Sunday, November 30, 2008


I almost called this “No Fail Toffee.” Then I remembered the time I was in college at the University of Southern Mississippi, studying hospitality management, namely catering and food service and such. The irony, it abounds. It was near Christmas and I wanted to make my grandmother’s toffee. I called and got the recipe. It sounded easy enough.

The recipe called for two sticks of butter. Do not substitute, Mee Maw said. I had one stick of butter and one stick of margarine. I had already been to the store once that day, or that week, whatever. I really used to hate going to the grocery store. I still kind of do. I’d rather do all the dishes afterward than go to the store before. So I’d already been to the store and the thought of battling Hardy Street in Hattiesburg, an overdeveloped busy thoroughfare with a jillion stoplights and lots of traffic, was more than I could stand. I probably stomped my foot and whined before deciding to tough it out with what I had.

Since I had one stick of butter and one stick of margarine I decided to use them. I was substituting only half. After all, I thought, how bad could it be?

Let me tell you. Really, really bad. Real bad. I have instant recall to this day as to how that mass of burned butter-margarine smelled. And how it tasted. Oh, yeah, like a fool I tasted that foul stuff. I had to.

Lesson learned. I don’t ever substitute anything when a recipe calls for butter. Sometimes I put butter in a recipe that specifies margarine or shortening, that’s how well that lesson was learned.


1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped blanched almonds (or coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts, pistachios, or hazelnuts or whatever kind of nuts you prefer)
1 cup unsalted butter (do not substitute) (No joking about that.)
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coarsely chopped chocolate

Butter a pan. The recipe calls for 9x13 pyrex dish; I’ve used that and I’ve also used half baking sheets. Anything heatproof works fine.

Sprinkle half of nuts in greased pan and set aside.

Melt butter, sugar, and water together over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often until temperature reaches 300 degrees. Remove from heat and quickly stir in baking soda. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and let harden.

(If you’re going to freeze the toffee, stop here. Let toffee get completely cool and hard, break into pieces, and put in a freezer zip top bag and freeze.)

Sprinkle chocolate over the top and let stand for 5 minutes. Spread chocolate over the top and sprinkle with additional chopped nuts while chocolate is still warm.

Let cool completely and break into pieces.

Keeps well in an airtight container.

When ready to serve or give away, take toffee from freezer and let come to room temperature and thaw – a few hours or so.

Melt chocolate – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, whatever you like – and pour over toffee, smoothing with an offset spatula. You can sprinkle the wet chocolate with chopped nuts and/or drizzle with melted green and red candy melts. I have umpteen pictures of this technique drizzled over sugar cookies or chocolate-dipped pretzel rods or what have you and I can’t find any of them.

You can play around with different combinations – white chocolate and toasted macadamia nuts, bittersweet chocolate and hazelnuts, milk chocolate and peanuts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Phyllo Is Your Friend

I love phyllo dough. LOVE IT. It's so easy to work with, yet makes me feel so accomplished, kind of like homemade pizza dough (which is easy, easy yet I feel supremely proud of myself any time I make it).

My favorite form of phyllo are phyllo triangles, the wonderful little flaky pockets of goodies. Everyone loves them and the options, there are limitless.

To make them, melt tons of butter, more than you think you'll need. Lay one tissue-paper-thin sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush with butter. Repeat until you have six layers of phyllo brushed with butter. Slice each stack of sheets into six strips. Place the fillings at the edge of each strip (anyone confused yet?) and fold over, starting at the end like you're folding a flag and go all the way up to make little triangles.

This is a link to a photo tutorial, which may make more sense. It's easy to do yet hard to explain.

For several years, my go-to filling was Tex-Mex. I used leftover grilled chicken or purchased cooked chicken or whatever. Some kind of chicken. Each triangle got a little bit of shredded chicken topped with salsa, shredded Colby Jack cheese, a few black beans, and chopped green onions.

Last weekend we had bought a rotisserie chicken for something and had some left over so I decided to do the phyllo triangles. They are so nice to have in the freezer, especially around this time of year as the holiday season gears up.

This time I branched out a bit and filled the triangles with a bit of chopped chicken, basil pesto, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, and goat cheese.

And they were AWESOME. We've found a new hit and will be making them again and again. We've already enjoyed some twice - once with a dinner salad and once with soup.

Try them. You'll love them.

Oh, wait. I bet you'd rather like to know how to store and bake them.

If you're baking right away, preheat oven to 375 and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown.

To squirrel some away for later, place the triangles in a singly layer on a baking sheet and freeze for an hour or two. Place triangles in a freezer proof zip top bag and freeze. To bake, place frozen triangles on ungreased baking sheet and cook for about 10 to 12 minutes in a preheated 375 oven.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unstoppable Chicken Marbella

Based on a recipe from the classic Silver Palate Cookbook, this is one of my favorite go-to dishes. Kids love it, finicky eaters love it, it smells incredible while cooking AND any leftovers make the best chicken salad. It's a win-win-win.

We paired it with the best side evah.

Chicken Marbella

4 chicken breasts (I think the original recipe called for a chicken, cut into pieces and parts)
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice*
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock
2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley finely chopped

* Jeffrey takes issue with capers and he kindly asked me to leave them out, which I did. I don't think I could tell they were missing.

Combine garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves. Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and add marinade. Seal tight and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease a casserole dish and arrange chicken in a single layer. Spoon marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine or chicken stock around them.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with the pan juices.

Serve with some of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro. Serve remaining juice in a gravy boat.

(Recipe doubles easily.)

Oh My Gosh So Good

I don't think a whole lot about side dishes. (Unless they're sweet potatoes. I love sweet potatoes.) It seems like you always need something green. In the summer, that's a salad or the much-adored proscuitto-wrapped asparagus.

The rest of the year, you know, green beans or something. Just...(shrug)

Then I realized how much I like this vegetable and this recipe is probably my favorite one.

It starts with sauteeing about four or five slices of bacon. I know! When the bacon is nice and crisp, remove the slices and pour the bacon grease off, reserving about 1 tablespoon. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet. (I KNOW; butter AND bacon!)

The recipe called for 1/3 cup of pine nuts, which I didn't have, so I was going to use slivered almonds. Only I couldn't find them in my freezer, so I opted for walnuts. Add them to the heated butter/bacon grease mixture until they're lightly toasted.

Then you add 2 chopped green onions and 1 pound of brussel sprouts, shredded. Wait, come back! It's really good, even if you don't like brussel sprouts.

Season the mixture with pepper and seasoned salt and cook until the brussel sprouts are just tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.

The end result is something that doesn't taste like cooked cabbage, or even bacon, just GOOD. We enjoyed it with the Unstoppable Chicken Marbella.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cider-Roasted Pork Loin

I loves me some magazines - Real Simple, Oprah, Mary Engelbreit Home Companion, Southern Living, Cooking Light - and I've got lots of them. I hate throwing them out and to soften the blow, I go through stacks of them, tearing out relavant pieces - recipes, articles, random photos for inspiration.

That decreases the number of magazines but also increases the stacks of recipes sandwiched between cookbooks in the pie safe in the kitchen.

A few weeks ago, I went through that stack of recipes torn from magazines. It was probably three inches thick. I culled and sorted, throwing away many recipes that either didn't sound good anymore or that I knew I would never make. (I have an idealistic version of Kitchen Keetha and she spends hours each weeknight in the kitchen crafting delicious and nutritious meals. She grocery shops and has a spreadsheet listing all the ingredients in her kitchen, never runs out of anything, and always has fresh herbs and rarely used condiments on hand. She was the one who saved those ambitious recipes.)

Out of that stack, I set aside a handful of recipes that I would try this fall. One of those was Cider-Roasted Pork Loin. Doesn't that sound so autumney?

After brining overnight, the tenderloin had to roast for something like an hour, which is really too long for weeknight cooking but anyway. As the tenderloin cooked it smelled divine but I was having doubts. WHAT IF this was only so so and we were all starving and I'd been thinking for ages how good it sounded, etc.

But this recipe was great. The tenderloin was juicy and flavorful. The apple cider gave it a hint of sweetness but not maple syrup sweet. It was really good. We're already planning to serve it at a holiday gathering, where we'll have it with yeast rolls and sweet potato butter.

3 cups water
3 cups apple cider
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoons coriander seeds (Note - we left these out because I didn't have any on hand.)
1 bay leaf
1 (2-pound) boneless pork loin (we used one tenderloin and halved all the ingredients)
2 cups apple cider
Cooking spray
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage (I used dried sage. If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that our local grocer does not have any fresh sage. It doesn't have any fresh parsley.)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Remove from heat; cool. Pour brine into a 2-gallon zip-top plastic bag. Add pork; seal. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Bring 2 cups cider to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until cider has thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup (about 15 minutes). Set aside.

Remove pork from bag; discard brine. Place pork on rack of a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat pork with cooking spray. Combine rosemary, sage, and black pepper; sprinkle evenly over pork. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until thermometer registers 155°, basting twice with cider reduction during final 20 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven; baste with remaining cider reduction. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ginger Cookies

Remember that train wreck the last time I tried to make molasses ginger cookies?

Erin kindly posted a recipe at her blog after she read of my ill-fated ginger cookies.

I made these cookies last weekend and they are the BOMB. They are exactly the ginger molasses cookie I was looking for. The one of my dreams. The recipe is going in my permanent rotation of fall recipes.

Ginger Cookies
Recipe from First United Methodist Church, Monett, MO Cookbook (Mary K. Scott)

3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cup flour
1 tablespoon ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream shortening. Add sugar gradually. Beat in the egg and molasses. Sift flour, ginger, soda, cinnamon, and salt together and add to the other mixture. Cool 30 minutes to 1 hour in refrigerator. Roll into balls the size of walnuts and roll in granulated sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-14 minutes or until puffed up and lightly browned. Let set a minute on sheet before removing cookies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rachel Ray Is a Big Fat Liar

The Fiance and I saw Rachel Ray make Florentine Mac and Cheese and Roast Chicken Sausage Meatballs on her 30-minute meal show. Huh, we both said. Sounds pretty good -and, hey, it takes just 30 minutes!

The reality was something more akin to 70 minutes, and that was with both of us working on it and neither of us are dummies in the kitchen.

We're going to try the recipe again and when we do, we'll use one package of spinach rather than two. As it was the "sauce" was clumps of clumpy spinach. Tasty but nothing like a sauce.

About half the pasta - 8 ounces rather than 16 ounces - would probably suffice. To me, the dish seemed mostly pasta sprinkled here and there with clumps of spinach. I was expecting pasta in a sauce. Color me crazy.

Finally, and this is just a personal thing, I don't care much for meatballs. The texture is very close to meatloaf, which I don't like. These chicken sausage meatballs were good but I think I'd make more like 16 small ones rather than 8 large ones. But that's just me.

Florentine Mac and Cheese and Roast Chicken Sausage Meatballs

1 pound cavatappi corkscrew shaped hallow pasta (We used corkscrew pasta.)
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken (We couldn't find ground chicken after looking at two grocery stores, so we used ground turkey.)
Black pepper
2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 egg
3/4 cup bread crumbs, plus more, if needed*
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 boxes, 10 ounces, chopped frozen spinach
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, eyeball it

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta. When it comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta to cook to al dente. Strain pasta reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.

While the water is coming to a boil, in a large mixing bowl combine the chicken, salt and pepper, rosemary, fennel seeds, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano - a rounded handful, egg and bread crumbs. *If the mixture seems too wet, add a handful of bread crumbs and mix together.

Form 8 large round balls, about 3 to 4-inches. Coat balls in a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and lightly grease a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange balls on the baking sheet and roast 17 to 18 minutes until juices run clear.

Defrost spinach in microwave 8 to 10 minutes on "defrost" setting depending on the microwave. Place the boxes in a shallow dish to catch any run off.

While the meatballs roast, in a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt butter, whisk in flour, cook 1 minute then whisk in stock and milk, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and thicken 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 cup grated Parmigiano and reduce heat on lowest setting.

Wring spinach completely dry in clean kitchen towel then separate as you add it to the sauce. Also add the reserved 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Toss pasta with the spinach-white sauce and adjust seasonings.

Serve Florentine Mac-n-Cheese with 2 meatballs per person along side.