31 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Crostini with honey, bleu cheese & pears

Another repeat favorite. It's probably again, one of the easiest things to make and I like it because, while I'm allergic to raw apples, I can still eat raw pears, a worthy substitute.

Crostini with Honey, Bleu Cheese & Pears

1 small pear
4 oz bleu cheese
1-2 Tbs milk
16 slices of french baguette, toasted
2 Tbs honey

Peel and core pear, and cut into 1/4 inch wedges. Combine bleu cheese and milk, stirring well. Spread baguette with cheese mixture, top with pear, and drizzle with honey. Serve.

Mixing Bleu Cheese & Cream
Bench Notes: I tend to use firm Bartlett pears, but Anjou works as well. Betting Seckel would work as well. Since I had heavy cream on hand, I used it instead of milk. I made this for our pre-wedding party too. The honey used was a gift from a student whose grandfather has an apairy near Blountstown, Florida.

30 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Lawn Party Sandwiches

So what's on the menu for this weekend - well, as it is my favorite thing to do, there is no meal, just a menu of appetizers. We'll start with one of my favorites - Lawn Party Sandwiches - super simple ham/cheese sandwiches. I made these for the first time for our pre-wedding party at the Highland Lake Inn.
Here's the original recipe from Southern on Occasion: A Companion to Inspire Gracious Living by The Junior League of Cobb-Marietta, Inc. The recipe is in the "A Tisket,  A Tasket" section -  if that don't make you sick... and below are my adjustments.

Lawn Party Sandwiches
1 c butter, softened
3 Tbs poppy seeds
1 onion, grated
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 (12 oz) packages white party rolls
1/2 pounds cooked ham
5 oz shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together butter, poppy seeds, onion, Worcestershire sauce and mustard.
Slice rolls in half horizontally and set aside tops. Spread bottoms with the butter mixture. Top with have and Swiss cheese. Replace tops. Arrange rolls in a single layer in a medium baking dish. Bake in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until rolls are lightly breowned and cheese is melted.

Bench Notes: July 2002, February 2006, April 2009, 23 Dec 11
Made half recipe; added 1/2 tsp of Bourbon smoked black pepper; used Bourbon smoked Worcestershire sauce, 6 slices each of ham and cheese, used a shallot instead of onion, no poppy seeds.

29 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - Hot Reuben Dip

This is a new recipe for me, but it's been in my stack for a good while. I was trying to have an appetizer dinner for us on Friday, so that I can continue cooking for Saturday and Sunday - jeez how Christmas snuck up on me. We like Reuben sandwiches, especially the recipe from America's Test Kitchen - it's a total winner.

Hot Reuben Dip
1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 pound corned beef, chopped
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbs ketchup
2 Tbs spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 pkg of rye cocktail bread squares

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix 1/2 cup of Swiss cheese with all the ingredients excepting the bread squares. Place the mixture in a baking dish and sprinkle the top with the rest of the Swiss cheese. Heat in the oven until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler and brown top. Serve with bread squares.

Bench Notes: I substituted Chili sauce for the ketchup. I toasted very thin pumpernickel bread instead of using rye.

28 December 2011

Evolution of the buffet

This is how I roll on Christmas Eve... ever since I was about 11, I decided that Christmas Eve, which was a huge thing in my family, was to be an appetizer party. All finger food and snacks, no sit-down meal, just eat and mingle. Ergo, my life as an event planner fit well into this, but it's still at the heart of my Christmas Eve meal. Which also means there will be excellent left overs for Christmas day. Cool.
So here's how it goes (steady as she goes):

Christmas Cooking - Sweet Potato Biscuits

A perennial fall/winter favorite and popular everywhere I take them.  The biscuits themselves are great but then you make it into a true appetizer and/or breakfast treat. I got the idea of this from a caterer I worked with. He serves sweet potato biscuits with turkey and cranberry sauce that was sweet and hot. My twist, is probably not original, but very popular. Fill the sweet potato biscuits with salty ham and a horseradish mayo. It's fabulous.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
original from Emeril Lagasse

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 cup mashed sweet potato
1 cup pecans, finely ground
1/3+ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix the flour, baking powder , baking soda and salt together. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers or in a food processor, until the mixture looks like wet sand. Add sweet
potatoes and pecans. Add cream until a dough forms. Flour the working surface and press dough out until it's about 1/2 inch thick. Using any size biscuit cutter and cut biscuits. Place on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or so.

Sweet Potato Biscuit w/ham and horseradish mayo

One batch of sweet potato biscuits
1/3 pound deli ham, any type, thinly sliced
2 Tbs horseradish
2 Tbs mayonnaise

Split the sweet potato biscuit, add desired about of ham on bottom of biscuit, In a small bowl, mix horseradish and mayonnaise, adjusting the taste to your liking. Spoon the horseradish/mayo mixture on top half of biscuit.Replace the top of the biscuit. Serve warm or room temperature.

Bench Notes: make sure baking powder is fresh. You can either bake or boil the potatoes. Boiling seems fast and I do that skin oon and peel after they have cooled. It's pretty easy. You can sub half and half for heavy cream, but I wouldn't. I use a smaller (two bite) size biscuit cutter for appetizers, and a larger one for breakfast biscuits.

27 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - M&M Cookies

This was a staple at Christmas growing up and though I am a strange bird and don't really care for chocolate, these are really good cookies. I don't make them every year, but decided to bake these this year for a change. This always makes me buy crisco - I don't use it for anything else. This recipe is from my mom and I have no idea where it originally came from, but didn't bother to look either because this just works. 

M&M Cookies

1 cup crisco
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups M&M, plain

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together, crisco and both sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, and incorporate. Add vanilla. Beat to combine.In a small bowl whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the crisco mixture in two batches, incorporating completely. Add M&Ms, mix in by hand. Spoon onto baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until golden.

Bench Notes: These are colorful cookies that balance nicely with the chocolate, a soft cookie that is not too sweet. These are easy to put together as you do not need to wait for butter to become room temperature. Have never tried with peanut M&M.

If He's Wicked - Hannah Howell

Summary: She saves his life...For Chloe Wherlocke, it all begins with a vision - a glimpse into the future that foretells a terrible plot against Lord Julian Kenwood and his newborn son. Chloe's psychic gift allows her to save the child from certain death, but the earl remains in grave peril...But when he steals her heart...Julian Kenwood knows someone is trying to kill him and he suspects his scheming wife and her lover are behind the plot. But Julian is shocked when Chloe, a captivating, dark-haired stranger, warns him that sinister forces are indeed at hand - and exposes a devastating secret that changes his life forever...Will she resist - or surrender? As Chloe reveals her plan to save Julian, neither can deny the attraction that grows each moment they're together. Chloe knows the highborn earl could never love her as she loves him. But when danger strikes closer than ever, Chloe must risk everything - or lose Julian forever...  

Comments: First, I hate the title of this book and the three others that follow it. That said, it was an interesting story. The Wherlockes and their cousins the Vaughns have gifts. Chloe Wherelocke has visions, which come in handy to save Julian Kenwood's son. Julian's evil wife and crazed Uncle are out for his land, title, and money. They plot to get Julian removed from the picture in a variety of ways including leaving his newborn son to die. Lovely couple them. But Chloe Wherelocke has seen a vision and knows she must protect little Anthony.

I like that this story line includes something so different as someone having visions, but makes it unpredictable, and sometimes not helpful. My favorite part of the story is the entire Wherelocke/Vaughn clan. This generation, of Chloe and Lord Sir Leopold Wherelocke and Bened Vaughn, are connected to each other and take care of each other largely because their parents made bad marriages and left behind children to broken families. There is some romance of course, because who can resist a man that's spent the past year drinking himself into a stupor and rutting around like a goat because his beautiful, but evil wife, is cheating on him. This is also a mature readers only book, though not over the top in that way.

The story is interesting and different, the pacing is good, the characters are well developed. I appreciate the creation of strong, rational, thinking female characters - I'm thinking not only of Chloe, but also Julian's mother and aunt. I'm looking forward to the next book to see what else this family has to offer - to me they are the most intriguing part of the story.

26 December 2011

Christmas Cooking - The candy calendar

Winter, it is thought, is a good time to make candy - at least in my little part of the world. But apparently, that is not the case in the past few days. Winter, in north Florida is a blessed time of low humidity. Great for candy making (horrible for my hair which craves humidity to make it slightly wavy and not static electricity-driven nightmare). I will gladly suffer bad hair for some time making candy, but the gods of humidity do not agree with me. So, I can't make candy. The humidity is at a low point at present, but it's still 54% humidity and rising with a 100% chance of rain tonight and part of tomorrow. Hopefully, this will clear as the week goes on and I can get into vanilla taffy, toffee, and chocolate dipped pretzels (a total favorite). Damnation, I want vanilla taffy - aka crack, because, yes, if the police saw it, they would think it was crack - totally looks like it - and is easily as addictive. A recipe from my mom's mom. Outstanding. Not sure I'm going to share.

Christmas Cooking - Cheddar-Hot Pepper Jelly Thumbprints

This is a recipe I've made a couple of times because it is a cool vehicle for one of my favorite things in the world - hot pepper jelly. Every late summer / early fall, I make hot pepper jelly. It's just stupidly good and easy to make and to tweak as you go along, so rather than serving the hot pepper jelly and cream cheese with crackers, I use this recipe, especially for the holidays. I call mine hot pepper jelly as opposed to jalapeno jelly since I tend to use a combination of Tabasco and cayenne peppers with usually a jalapeno or two thrown in.

Cheddar-Hot Pepper Jelly Thumbprints
Yield: about 40
6 oz sharp or extra sharp white cheddar

1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese (2 oz)

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg yolk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 egg white

1 Tbs water

1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped

1/3 - 1/2 cup hot pepper jelly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In food processor, mix cheese and butter until well combined. Add youk and 1/4 tsp black pepper and process until combined. Add flour, pulse several times until a dough forms, set aside.
In a small bowl combine egg white and water. Place pecans in a shallow dish. Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. Roll balls in egg white, then in pecans. Place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Use your thumb to dent the center. Bake 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly brown in color. Press any puffed center down with a spoon. Transfer to a rack and cool. Just before serving, place a small bit of jelly in the centre of the thumbprints.

Bench notes: Unfilled cookies can be store in the fridge for three days and in the freezer for three months (just don't forget they are there).
I made them the first time for Thanksgiving 2005.

Christmas Cooking - 2011

My Initial List
Over the last few days and during the next few days, I'm going to be posting my Christmas Cooking for 2011. This is the easiest and best way for me to document what works and what doesn't and what people thought of everything. It will be helpful for 2012. Enjoy!