rack on top of the baking sheet for drainage
Bake for about 15 minutes. If the bacon is getting crispy pull out of the oven and coat with the rest of the glaze and bake for another minute or so til the glaze is bubbly but not burned.
Serve and enjoy.
Citrus scented Cornbread stuffing

I made this up outta my head and it turns out to be really delicious. One of those examples of how the odd ingredients in my kitchen talk or yell at me until I turn them into something nummy.
1 bag of cornbread crumbs for stuffing (not boxed cornbread stuffing mix)
2 slices of quality bacon
1stick of butter
1 onion diced fine
2 ribs of celery diced fine
2 cloves garlic minced
2 to 3 cups of rich chicken stock
2 large eggs beaten
1/4 dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 T. of fresh chopped herbs of choice (I like thyme and sage)
salt and pepper to taste
zest of one orange

Dump crumbs into a large bowl and add the nuts and cranberries.
Put bacon in a skillet and render some of the fat and add in the onions, celery and butter until bacon is crisp. Add garlic and herbs and saute for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.  Take bacon out, let cool and chop. 
Add the veg mixture and bacon to the bowl. Deglaze the hot pan with the chicken stock and add to the stuffing, Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then add egg and mix well. Let sit for 10 minutes. If stuffing is moist and almost sticky (if its dry add more stock) add to a 9 by 9 baking pan and bake for 20 minutes covered in foil at 375 f. Take off foil and let cook for another 10 minutes until top is crispy.
Amazing Holiday Brussels Sprouts aka Troll Boogers
And yes, I did say amazing and Brussels sprouts in one sentence. I used to be one of those people who hated Brussels sprouts until I had them prepared correctly. Since then, I have had a sophisticated adult love affair with these charming sophisticated yet rustic veggies.
As for the "Troll Boogers".... The first time I introduced this recipe to my family, my son Max was about 7 and he had never seen Brussels Sprouts before. He had said "These are baby cabbages, How can I eat cute lil babies?" I gave up all hope on ever thinking he would eat them. I flippantly said. "Nope. They are troll boogers" and he went to town gobbling them down, just for the gross boy factor thing. After he finished them off, he said "Mom you lied. Those are delicious, they taste nothing like boogers."

1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed and scored with an x and any yucky leaves removed
2 Tbsp. Butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic crushed or minced
2 slices of bacon par cooked
1 tablespoon of honey
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

While you are cleaning and trimming your sprouts. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a half palm full of salt.

Add your cleaned sprouts for 2 to 3 minutes until there is a slight change in color.

Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Lay out on paper toweling. Once cool enough to handle slice hem in half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a saute pan heat the olive oil on med to med high heat. When it is rippling add the cold butter. When the butter is melted add the sprouts.

When the bottom of the sprouts gets golden, add the garlic and orange zest and the bacon. Stir occasionally til the bacon and garlic are golden.

Add the juice and honey and cinnamon until the liquid is thickened and coats the sprouts. Take of the heat and cover and let steam for 5 to 10 minutes.

Then yum those Troll Boogers right up.
Happy holiday eating or everyday eating.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Home made Twix bars


    shortbread layer

caramel layer

  • 2 cups caramel, cut into small chunks
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

chocolate layer

  • 3 cups chopped milk chocolate or dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1) FOR THE CRUST: Preheat your oven to 300°F. Spray a 9" x 13" pan lightly with cooking spray, or line with parchment, and set aside.
    2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the flour. At first the mixture may seem dry, but will come together as you continue to beat at medium speed.
    3) Take the dough (it will be somewhat stiff) and press it evenly into the pan. Lightly flouring your fingertips will help with any sticking.
    4) Prick the crust all over with a fork. The holes will allow steam to escape and the crust will bake evenly with fewer bubbles.
    5) Bake the crust until it's lightly golden brown on top and the edges are deeper golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately run a knife around the edges to loosen the crust. Set it aside to cool completely.
    6) FOR THE CARAMEL LAYER: Melt the caramel and cream over low heat in a small saucepan. Pour the caramel over the cooled crust and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill and firm up.
    7) FOR THE CHOCOLATE LAYER: Melt the milk or dark chocolate slowly in a double boiler or over very low heat. If it seems very thick, add a tablespoon of shortening to thin it. Pour evenly over the chilled caramel layer and spread to cover all of the caramel. Return to the fridge until the chocolate is well set. Cut into 2" x 2" squares to serve. It's best to store these bars in the refrigerator.
    8) These bars can also be cut and dipped in milk chocolate to resemble Twix ® bars. After the caramel layer has chilled firm, cut down the length of the pan, splitting the bars into two long, narrow bars. Then cut each long strip into "fingers". Dip the chilled bars into melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to set for several hours.

Italian Poppers

6 large pepperoncini peppers split in half and seeded
1 cup ricotta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp basil pesto or sun dried tomato pesto (I recommend the tomato, available at Aldi's)
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup Parmesan
2 Tbsp. Roasted red pepper diced fine
1 egg yolk
12 basil leaves
12 razor thin slices of prosciutto

Mix the cheeses, egg, pepper and pesto and egg and stuff into the peppers. Place the peppers on a baking dish and bake at 350 for 10 minutes Then set the oven to broil and cook till the cheese is browning and bubbly. Let the peppers cool slightly. Place a basil leaf on top and wrap with the prosciutto. And pop that baby in yer mouth. yum!
This is a post I came across and it works well with my garlic bread dough recipe. I even convinced my picky eater boyfriend to eat it, and he loved it.
Pizza Stuffed Pretzel Rolls
1 batch Pizza dough
1/2 cup marinara sauce
2 oz peperoni, chopped
1/2 cup cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, whatever you want)
1/4 cup baking soda
2 tbs sugar
3 tbs melted butter
course salt

Preheat oven to 350.
Start by placing the hunk of dough on a lightly floured surface.

Shape the dough into a long log. Cut into two equal halves, then cut each half in half (giving you four equal logs)
Then cut each log in half the other way
Now you have 8 pieces! Cut each piece in half and you are finally done with the cutting and you have 16 dough pieces ready to be filled.
Roll each dough piece on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin. Top with about 1 to 2 tbs sauce, 2 tbs cheese and 1 tbs pepperoni.
Wet the edges of the dough (the best way to do this is to place a small bowl of water near you and wet your fingertips) and pinch the edges tightly together.
Place on a baking sheet, covered with a Silpat.
Fill a large pot with water, making sure you have enough room for it to bubble up, but deep enough for the rolls to fit in. Add the 2 tbs sugar and allow to boil, add the baking soda (there will be lots of bubbling), add the buns (about 4 at a time) and allow to boil for about 30 seconds, remove with a large slotted spoon and return to baking sheet.
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt.
Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until a dark golden brown.
*Note: if you want to freeze these, allow to cool, place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 weeks. To re-heat, bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until cooked though.

Insanely Easy Yummy Good Every Time Garlic Bread
1 pkg of fast acting yeast
1 c. warm water about 103 degrees Fahrenheit
1 tsp sugar or honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. sea salt or just regular salt
2 cups of flour or more depending on how sticky the dough is.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 tsp basil
1tsp oregano
a few pinches of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 450

In a mixer bowl combine warm water, yeast and sugar. Let sit untl the mixture is bubbly, about a minute. Add in the tablespoon of olive oil and salt. With a dough hook attached to the mixer, mix in the 2 cups of flour. If the dough doesn't pull away from the side then just add more flour until it does. Take the dough out and knead onto a well floured surface until the dough is as smooth as a baby's bottom...5 minutes or so. 

In a warm spot let the dough rise until doubled in size. About a half an hour.
In the mean time. Pour 1/4 cup of olive oil into a small bowl and add in all the spices and garlic.
When the dough is doubled. Punch it down and slap it down onto a flat surface a few times until it takes the form of a 12 to 16 inch log. Place onto a greased cookie sheet or pizza stone. Cut the dough with scissors into 8 to 12 pieces, don't cut all the way to the bottom. Brush the oil mix onto the bread til well coated and sprinkle a few pinches of kosher salt. Let rise for 15 minutes. Brush again and do a light sprinkle of salt. 
Bake for 15 minutes to a golden brown. If the surface seems dry, lightly apply the oil to the loaf.
Cool, separate and enjoy!!!
Just as an aside. This can be a pizza dough or bread sticks.
I am the mom of two amazing children. Food has always brought us together and created special bonds. The kitchen has always been the touchstone for us, like so many others. I have always wanted to share my love of food and family. My twist is, that I want to share family traditional recipes and weird experimental crazy stuff I come up with when the box of macaroni and chili garlic sauce and can of tuna are arguing in the middle of the night and I have to shut them up by making something tasty out of them. So come and listen to my ass wonky ramblings about random things but most of all..I hope my love of food shines through and maybe I can pass on some recipes that will become kitchen memories for you and yours. One last thing, for the most part these are all original recipes. If I did use someone elses recipe I will give them credit and of course put my own touch on it to make it mine. Make sure to give me likes and page love and comment and share with friends and family. Bless you, now get your happy asses in the kitchen!!!