Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella

This is something I participate in each week via my main blog: a2eatwrite. I'll post these entries here, as well.

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

It's been pretty snowy and blowy here in Michigan, and when I snapped on a Nigella Lawson program during a workout the other day, I was intrigued by what seemed to be an exceedingly easy and delicious-looking recipe for Chicken Pot Pie.

When I actually looked at the recipe, I found it was for "Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pie", and while I love all of those ingredients, I really wanted something that was heavier on vegetables and didn't use bacon (much as I love it). I felt the use of puff pastry was probably enough in the "over the top" category.

There were two things I particularly loved about the recipe, though - she has a trick to make an easy-peasy roux, and she had a trick to make the puff pastry actually seal to the rim of the bowls.

And I did have dinner on the table, start to finish, in about 40 minutes and this got six thumbs up from three people, so I think that was probably pretty good odds. So... my version of Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella:

Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella


1 TBS garlic infused oil (I cooked a large, smashed garlic clove in olive oil for 30 or so seconds)
10 - 15 crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 large stalk celery, sliced
2 medium - large carrots, sliced
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups hot chicken stock
1 tablespoon Marsala (I used Sherry)
1 (13-ounce) 9 by 16-inch sheet all-butter ready-rolled puff pastry - I used Trader Joe's sheets, which are smaller, and I probably used 1 and 1/2 sheets for three people. I think next time, one sheet will probably do it.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Prepare the oil and saute celery and carrots until they begin to soften. Add in the mushrooms and cook for 1 - 2 minutes more.

2. Toss the chicken strips in the flour, and then melt the butter in the pan before adding the floury chicken and all the flour left in the bag. Stir around with the vegetables until the chicken begins to color.

3. Pour in the hot stock, thyme and Sherry, stirring to form a sauce and let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.

4. Make a pastry rim for each of your pots for the pies, by this I mean an approximately 1/2-inch strip curled around the top of the pots.

5. Cut a circle bigger than the top of each pie-pot for the lid, and then divide the chicken filling between the three.

6. Pop on the top of each pie, sealing the edges with your fingers and making fork impressions around the edges.

7. Cook the pies for about 20 minutes turning them around half-way through cooking. Enjoy! (Serves three)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Love those podcasts: A new radio show - 101 Foods to Save Your Life!

Here's your chance to tune in to a new radio show called "101 Foods That Could Save Your Life", on Saturday mornings for the live broadcast or whenever you wish by downloading the podcast! This new weekly show is hosted by Dave Grotto, RD, author of the book 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life, in Chicago.

No matter when you're reading this blog entry, you've missed both the debut and the second live show on Saturday morning, December 27, when Dave interviewed special guests Ginny Erwin, RD and Chicago's Chef "J" about eating and preparing fish that is both healthy and delicious. However you always will have three great ways to listen to Dave's guests, including hearing the recipes discussed:

• Hear it live at 8:30am CST on AM 1160, WYLL (Chicago)
• Hear it streaming live at 8:30am CST at WYLL
• Catch the podcast after the 'airing' date at Radio Show Website

Dave's special guest on January 3rd will be Montel Williams, author of the new book Living Well, Emotionally. Montel will tell his story of how he battles Multiple Sclerosis and Depression daily and shares his special tips on how you can be Living Well, Emotionally.

I have known Dave Grotto for years. He is an experienced and popular Chicago-area radio host, Registered Dietitian (RD), author, and friend. In addition, he is one of just a handful of people I know who can always provoke a feel-good belly laugh from me, so expect a great radio show that will be packed with both helpful and healthful information in an entertaining way!

Check it out!

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ginger thins

The Joy of Cooking (1985 printing) is my go-to book for cookie recipes. These have intrigued me since I was 12, when I got my own copy. They were a pain in the butt to make, because I hate doing anything that requires repetition and fine muscle control. Knitters should have no problems with these, though. :) And they were so good...I hope I forget the annoyance before next cookie season!

This recipe says it makes "about 300 quarter-sized cookies". I didn't count; I filled three cookie sheets three or four times. The finished cookies filled two quart-sized containers, and then some.

3/4 c butter
1 c brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c molasses

Sift together:
1 1/2 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp each cloves, cinnamon, and ginger (or add more ginger and some black and red pepper for more kick)

Combine all ingredients to make a sticky dough. Put into a pastry tube (or improvise one out of a Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off) and put tiny dots onto a greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper). The dots should be about 1/4" in diameter; the cookies will spread a lot when baked. You're aiming for something between the size of a nickel and a quarter when they're done. Bake at 325 for 5-6 minutes. Let cool and crisp up, and don't store them with any other kind of cookies or they'll go soft.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kate's half-assed recipes

I've had a couple of requests for the recipes for the chocolate chocolate-chip and cranberry-orange shortbread cookies I brought to the cookie swap. The chocolate chocolate-chip ones are called Korova cookies and came from the Dessert First blog who adapted the recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Paris Sweets. Unfortunately I can't remember what recipe I used for the cranberry-orange, which is too bad because I'd like to make them again....I took some standard shortbread recipe (it didn't use cornstarch or powdered sugar, just the basic flour and granulated sugar--I remember that much!) and added the zest of one orange and about 1/2 C of chopped up dried cranberries.

I have a bad habit of forgetting what recipe I used. Earlier this year I made some peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that we all agreed were the best I've ever made. Unfortunately I remember eating them better than where I found the recipe because since then I've made 3 inferior batches from 3 different peanut butter cookie recipes. Sigh. I live in hope of someday finding it again (and writing it down!)

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Christmas Cookie post: A Jew does the Cookie Thing

I'm "double-dipping" here, because this post can also be found on a2eatwrite

Like so many Americans, I'm proud to proclaim myself a "mutt". Maybe not racially, but in terms of my heritage. On one side I'm Irish/German Protestant and on the other side I'm Polish/Belarus Jewish. Add in a little bit of Welsh and maybe a Brit or two, and stir well.

Spiritually? Who knows... I'm still trying to figure that out. Culturally? I feel like what I am - a blend of things.

It's taken me a long, long time to feel comfortable with this. That's all I'm going to say right now.

Anyway, Christmas cookies were never a part of my experience growing up. I think that had more to do with my mother's lack of interest in baking than anything else. Also, too, we both lit the candles for Hanukkah and had Mom's family over for Christmas, and I think there was just too much to do.

Lovely early food memories were receiving a huge, heavy tin of Mrs. Brown's shortbread that we'd receive each Christmas time. That was the sum total of my understanding of Christmas cookies.

My first year as an elementary teacher I was presented with the best plate of Christmas cookies I've ever tasted. Maybe they were that much better because I'd made it through my first semester, but no Christmas cookies have touched these since, and those cookies first intrigued me with the whole Christmas cookie idea.

So our Christmas plans changed this year, and all of a sudden more presents were needed and also all of a sudden we were plunged into grief and chaos. Shopping completely stresses me out and I really felt a strong need to stay close to home. Finally, Christmas cookies seemed to be the answer. Making things would be relaxing.


Well, it was interesting, although after my first morning of baking I had herring and pickles for lunch - I think my Jewish side was rebelling against all this sugar and excess.

I planned my cookies carefully. I planned a swap. I searched recipes. I read tons of blogs. I haunted the Food Network and Epicurious.

Finally, this is what I came up with:

The bottom layer - traditional Christmas cookies, apricot-chocolate biscotti, espresso crinkles, candied walnuts with orange rind and chocolate

And this is what I came up with:

The top layer - pistachio-raspberry ribbon cookies, mincemeat swirls, cherry shortbread and peppermint bark.

For a first year, these were not bad. Did I make my own recipes? Heck no, I'm definitely not ready for that, yet.

Here's what I did make:

Traditional Christmas Cookies using a sugar cookie dough by Alton Brown. The reviews said that the cookies were bland, so I added 1 TBS rum and 1 tsp vanilla to the dough. I still found them bland, but C and his friend K loved them. And they are Christmas cookie fans, so who am I to judge? For the coatings I mixed a glaze of powdered sugar, water and rum. It was fine - the cookies were decorated by D and C, with some being decorated by me. The dough was PERFECT to work with. The recipe worked exactly as stated and rolling out and cutting out the cookies was easy (and I STINK at rolling and cutting). My new silpat pastry mat may have helped, too.

Apricot-Chocolate Biscotti: I used this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, but I obviously changed the add-ins and I switched from lemon rind to orange rind. I used a TBS of Grand Marnier and 3 TBS of orange juice as flavoring, and added in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, chopped fine, and 2/3 cup chopped apricots. Again, the dough and the recipe was perfect. If I had these to do over again, I'd use more oj and skip the Grand Marnier. There was a slightly bitter taste, and I think this would resolve it.

Espresso Crinkles. These were from Cooking Light. Don't. Bother. For chocolate lovers and children only. They're *okay* and C likes them fairly well, but they're not all that pretty and don't taste good enough and they were a pain to make. 'Nuff said.

Candied Walnuts with Orange Rind and Chocolate - I got these off an e-mail list, and I don't want to print the recipe without permission, but these ROCKED. I will find the author and get this to you. Promise. They were a tiny bit bitter, but cutting back on the orange rind would take care of it, I think.

Pistachio-Raspberry Ribbon Bars and Mince Pinwheel Cookies. Both of these recipes are by Marye Audet, and these were my two favorite cookies. Hands down. My only additions were that I used more jam and more Mince than Marye called for. The Mince Pinwheel Cookies may be my all-time favorite cookie, after Tollhouse Chocolate Chips. If you're a mince fan, you will LOVE these. The Ribbon Bars can be found here and the Mincemeat Swirls here.

Cherry Shortbread... hmmm... this did not work as well as I would have liked, although D thinks it's great. I used this shortbread recipe from the Hearty Boys, omitting the espresso aspects and stirred in one cup of chopped, dried cherries. The cherry flavor came through beautifully, but the shortbread really refused to set. I think I'd add 1/4 cup of flour the next time, due to the moistness of the cherries.

Peppermint Bark - easy-peasy and delicious! Just melt a cup and a half of bittersweet chocolate in the microwave, pour it on a parchment-lined, large cookie sheet with a lip, and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Let set. Break. Yum.

Phew. I'm exhausted.

I leave tomorrow morning for family and love and good fortune and I can't wait. See you in a few days. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa for anyone celebrating those holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Cookie Story

Today's New York Times Sunday magazine has a Christmas cookie story that is so perfect for this group that I just had to share it. Aside from the recipes (that Yugoslavian Christmas Cookie recipe is quite intriguing) and the example (woman bakes 500 dozen cookies with only one oven), there are so many details that I lingered over. The kitchen that is a "museum of appliances" (wonder what she would say about my 40-year-old Osterizer) and the friends who save See's Candies boxes so she can package the cookies.

The article has links to all the past NYT cookie recipes, too. Happy baking.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just like Snackin' Cake

Please forgive this slightly off-topic post, but I'm so thrilled with this recipe that I had to share.

When I was little, my mom would make me snacks for when I came home from school. It was the 70s, so no one cooked from scratch (God forbid! That was too old-fashioned!!), but they were still good treats. My favorite was something called Snackin' Cake. It had this particular taste to it...I can't describe it, but I've been searching for it since I was a kid. And like the Supreme Court would know porn when it saw it, well, I'd know this taste when I tasted it.

Thanks to the following recipe from the Ann Arbor News, I think I found it. The important thing is to let it sit over night. The entire taste changes from great to Snackin' Cake great.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

1 cup vegetable oil
2 2/3 c sugar
4 large eggs
2 c pumpkin puree (I had frozen some from local pumpkins and used this)
2/3 c water
3 1/3 c of all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat flour)
1/2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 t nutmeg
1 t vanilla extract (I always put a little extra vanilla!)
1 1/2 c chocolate chips
(The recipe also calls for 1 c chopped walnuts or pecans, but Jeff had eaten the rest of the pecans so I couldn't add this).

Cook for an hour at 350 (took mine a little longer)
Cream together the oil, sugar, pumpkin, eggs and water. The batter will be very runny--don't worry about this.
In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. Stir into the wet ingredients. Add vanilla, nuts (if using) and chips.
Spoon batter into two loaf pans, lightly greased. Bake for an hour or so.
Let it sit overnight!!
Enjoy! And thanks, Mom, for all of the great snacks when I was younger!

Jewel Cookies

I hate to be "bah humbug" and all, but Christmas cookies are very often not as good as they look. Years ago, I used to sit next to a gal at work that baked a ton of cookies for everyone during the holidays, and gave us all beautifully wrapped plates of them. She spent days on it - and the cookies looked fantastic, but tasted really bland and had a tough texture. I bit into one that was so bad, I actually had to fake blowing my nose so I could spit it out into a Kleenex! I tried to put them out by the coffee pot at work - engineers are notorious for eating any free food they can get their hands on, but even these beauties were left uneaten. When she wasn't looking, I threw most of them out in a garbage can on the other end of the building. Like Santa does each Christmas eve, I left a couple cookies on the plate with a few crumbs so that she thought that her cookies were well received. She had spent so much time on them.

A recipe for a cookie that's often featured in Christmas cookie platters - the "jewel" or "thumbprint" cookie is a frequent Christmas cookie offender. I've had many terrible versions of this cookie - tough dough, rancid nuts, fluorescent red and green maraschino cherries placed in the centers (a sin committed by yours truly in junior high). But done right, these cookies are sublime! Did you preserve some raspberry jam last summer? Now's the time to crack open a jar and make this cookie. Strawberry jam would work well it it, too. I got this recipe years ago out of Martha Stewart Living.

Jewel Cookies
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 c light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, separated
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
2 2/3 c flour
2 c pecans, finely chopped
1 c raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and then flour. Shape into 1 inch balls. Brush each ball with beaten egg whites, then roll in chopped pecans and place 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Press center of each ball with your thumb, and fill with 1/2 teaspoon jam. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until just golden around edges. Cool on a rack.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Surprise Kisses

These have been a Christmas tradition in my family since I was a child. My mother put a half candied cherry on top, but I skip that.

Beat 4 egg whites until foamy: add 1/4 t cream of tartar and 1/4 t salt. Continue beating until stiff; then beat in 1 1/2 c sugar a little at a time.

Fold in 1 8 oz package of semisweet chocolate chips and 1 cup chopped walnuts.

Drop spoonfuls onto parchment paper or brown kraft paper (grocery bags) on cookie sheets.

Bake at 350° F 25 minutes. (Meringues should still be white in color.)

Remove immediately from the paper using a spatula. Makes about 6 dozen.

Dispatch from Norway: Brune Pinner

It's been fun to see and learn about the Christmas traditions of another country that is at least as Christmas-crazy as the US.  Some things that seem particularly appealing in Norway include the tradition of putting candles outside the door or in the window of nearly every shop and house; the traditional foods on every menu (even if it's a pizza place or a Chinese restaurant, they'll have a traditional Norwegian Christmas menu with salted sheep ribs along with their regular menu); and of course, my favorite, the seven different types of Christmas cookies the mother of the house bakes during Christmastime.  Cafe Lotte in old Kongsberg makes many varieties of cookies and gave me the recipe for my favorites - Brune Pinner, a crispy, chewy, brown sugar cookie that is delicious with coffee. God Jul! 

Brune Pinner

300 grams butter (softened)
300 grams sugar
2 yolks of eggs
1.5 tablespoons syrup (dark corn syrup?)
3 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoons vanilla
1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
375 grams flour
Plus, egg whites for brushing the tops, and chopped almonds for sprinkling

Mix together soft butter and sugar.  Add egg yolks and syrup. Beat well. Add baking soda, vanilla, cinnamon, and flour. Mix well. (Chill, perhaps?) Roll thin, perhaps 1 centimeter. Cut into strips 2.5 centimeters wide and 4 centimeters long - they will spread in the oven.  After baking a few minutes, brush the tops with egg whites and sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 200C (aka 392ยบ) for about 10 minutes - until lightly browned around the edges.  Watch them carefully. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Simple, yet effective

I was short on time prior to the cookie exchange, so I made my old standby chocolate chip cookies, using the standard Toll House recipe BUT I double the amount of vanilla. It makes all the difference and now my secret is known :)

I added coconut to one batch and pecans to another. I'm drawing a blank for what I added to the third batch, so please help me out, ladies.

Next up...maybe holiday recipes???

Espresso Biscuits

I brought these to the cookietravaganza on Saturday. Of the three varieties I made, these are probably my favorites. Just the name: Espresso Biscuits (it is a Martha Stewart recipe, after all) makes me feel so refined and elegant when I nibble on their crumbly, chocolately goodness.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder or finely ground espresso beans
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with two racks centered. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, and espresso powder; set aside. Cream the butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add the flour mixture into the bowl, mixing on low speed and scraping down the sides of the bowl twice. Pinch off small wads of dough (about 2 tbsp each) and roll between your palms to form a ball about 1 inch across. Place balls on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using a fork, press the tines into the dough twice, creating a cross-hatch pattern and flattening the dough into a biscuit shape. Bake until just firm to the touch, rotating the sheets between the oven racks halfway through to ensure even baking, 10-15 minutes total. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Because there are no eggs, baking soda, or baking powder in these cookies, and one uses powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar, the end result is an intensely-flavored, dense, finely-grained biscuit that crumbles on the tongue.

In addition to the espresso biscuits, I made pecan snowdrops and molasses spice cookies.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Now that we have a blog together

How about some abfab cookie recipes? I'm thinking of adding my recipe for Rum Balls. Maybe Creme de Menthe Squares. Or Raspberry Bars. Or perhaps the fabulous Almond Banket. And for sure the Coconut Lemon Circles!  Can't wait to see the Mincemeat Pinwheels....are they better than my grandmother's Date Pinwheels? I don't see how it's possible.  

Since Diana was the inspiration for our new blog domain, it's fitting that the first recipe be her recipe for:  Kale Balls