Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook" & "For the Love of Food" by chefs of the IACP - Bistro Chicken w/Potato and Root Vegetable Mousse and (Chocolate) Negrita

Date I made these recipes:  December 25, 2012 (Christmas Day)

Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook – Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes Presented by Renewing the Countryside; Foreword by Garrison Keillor
Published by:  Voyageur Press
ISBN:  978-0-7603-3142-2
Recipe:  Bistro Roasted Chicken with Yukon Gold and Root Vegetable Mousse – p. 21-23 (from Chez Jude, Grand Marais, Minnesota and Wild Acres Game Farm)

For the Love of Food – recipes and stores from the chefs of IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals)
Published by:  IACP
ISBN:  0-9764517-0-0
Recipe: (Chocolate) Negrita (similar to a chocolate mousse) – p. 10- submitted by Chefs Sam Arnold and Holly Kinney of Colorado
*Note, this book was purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores

People, every once in a while, out of all the cookbooks and all the recipes, I select a winner -  a real home run, a touchdown, a checkered flag.  Today’s bistro chicken recipe is a winner.  Perhaps it was the wine (3 cups – yee haw) or the spice rub or the accompanying vegetable mousse or even the bacon used in the sauce.  Perhaps it was the fact that the recipe and cookbook were from Minnesota.  Whatever it was, this goes down in the “let’s make this again real soon” annals and that, folks, is hard to achieve.  In fact, I believe I waited until my second bite to tell my husband “We should make this for Thanksgiving next year.”  Oh yes, I was just that excited.

This cookbook is broken out by region and I am pleased to say that I have been to several of the restaurants featured (many headed by well-known and well-loved Minnesota chefs), and each restaurant teamed with a local farm/ranch/produce grower that supplied the ingredients (and I’m pleased to say that I know a few of these people as well) for the recipes.  The result: a list of recipes so fresh that I feel healthy just looking at them (the photos, by the way, are glorious).  You had lamb, beef, bison, walleye (the king of fishes in these parts), fresh cheeses, fresh vegetables and some fruit-based desserts that make me want to pull this book out again come summer.  In fact, the “menu” from Chez Jude was the chicken, rubbed with herbs de Provence, and the root vegetable mousse and a wild blueberry maple crème brulee.  Sadly, blueberries and Christmas do not go together in my book and so I passed on that recipe in favor of the Negrita found in the IACP cookbook.

Written in similar fashion to the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, the IACP book compiles recipes from culinary professionals who belong to this organization – the International Association of Culinary Professionals.  The who’s who list in this book mirrors the one in the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook:  in Minnesota, we have chefs Alex Roberts (a James Beard award winner); Lucia Watson (my personal hero); Lenny Russo (a Beard finalist) and Brenda Langton, just to name a few.* In the IACP book we have Charlie Trotter; Tom Douglas; Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Miliken; Gale Gand—the list goes on and on.  (*Alex Roberts owns Restaurant Alma and Brasa; Lucia Watson owns Lucia’s; Lenny Russo owns Heartland and Brenda Langton owns Spoonriver.  Both Lucia and Brenda have published cookbooks and yes, they are part of my collection.)

Together, the bistro chicken (and mousse) and the chocolate negrita made for one outstanding Christmas Day dinner.  And can I just say that for once, I am damned glad that it was just the two of us for dinner because now all those wonderful leftovers are mine, all mine (and okay, I saved some for Andy!)

Now, an important word about the chicken:  this dish is intended to be made in advance (up to 2 days ahead) and reheated but I wanted it when I wanted it and so I made it in one day.  To do that, roast the chicken at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower your oven temperature to 350 and roast for 15 more minutes.  You still have to make the vegetable stew (see full instructions below) but you can do that at the same time you are roasting the chicken.

As to the negrita, we used very high quality chocolate but still ended up with a very thin layer of oil on top that then set as it cooled down.  No worries – skim it off and eat it anyway.  Or mix it in and don’t tell anybody.  We made half the recipe because we really didn’t need 10 servings of this dish…or did we?

Happy Holidays everyone!

Bistro Roasted Chicken with Herbs De Provence Meat Rub - serving size not given but we roasted three breasts and four thighs

For the rub
1 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons herbs de Provence (dried mixture of thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, basil, fennel seed, marjoram, summer savory, available in the spice section of your local grocery)
Fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt, to taste

For the chicken and vegetable stew
½ lb. applewood smoked bacon, cut in small pieces (Ann’s Note:  we used regular bacon that we had on hand)
A 3 to 4-lb free-range chicken (from Minnesota supplier Wild Acres if possible) quartered and rubbed with herbs de Provence rub
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons unbleached organic all-purpose flour
3 cups red wine; a burgundy is the traditional choice.  Do not use a wine that is very fruity.
3 cups chicken stock or organic broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 cup baby gree top carrots
3 cups pearl onions, blanched and skinned (or use frozen)
3 cups fresh mushrooms, shiitake, and crimini, quartered
2 tablespoons red currant jelly
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Yukon gold and root vegetable mousse
2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
¼ lb. parsnips, peeled and diced ¼ inch
¼ small rutabaga, peeled and shredded
2 minced garlic cloves
¼ cup butter
1 green onion, chopped
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
Freshly chopped Italian parsley, salt and pepper to taste

Ann’s Note:  As stated above, I cut to the chase and made the chicken all in one day and so browned the chicken as directed, roasted it for 30 minutes at 400 degrees and then lowered the temperature to 350  and roasted the chicken for another 15 minutes.  In between things, I made the vegetable stew and potatoes.  For accuracy’s sake, the instructions below are exactly as printed in the book:

Two hours prior to cooking, marinade the chicken with the herbs de Provence rub.  To make the rub, whisk all ingredients together (olive oil, minced garlic, herbs de Provence), rub on meats and let marinade for the allotted time. 

When you are ready to make the chicken, in a braiser or Dutch oven, sauté the bacon until crisp, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Set aside.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings.

Brown the chicken in the drippings, on both sides, over medium high heat.  Remove the chicken and place into a roasting pan in a 400F wood-fired or conventional oven.  Roast for an additional 30 minutes or about 2/3 of the way done.  Don’t overcook; you will be reheating the chicken at a later time.  Cover and store in the refrigerator until you are ready for the final preparation.  Chicken can be stored at this point up to 2 days.

Note:  Add any roasting juices into the braiser or Dutch oven.  Do not forget to scrape up the browned bits and add these into your stew pot; they add another layer of rich flavor.  Then, make the vegetable stew.

To make the vegetable stew, add the chopped onions to the pan that was used to brown the chicken; sprinkle with salt, pepper and the flour.  Stir constantly, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.  This will “cook” the flour and remove the starchy taste.  This also aids in thickening the stew in the simmer reduction stage of cooking.  Add the wine, stock, tomato paste, crisp bacon and rosemary; bring to a boil.  Add carrots, pearl onions, and mushrooms.  Cover the pot and turn down the heat to medium low or simmer.  Continue to cook until the vegetables are cooked through.  You can remove the cover and cook until the sauce is reduced or thickened if needed.

Add the red currant jelly and parsley, to heat through.  Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  This stew can be prepared up to 2 days prior to serving.

On the day of serving:  Prepare the Yukon Gold and Root Vegetable Mousse.  When ready to plate, reheat the chicken in a 350F oven for 15 minutes.  Bring the roasted chicken in a large rimmed bowl upon a nest of root vegetable and potato mousse (or soft polenta or cooked egg noodles).  Ladle the red wine stew of vegetables over the chicken.  Garnish with a drizzle of crème fraiche and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

To make the potato mousse, boil the potatoes, parsnips, rutabaga, and minced garlic cloves together, about 20 minutes or until tender but not mushy.  Drain and return to the pan to dry over low heat.

Place in mixer outfitted with a paddle, add butter, and mix on low speed until the butter is melted.  Add the remaining ingredients and continue to mix on low speed until the desired texture is achieved, from slightly chunky to smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

(Chocolate) Negrita – serves 10
1 ¼ pounds Ghirardelli sweet dark chocolate
6 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ cup rum
½ pint heavy cream, whipped, for toopping.

Place the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water; do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl holding the chocolate.  Cook until half-melted, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat and leave it over the warm water to finish melting and to keep it warm.  It is important not to let the chocolate cool too much before blending with the other ingredients, or it will become grainy.  If you think it has become too cool by the time you’re ready to use it, place on the heat to warm it slightly. 

Separate the eggs.  Beat the egg whites until stiff in a clean dry bowl. Beat the egg yolks carefully, then fold into the beaten egg whites, mixing until thoroughly blended.  Ladle into 2 ½-ounce ramekins or wine glasses and chill.  Serve topped with whipped cream.

Ann’s Note:  You’ll definitely taste the rum in this recipe!

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Sicilian Cooking" - Sicilian Pasta Timbale - Christmas Eve 2012

Date I made this recipe:  December 24, 2012 (Christmas Eve)

Sicilian Cooking by Carmelo Sammarco
Published by:  ARNONE Editore – Palermo
© 1998
Recipe:  Sicilian Pasta Timbale – p. 76

Well kids, it’s time once again for Ann and Andy’s (Rockin’) Pasta Christmas Eve and this recipe and this cookbook did not disappoint. 

As is tradition in our family, we make a pasta dish for Christmas Eve and although I used to stick with my grandma/Aunt Rose’s recipe for pasta and sauce and meatballs, over the years I’ve tried to branch out.  Naturally, my collection of Italian and Sicilian cookbooks is growing so finding a book isn’t the problem; finding a recipe is a bit more challenging.

Many Italian and Italian-American households prepare a traditional Christmas Eve feast of the seven fishes but finding seafood of any kind in my little hometown was next to impossible and so we didn’t go that route when I was a kid and I don’t go that route now.  But as I was talking with a friend the other day about why the seafood feast became popular - the church often forbid eating meat on Christmas Eve - I wondered out loud what my mother made during those meatless years and horror upon horror, I had a recollection of tuna casserole.

Now, this memory is fuzzy so it may be that I am just making it all up but it wouldn’t surprise me if we did indeed imbibe on that before Midnight Mass.  But as much as I love, and I mean love, tuna casserole (with peas, always with peas), the thought of this being our Christmas Eve meal gave me pause as it was just wrong, wrong I tell you, on so many levels.

Thankfully the church did away with that rule a long time ago (I think--except for Lent – let’s not get crazy out there) but that doesn’t matter to me because regardless, we make something in this household that is Italian (or Sicilian) that involves pasta and often – oh gasp – meat! (That said, Sicily is famous for all its seafood and all my cookbooks contain pages and pages of fish recipes so if you love fish and want seven courses of them for your Christmas Eve dinner, this is the book for you.)

So anyway, I’m flipping through several Italian and Sicilian books when I came to this book and this recipe for timbale and that, as they say, was that.  And unlike a “regular” timbale, like the one featured in the movie, Big Night, that contains a lot of ingredients, this one was fairly simple and on Christmas Eve (and in general), I am all about simple.

If anything, the biggest challenge was finding caciocavallo cheese as the few stores I visited didn’t have it.  But people, thanks to the internet, I discovered that this cheese is similar to provolone and that is a cheese that most grocery stores and specialty shops carry.  After that, the biggest challenge was not eating all the cheese that was supposed to go into the dish; when I was younger, my cousins and I would ask for an extra ball of mozzarella when grandma made pizza, one for us to nibble on and one for the pizza!

Now, running a close second to this dish was the recipe for cannoli, an oh-so-yummy dessert that is popular in Sicily and the world over but I just couldn’t justify serving dessert as a main meal!  When I was a kid though, my grandma used to buy mini cannoli from her local Italian bakery and we set to work polishing them off, one by one.  And you know, because they were mini cannoli, they were far less fattening than the regular-sized ones.  Uh huh – I speak the truth!

Now, in terms of this recipe, my one complaint, and I always have one, is that the sauce probably could have been a little bit thinner but it was hard to ascertain a consistency from this recipe.  I could also have used a bit more sauce to make the center of the timbale more “creamy” but overall, this wasn’t bad.  And after trying to figure out what “minced beef” meant, I finally split the difference and used part ground beef that I browned and part cubed beef from my leftover roast wrapped in Reynolds Wrap that I made the week before.  If there’s a way to use leftovers, I am all over it!

So here we go an easy version of Timbale for your meat-laden Christmas Eve.  Buon Appetito a Tutti! (Happy Eating to All!)

Sicilian Pasta Timbale – serving size not given but I’d say easily 6
For the sauce
1 carrot
1 onion
2 celery stalks
12 oz tomato puree
Olive oil

For the filling
1 carrot
1 onion
2 celery stalks
24 oz “minced beef” (I used half ground beef, half leftover beef roast)
8 oz peas
Dash of white wine
6 oz tomato puree
6 oz fresh caciocavallo cheese (or substitute provolone)
Olive oil and breadcrumbs to coat the pan
1 eggplant (optional)
Salt and pepper
For the pasta
1 pound Anelletti pasta (basically, large ring pasta)

Start your sauce: in a saucepan, sauté the chopped carrot, celery and onion in the oil, and add the tomato puree.  Dilute with water, correct the salt, add a little pepper, then cook about 15 minutes.  (Ann’s Note:  Nah, 15 minutes is way too short a time.  The vegetables will not be done.  Try ½ hour to 45 minutes.)

To make the filling: in a separate saucepan, sauté the other chopped carrot, celery and onion in the oil, add the minced beef and peas and cook until brown.  Add a few dashes of wine and then the 12 ounces of tomato puree.  Dilute with enough water to form a dense filling, add salt and pepper and cook over a moderate heat for about 20 minutes.

If using eggplant, dice it and fry it in a little oil.  Dice the cheese.  Oil a round banking dish and coat with the breadcrumbs.

Boil the pasta in plenty of salted water per directions.  Drain and mix with the sauce and if desired, with grated caciocavallo cheese.  Put half the pasta mixed with the sauce in the baking dish and form a shallow, but slightly hollowed layer; evenly distribute the carrot mixture, the eggplant and the diced cheese.  Cover with the other half of the pasta, and drizzle a little oil over and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.  Bake in a preheated 300F oven for about 15 minutes.  Remove the timbale from the oven, leave to cool a little and then turn out.

Ann’s Note:  In order to avoid a kitchen disaster, I did not “turn out” the timbale but rather scooped it out of the pan because what am I, nuts?  I can assure you it would not have ended up like the beautiful timbale from the “unveiling” scene in Big Night.  Stuff like that is best left to the (movie) professionals.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Reynolds Wrap Carefree Cooking with Aluminum Foil" (for the Winter Solstice) - Family Steak

Date I made this recipe:  December 21, 2012 (Winter Solstice)

Reynolds Wrap Carefree Cooking with Aluminum Foil
Published by:  The Supermarket Book Company
© 1975
Recipe:  Family Steak – p. 51

Every so often, my friend, Jen, will talk about a person as being part of the “tinfoil hat brigade” (i.e. somewhat delusional).  I think this recipe might just put me in line for a year’s membership although you can be the judge, right behind my husband, Andy, who now thinks that I am one cuckoo short of a clock after telling him my rationale about using this book and this recipe.

Here’s the deal:  I thought it would be fun to make something in honor of the Winter Solstice on Friday, the 21st.  Once we achieve the solstice, we start gaining daylight (and hopefully sunlight) hours.  I am ALL about this event. Light = warming up = summer = hooray!  Sad to say though, I do not have a “solstice” cookbook in my collection (not that anybody’s written one but details, details).  So what to do, what to do?

And then the light bulb came on (hahaha) and I thought about the two Reynolds Wrap cookbooks I have, one published in 1975 and the other in 2003, and so I was all excited:  “Honey, I’ve got it.  I’m going to use a Reynolds Wrap cookbook because aluminum foil is shinny and it reflects light and it’s perfect, don’t you think?”

People, he did not think.  The look he gave me was priceless.  But then I went in for the kill and said  And I know just what I’m going to make.  I’m going to make this recipe for steak and Lipton Onion Soup mix wrapped in a foil packet.  Oh wait, here’s one for steak and Lipton Onion Soup and mushroom soup.  Oh, my mom used to make that!  It’ll be perfect.”  (For the record, I could have sworn the recipe called for cream of mushroom soup but it called for mushroom gravy.  I didn’t care and made it anyway but I’m telling you right now, I have pretty crisp memories of aluminum foil and cream of mushroom soup so there.)

People, let me just say that the second look I got was the one that suggested he was about ready to call the authorities and cancel my near-membership with the tin-foil hat brigade. He did not like the sound of the “family steak” recipe at all but that’s because the man has never had meat prepared that way in his life.  I find this sad.

I think though, I was more stunned by the fact that he was deprived of this meat and foil packet (let’s not forget the Lipton Onion Soup Mix) than I was the fact that he didn’t seem to grove on my solstice/foil concept.  At our age, there is really NO excuse for not having that recipe but then again, his mom didn’t really like to cook.  Still, I took an informal survey of my friends and before I knew it, I had several people waxing poetic about foil-wrapped meat; back in the day (and by “day” I mean the 60’s and 70’s), this concoction was considered to be gourmet!  Hell, even my Girl Scout troop made “hobo pies” at day camp; ground beef, vegetables and onions wrapped in foil and cooked on a campfire.  (For the record, while the “camping” part continues to elude and perplex me, I am a mean cook over a campfire!)

So after learning about lack of foil-wrapped anything in his life, I was doubly-determined to correct that problem, pronto!  And so I made the meal and it was good and we are still eating the leftovers.  And I felt much brighter about my future after the solstice and my brilliant (if I do say so myself) concept of using foil. 

This is perhaps the easiest, but most nostalgic, recipe I’ve ever made.  My only advice is to try to use round steak if at all possible:  Andy bought a combination of chuck steak and round steak (if there is such a thing—actually, he wasn’t sure what he bought!) and it was almost a little too thick for this recipe but I made it work.

I’m already writing a note on next year’s calendar to use the other Reynolds Wrap cookbook for the solstice because I think I’m on to something.  Perhaps I should invite Jen and the rest of her tinfoil hat brigade over as well?  There’s something about safety in numbers that is comforting.

Now remember folks, and you heard it here first, nothing says “solstice” like Reynolds Wrap.  I could so be their marketing person….

As to the recipe, brace yourself because this.gets.complicated.

Family Steak – 6 servings
2 pounds chuck or found steak, 1 inch thick (Ann’s Note: try to stick with that thickness for best results)
1 can (10 ½ oz.) mushroom gravy
1 envelope (1 3/8 oz.) onion soup mix

Trim excess fat from meat.  Place sheet of Heavy Duty Reynolds Wrap in shallow pan and arrange meat in the center.  Pour mushroom gravy over and sprinkle with onion soup mix.  Close Reynolds Wrap into bundle (if you absolutely need a tutorial, it’s on p. 111).  Bake in 325F oven for 2 hours.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Virginia Safford Food of my Friends" - Meat Loaf

Virginia Safford Food of my Friends by Virginia Safford
Published by:  University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
© 1944
Recipe:  Meat Loaf (Hostess:  Mrs. Joseph H. Ball) – p. 156

You know, shopping for cookbooks at Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores is often a learning experience as much as it is a bargain hunt.  I had never heard of Virginia Safford before purchasing this book and yet what sold me is that she was a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star Journal

As newspapers goes, the life and times of the Minneapolis Star Journal was complicated:  the newspaper we now have in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis StarTribune, was the result of a merger between the Minneapolis Tribune and the Minneapolis Star. In between, there was the Minneapolis Journal, The Minneapolis Times and the Minnesota Daily Star that later became the Minneapolis Star.  There are families with family trees that are less complicated!

So somewhere in that whole mix, we had the Minneapolis Star Journal and that is the newspaper that employed Virginia Safford.  Ta da!  Yet information on Virginia remains sketchy and this irks but it is what it is:  even in the electronic age, we cannot always find what we are looking for on the internet, and this, folks, is why books remain important!

Although I was drawn to this cookbook because of the ties to Minneapolis, I selected it for this past weekend’s meal because of the “friends” portion of our program.  Not only did I spend an entire weekend at various holiday events with friends and hosted by friends, but I was sorely missing my best friend, “Tall” Carol, and so pulled out this book as an homage to her.  And I have to tell you, she would have hooted at much of this book.

Take, for example, Virginia’s foreword:  “…And those Sunday suppers – why, in my teens I do not remember that I was ever close to the kitchen on Sunday nights than was necessary to set the table.  One maid always stayed in to help us serve to the boy friends – we called them beaus in those days….After all, the attractive Sunday supper was at that time consider one of the nicer ways to get your man.  Well, I got my man…”

I can just see Tall sputtering at the talk of having a maid and then really cracking up at the statement “Well, I got my man…”  Granted this was 1944, but Tall was so independent that she would have bristled at anybody setting out to land a man and be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

One thing that Tall and Virginia had in common though, was a wide circle of friends.  Each chapter of this book showcases a menu prepared by the Hostess (insert dignitary name here) with a little bio or story about each hostess setting the stage for the menu to follow.  Since I am not a Minnesota native, I don’t know all of the hostess’ by name, yet some jump out because they are household names in these parts:  Mrs. Harold E. Stassen (Minnesota Governor from 1939-1943); Mrs. Stanley E. Hubbard (founder of Hubbard Broadcasting) and Mrs. John S. Pillsbury of cake mix and bake-off fame.  (Also included:  Duncan Hines who was a) a real person who b) reviewed various eating establishments across the country and c) who lent his name to a cake mix brand.)  (I do believe though, that my favorite name in the book has got to be Mrs. F. Peavey Heffelfinger – I just like the sound of it!)

Today’s recipe for meatloaf, an American standard, comes to us from Hostess Mrs. Joseph H. Ball, wife of Minnesota Senator Joe Ball (born in Crookston, Minnesota in 1905, appointed to the United States Senate to fill the seat vacated by Ernest Lundeen who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1940.  Senator Ball was elected to his own six-year term in 1942.)  Here is what Virginia Safford had to say about Mrs. Ball:

Almost everyone knows that Senator Joe Ball of Minnesota helps with the dinner dishes, and that Jennifer, aged fifteen, is the guardian of little Sara, aged four, and wants to run a nursery school when she grows up.  They know too that Betty Ball is her own cook, and that being a guest at dinner in the Balls’ Washington home is anything but formal. 

Naturally, Mrs. Balls’ menu showcases what an informal home cook she is:  Home-Baked Beans, Hot Biscuits, Tomato Jelly Salad, Raw Carrot Strips and Celery, Marshmallow Mousse and Drop Cookies.  Add to that was a recipe for an Oven Omelet and today’s featured Meat Loaf.

Now, I happen to love meat loaf in whatever form it takes with whatever is added to it, but I loved this one in particular as it contains ground beef, ground pork and ground ham.  I loved the ground ham almost as much as I loved the addition of half of a can of condensed tomato soup; people may differ but there is almost nothing that cannot be enhanced by a can of soup!

So I mixed up all my meat and egg and whatnot and then added my chopped onions and then decided that the onions were way too big.  So I plopped the entire mixture in my Cuisinart and ended up pulsing it a bit too long, but you know what?  What I got was almost like a pate’ and I love pate’ and I do believe that my accidental pureeing of the meat mixture did the trick.

If it wasn’t the holiday season, I would have loved to sit down and read through more stories because some of them are just cracking me up, but alas, who has time?  As an example, there’s “Hostess” Mrs. Harry E. Gerrish of whom Virginia writes:  “Her christening party ‘lamb cakes’ are even more famous [than her Christmas candy]…You can understand how Dorothy’s lamb vies with the baby for the attention of guests at a christening party.”

I can tell you right now, wherever Tall “is,” she is chortling with laughter.  She would have loved this meatloaf.

Meat Loaf – serving size not given
½ pound each of ground beef, ground ham and ground pork
½ cup condensed tomato soup
½ cup milk
1 egg, well beaten
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
½ cup cracker crumbs
¾ teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper

Ann’s Note:  I had my grocery store deli slice off a piece of ham about 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick and then “ground” it at home in my Cuisinart.  Beats having to get out an actual grinder!

Mix all ingredients in bowl, knead well, and shape into loaf.  Bake in 350 oven for 1 hour.  (As stated above, I plopped the entire mixture in my Cuisinart and loved the results.  You’ll end up with what looks like paste but when done resembles pate’.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Life is Meals" - Frittata (made for 12/12/12!)

Date I made this recipe:  December 12, 2012 (12/12/12)

Life Is Meals – A Food Lover’s Book of Days by James and Kay Salter
Published by:  Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN:  0-307-26496-3
Recipe:  Frittata – p. 427

When I realized that 12/12/12 was fast approaching I thought “Ha! I’ve got this.”  I would just turn to my book, Life is Meals, that is basically a daily calendar of recipes, and I’d be all set - except, of course, I spoke too soon. 

It had been a while since I looked at this book and so I had forgotten that the authors mix prose and recipes and so sure enough, I turned to December 12, anxiously awaiting to set the recipe du jour but instead, the “theme” that day was the book, Madame Bovary.

I know, I know—you are as crushed as I was!  For those of you who are saying “Madame Who?” let me just give you the dime tour:  Madame Bovary is a novel, written by Gustave Flaubert, published on December 12, 1821.  The plot is simple (and oft-told):  Madame Bovary is bored, bored, bored, bored, BORED being a doctor’s wife and so she engages in several affairs and aspires to live beyond her means.  It does NOT end well.  The end.

I have very vague memories of reading this book although I cannot recall having to read it in one of my many, many lit classes that I took while obtaining a degree in English.  (So many books so little time!)  Still, I am placing the last reading of this book around my college days and it seems to me I read it either before another uplifting book, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. If there is one overriding them from that period, it is that women were stressed and repressed.  So there.

At any rate, in their entry on December 12th, the authors of this book talked about one of the banquet scenes from Madame Bovary but sadly, that left me without much guidance, except to say that the character Emma (Bovary) was impressed with onion soup and a piece of veal.  All right then!  (My husband is not too fond of onion soup – I know, right? – so I passed on whipping up a batch of that.)

So given that this was not too much to go on, I cheated (because I can – it’s my blog) and turned to the entry for 12/14 and this one was for a frittata.  Generally, a frittata uses up vegetables and often leftover pasta and cheese and anything else that you have that you want to throw in.  And so – I had leftover eggs, leftover peppers, leftover Parmesan cheese and would have had pasta had I not done something so silly as to put sauce on mine the night before!  And so in mere minutes, I had a delicious dish from December 14th for dinner…on the 12th.

Frittata – served two
1 egg per person or egg substitute plus 1 egg for authenticity (Ann’s Note:  “authenticity?  Is there an egg police waiting around the corner?  Are there frittata rules that I missed???)
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese to taste
Salt and pepper
Herbs to taste
Olive oil
Filling:  previously cooked pasta, vegetables, seafood, ham or almost any leftover (if using spaghetti as a filling, it should be tossed and coated with butter immediately after draining to keep it from sticking together.)

Beat the eggs in a bowl, add the other ingredients, and combine.  Pour the mixture into a preheated frying pan with the olive oil.  Cook at a very low heat, lifting gently around the edge to allow any uncooked egg to seep underneath.  When firm and golden on the bottom, flip the frittata and cook on the other side to the same golden brownness.  You can, if you prefer, cook the top by putting the pan under the broiler, though not long enough to brown it.  Slice into wedges and serve immediately, or serve later at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Holocaust Survivor Cookbook" - (for Hanukkah) - Chicken Paprikasch

Date I made this recipe:  December 8, 2012 (first day of Hanukkah)

Holocaust Survivor Cookbook Collected from Around the World
Published by:  Caras & Associates, Port St. Lucie, Fl
© 2007
Recipe:  Chicken Paprikasch submitted by Marie McIntosh to honor her mother, Erika Weibel Kuss of Frankford, DE

It’s hard to believe that Hanukkah started already—seems like we just had Thanksgiving, no?  As per usual, I often try to select a cookbook with a theme and this book, a recent acquisition, seemed perfect.  Or was it?

Here’s the thing: some would argue that Hanukkah is not exactly the Jewish holiday in which to celebrate a book about Holocaust survivors.  And so at first I was reticent until I thought about the one basic theme that we all carry with us, no matter what religion we practice (or don’t) and that is - Hope.

December is really an awful month when you think about it.  Darkness descends and is only lifted, minute by very long minute, by the Winter Solstice on December 21st.  You have no idea how I, living is this dark and cold part of the US, long for that day because every day thereafter means I get closer to having more light – hooray!  And for Christians everywhere, December 25th of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus and the hope for a better tomorrow.  “Better days ahead,” was what my father always said.

Similarly, the eight days of Hanukkah celebrate the hope and miracle of a lamp holding one day’s worth of oil lasting longer than anybody anticipated.  For eight days, Jewish families celebrated light in a season of darkness.

And when you think of it, hope was probably one of biggest reasons that many Jews (and others) survived the Holocaust - hope that God would deliver them from their suffering and get them on the way to a new life.  It was because of this theme that I could read the endless stories told by both victims and family members about this terrible, terrible time in our history.  Every recipe in this book comes with a story, many of theme similar, some of them not, along with favorite recipes.

This recipe for Chicken Paprikasch was submitted by a daughter to “honor” her mother who was born in Prussia, then a part of Germany, and who landed in a Russian concentration camp at age 17.  She managed to escape, walking away from the icy Russian concentration camp with her feet wrapped in rags.  My brain just doesn’t even want to process that.

I may have mentioned before in a previous blog that reading Anne Frank’s diary as a youngster made a monumental impression on me and led me to do a lot of reading and studying of Nazi-occupied Europe during that time.  In eighth grade, I read and wrote a book report on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (yup, eight grade people) and in high school, I wrote a paper about Auschwitz, a concentration camp I visited in 1995.  I also went to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam a few year’s before that (with a killer migraine no less but I waited my whole life to see where the family hid).  I have since moved on to other types of books (like cookbooks) but do like to collect Jewish cookbooks to add to my collection whenever possible. (This book came from my favorite bookstore, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in NYC.)  I was pleased to see that Erika Weibel Kuss’ daughter (our recipe submitter) noted that her mother instilled in her and her siblings a love for reading.  That’s how it all starts, people!

As to the recipe, although many were tempting, I went with the Chicken Parprikasch for one sole reason:  I had leftover mushrooms in my refrigerator from another dish and wanted to use them up.  My mother hated to waste food and so do I.

This has to be one of the easiest recipes I ever put together as it required chicken, mushrooms (which I had already prepped), chicken broth, spices, including paprika, chicken broth and noodles and it took me all of 8 minutes to make (cooking the noodles took the longest).  It was good that evening for dinner and even better the next day when the flavors had time to develop.

So there it is – Happy Hanukkah!  Remember out of the darkness, there is light…and hope.

Chicken Paprikasch - serving size not given but I'd say 4
1 8 ounce package egg noodles (parve - containing no meat or dairy - if you are Jewish or observing Jewish dietary laws)
1 pound boned skinned chicken breasts – chopped
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, quartered
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chicken broth
1 cup parve sour cream substitute (or regular sour cream if you are not observing Jewish dietary laws. Depending on where you live, this product might be difficult to find.)
1 tablespoon paprika

Cook noodles according to package directions and drain.  Transfer to covered baking dish.

Coat a skillet with olive oil and place over medium-high heat, add chicken, and next 3 ingredients.  Cook 5 minutes or until chicken is done.

Remove from heat and stir in sour cream substitute and paprika.  Spoon over noodles.  Sprinkle with additional paprika.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

(Yummy) Holiday Appetizers and Sweet Treats

WARNING:  This is one long blog but that's because I have a lot of recipes to cover.  Hang in there!

Date I made these recipes:  Week of November 26, 2012

100 Best Classic Tapas
Published by:  Love Food
ISBN:  978-1-4454-0388-5      
Recipes:  Salted Almonds – p. 14; Sautéed Garlic Mushrooms – p. 22; Oven-Baked Tortilla (omelet) – p. 142

Good Housekeeping Appetizers – Delicious Dips, Spreads, Finger Foods & More by Good Housekeeping Magazine (purchased at Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores)
Published by:  Hearst Books
Recipe:  Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip – p. 17

Perfect Party Food: All the Recipes and Tips You’ll Ever Need for Stress-Free Entertaining by Diane Phillips
Published by:  The Harvard Common Press
ISBN:  13: 9781558322608
Recipes:  Bruschetta Bar:  Artichoke Topping; Herb-Roasted Tomatoes; Wild Mushroom Spread; Oven-Roasted Caponata (Sicilian eggplant mixture) – p. 127-128

Cake Balls by Robin Ankeny and Charlotte Lyon of The Cake Ball Company
Published by:  Running Press Cooks
ISBN:  978-0-7624-4576-9
Recipes:  Chocolate Toffee Cake Balls – p. 40; Coconut Cream Cake Balls – p. 79; Gingerbread Cake Balls – p. 97

Nestle Best-Loved Cookies by Nestle
Published by:  Nestle
ISBN:  0-696-20637-4
Recipe:  Mini Morsel Meringue Cookies (a HUGE hit!) – p. 14

Bonus recipe:  Pomegranate Guacamole from Food Network Magazine pull-out 50 Easy Appetizers, November 2012

“Tis the season for holiday entertaining and this year, I found some great recipes to make that are sure to please any party guests.  In fact, so far two of my husband Andy’s male friends have contacted him for recipes so that’s saying something, especially since one of them wanted a cookie recipe!

Over the years, I have started adding magazine recipes to cookbook recipes for a couple of reasons:  one, food magazines often publish issues specifically related to holiday entertaining; two, I am reasonably certain that the recipes I choose will be successful as many of them were created by well-known, trusted chefs and third, there’s the ease of locating recipes via online searches if I have questions.  Sure, I always start stocking up on cookbooks related to party treats early in the year but to go through the other cookbooks in my collection to look for party recipes would take me all the way up to my next soiree a year from now.  When it comes to holiday entertaining, simple is better.

Before I get to the recipes, let me share some observations and tips about party planning:
  1. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (From the movie, Jaws)  Sadly, our house is small and our potential guest list is huge.  Can the rental of the Mpls Convention Center be far behind?  That said I generally plan for enough nibbles to feed about 50 people and would rather make a variety of small-quantity dishes than redo a recipe to feed 50.  You’ll have less stress in the kitchen if you do it that way as well.
  2. My friends like to tease me about my organization skills but I have planned everything from huge charity galas to small dinner parties and organization is the key.  I have spreadsheets of everything from party guests to ingredients to a calendar showing what day of the week I can start cooking.  I also have a list of post-event notes so that I can refresh my memory the next year when it comes to what I purchased and where. (Favorite local shopping venues this year:  Bachman’s (decorations); Arc’s Value Village (tableware, decorations); Bed, Bath & Beyond (serving pieces); Rainbow Foods, Trader Joes, Target and Whole Foods (groceries).
  3. The French kitchen concept of mise en place (everything in place) is essential; I chop herbs in advance, put them in baggies and label them; I measure out dry ingredients for cookies and bars in advance, label them and then put them aside so that when the baking starts, we are halfway there.  Anything you can do to reduce the kitchen time (like baking all items at 350 before moving on to recipes baking at 375) will keep you sane.  I generally start making food the weekend before and freeze items if possible for later reheating.
  4. Many recipes “exaggerate” the yield that you can expect.  I’ve had recipes call for 2-4 cups only to eek out a measly 1 cup, and I’ve had recipes that promised less only to end up with twice the amount.  I doubled down on only a few recipes this year, many of them after seeing the “output” from round one.  If you have time, make a second batch if needed.
  5. The best time to start stocking up on basics like condiments or baking items is the day after your event! 

With that in mind, let’s look at the menu and where to find the recipes (those in bold are included in this blog):

  • Chicken Meatballs with Sweet Peanut Sauce – from the magazine Everyday with Rachael Ray (go online at to search for recipes).  I bake these meatballs at 400 degrees for 25 minutes rather than pan-fry.
  • Chafing Dish Meatballs (the ones with chili sauce and grape jelly) – from Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook; Collectible Cooking Blog Post 12/9/2009 or click the Tag “Appetizer.”
  • Oven-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes (Google to find several roasted potato recipes to suit) with Horseradish-Dill Dipping sauce from the cookbook The Roasted Vegetable Cookbook.  Information on The Roasted Vegetable Cookbook can be found on my blog post from 11/4/12.
  • Blue Cheese Dip with Chives from Delicious Dips; Collectible Cooking Blog Post 12/8/2011 or click the Tag “Appetizer.”
  • Pomegranate Guacamole from Food Network Magazine, November 2012 (this was in a pull-out booklet “50 Easy Appetizers.”  This recipe was VERY popular but due to a bad batch of avocados (from two different stores!), it made less than I hoped and the bowl was licked clean.  Go to and under recipes, search for “50 Easy Appetizers;” the guacamole is number 9! (Ann’s Note:  Ah, what the heck, it’s Christmas.  I posted this as the last recipe on this blog – see below!)
  • Edamame Hummus from Bon Appetit Magazine, December 2011.  Go to and enter “Edamame Hummus” in the search field.
  • Herb Coeur A La Crème (Cheese Spread) by Ina Garten, published in Food Network Magazine, September 2012.  Recipe also available online at  Guests loved the lemon in this recipe.
  • Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip – Good Housekeeping Appetizers Cookbook (new cookbook this year). (This was very tasty and a last minute addition seeing as how I bought the book days before the party!)
  • Rye Crackers (with or without caraway) – StarTribune newspaper, November 7, 2012, (Taste Section), from my friend and uber baker, Kim Ode.
  • Seedy Crisps (crackers) – StarTribune newspaper, December 28, 2011, (Taste Section)
  • Salted Almonds from the book 100 Best Classic Tapas (new cookbook this year)
  • Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms from 100 Best Classic Tapas
  • Oven-Baked Spanish Tortilla (omelet) 100 Best Classic Tapas
  • Bruschetta Bar with Four Toppings (Artichoke; Herb-Roasted Tomatoes; Wild Mushroom; Oven-Roasted Caponata) from Perfect Party Food: All the Recipes and Tips You’ll Ever Need for Stress-Free (new cookbook this year)
  • Mini Morsel Meringue Cookies from the Nestle Best-Loved Cookies Cookbook (new cookbook this year)
  • Coconut Cream Cake Balls; Chocolate Toffee Cake Balls; Gingerbread Cake Balls from the Cake Balls Cookbook (new cookbook this year)
  • (The Barefoot Contessa i.e. Ina Garten) Lemon Bars – Barefoot Contessa Parties! Cookbook or Collectible Cooking Blog Post 12/8/2009
  • Almond Bon Bons – Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook or Collectible Cooking Blog Post 12/8/2010


So let’s tackle the new recipes from cookbooks I used this year for this shindig.

Salted Almonds
(Note:  Recipes from this cookbook, 100 Best Classic Tapas, do not list specific quantities because all serving sizes say “serves X-Y as a tapas meal.  Well, I don’t know how many tapas are in a meal because they don’t say!  So let the quantity of ingredients be your guide!)
8 oz/225 g whole almonds, blanched or in their skins – BUT NOTE:  buy blanched if at all possible.  I tried blanching them and then removing their skins and it was one.big.mess.  I went out and bought blanched almonds and called it a day!
4 T olive oil (Spanish if you have it)
Coarse sea salt
1 tsp paprika or ground cumin (optional) (Ann’s Note:  I thought the taste with paprika was bland so I added cumin.  It was better but I’ll look for a new recipe for next year)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Fresh almonds in their skins are superior in taste, but blanched almonds are much more convenient.  If the almonds are not blanched, place them in a large bowl, cover with boiling water for 3-4 minutes, then drain and plunge them into cold water for 1 minute.  Drain them well in a strainer, then slide off their skins between your fingers.  Dry the almonds on a paper towel. (Ugh – never again will I do this!  Buy blanched!)

Place the olive oil in a roasting pan and swirl it around so that it covers the base.  Add the almonds and toss them in the pan so that they are evenly coated in oil, then spread them out in a single layer.

Roast almonds in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until they are light golden brown, tossing several times during the cooking.  Drain the almonds on paper towels, then transfer them to a bowl.

While the almonds are still warm, sprinkle with plenty of sea salt and paprika, if using, and toss together to coat.  Serve the almonds warm or cold.  The almonds are at their best when served freshly cooked so, if possible, on the day you plan to eat them.  However, they can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms – Makes about 2 cups
1 lb button mushrooms
5 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper
4 T chopped fresh parsley

Wipe or brush clean the mushrooms, then trim the stems.  Cut any large mushrooms in half or into quarters.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottom skillet.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds – 1 minute, or until lightly browned.  Add the mushrooms and sauté over high heat, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have absorbed all the oil in the skillet.

Reduce the heat to low.  When the juices have come out of the mushrooms, increase the heat again and sauté for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the juices have almost evaporated.  Add a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir in the parsley and cook for an additional minute.  (Note: If you want to serve this as a tapa meal, then garnish with lemon wedges and serve piping hot or warm, accompanied with crusty bread to mop up the juices.)

Oven-baked Tortilla – makes 70 1-inch squares (Ann’s Note:  in Spain, these tortillas – omelets – are often served at room temperature for tapas (snacks))
4 T olive oil (Spanish if you have it) plus extra for oiling
1 large garlic clove, crushed
4 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
6 oz potato, boiled, peeled and diced (roughly 1 large baking potato)
5 large eggs
Scant ½ cup sour cream
6 oz cheese, grated (Spanish Rocal, Cheddar or Parmesan – we used Parmesan)
3 T snipped fresh chives
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a 7 x 10-inch baking sheet (or pan) with foil and brush with a little olive oil.  Reserve.

Place the olive oil, garlic, scallions, and bell peppers in a skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until the onions are softened but not browned.  Let cool then stir in the potato.

Beat the eggs, sour cream, cheese, and chives together in a large bowl.  Stir the cooled vegetables into the bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Pour the mixture into the baking sheet and smooth over the top.  Bake in the preheated oven 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, puffed, and set in the center.  Remove from the oven and let cool and set.  Run a spatula around the edge, then invert onto a cutting board browned-side up, and peel off the foil.  If the surface looks a little runny, place it under a medium broiler to dry out.

Let cool completely.  Trim the edges if necessary, then cut into 48 squares (Ann’s Note:  we cut into 70 1-inch squares).  Serve on a platter with wooden toothpicks.

Ann’s Note:  I made this recipe the night before.  I also precut all the onions, peppers, etc. the night before that, reserving only the potato to cook the same day I prepped this recipe.

Roasted Pepper and Walnut Dip – makes about 2 cups
4 medium red bell peppers
½ cup walnuts
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 slices firm white bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons raspberry or balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
Toasted pita bread triangles

Ann’s Note:  This recipe calls for you to broil the peppers to roast them but since I have a gas stove, I prefer to put them on my stovetop, right over the burner, and char them that way.  It takes a little longer but with the same results (and then I don’t have to clean a pan!).

Preheat broiler.  Line broiling pan with foil.  Cut each red pepper lengthwise in half; remove and discard stems and seeds.  Arrange peppers, cut side down, in prepared pan.  Place pan in broiler, 5 to 6 inches from heat source.  Broil peppers, without turning, until skin is charred and blistered, 8 to 10 minutes.  Wrap peppers in foil and allow to steam at room temperature 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.  Ann’s Note:  If you roast on your stovetop, do not cut the peppers.  Keep turning the pepper until the entire pepper is blackened.  Place the blackened pepper in a paper bag, seal the bag and remove the pepper(s) after 15 minutes.  The skin will peel right off!

Meanwhile, turn oven control to 350.  Spread walnuts in metal baking pan and bake 8 to 10 minutes, until toasted.  In 8-inch skillet, toast cumin over low heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove peppers from foil.  Peel skin and discard.  Cut peppers into large pieces.

In food processor with knife blade attached, process walnuts until ground.  Add roasted peppers, bread, vinegar, olive oil. Cumin, salt and ground red pepper; puree until smooth.  Transfer to serving bowl.  Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.  Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.  Serve with toasted pita triangles.  (Ann’s Note: Trader Joe’s has mini pita breads – regular and whole wheat- that we bought and then cut in half.  They were the perfect size for serving.  And speaking of Trader Joe’s, they also had bags of mini peppers – red, yellow and orange – that, when cut in 4’s, were the perfect size for dipping into the party dips I made.  I LOVE Trader Joe’s!)

Bruschetta Bar with Four Toppings:  Artichoke, Herb-Roasted Tomatoes, Wild Mushroom and Oven-Roasted Caponata (Eggplant)
Here’s an important point you need to know right off the bat:  Bruschetta toppings are meant to be chunky but I like them “pulsed” a bit in the food processor to make them easier to serve and to increase the yield if need be.  The Artichoke Topping yield should be two cups but instead it made double that (and the recipe itself was only “okay”).  The Herb-Roasted Tomatoes should have yielded 4 cups but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make just one lousy cup so I made the recipe again, this time achieving about 2 cups (and it was outstanding!).  The Wild Mushroom Spread yields about 2 cups if you make the entire recipe but I halved it and it yielded a generous 1 cup and that was fine – some people are “meh” when it comes to mushrooms.  The Oven-Roasted Caponata yields 3 cups and that is more than I wanted but I forgot to halve the ingredients.  No worries on my part—my family loves Caponata and used to go through jars of it over the holidays.  It’s a Sicilian thing for sure!

By the way, those expecting a creamy artichoke dip topping (like many restaurants serve) will be disappointed as this is meant to be a fresh spread with no baking involved; don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Artichoke Topping – makes 2 cups
Two 6-ounce jars marinated artichokes, drained and coarsely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

In a medium size bowl, combine all the ingredients. (That’s it!)

This recipe can be made and refrigerated for up to 4 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

Herb-Roasted Tomatoes – makes about 4 cups (Nope, not if you don’t double it!  Even then, it yields about 2 cups and that is if you pulse it in the food processor—and you should!)
Two 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, drained and juice reserved (Ann’s Note:  you can toss the juice as you won’t need it at all.)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, crushed
½ cup chopped red onion
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a jelly roll pan with a silicone liner or aluminum foil.

Cut the tomatoes in half and put in a large glass bowl.  Stir in the olive oil, basil, rosemary, onion, garlic, salt and pepper, being careful not to tear the tomatoes.  Pour onto the prepared pan, spreading it out in a single layer.  Bake until the tomato liquid is absorbed and the tomatoes have firmed up and turned a deep red color, 1 to 1 ½ hours, checking to make sure that the tomatoes and garlic don’t brown.

Transfer the tomato mixture to a clean glass bowl and let it mellow at room temperature for about six hours.

Ann’s Note:  I pulsed each batch (I made two) in the Cuisinart until it was of a chucky consistency (not quite tomato paste, but close) and the crowd went wild!

This recipe can be made ahead and refrigerated for up for 4 days or frozen for up to 3 months.  Serve at room temperature.

Wild Mushroom Spread – makes about 2 cups
2 pounds assorted fresh wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster, porcini, Portobello, or cremini, stems removed or trimmed and caps halved or quartered, depending upon their size
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Put the mushrooms on a baking sheet lined with a silicone liner or aluminum foil.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour over the mushrooms, toss to coat well, and roast for 20 minutes.  Let cool, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a food processor and pulse a few times to chop coarsely.

This recipe can be made and refrigerated for up to 3 days.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Oven-Roasted Caponata – makes about 3 cups
2 medium-size purple eggplants (about 1 ½ pounds), ends trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
½ cup coarsely chopped celery
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons each balsamic vinegar and firmly packed light brown sugar (or you can make Balsamic Vinegar Syrup found on page 480 and use ¼ cup for the recipe in place of the brown sugar and vinegar)
One 15.5 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
½ cup drained and chopped pitted green olives
¼ cup drained and chopped capers
½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or aluminum foil.

Drizzle the cut side of the eggplant with a little olive oil, and lay, cut side down, on the baking sheet.  Place the garlic on the baking sheet and drizzle with some of the oil, serving the remainder for the next step.  Bake the garlic and eggplant until the eggplant is tender, 25 to 30 minutes; a knife should pierce the skin easily, with no resistance.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Then peel off the skin of the eggplant and coarsely chop the flesh.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and add the eggplant.  Squeeze the garlic from its skin into the skillet and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing to coat with the oil.  Add the onion, celery, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes if using and cook, stirring, until the onion and celery begin to soften a bit, 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the balsamic syrup, tomatoes, and basil and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and stir in the lives, capers, and parsley.  Allow the caponata to cool to room temperature, then taste and adjust the seasonings.

You can make and refrigerate this recipe for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Mini Morsel Meringue Cookies – makes 5 dozen cookies
4 egg whites (*Note:  we substituted Deb El “Just Whites,” dried egg whites and they worked perfectly)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups (12-ounce package) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels

*Egg whites can be tricky to work with and rather than cross my fingers and hope for the best, I suggested my husband (enlisted into being Mr. Baker for this party) use dried egg whites that I had on hand and they whipped up perfectly.  I don’t know as I’d make this recipe any other way after that!

Beat egg whites (or the dried egg white equivalent) and cream of tartar in small mixer bowl until soft peaks form.  Gradually beat in granulated sugar until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in morsels, 1/3 at a time.  Drop by level tablespoon onto greased baking sheets.

Bake in preheated 300F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are dry and crisp.

Let stand for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.  Store in airtight containers.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Ann’s Notes:  I checked online and found I could make these up to 2 days ahead of my party so I did.  That said we are still enjoying these over a week later.  They were the hit of the party and some gluten-free friends were grateful that I made something they could eat.

Cake Balls (general instructions)
If I printed out all the instructions for the three cake balls we made for our party, I’d be here all night.  These are not necessarily hard to make but they do take some time.  So in general, here are some tips before I give you the three recipes:

Bake the cake as directed in the recipe (and on the box if using a box mis), allow to cool then crumble until you don’t see any cake lumps.  Add the frosting as directed in the recipe, form into balls and freeze for two hours.  Melt the chocolate needed per the recipe and taking a toothpick, dip the chocolate and let dry and set.  Cover the toothpick hole with additional chocolate. Decorate as indicated.

Due to time, I used boxed cake mixes and canned frosting rather than creating my own cake and frosting mixes from scratch.  If you want to make the cake and icing from scratch, then please see pages 30-34 of the book, Cake Balls.

For this party, we made Chocolate Toffee Cake Balls; Coconut Cream Cake Balls and Gingerbread Cake Balls.  Each recipe makes about 45-50 cake balls so be prepared!  The authors suggested using candy paper cup liners (just like muffin cup liners only smaller) for serving and not only were they tres elegant but I was able to plate them without having to deal with the cake pop stick!  I’m all for ease in serving.

Chocolate Toffee Cake Balls
For cake and icing
1 (18.25-ounce) box vanilla cake mix (or from-scratch cake mix – see p. 31)
½ to ¾ cup cream cheese icing (from a can or from scratch – your choice)
1 cup English toffee bits

For coating and decorating
24 ounces milk chocolate, for coating
About ½ cup English toffee bits, for decoration

Ann’s Notes:  chocolate is expensive but the authors say that you can melt a candy bar if you’d like or chocolate chips if you’d like or high-end chocolate if you’d like – your choice.  I bought a huge bar of chocolate from Trader Joe’s and it worked out great.  Just be careful when you melt it to not scorch it (especially if you use a microwave which I don’t recommend) or get water in it or it will seize.

If using a box cake, follow the directions on the box; if from scratch, see page 31 of the book.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the cream cheese icing (p. 34) or open your store-bought icing.

After the cake has completely cooled, follow the cake ball method instructions (page 17 of the book or see above).  After the cake balls are dipped in milk chocolate, drizzle them with fine lines.  Do one at a time and sprinkle with toffee bits to add more crunchy toffee flavor. (Andy skipped the chocolate lines and just added the toffee bits.)

Coconut Cream Cake Balls
For the cake and icing
1 (18.25) box vanilla cake mix or basic vanilla cake (p. 31)
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk (see the Asian section of your grocery store)
1 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
½ to ¾ cup basic vanilla icing (p. 33) or store-bought vanilla icing

For coating and decorating
24 ounces milk chocolate, for coating
About ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut, for garnish

Mix together the ingredients for making a vanilla cake, substituting the coconut milk for water, if using the box version, or for the milk, if making the cake from scratch.  After the ingredients are fully combined, stir in the flaked coconut.

Follow the instructions for baking the cake (per box, if using a mix) and while the cake is cooling, open the store-bought frosting or make your own if desired.  (Scratch cake directions are on page 31; icing on page 33).

After the cake has cooled, crumble, add frosting, freeze, etc. as stated above.  Dip the balls in milk chocolate, drizzle them with fine lines of chocolate and sprinkle with flaked coconut.

Gingerbread Cake Balls
For the cake and icing
1 (18.5) ounce box yellow cake mix or basic yellow cake (p. 34)
 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ to ¾ cup basic vanilla icing (p. 33) or store-bought vanilla icing

For coating and decorating
24 ounces white chocolate for coating (*this does not melt very well.  I almost considered using almond bark even though it’s not the same thing)
About ½ cup crushed gingersnap cookies for garnish

Mix the ingredients for the yellow cake (as directed by the box or using the from-scratch instructions) then add sugar, molasses, ginger and cinnamon.

Bake the cake as directed, prepare your frosting, make the cake balls (see above) then after all that is done, dip the cake balls in white chocolate, drizzle them with fine lines of chocolate and top with the gingersnaps (or use candied ginger, candied orange peels, cinnamon candies, etc.).

Upon further review…even though it is not from a cookbook, this recipe was a huge hit so here’s the recipe for Pomegranate Guacamole from Food Network Magazine, November 2012:

Cook 3 tablespoons peptias (pumpkin seeds) in 1 T olive oil until toasted; season with salt  Mash 2 avocados with ½ cup chopped cilantro, ¼ cup finely chopped onion, the juice of ½ lime, 1 finely chopped jalapeno and ¼ teaspoon salt.  Top with pomegranate seeds and the toasted pepitas.  Serve with tortilla chips. (The biggest challenge you will have is to find fresh avocados that haven’t gone south on you.)