Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

A New Cookie Recipe

Earlier this week our good friend Ben stopped by to plant a tree in our yard – yes, I told you, he is a good friend and he also owns a landscaping business – and while he was here he said had a question for me.  The question was related to the Apple Cider Caramel recipe I posted in early October.

Ben makes cider and was kind enough to share some with us.  From the cider he shared I made some apple cider caramel for he and his wife to try, which led to his question.  He asked, “Do you think you can make a molasses-type cookie with the caramel you made?”

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I replied, “I’ll give it a try and let you know.”  So I did.  Today I delivered a batch to Ben and his crew at a job site.  I am awaiting their assessment, but while I wait I thought I’d share the recipe with you.  As soon as I hear back from him, I’ll let you know his thoughts,.  But for now I can tell you that Jeff has not been at all disappointed that I’ve made multiple batches!

I had the caramel already made, so the work was pretty easy.  I’d recommend you make a batch of the caramel and keep it on hand.  It’s good on plain yogurt, great in the appetizer on the home page of the blog, and I also think it would be great on grilled meats or even over vanilla ice cream….there are so many possibilities.

The recipe for the caramel is:

Apple Cider “Caramel”

Meal type Condiment, Dessert
This recipe was a happy accident. I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries. The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 pinch Kosher Salt
  • 1 pinch Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar (divided)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. Put cider, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan, stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat to medium low (low if you have a particularly hot burner) and reduce to 1 cup.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of brown sugar, increase heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce to 1/3 cup.

Now for the cookies…

Melt 3/4 cup of butter and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 egg and mix until smooth.

 

 

Add 1/4 cup of apple cider caramel to the butter mixture.  Mix until smooth.

 

 

 

 

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Blend into the butter mixture.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using a 2 Tbsp scoop, scoop dough into balls.

Cut each scoop in half and roll between your hands into a ball, working quickly to keep the dough cool. Spread the remaining 1 cup of sugar onto a plate and roll each dough ball into the sugar to completely coat.

Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes (time may vary depending on oven), until tops are cracked.  (Photo below taken at approximately 6 minutes into the cooking time).

Cool on wire racks and enjoy!!!!

As I wait for feedback from Ben and his crew, I am mulling over the name for these.  I thought of calling them “Bennies,” but that reminded me of a friend’s dog.  I thought of using Ben’s initials, but then they’d be “BS Cookies” – not too appetizing.  So for now I’ve landed on “Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies.”  Sawgrass is the name of the street Ben and his crew were working on today when I delivered their samples….stay tuned for a name change….let me know if you have any suggestions, particularly you, Ben!!!!

To learn more about Ben’s business, visit http://www.souderlandscaping.com/!

Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups butter (melted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup apple cider caramel
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar (for coating cookies prior to baking)

Note

mmm mmm mmm at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, 1 c. sugar, and egg until smooth.
2. Add the apple cider caramel and mix until incorporated.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and mix into the butter mixture.
4. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Toasting Pepitas
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Using a 2 Tbsp. scoop, scoop dough into balls.
7. Cut each dough ball in half.
8. Roll the halved dough into balls and then roll each one in the remaining 1 cup sugar.
9. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
10. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven (time may vary depending on your oven setting) until tops are cracked.
11. Cook on wire rack.

A Labor of Love for My Love

I am lucky to be married to a man who knows how to cook, clean and iron his own shirts.  He’s quite self-sufficient.  In fact, if it weren’t for trouble matching his clothes and folding a fitted sheet, he probably wouldn’t need me at all.

Over the years, we have learned numerous things from one another – not from any formal lessons, but as couples do – simply from being around one another for enough time. For example, I have learned to put the toilet paper roll on the holder the “right way,” the first 15ish steps of troubleshooting my computer before asking him (an IT guy) for help, how to change a ceiling light fixture, and that you can enjoy a Phils game IF you sit in the good seats!  He has learned how to wrap a gift without 1,000 wrinkles and 1,000,000 pieces of tape, that a crock pot (or anything with a cord) is not a gift unless expressly requested by the receiver, that some towels are just for show, and that you don’t have to follow a recipe to the letter for it to turn out well!

From the beginning, we’ve shared household chores in a non-traditional way.  He enjoys coupon clipping and grocery shopping, but has allergies.  So until a few years ago, he did all the grocery shopping and I cut the grass.  When we both worked full-time, he made dinner as often as I did (ok, maybe he still does) and we shared cleaning responsibilities (ok, maybe we still do).  It’s a balance that may make other couples scratch their heads; but it works for us.

With all that said, it’s unusual for Jeff to ask for something.  But when we returned from vacation he began hinting that he’d like me to make a peach pie.  So I put it on my To Do list.  The hinting started getting less subtle, so yesterday – with the last of the peaches – I surprised him with a peach pie.

I must be honest and admit that making pies intimidates me, and not for the reason you may think.  I have no trouble making pie crust.  It doesn’t scare me in the least.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m pretty good at it.  It’s the fruit fillings that get me every time!

In the past, no matter what I’ve tried – flour, cornstarch, tapioca – my fillings have always slid out of the pie with the first cut.  I had some seriously bad pie mojo.  But all that changed on vacation.  We got some really yummy peaches at a farm stand on the way to the OBX so I couldn’t resist attempting to bake a pie.  I googled ‘peach pie’ and looked at several recipes.  I decided on one entitled ‘Peach Pie the Old Fashioned Two-Crust Way’ from allrecipes.com.

The recipe worked like a charm and my bad pie mojo lifted!  I think I learned a few things about my sad pies of the past.  Here’s what I did differently this time:

  • I used room temperature peaches.  In the past I am fairly sure I used fruit from the fridge.  I don’t know exactly why I think this has an impact, but drawing on tidbits I’ve learned over the years, I know many recipes call for room temp ingredients (except when making a good pastry).
  • I mixed the filling about 30 minutes prior to filling the pie, which gave everything a chance to meld, the peaches a chance to juice and the flour a chance to begin absorbing that juice.
  • I waited until it was fully cooled before cutting it.  When I made my pie on vacation I had an easy distraction – the beach.  I made it in the morning and then we headed off for a full day at the beach and the pie had a chance to rest.  Yesterday, I made the pie in the afternoon and then went to my Bible study group and Jeff worked his part-time job – so again, the pie had time to fully cool.

When I got home from church last night, I texted Jeff a picture of the pie and this is how the remainder of the text exchange went:

JEFF: What is that?
ME:     What do you think it is?
JEFF: Pie!!
ME:     it IS pie
JEFF: But what kind
ME:     What do you hope it is?
JEFF: Peach
ME:     Yep
JEFF: !!!
JEFF: Are you sharing?
ME:    The question is are YOU sharing?  I made it for you!
JEFF: I’ll share it with you

As I disclosed earlier, Jeff is very self-sufficient so it is nice to be able to do something for him that makes him happy and is unexpected.  I was amazed at his restraint….he came home from work and did not have a piece of pie.  And he didn’t even have one for breakfast with his morning coffee.  He did, however, cut a “small piece” to take for lunch so that he could have another piece this evening.  It is true what they say, the way to a man’s heart (or at least my man’s heart) is through his stomach!

PS.  In case you were wondering, it is incredibly difficult to cut a piece of pie and pour a hot cup of coffee so that you can get some good photos and NOT indulge!

 

Forecast Last Week: Chilly, Chili & Chile

This past week was a busy one….I guess most of us could start a sentence that way. We live in a fast-paced world where cramming one more think into our already over-crowded schedules is expected.  That’s why I am happy the weather has taken a turn toward the chilly.  It seems like when that happens people I start slowing my pace to a more sustainable one.

It’s crazy to say, but Jeff and I only had dinner together two evenings of the last seven.  One was last evening when I made a quick “kitchen sink” pasta. It’s a concept we use to clean out the fridge and, in this case, use up the last of the produce from the garden.  The other dinner together is one I’ll write more about below, but first let me give you a run down of the rest of the week:

  • Monday: write for blog, work on the blog; do some HR consulting work; Me, Myself and Lies Bible study; ride with Jeff to BWI Airport to pick up his parents (we left at 10:30 pm and got home around 3:30 am Tuesday)
  • Tuesday: sleep in a bit to recover from last night; read for Bible study; work on the blog – test and photograph recipes; prep for consulting meeting tomorrow; laundry; walk.
  • Wednesday: consulting meeting; doctor appointment; grocery shop; make chili; dinner with Jeff; write for blog; small group meeting.
  • Thursday: drive mom to doctor appointment in Hershey – wait, wait, wait with Mrs. M (a nice time to catch up!); lunch at Hershey Pantry; shopping; recipe test for baking contest; write for blog; read, read, read for Bible study and some fiction.
  • Friday: make lunch to take to Jeff; have lunch with Jeff; afternoon meeting; laundry; photos for blog; tres bonne annee wine tasting – The Wines of Chile; “dinner” with Ben, Christa & Jeff
  • Saturday: work at Kitchen Shoppe’s Italian Soups and Breads class; final recipe test and photos for baking contest; upload and organize photos from digital camera; read for Bible study; make dinner for me (Jeff was working the homecoming dance); fall into bed after midnight.
  • Sunday: church (a much-needed time of praise and reconnection); work at Kitchen Shoppe’s fundraiser for the Bosler Library in Carlisle, PA; read some fiction; finally connect with Jeff; make dinner; eat together; mindless t.v.; early to bed!

I know there are many of you who add kids activities to this already crowded schedule so I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much I actually have in my schedule so I understand why some things slide!!! Typically there’s exercise in the schedule too, but I’ve been having a problem with my left foot (No, not the movie) and I’ve been instructed to stay off it for a few days!  Which to me only means I have to stop “organized” exercise, not the rest of the activities I do each day.

So, back to the chili.  I had a two-pound piece of sirloin in the fridge and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it; but with the brisk weather I got inspired to fiddle with a new chili recipe.  here’s what I came up with:

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Jeff picked some beautiful Roma tomatoes and Hungarian peppers from the garden and I thought both would be excellent additions to this dish.  I started by halving the tomatoes, placing them cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil.  I sprinkled them with kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and roasted them in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were caramelized (40 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes).  After they cooled enough so that I could handle them, I slid the skins off each tomato half.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the sirloin.  I cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes and tossed them in a bowl with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 4 tsp. yellow corn meal (which will help to give a nice crust to the meat and later thicken the chili), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder until all the meat cubes were well coated.  I heated 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven on the stove top and browned the meat in three batches – removing all the meat to a plate when browned.

In the same dutch oven, which now had gloriously browned bits from the meat on the bottom, I added 3 cups diced Spanish onion, 3 diced Hungarian peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.  I cooked the veggies, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent and the water evaporated.  I added garlic to the pan and cooked, stirring, for one minute more.

I then added to the onion mixture, the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.  I cooked  the tomato paste and spices with the veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.  I then added the browned meat, 3 cups chicken broth, the roasted tomatoes (skins removed) and 1 can each drained and rinsed black beans and red beans.  I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat to medium low and simmered for 30 minutes.  Of course, the longer you simmer, the better and the chili is even better if it sits over night in the fridge and is reheated – it gives all the flavors time to meld together.

I served the chili over rice and it was a warm, spicy and delicious treat for a chilly day!

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Serves 6 - 10
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Soup
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 20 Roma tomatoes (fresh from the garden is best!)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning meat)
  • 2lb sirloin steak (cut into 1.5 inch cubes~)
  • 4 teaspoons yellow corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 3 cups Spanish onion (diced)
  • 3 Hungarian peppers (diced)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 thin slices tomato paste
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 cups chicken broth ((I prefer low sodium))
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

Roasting Tomatoes
1. Cut Roma tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a greased half sheet pan.
2. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
3. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for 40 - 60 minutes until caramelized.
4. Allow to cool and remove skins.
The skins can be removed ahead of time using in boiling water, but I find this way less time-consuming and just as easy and it doesn't result in somewhat gritty or mealy tomatoes.
Browning Meat
5. Place the cubed sirloin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 4 tsp. cornmeal, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder in a large bowl and toss well to coat.
6. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/3 of the meat and cook over medium high heat, browning on all sides.
7. Remove browned meat and repeat with the remaining meat until all meat is browned and removed to a bowl.
Cooking Veggies
8. Using the same pan in which you browned the meat (which should have nice brown bits on the bottom), add the onion, peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.
9. Stirring frequently, cook over medium high heat until water evaporates and onions are translucent - about 10 minutes.
10. Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring for one minute more.
Making Sauce
11. Add the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin to the pan and cook with veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.
12. Add browned meat back into pan.
13. Add chicken broth, roasted tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low (low if you have particularly hot burners) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
The Finished Product
14. Serve over rice and enjoy!