Monday, December 26, 2011

"The Omelette Book" - Italian Omelettes with Greens (Mixed Vegetables)

Date I made this recipe: December 25, 2011 (Christmas Day)

The Omelette Book by Narcissa Chamberlain
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
© 1984
Recipe: Italian Omelettes with Greens – p. 108-109

Faithful readers know that I’m weather-obsessed and this year was no exception. After a very rough year during which my father died, I was dreading this year’s holiday season. Besides all the hoopla that is Christmas, and the absence of my dear dad, there’s the snow and the cold and the darkness. Every year my fondest wish is for warm weather and no snow at Christmastime. This year, I got my wish.

Last week, the temperature started warming up in Minneapolis and the gloomy skies went away, replaced by brilliant sunshine. By the time we got to Christmas Eve, the temperature hit 40 degrees. Yesterday, Christmas Day, my husband, Andy, and I went for a walk along the Mississippi River. Amazingly (and thanks no doubt to a well-paid lawn service provider) some of the stately homes along the river had green grass. Many of the trees still had their leaves on them (okay, so they were dead leaves but still….). The temperature was a balmy 42 degrees. Had the earth turned on its axis?

Apparently it has. Today I went for a walk with a friend of mine at Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota. The temperature was 48 degrees. (Update: the temperature was 52 degrees today and we shattered a previous record high of 51 degrees, last seen in 1936. Oh yeah!!) If not for the wind, I might have walked in my summer shorts (tanning season cannot start fast enough). My husband is out for a bike ride. It’s 4:00 and the sun is just now fading for the day. Life is good. And this omelette helped to make things even better.

Out of all the recipes in this cookbook, the one that caught my attention was the Italian Omelettes with Greens. And by “greens,” the author means a sautéed mixture of onions, peas, green pepper, zucchini and tomato. The dish all but screamed “spring” and with the weather we’ve been having, it might as well be spring. (By the way, there’s a song by the same name – It Might As Well Be Spring – from the musical, State Fair. Life is just full of musical connections like this!)

So “spring” it was on Christmas Day! The recipe is very easy and flavorful (and so healthy – right?) and in our house, was a team effort; I got the veggie mix ready and my husband became Omelette Man. Not that I’m a slouch but he has way better technique than I do when it comes to crepes and omelettes and whatnot. I think it’s all in the wrist.

The omelette batter for this recipe is in part what drew me to it. It’s almost like a crepe instead of an egg omelette as it calls for you to add a mixture of ½ cup of milk and 2 tablespoons flour to the egg batter. So our omelettes had the consistency of a pancake without all the cakiness (if that’s a word).

The recipe calls for you to make a small “crepe,” then put a tablespoon of the veggie mixture on top and then add more batter on top. Well this got messy. So you might want to consider making a frittata instead by adding more batter to the pan and then adding your vegetables. We even had grated Parmesan cheese at home to finish the dish. After making a couple of the smaller omelettes, Andy opted for the frittata approach and I have to say he nailed it!

Whatever you want to call these, they are delicious. Sure, I could have gone with a more traditional egg and ham and cheese omelette (and lord knows, with 5 cookbooks about eggs, I had enough recipes to choke a short order cook), but would that have said “spring” to you? Probably not. And I’m all about spring, even on Christmas Day.

Speaking of which, and maybe it’s just me, but does anyone else think it’s weird to show the movie, Ben Hur, on Christmas Day? Although it’s been a while, I’m pretty sure the movie ends around the time of the crucifixion and Easter. Then again, maybe TCM (Turner Classic Movies), was channeling spring as well. Hmmm….”Dear TCM, RE: Ben Hur and today’s weather….”

Happy Holidays!

Italian Omelettes with Greens – serving size not given (perhaps 6 small omelettes?)

2 tablespoons oil
½ onion (I had half a red onion on hand and so used that), sliced
½ cup cooked peas
1 medium green pepper, finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
½ teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup milk
4 eggs

Sautee the sliced onion in the oil until softened. Add the peas, green pepper, and zucchini and cook slowly for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, oregano, salt and pepper and cook 3 or 4 minutes longer.

Stir the milk gradually into the flour until smooth, then add the eggs, salt and pepper to taste and beat for 5 minutes.

In a tiny frying pan (and note, they do mean “tiny” here—use the smallest you can find), put 2 tablespoons of this batter and cook slowly until set. Place 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture upon it and cover with 2 tablespoons of the egg batter. Turn carefully and cook gently on the other side. Remove to a warm platter and repeat until you have used all the batter and vegetables. (Ann’s note: we still had leftover vegetables so I guess we’ll just have to make some more omelettes!)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The How-Not-To-Miss-The-Cocktail-Hour-Cookbook" & "Cooking with Music (Boston Symphony Ochestra" - Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole & New Orleans Rice

Date I made these recipes: December 19, 2011

The How-Not-to-Miss-the-Cocktail Hour Cookbook by Edward W. Lowman with Robert O’Donnell
Published by: David McKay Company, Inc.
© 1964, 1971
Recipe: Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole – p. 194-195

Cooking with Music – Celebrating the tastes and traditions of the Boston Symphony Orchestra by The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc.
Published by: The Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc.; printed by Wimmer
© 1999
Recipe: New Orleans Sunday Brunch Rice – p. 106

People, as an attorney, I cannot help but examine the title of The How-Not-to-Miss-the-Cocktail-Hour Cookbook and want to poke holes in it. The issue in this case is not “how not to miss the cocktail hour,” the issue in this case is WHY would you miss the cocktail hour? Stupid title, stupid question!

That being said, I do have my own “rules” about cocktails—during the week, 5 (p.m.) is pushing it, 6:00 is about right. On weekends, I still hesitate to do brunch cocktails because then I’m shot for the rest of the day. And that takes all the fun out of evening cocktails.

But the reason I selected this book is not because I didn’t want to miss a cocktail hour but because I didn’t want to miss some holiday musical performances that I was scheduled to participate in. It doesn’t do me much good to be cooking at the time I’m supposed to be performing, now does it? (Although I do joke about imbibing a martini during some of the pieces I play as it sure couldn’t hurt my playing and might in fact help!)

So I was all set to make this shrimp casserole but then in between things, I bought the Cooking with Music book by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and since all my events were musical in nature, thought I should use both cookbooks for the blog.

But herein was the problem: I didn’t want to make two entrees and the soups didn’t really float my boat and lord knows, I do NOT need one more bite of sugar during this holiday season or I will go into a diabetic coma. So at the last minute, I decided to make the New Orleans Sunday Brunch rice to accompany the shrimp even though the two taste flavors did not necessarily blend together. I had a craving for rice and this recipe called for rice and (sage) sausage and so there it is! Problem solved.

And so that settled that. But still, the problem of finding time not to miss the cocktail hour and finding the time to attend my musical events and finding time to actually cook this stuff became a problem. And so I decided to wait until all events were over so I could cocktail and cook while singing along to the radio. I’m nothing if not a multi-tasker!

So my first musical event of the season was a joint holiday concert with my concert band, The Calhoun-Isles Community Band, and the Plymouth Community Band. That event took place on a Sunday but luckily, I prepared for dinner in advance by plopping a roast in the crock pot. (And I tell you what, that roast was good until the last drop! Check out last week’s blog posting for the recipe.)

Then on Tuesday, the 13th, my community band, The Calhoun-Isles Community Band (CICB), celebrated its 30th anniversary by playing selections from the very first concert as well as some holiday pieces. We invited the band’s original conductor to lead us in Stars and Stripes Forever and we also honored one of our former band members (and our group’s announcer) who passed away this year. And in between all that (with a couple of bad band jokes thrown in by various band members), we played what I think was a spectacular concert. We have 84 active members (several are on leave until after New Year’s making us a 100-member band in total), a 26 member clarinet section (of which I am the section leader) and 4 tubas. How could we go wrong?! (In fact, at times like these, I can’t help but quote Bill Murray from the movie, Ghostbusters – “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”)

And then on Sunday, the 18th, a friend invited me to her church in St. Paul as her church was performing Handel’s Messiah as a sing-along. And who doesn’t like a sing-along? So my friend and her daughter and a friend and I went and warbled with about 200 other people and had a blast.

Now this was not my first rodeo as a sing-along artist (Just so we’re clear, under no circumstances is a sing-along the same as karaoke!). In the early 90’s, the SPCO (Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra) used to invite the public to a sing-along performance. I will never forget the first couple of years as we (my friend, Carol, who goes to these with me) were clearly the newcomers to the “chorus.” Charging up the aisle, proudly clutching their musical scores to their bosoms and extremely dangerous in their “We Sang The Messiah with the SPCO” green sweatshirts, were the ladies who had been there, done that. They even had stripes on their sweatshirts, like cheerleaders and high school sports athletes, indicating the numbers of years they participated in the event. They didn’t scare us: we came, we sang, we eventually got our own damned sweatshirt!

Through the years, the SPCO performed The Messiah as a sing-along and then didn’t and then the Minnesota Orchestra did and then didn’t and various other community orchestras did and then didn’t. Word on the street (and even in print) is that most professional orchestras loathe having all of us rank amateurs singing along to this piece. Well sue me! I may be rank but I’m no amateur! The other beef, this time from management, is that if the performance goes over two hours, the musicians (all union members) get paid time and a half.

And so time was of the essence for most performances with conductors under the gun to get everyone the hell off the stage in 1 hour 59 “don’t think I’m kidding” minutes. Sadly, much is often lost in the translation, such that a beautifully slow piece like “Surely, He Hath Borne Our Griefs” became “Shirley, Shirely, Shirely!! Other pieces started sounding like Carol Burnett’s “Tarzan yell” because we are too rushed to enunciate the words. Tick tock people, we have a stage to vacate.

So lucky for us, for Sunday’s performance, the church’s musical director slowed everything down so that we didn’t die an early death from hyperventilation. (And may I just note he graduated from the Eastman School of Music? In musical circles, that is quite the pedigree.) He cued us when appropriate and gave us kudos for hanging in there. The pianist helped out by playing the soprano’s top note on the Hallelujah Chorus (“Give me a ‘C,’ a bouncing ‘C!’”) so that they wouldn’t train wreck. (The sopranos have to hit a high G and that is no easy task. That is way out of the comfort range for this mezzo soprano!) All in all, it was a total team effort.

So we sang together and ended together (always a good thing) and patted ourselves on the back and then we left. As of Sunday’s performance, I am now officially done with playing/participating in holiday concerts and can now concentrate on unearthing my Christmas CD with Alvin and the Chipmunks on it (singing “The Chipmunks Song” a/k/a “Christmas Don’t Be Late”) and get into the real spirit of things! (“Me? I want a hula hoop…”).

Actually, in addition to Alvin (a classic, I assure you), I have several Boston Pops CDs, most of them under the baton of the late, great Arthur Fiedler. And one of my absolute favorite holiday pieces is A Christmas Festival Overture by another late, great, individual, composer Leroy Anderson. My band has played that piece several times over the course of my tenure with them and it never disappoints. It’s a medley of several Christmas tunes, ending with a rousing mix of Jingle Bells and Oh Come, All Ye Faithful. Every time I get done playing that “barn-burner,” I always say to myself “I can’t believe I just played that.” It’s an awesome piece – listen to it on YouTube some time and be amazed.

So anyway, I was really happy that I found the Boston Symphony Orchestra cookbook when I did. The book is fun and it breaks up into sections: the symphony, the pops orchestra, small chamber groups, the chorus and so on, and tells you a little about each. (Little known fact to some of you may be that John Williams, famous for his movie scores, conducted the Boston Pops prior to Keith Lockhart taking over. Oh yeah, I’m up on this stuff!)

So on to the food, batting first is the shrimp artichoke casserole and batting second is the New Orleans rice. The “cocktail” book warned us that this was a rich recipe and indeed it was. So why then, did the author then go on to suggest serving this over a biscuit? Wow. My stomach is full just thinking about that! Not that the rice wasn’t rich but it seemed like a better choice than a biscuit.

I thought the casserole recipe was tasty but the sherry taste was almost overpowering…not that this is a bad thing…but I think a little bit less than the quarter cup it called for might have been good. Besides, you can just imbibe the sherry you didn’t use while you’re making the casserole and all your problems will be solved (including not missing the cocktail hour).

The rice also called for a quarter cup of white wine but that amount was fine. And although I am a red wine drinker, I had plenty of white wine on hand – four bottles to be exact. Every time I have a party and serve white wine, I have leftovers and I guess I lost track of how many bottles I was storing in my refrigerator. Must rectify that problem ASAP! I would combine them into one, full bottle but they are all different varietals and I’m not sure how that would go over. On the other hand, it’s for cooking and so who cares?

The rice recipe also called for ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper but since we are not big fans and I didn’t want a taste sensation that really didn’t work with the shrimp casserole, I left it out. I also did not put the shrimp casserole on top of the rice since I didn’t know if I’d have an ingredient fight on my hands or not. I thought each recipe was good and stood on its own but you can decide if you want to marry the two together on the same plate or not.

And so that concludes our cocktail hour (which was not missed) and my holiday concert music lineup and all kinds of fun and favorite things. Happy Holidays!

Shrimp and Artichoke Casserole – serves 4
1 15-ounce can artichoke bottoms (I used artichoke hearts)
1 pound cooked, cleaned shrimp
½ pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
¼ pound butter
½ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon MSG (Note: since MSG is now the evil ingredient, you can leave it out or substitute other seasoning mixes for flavoring. The author uses Accent and I did as well.)
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper t taste
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Arrange artichoke bottoms and shrimp in a greased casserole. Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter until brown (about 5 minutes) and add to casserole. Melt ¼ pound butter in double boiler, stirring in flour, salt, and MSG. Gradually add milk while serving constantly. When sauce is thick and smooth, add Worcestershire and sherry. Pour into casserole and sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake for 20 minutes in preheated 375 oven. (I went a little longer to make sure the casserole was heated through.)

Ann’s Notes: every single recipe in this book uses MSG but the author notes that you can use Accent (seasoning); if you have problems with MSG, leave it out. Also, the author developed a set of abbreviations used throughout the book to let you know what you should be doing: SA means Set Aside; R means refrigerate; RO means refrigerate overnight and F means to freeze. He also uses (and I love this) “TAG” – Time Away From Guests. For this recipe, after you sprinkle the cheese on top, you can “SA” (Set Aside) the casserole before baking it. And just so you know, your TAG time is 2 minutes – not bad!

New Orleans Sunday Brunch Rice – Yields 4 servings (recipe submitted by Wendy Putnam, BSO violinist)
1 ½ cups jasmine rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (14 ½-ounce) can chicken broth, with water added to equal 2 ½ cups
1 pound bulk sage sausage
6 minced scallions or green onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper
¼ cup dry white wine

Saute the jasmine rice in olive oil over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes while constantly stirring, until the rice is golden in color. Add chicken broth and water, and reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 15 minutes. (Note: I had my heat on too low and so had to cook it for another 15 minutes to ensure that it was done. I’d recommend medium heat versus low to maintain a good simmer.).

Saute the sausage until browned, then add the scallions. Mix well, remove from the heat and let rest until the rice is cooked. Combine the rice and sausage mixture in the pan over medium-high heat until the ingredients are heated through.

Add the garlic, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste shortly before serving. At that point, add the white wine, mix thoroughly, and let entire mixture sit over low heat for a few minutes before serving.

And then (and this is Ann’s note) take a fork and proceed to eat this scrumptious mixture from the pan. And then abandon the fork and just use your fingers. If you’re alone in the kitchen at this time, you can do these things without anyone being the wiser.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"The Unwatched Pot" - Pot Roast with Fruit (crock pot cooking)

Date I made this recipe: December 11, 2011

The Unwatched Pot – A crockful of recipes for electric slow cooking by Paula Franklin and Hamilton Beach
Published by: Dorison House Publishers
© 1975
Recipe: Pot Roast with Fruit – p. 40

I’ve mentioned before in previous postings that there are some kitchen appliances that I could not live without. It was most remiss of me not to mention my war horse – my Hamilton Beach “Crock Watcher” Crock Pot.

I’ve had this crock pot since 1978 or so when I shared an apartment off-campus with three other friends while in college. Aside from accidentally breaking the cover (Hamilton Beach sent a replacement), this crock pot has survived several cross-country skiing road trips (yum—a day on the trails and then dinner!) as well as a slight dent from being banged up while I was putting it away. Nothing stops this sucker and that’s a good thing. And okay, the crock pot colors are your classic 70’s orange and brown but what’s your point? If it works, it works.

As we all know, crock pots are just a phenomenal time saver. During school, my roommates and I would throw something in the crock pot, head off to class, and it was all done and ready to roll as we filtered in. Similarly, yesterday (Sunday) my community band (Calhoun-Isles Community Band) and I played a joint holiday concert with the Plymouth Community Band and I wanted something I could cook and ignore while I was gone. Enter, today’s recipe.

Out of the several mouth-watering selections in this book, I chose this one because it was all about pot roast, and who doesn’t love a pot roast, and because I had every ingredient on hand save for the beef itself. I am a huge fan of Trade Joe’s apricots and so had them at the ready and I also had a half pack of Trade Joe’s dried prunes. And we just so happened to have a bottle of Trader Joe’s beer on hand (not light beer, but who cares) and so it was the perfect entrée.

You may think (although you’d be wrong) that fruit and beef don’t go together but this was delicious. In fact, I’ve seen this recipe in several cookbooks and almost always the recipe is in the “cold weather cooking” section. I don’t know the origins of the recipe—could be German or Scandinavian, but who cares! You just need to know that it’s easy and filling and be done with it.

Pot Roast with Fruit – Yield: 6 servings

¾ cup dried prunes, pitted
¾ cup dried apricots
½ teaspoon ginger
1 can light beer (or whatever beer you happen to have on hand) (Note: I’ve also seen this same recipe with brandy as the alcohol—
1 4-pound chuck roast
2 tablespoons shortening
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup honey

Soak dried fruits, with ginger, in beer for 1-2 hours. Heat shortening in skillet and brown meat on all sides. Transfer meat to cooker, add other ingredients, and pour marinated fruits over all.

Cook on low 10-12 hours, on high 5-6, or on automatic 7 hours. Note: I cooked my roast on automatic and part of it fell apart but the other part didn’t. Had my schedule been different, I might have elected to go with low to make sure the meat was really tender. Not that it matter as we inhaled it anyway.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Party Food - "Finger Food," Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads," "Delicious Dips," Pillsbury's Best of the Bake-Off," "Sugar Spoon"

Date I made these recipes: December 2-4

Finger Food by Confident Cooking
Published by Bay Books Australia
ISBN: 978-0681020535
Recipe: Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam – p. 93

Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads by Stacey Printz
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6589-0
Recipes: Balsamic Fig & Caramelized Onion Tapenade – p. 62 and Avocado-Chevre Spread – p. 75

Delicious Dips by Diane Morgan
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 10-0-8118-4220-7
Recipes: Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche – p. 27 and Blue Cheese Dip with Chives – p. 59

Pillsbury’s BEST 1000 Recipes – BEST of the BAKE-OFF® Collection, Edited and adapted by Ann Pillsbury and the staff of Pillsbury’s Home Service Kitchens
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-470-39559-2. Original publication date: 1959
Recipes: Jim Dandies (chocolate-cherry - p. 361 and Hawaiian Moon Drops (pineapple, nuts and coconut) – p. 367. The Jim Dandies recipe was a Junior (Award) Winner created by James Petersen, Withee, Wisconsin. The Hawaiian Moon Drops recipe was a Senior (Award) Winner created by Mrs. Lyell Roberts, Chisholm, Minnesota.

Sugar Spoon Recipes from the Domino Sugar Bowl Kitchen
Published by: American Sugar Company
© 1962, Second Printing
Recipe: Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – p. 6
For the past couple years, Target has aired a hilarious series of commercials showing a shopping-obsessed lady working out in order to get ready for Black Friday. Let me just say that I know how this woman feels.

Right around Black Friday, I started working out in order to get in gear for my annual holiday open house. Besides recipe planning, there’s ingredient shopping, decoration shopping, alcohol shopping (Absolutely essential!) and of course food preparation.

To expedite cookie baking matters, I took a moment or two or sixty to pre-measure and sift and whatnot all the dry goods. Then I put them into plastic bags and labeled them, for example: “Lemon bars base – 1 cup flour + 1 tsp salt…” I created this trick years ago when I did a lot of baking for a party and it works great. When it comes time to add the dry ingredients, you just locate the correct bag and fire away. Easy as pie…hahahahaha….

And for those of you who bake, you know that best results are achieved if your butter and dairy are at room temperature so if I made three baked goods that day, I took out all the required butter and eggs in advance so I could just get cracking when the time came. (Pun not intended but now that I look at it…eggs…cracking….)

As to my savory items, I left those all for one day so I could use my cutting board for veggies only. I also bagged those ingredients and labeled them accordingly although at the end of the day, we had one leftover bag of minced parsley and rosemary that my husband failed to see. That was my bad though, as I failed to include that in my tutorial when he took over making some items.

So that’s the back half of the equation. The first half of the equation is deciding what recipes to make. This year, all my hot food items came from magazines and almost all my cold savory items and desserts came from books. And since this blog is all about cookbooks, I’m only going to list the recipes from the books I made but will take a moment at the end to tell you where I found my hot food items because dang it all, they were great!

So speaking of cookbooks, when it comes to shopping for party food cookbooks, my desire to have a “collectible” cookbook goes out the window. Instead, I’m looking for recipes that are relatively easy to make and can be eaten without utensils; I rent plates and glassware for the party but draw the line at renting forks. We all have our standards.

So with that criterion in mind, I started stockpiling books early on (usually on sale) and made dishes from these recent acquisitions: Finger Food; Delicious Dips; Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads and Pillsbury’s Best 1000 Recipes – Best of the Bake-Off® Collection. I also made recipes from previous party cookbooks: Barefoot Contessa Parties!; Betty Crocker Party Book, Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook and The New Basics Cookbook.

And with that, let’s commence firing. First up is the Finger Food book. This book was published in Australia and let me tell you folks, thank goodness for the internet so I could look up US equivalents to grams and millimeters and whatnot. And I also have to credit this boss of a kitchen scale I own as it measures everything in the measurement system of your choice. Need ounces? Check. Need grams? Check. Check, check, check!

This year’s winning recipe was for Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam and by god, my guests were lucky to have some of that jam to eat as it was so good I could have eaten the entire bowl. I stuck to the recipe and made the shortbread with bacon and parmesan cheese although next year I might try some of the other recommended herbs and cheeses.

I think the thing that made this jam so yummy was that the vine-ripened tomatoes are roasted first and that just added sweetness to the dish. And yes, I know that tomatoes are not even close to being in season, much less “vine-ripened” at this time of year, but such is life. When it comes to party food, one must do what one must do. (That being said, I passed on my husband’s recommendation for an asparagus dish as it is pretty darned pricey at this time of year. We won’t even talk about how I nixed his suggestion for a scallop appetizer!)

Although the dough-making process took a minute or two, I thought this dish was pretty easy and I’ll likely repeat it next year. You know the saying – “If some if good, more is better!”

Next up, I used the Delicious Dips cookbook to make Blue Cheese Dip with Chives. This was so easy and so good that my guests pretty much finished off the bowl. In fact, one of my guests suggested to another guest that she finish it off but the other guest wasn’t that fond of blue cheese dip. “All the more for me,” my friend replied!

And then we have the equally delicious Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche. My only disappointment is that I thought the dip would be thicker but no matter. It’s so tasty I’m almost tempted to heat it up and eat it as soup. Wouldn’t be the first time…

My other little quibble is that crème fraiche certainly makes the dish but I needed such a small amount (2 tablespoons) that I almost passed on it. I bought it already made from my grocery store but now need to figure out what to do with the rest. I thought about making it myself but the ingredients that I needed (again, in small amounts) were almost more than the pre-made stuff. But here’s a question for all of you: Is it me or does the dairy lobby have it in for us cooks? I’m hard pressed to find anything I need in small amounts and am tired of paying high prices for a tablespoon or so for a recipe. Further, why do they list serving size for things like heavy cream as “1 tablespoon” and then “number of tablespoons per container: one million? I am math-challenged and so when a recipe calls for ¼ cup, I do not want to do the conversions on this, I just want the carton to tell me. We must unite on this!

Okay, rant over. Moving on…

Pestos, Tapenades & Spreads yielded two recipes, Balsamic Fig & Caramelized Onion spread and an Avocado-Chevre spread. Both were really good but the making of the fig and onion spread yields the better story: all was going well until I was instructed to add 1/3 cup of oil to the chopped onion and fig mixture. People, this was way too much. When I tasted it, all I could taste was olive oil and that is never a good thing. (And so to cleanse the palate, I ate a cookie that I had just made! Wow that was so much better!)

So I drained the oil as best as I could using two paper towels in the process and then caramelized some more onions and then added the now-drained onion and fig mixture to the skillet and cooked the entire thing for a couple more minutes. To me, this made all the difference although the yield was so small for my party needs that I made another batch and this time I added the oil in increments – no fool me!

Now although I have yet to blog about The New Basics Cookbook, I’ve gone to it time and time again over the years to find recipes. I guess I just haven’t felt like I found “the one” to post. And this year’s appetizer, although a hit, was such a bitch to make that it’s not going to make it this year, either!

The recipe is simple: 3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus ¼ cup of Mango Chutney plus finely copped pecans on the outside.

So I started to put this together thinking that this would take me mere minutes. I mean with two main ingredients, how hard could this be?

Well people, it was hard! The cheese and the chutney didn’t bind well at all so I pulsed the cheese in my Cuisinart thinking that the consistency (shredded versus grated) might be the problem. It was not. The balls just wouldn’t hang together. So I put them in the freezer thinking that would surely make things better but it didn’t. So I tried the Cuisinart again and this time added more chutney to the cheese and there was slight improvement. Mind you, I still walked around the kitchen with more cheese on my hands and on the counter than in the cheese bites but whatever. By this time, the damage was done and these are off my list for next year! If you have a hankering to try them go ahead but be warned that this is a messy operation.

So those are my savory cookbook recipes. In the cookie department, I tried a couple new recipes from the Pillsbury Bake-Off® book with mixed results although I do love the retro nature of the cookbook. And seeing as how I recently acquired all my mom’s copper cookie cutouts, I made a sugar cookie recipe from my Domino Sugar Spoon Recipe book. (By the way, my mom ordered these cookie cutouts from Kellogg’s for $1.50 plus two box tops!)

Back for another year were Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars, a peanut butter/Rice Krispies/chocolate chip and marshmallow bar and the glorious Almond Bonbons from last year’s party (See my blog post from 12/8/2010). (By the way, I goofed last year when I made these bonbons, now called Boo-Boo Bonbons, added the entire can of almond paste to the recipe and they were spectacular. So I repeated that mistake again this year and they were once again a gigantic hit.

Before I got on with the baking though, I re-read my Pillsbury recipe ingredients and saw that two of the cookies called for “shortening.” Hmmm….sometimes when people say shortening they mean butter (or margarine—ew) so to be sure, I called Pillsbury and talked to the Dough Boy (nah—just had to say that) and the woman assured me that shortening meant shortening and butter meant butter. Okay then, shortening it is!

I also contacted the Domino sugar people with a question about their sugar cookies: I didn’t want to make 7 dozen cookies so I wondered if the cookie dough would freeze. Well, I tell you what, they weren’t sure! What?! I know that my book is older (1962), but come on, isn’t that a basic request?

So to be on the safe side, I asked my friend, cookbook author, and baker extraordinaire, Kim Ode, if I could freeze the dough and she said sure. She also said I could halve the recipe, including one egg which you put in a measuring cup, beat slightly and then pour out what you need. After all that though, I decided that there was no way the dough could make 7 dozen cutout cookies and so I made the entire batch and I was right! But thanks, Kim, for saving my butt on that one. (By the way, Kim is the author of Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club and is also author of an upcoming cookbook (release date is March 1, 2012) Rhubarb Renaissance. I cannot wait!

Okay so comments: the Jim Dandies (maraschino cherry and chocolate) were easy to bake but a pain in the butt to finish. If the marshmallow on top of the hot cookie was supposed to melt, it didn’t and that marshmallow mound make the cookies extremely hard to frost. As for taste, they cookies were okay but the texture was too “cakey” for our tastes.

Similarly, the Hawaiian Moon Drops (crushed pineapple and lemon extract) were easy to make but they were a little large in size for our party and again, the cookie was more “cakey” than we prefer. Both were tasty but I think we might try other cookies in the book next time around.

Once I got past the sugar cookie freezer question, the sugar cookies were easy to make although our oven did a number on a few of them that ended up in the hot zone. Let’s just say some reindeer looked as brown as they actually are! (And reader, why does this always happen when I’m getting ready for a party? I’ve never had my oven be so wonky as it was this year!)

Before I get to the recipes and ingredients, let me tell you where I found some of the other recipes I made this year:

Coconut Macaroons, Food and Wine Magazine, December 2011, made by chef Danny Cohen.

Chocolate Chip Pound Cake, Family Circle, April 17, 2010. This makes two loaves for 24 slices total. I cut each slice in half for my party. This recipe was delicious.

Chicken Meatballs with Sweet Peanut Sauce, EveryDay with Rachael Ray. Go online to find the recipe. Note that this recipe does not give a yield. I doubled the chicken (use a mix of white meat and chicken thigh for a moister meatball) and it still wasn’t enough. These were my most popular party meatballs ever. One Rachael Ray reader who made these meatballs suggested baking them at 400 for 25 minutes and I have to agree that this made for a great meatball.

Meatballs a la Pizzaiola by Giada DeLaurentiis, Food Network Magazine (go to to obtain the recipe). This made about 36 meatballs (as stated—go figure!) and they were yummy. Note: you may have a hard time finding smoked mozzarella (I got mine at Broder’s Cucina Italiana in South Minneapolis) and Giada didn’t suggest an alternative although you might want to consider smoked provolone if you can find it.

(St. Louis) Toasted Ravioli, Food Network Magazine, October 2011. Note that this recipe said “serves: 4-6.” Okay, that’s pretty vague because who knows how many people will want to eat. We used 4 packages and had a few leftovers. I microwave the leftovers for 30 minutes and serve them with my leftover sauce. They are delicious!

Savoury Shortbread with Tomato Jam – makes 48 (and it does indeed make 48 shortbreads but it doesn’t make nearly enough Tomato Jam so you might want to double the jam recipe)
Tomato Jam
5 vine-ripened tomatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small red onion (I’m going to sound like the late Andy Rooney here, but I have yet to see a “small” red onion. Just sayin…)
2 cloves garlic
100 ml olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

250 g butter (about 18 T) at room temperature
1 tablespoon hot water
3 ¼ cup (405 g) plain flour (“plain” flour is the same as regular flour; do not use self-rising)
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
300 g bacon (about 8 ounces)
1 ¼ cups (125 g) grated Parmesan
60 g poppy seeds (about ¼ cup)
Small fresh basil leaves, to garnish

Preheat the oven to moderate – 350 (180 C or Gas 4). Place the tomatoes on a roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until just smooth. Toast the fennel and cumin seeds in a dry frying pan for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Cool slightly, then grind the seeds to a powder.

Puree the onion, garlic, ground spices and half the olive oil in a food processor until well combined.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion mixture over low heat for 25-30 minutes, or until the onion is just beginning to caramelize. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook for a further 2 minutes, then stir in the tomato mixture. Cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 1-1 ½ hours, or until the paste is thick and there is very little liquid remaining. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. (Note, the jam will keep up to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.)

To make the shortbread, beat the butter in a bowl until pale. Gradually add the hot water. Sift the flour and paprika into the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the bacon, Parmesan and ¼ cup (60 ml) water, then season well with cracked black pepper, adding more water if necessary. Roll into four logs 3 cm thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours. Spread the poppy seeds out on a clean work surface and roll the logs in them until evenly coated. (Note, these can be made one week in advance and stored in single layers in an airtight container.)

Preheat the oven to warm – 325 degrees or 170C /Gas 3 and lightly grease two baking trays. Slice the logs into 5 mm thick slices. Place on the prepared trays and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until pale and crisp. Cool completely.

To serve the shortbread, top with 1 teaspoon tomato jam and a small basil leaf.

Variations: Grated Cheddar, chopped fresh herbs, finely chopped nuts or a spice mix can be used to flavor the dough.

Balsamic Fig and Caramelized Red Onion Tapenade – makes about 1 1/3 cups
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1/3 cup (NOTE: I found the 1/3 cup to be too much and suggest you add it incrementally and taste along the way)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup chopped Black Mission figs
¼ cup balsamic vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons honey (optional—but I used it and thought it added a little something!)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the figs and the ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and continue to sauté until most of the liquid is gone and the mixture is slightly caramelized, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fig mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and add the honey (if using). (Note: the reason I added honey is that the taste of the 1/3 cup of olive oil was overpowering. The honey helped take away that taste.) Pulse until the ingredients start to come together. With the machine running, gradually stream in the remaining 1/3 cup oil and pulse until a coarse paste forms.

Avocado-Chevre Spread – makes about 1 ¼ cups
2 medium avocados split and flesh scooped out
One 5-ounce package of chevre (i.e. soft goat cheese)
3 teaspoons lemon zest
4 to 5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the avocado, chevre, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with pepper.

As the author notes, this recipe is an alternative to guacamole and is great in sandwiches!

Roasted Butternut Squash Dip with Crème Fraiche – makes about 2 cups
1 butternut squash (1 ¾ to 2 pounds)
1 very small yellow onion, cut in half lengthwise, stem and root end trimmed
2 large cloves garlic, skin left on
2 tablespoons pure olive oil
2 tablespoons crème fraiche (crème fraiche is a soured cream. It’s kind of a cross between sour cream and cream cheese. To make your own, you’ll need heavy cream and buttermilk. Instructions can be found online by using Google)
1 ¼ teaspoon crème fraiche
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground white pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F. Brush the flesh of the squash, the onion and the garlic generously with the olive oil and arrange the squash and onion cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Tuck a skin-on garlic clove in each cavity of the squash. Roast until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 50 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.

Use a spoon to scrape out the flesh of the squash and put it in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Discard the skins. . (Note: I’ve never roasted a squash before and was surprised that it was very watery when I scooped it out. Consequently, the dip was a little thin in the consistency department but the taste was great). Squeeze the garlic pulp from the cloves and add to the workbowl along with the onion. Puree until smotth. Add the crème fraiche, salt, nutmeg, cayenne, and a few grinds of (white) pepper. Process to combine and then taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately. (Now that being said, the author notes that you can prepare the dip up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate and then rewarm in a microwave or on the stove-top in a double-boiler just before serving).

Blue Cheese Dip with Chives – makes about 1 ½ cups
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix together the blue cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in the chives and add a few grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately (This dip can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. Serve at room temperature).

Notes: some people like big chunks of blue cheese but I like mine a little smaller so I pulsed the cheese in my food processor until I got more even chunks. Also, for whatever reason, Minnesotans seem to love the combination of French and Blue Cheese dressing. Not that I’m knocking it—it’s good, but I don’t recall seeing that combination done in restaurants anywhere else. But here—go out to dinner with a group of people and almost every request for the salad dressing will be “French and Blue Cheese.” If you do that, you’ll seem like a native!

Jim Dandies – makes about 3 dozen
1 ½ cups sifted Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose Flour
½ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt + 1/8 teaspoon for frosting
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup shortening (*do not use butter)
1 unbeaten egg
¼ cup maraschino cherry juice
2 tablespoons milk + 1/3 cup for frosting
4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate – 2 squares for cookies, 2 for frosting
½ cup walnuts, chopped
¼ cup chopped maraschino cherries
18 large marshmallows, halved
¼ cup butter or margarine for frosting
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 – 2 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Sift together 1 ½ cups (sifted flour), ½ teaspoon soda and ½ teaspoon salt; set aside. Cream shortening and brown sugar then add the egg (which you should beat well). Mix. Add one-half the dry ingredients as well as the maraschino cherry juice and 2 tablespoons milk. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Blend in (melted) two squares of chocolate, walnuts and chopped cherries. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

Place one marshmallow half on the cookies, cut-side down (while hot), then cool on the rack. Frost with Chocolate Frosting; top each with a nut half.

To make the frosting, in top of double boiler over boiling water, cook the milk, butter, remaining two squares of chocolate and 1/8 teaspoon salt until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 to 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar until of spreading consistency.

Note: as stated above, if the marshmallow half was supposed to melt on the hot cookie it didn’t. So this left this huge marshmallow-mounded cookie that I now needed to frost. Right. In retrospect, I should have just microwaved the cookie for a couple seconds to melt the frosting but I didn’t. Oh well, they looked funny but tasted good.

Pillsbury wants you to know that if you use Pillsbury’s Best Self-Rising Flour, you may omit the soda and salt.

Hawaiian Moon Drops – makes about 4 dozen
3 cups sifted Pillsbury’s Best All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup shortening (*do not use butter)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla + 1 teaspoon for frosting
¼ teaspoon lemon extract
2/3 cup drained crushed pineapple; reserve juice for frosting (Note: my husband made these and had to add more juice. Lucky for us, we had a couple cans of pineapple juice on hand.)
1 cup walnuts
1 ½ cups toasted coconut
½ cup pineapple juice (for frosting; use reserved juice from pineapple can and add more if needed)
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter (for frosting)
2 drops yellow food coloring
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

Sift together (sifted) flour, baking powder, soda, salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugars (brown and white) together. Blend in 2 unbeaten eggs, vanilla and lemon extract. Beat well. Stir in drained crushed pineapple. Add the dry ingredients gradually and then the chopped walnuts. Blend thoroughly.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 for 12 to 15 minutes. Frost with Lemon Frosting and dip tops in toasted coconut.

To make the frosting, combine in saucepan ½ cup pineapple juice, ½ cup water and ¼ cup cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 drops yellow food coloring. Blend in confectioners’ sugar.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – yield: about 7 dozen cookies
1 cup Domino Granulated Sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup soft butter or margarine
1 egg
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
Egg white, slightly beaten
Domino Granulated Sugar

Cream sugar, salt and butter or margarine thoroughly. Beat egg, lemon rind and extract into creamed mixture until light and fluffy. Sift together flour and baking powder. Gradually stir into creamed ingredients.

Roll dough 1/8” thick on floured board. Cut into fancy shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Brush with egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Bake in moderate oven 350F, 11-12 minutes or until light brown around edges. Remove to cooling rack. Store in airtight container.