Sunday, December 26, 2010

Red Velvet Brownies

My dessert contribution for our celebration at Grannie's were these yummy brownies from the December issue of SL. My friend JoAnn turned me on to them. I followed doubled the recipe and baked the brownies in a half-sheet pan. I used a zip-top bag to pipe the cream cheese frosting on top after I cut them into squares.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Dinner Menu

Our menu this year encompassed old favorites and new tastes: Mustard-Crusted Prime Rib with Blue Cheese Sauce, Brussels Sprouts With Bacon, Butternut Squash Risotto (I roasted, peeled, and cubed a butternut squash and added it to the pot with the rice), and Cranberry-Pear Compote. Dessert, which featured my m-i-l's red velvet cake and b-i-l's chocolate pie, received rave reviews. Enjoy!

Cranberry-Pear Compote

In the past, we've enjoyed this fruity dish over French toast on Christmas morning (and it is terrific). This year I decided to serve it for dinner and found it to be a good partner for the prime rib and the other sides. My m-i-l reheated the leftovers and served them over toasted slices of Irish Soda Bread for breakfast the next day. Enjoy!

Cranberry-Pear Compote
Substitute apples for the pears, if you like.
1/2 cup butter
3 pears, cut into cubes
1 (12-oz.) bag fresh cranberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
6 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 cups apple cider or water

1. Melt butter in a saucepan; stir in pears and remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, fruit is softened, and mixture is thickened. Serve warm.

Mustard-Crusted Prime Rib

This was the centerpiece of Christmas dinner. A standing rib roast is a significant investment, but Andy's family loves beef and Christmas dinner should be special. We had nine adults for dinner and the butcher recommended a 10-pound cut of meat. This allowed for some leftovers, so next time 8 pounds would probably be enough. A meat thermometer is key to perfectly cut beef. The range for medium is 135° to 140° and then allow a 15-minute rest period. I cooked ours to 140° because my f-i-l prefers his meat a little more done than the rest of us. However this gave us fewer pieces of medium; next time I plan to take it out at 135°. Don't be intimidated if you've never cooked prime rib—the prep is a breeze and the cooking is all hands-off (it took this one about three hours to cook). Blue cheese is a Hughes family favorite, so I made an easy blue cheese sauce to serve with the beef. Enjoy!

Mustard-Crusted Prime Rib
1 (8- to 10-lb.) standing rib roast
Country-style Dijon mustard
Montreal steak seasoning

1. Rub mustard over the whole roast. Sprinkle generously with steak seasoning. Place roast, fat side up, in a roasting pan.
2. Bake at 425° until desired degree of doneness (medium 135°-140°). Remove from oven, and cover with aluminum foil. Allow roast to stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Blue Cheese Sauce:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan, and sauté garlic in melted butter for 1 minute. Stir in blue cheese and cream. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cheese is melted and sauce is combined. Season with lemon zest and black pepper, if desired.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sweet Potato-Okra Fritters

This is another of the recipes I tried out on my in-laws for Christmas Eve. It is from the new Lee Bros. cookbook, Simple, Fresh, Southern. Admittedly everyone else was skeptical, but the unusual food combo really appealed to me. I think the name "fritters" is misleading; they reminded me of Sweet Potato Latkes, which we love, with some okra thrown in. The garlic dipping sauce is a delicious counterpart. Andy and his dad were won over in the end. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato-Okra Fritters
Obviously this is a summer dish and I didn't expect to see okra in the grocery store, but it was there (thanks to South America's seasons) and I decided to try the recipe even though okra in December is weird. We won't see this again until July.
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
6 oz. okra, sliced into rounds
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. dry breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp. cream
Peanut oil
Garlic-Buttermilk Dip

1. Place sweet potatoes in a clean towel, and squeeze out excess moisture. Place sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add in okra and next 7 ingredients. Stir together mixture until just combined.
2. Pour peanut oil into a Dutch oven to the depth of 1 1/2 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat. Drop sweet potato mixture by spoonfuls into hot oil, and cook, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until done.
3. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Garlic-Buttermilk Dip.

Garlic-Buttermilk Dip:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. salt
1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane grater or pressed

1. Combine buttermilk and remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sweet-Spicy Roasted Nuts

My friend Jamie gave me a new Barefoot Contessa cookbook called How Easy Is That? for Christmas. Our menu for Christmas Eve at my in-laws is appetizers and desserts (we like to keep it light before our big meal on Christmas—ha, ha!). When I looked to this new book for inspiration in my menu planning, I found this recipe. I made a batch yesterday and am happy to report that the nuts are delicious—spicy, smoky, and sweet. (In fact, I have to exercise some self-control to stop eating them!) I didn't have the exact quantities of the different nuts the original called for, so I substituted what I had. You can't taste the maple syrup, but it beautifully caramelizes the outsides of the nuts. Enjoy!

Sweet-Spicy Roasted Nuts
12 oz. whole roasted unsalted cashews
7 oz. walnut halves and pieces
7 oz. pecan halves
7 oz. whole almonds
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
Juice from 1 orange
2 tsp. chipotle chile powder (This has a smoky taste that regular chili powder lacks.)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 tsp. salt

1. Line a half-sheet pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper; coat with cooking spray. Arrange nuts in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Combine syrup, next 4 ingredients, and 2 tsp. salt in a bowl. Pour over nuts on pan, and toss to coat.
2. Bake at 350° 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and sprinkle with additional 2 tsp. salt; toss to coat. Let cool in pan. Transfer to an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Sweets

Each year at Christmas time, I bake an assortment of treats to share with friends. This year's boxes included different combinations of the following favorites: Salted Caramel Cupcakes, Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes, Blueberry-White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, Chocolate Chip-Peanut Butter Cookies, Toffee-Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Chocolate Cookies With Peppermint-Cream Cheese Frosting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cheddar-Beer Soup

My friend Lisa made a delicious beer-cheese soup for supper club a couple of months ago, and since then, I've wanted to try my hand at it. I found this recipe in the most recent Williams-Sonoma catalog and made it tonight. The texture was thick and creamy; the flavor balance of the Cheddar and beer was just right. I served it with Homemade Croutons. This is my new favorite soup, and I think I will make it for my in-laws on Christmas Eve. (Note: To reheat leftovers, stir in some milk to help thin the soup a bit; it thickens as it cools.) Enjoy!

Cheddar-Beer Soup
4 bacon slices, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, thinkly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 (12-oz.) bottle beer (I used Blue Moon.)
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 cups milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb. Cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook bacon in a Dutch oven until done; drain on paper towels. Reserve 1 Tbsp. bacon drippings in Dutch oven, and add in butter. Once butter melts, sauté onion and next 2 ingredients for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add in garlic, and cook 1 more minute. Stir in flour, and cook, stirring often, 1 more minute. Gradually add in ale and next 3 ingredients; cook until mixture begins to thicken. Use an immersion blender to puree mixture until smooth. Stir in cheese, and cook until melted and combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with bacon just before serving.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mexican Cheesecake

Here's an easy appetizer for Christmas parties that you serve chilled (think cheese ball), so it can be made ahead (hooray!). I also think it would be good warm, but I haven't tried it that way yet. Serve it with homemade tortilla chips (store-bought is also fine) or crackers. The flavor is cheesy with a subtle spice. I had some fresh cilantro on hand that I added to the cream cheese mixture, but you can omit it. The photos show the cheesecake before and after the sour cream-salsa topping. Note: I baked this one in an 8-inch springform pan, but the recipe yields enough for a 9 inch. Enjoy!

Mexican Cheesecake
1 cup crushed tortilla chips
2 Tbsp. melted butter
3 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 eggs
10 oz. grated Cheddar cheese
1 (4.5-oz.) can chopped green chiles
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup salsa or picante sauce

1. Combine tortilla chips and butter, and press into bottom of a lightly greased springform pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes.
2. Beat cream cheese and ricotta with a mixer. Gradually add in eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add in Cheddar cheese, green chiles, and, if desired, cilantro. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour cream cheese mixture into prepared crust.
3. Bake at 350° for 45 to 1 hour or until set. Remove from oven, and let cool 30 minutes before removing ring. Cool completely. Combine sour cream and salsa; spread over top of cooled cheesecake. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for a party and remembered how easy they are. If you need an impressive but super-easy last-minute dessert for a Christmas party, look no further. The intense chocolate flavor is just right for taking the edge off the holiday stress! These cupcakes are the one exception to my no-paper-liner rule—the cake is so moist, it's imperative. Enjoy!

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 (16-oz.) can chocolate syrup
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 (11.5-oz.) package bittersweet chocolate morsels
Chocolate Ganache

1. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add in eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in chocolate syrup and vanilla. Gradually add in flour, beating just until blended. Stir in chocolate morsels. Pour muffin cups lined with paper muffin cups.
2. Bake at 325° for 25 minutes or just until set. Let cool 5 minutes; remove cupcakes from pan. Top with Chocolate Ganache (a spoon is the best tool for this).

Chocolate Ganache:
8 oz. semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. instant coffee granules

1. Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 1 minute, 30 seconds, stirring halfway through. Whisk chocolate mixture until chocolate is melted and surface is glossy.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pesto-Feta French Bread Pizzas

Tonight we had tomato soup for dinner, but I wanted to serve something besides grilled cheeses with it. After examining the fridge and pantry, I came up with the ingredients to make these pizzas. This recipe would be a great party appetizer. Dinner was ready in about 20 minutes—success! Enjoy!

Pesto-Feta French Bread Pizzas
1/2 French bread loaf, cut in half lengthwise
Basil pesto
2 Tbsp. chopped sun-dried tomatoes
Crumbled feta cheese

1. Cut each bread half in two pieces. Spread pesto on cut sides of bread, and sprinkle with sun-dried tomatoes and feta.
2. Bake at 400° for 5 to 10 minutes or until cheese is slightly melted and bread is warm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Weeknight Burgundy Beef Stew

Apparently we've moved to International Falls—the temperature never got above freezing today (yikes!), so a hearty, warming dinner was in order. I decided to make a quick beef stew with red wine and serve it over mashed potatoes. (The best part: it was ready in 30 minutes.) While on his mission trip, Andy ate a lot of rice (not his favorite) and very little beef (his favorite). This was a good welcome-home meal. At the last minute, our friends Brian and Paige and their baby joined us for dinner, and we had an impromptu celebration for Paige's birthday. Enjoy!

Weeknight Burgundy Beef Stew
1 lb. beef tips
Montreal steak seasoning
Olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine or beef broth
4 cups beef broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
Chopped fresh rosemary
Buttermilk mashed potatoes

1. Sprinkle beef with steak seasoning. Sauté in hot oil in a Dutch oven until meat is browned on all sides. Remove to a plate. Add 1 tsp. olive oil to Dutch oven, and sauté onion and next 3 ingredients for 10 minutes or until tender. Add in garlic, and cook 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add in flour, and cook 1 minute. Add red wine, stirring to loosen browned bits from bottom of pan. Add in beef broth and next 2 ingredients. Return meat and juices to Dutch oven. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes or until thickened. Serve over mashed potatoes.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Although I don't like coconut (it's a texture issue), I love this soup. It's savory, spicy, and comforting all at the same time. I found several recipes online and combined them to create this one. There are definitely some usual ingredients, such as the kaffir lime leaves, but these are essential to getting the right flavor combination. The recipes I read called for lemongrass, which I couldn't find. My substitution: the zest from one lemon and a sautéed shallot. Lemongrass can be overpowering and the flavor of my substitution is more subtle. I used lite (how it's spelled on the can) coconut milk to save some calories and fat. Because of this, the color of the soup is slightly gray instead of white; regular coconut milk would fix this. I think this experiment is a success—enjoy!

Thai Coconut Chicken Soup
1 shallot, minced
1 tsp. olive oil
1 qt. chicken broth
Zest of 1 lemon
3 kaffir lime leaves, torn (I found these with the herbs at Whole Foods.)
1 (3-inch) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
1 jalapeño, halved and seeded
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
8 oz. baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked shredded chicken
Salt and pepper

1. Sauté shallot in hot oil for 5 minutes or until tender. Add in chicken broth and next 5 ingredients. Simmer for 10 minutes; remove and discard solids. Stir in coconut milk and next 4 ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chicken-and-Rice Soup

It has been so cold this week, so soup was in order! When I was a child, my mom used to make us chicken and rice (a can of chicken-vegetable soup poured over rice) when Dad, who didn't eat chicken, was out of town. We loved it and that was my inspiration for this recipe. I made rice to go with Monday night's stir-fry and decided to make enough for soup. You could easily cook rice in the soup liquid if you don't have any cooked rice on hand—you'll just need to increase the liquid. Enjoy!

Chicken-and-Rice Soup
2 tsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. herbs de Provence
1 1/2 qt. chicken broth
5 cups cooked brown rice
3 cups cooked shredded chicken

1. Melt butter in olive oil in skillet; sauté onions and next 2 ingredients 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute. Season with salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. Add in chicken stock, rice, and chicken; cook mixture until thoroughly heated (mixture could be transferred to a slow-cooker at this point).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chocolate Cookies With Peppermint-Cream Cheese Frosting

The inspiration for this dessert came from some leftover cream cheese frosting that I had in the freezer from Thanksgiving’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes. I decided to make my favorite chocolate cookies and top them with peppermint-cream cheese frosting. Instead of semisweet chocolate chips, I used bittersweet chocolate chips to balance the sweetness of the frosting. These taste like Christmas to me. Enjoy!

Chocolate Cookies With Peppermint-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 package bittersweet chocolate chips
Peppermint-Cream Cheese Frosting

1. Beat butter and next 3 ingredients with an electric mixer until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients. Gradually add to butter mixture; stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
2. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, and cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely. Spread cookies with frosting.

Peppermint-Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (8-oz.) block cream cheese, softened
1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
2 drops red gel food coloring

1. Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer until fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until desired consistency. Beat in vanilla, peppermint, and food coloring.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Beef-and-Veggie Stir-fry

Andy is in Senegal in West Africa on a nine-day mission trip, so I'm taking advantage of his absence by making dishes that he wouldn’t like. In reality, Andy is not picky and will eat or, at least try, almost anything. However he does like cuisine that ends in “ese” (Japanese, Chinese). I love stir-fries because of all the vegetables and the spicy, complex flavor of ginger and other Asian seasonings. Feel free to substitute your favorite veggies. I served the dish over brown basmati rice. Enjoy!

Beef-and-Veggie Stir-fry
1 small eggplant, cut into cubes
1 small piece of steak, cut into thin strips
Montreal steak seasoning
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. fresh minced ginger
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 small orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup sugar snap peas
5 mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
1 tsp. Thai red chile sauce
2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot cooked rice

1. Place eggplant in a bowl; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes; rinse and drain. Set aside.
2. Sprinkle steak with steak seasoning. Cook in 1 Tbsp. hot oil until browned on all sides; remove steak from skillet.
3. Add remaining 1 tsp. oil to skillet, and heat. Add garlic and ginger, and cook 1 minute. Add in carrots, next 4 ingredients, and eggplant. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and next 3 ingredients; return steak to skillet. Cook 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve stir-fry over rice.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chicken Salad With Grapes and Pecans

This weekend some girlfriends and I attended the Deeper Still conference in downtown Birmingham—what a blessing! Because of my home's proximity to the civic center, we came here for lunch today. The menu was simple: chicken salad, bagel chips, Chopped Apple Salad, and Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies. I cooked the chicken using this method the day before, shredded it, and then refrigerated it until it was time to put the salad together. This recipe is totally off the top of my head, but it turned out well. Enjoy!

Chicken Salad With Grapes and Pecans
6 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 1/2 cups halved red grapes
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted and chopped
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

1. Combine chicken and next 2 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir together mayonnaise and next 2 ingredients; add to chicken mixture until combined. Taste at this point and add additional mayo and honey, if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.