Friday, March 08, 2013

Blueberry Cream French Toast

 

All apologies for the ugly picture.  I had one of the girls hold a napkin behind this just before we gobbled it for Millie's birthday breakfast.  Don't let it dissuade you from this exceptional breakfast!  Also, unless your free-roaming chickens also provide you with shockingly yellow yolks, the bread won't be tinged this brightly.

I've made this several times for special occasion breakfasts, and the fact that it's assembled the night before makes for smooth sailing the next morning.  (Shhh.  Don't tell anyone, but for Millie's birthday breakfast, I assembled it right before baking and just smushed the bread into the egg batter to soak it thoroughly.  It worked just dandy.)

If my approval isn't enough, and you still need some convincing (or a kick in the pants), this recipe was the Grand Prize winner in Taste of Home's "Very Berry" contest of 1996.  Thanks to you, Patricia Walls of Aurora, Minnesota, we have a winner!

Ingredients:
-12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed (I use rustic bread and don't remove the crusts because I like the texture, plus I'm lazy.  Also, I'm a rebel)
- 2 packages cream cheese (I often use less.  1 - 1 and 1/2 packages.)
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I've only ever used frozen leftover from summer picking.)
-12 eggs
-2 cups milk
-1/3 cup pure maple syrup

Sauce: I usually double this, because the following amounts only make 1 and 3/4 cups, and we like blueberry sauce used liberally.
-1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I use frozen.)
- 1 tablespoon butter

Cut (or tear) the bread into one-inch cubes.  Place half in a greased 13 X 9 inch baking dish.  Cut cream cheese into one-inch cubes* and place over bread.  Top with blueberries and remaining bread cubes.  In a large bowl, beat eggs.  Add milk and syrup; mix well.  Pour over bread mixture.  Cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.  Cover; bake4 at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Uncover; bake 25-30 minutes longer or until center is set.

For sauce, in a small saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, and water until smooth.  Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 3 minutes.  Stir in blueberries; reduce heat.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until berries have burst.  Stir in butter until melted.  Serve over the French toast.

NOTES:
I don't like the cubes of plain cream cheese in the French toast.  It seems like too  much straight cream cheese (though I don't have a problem eating cream cheese plain, otherwise; go figure).  I usually cut the amount of cream cheese and add some sugar and vanilla extract, mixing until smooth.  Then I drop it by dollops onto the bottom bread layer.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Candies

Two years ago, I made these for a dear woman at my church.  She loves chocolate covered cherries, and I love her, so I figured it was worth a shot.  Because they entail wrapping homemade fondant around a damp cherry, they're not as easy* as, say, peppermint patties, but oh, are they goooood.  Someone Else may also love chocolate covered cherries, but I'm not saying who.  Someone Else may have nibbled 6 or so for quality control.  Again, I'm not saying who.  (Chocolate stains? By my mouth?  Naw.)

These rich candies are awfully good, but I didn't let the ones that Someone Else ate ripen for the full 2 weeks before Someone Else gobbled them, so I can only tell you that if you eat them the next day or any of the 2 days following their making, the fondant will still be thick and gooey instead of fully liquid.  Obviously, that didn't keep me Someone Else from eating a half dozen of them.

I doubled the recipe, so halve what lies below for a single batch.

Fondant:
-4 and 1/2 to 5 cups powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
-1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon reserved maraschino cherry juice
- a pinch of salt

Cherries:
2 jars of maraschino cherries, drained, reserving 1 tbsp. of juice (I didn't use the full two jars, perhaps because I ended up coating them fairly thickly with the fondant.)

Coating:
-24-36 semisweet chocolate chips (depending on how thickly you coat the candies)
- 1 tbsp. butter or shortening

1. Cream butter, add a few cups of powdered sugar and mix until smooth, add sweetened condensed milk, extracts, and salt, and then add remaining powdered sugar gradually until combined. Mix until smooth and then put in the refrigerator until firm.

2. Freeze the cherries in a single layer on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet for one hour.  (Drain the cherries as thoroughly as possible first.)

3.  Scoop 1-2 tsp. fondant, flatten in your palms, and wrap around each cherry, enclosing each completely.  Freeze these covered cherries on wax-paper lined cookie sheet for an additional hour (or longer) until easy to handle.

4.  In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, combine the chocolate chips and butter/shortening, stirring until smooth and melted.  Dip the cherries one at a time in the chocolate, coating completely, and then place on wax-paper lined sheets to harden. 

5.  Eat immediately for soft fondant in the middle; let ripen for 1 -2 weeks for liquid centers. 

*If you've never coated candies in chocolate before, I'd recommend practicing on a candy that's simple to dip first, such as the peppermint patties.  That way, you'll get the hang of it and have peppermint patties to eat, to boot.

The Most Heavenly Vegetarian Sandwich for Meat Lovers: A Non-recipe

Two summers ago, John ate lunch with a work fellow, and he had a memorable vegetarian sandwich. Since he saved a few bites for me (lovely man), I also had a memorable vegetarian sandwich. Now, let it be known that I love meat even though we don't eat it regularly, but this sandwich was tops. Tops! That same summer, I attempted to recreate it with vegetables from our garden, and, not to toot my own horn, I made a pretty mean sandwich. By "pretty mean," I mean "pretty darn near perfect."

(Toot.)


To begin, here's an ingredient list:
Oh, wait.  It was TWO SUMMERS AGO.  I don't remember the exact amounts, so you're on your own here.  Do you like how I absolve myself of any liability if your sandwich doesn't turn out pretty darn near perfect?

-two red peppers, roasted, with seeds, ribs, and skin removed, then cut into strips
-one average-sized eggplant, sliced into 1/4- 1/3-inch slices (next time I'll also peel the thing)
-one enormous onion, sliced into thin rings (I used yellow, but I wish I'd grown a gourmet red)
-fresh garlic, many cloves, minced
-fresh basil, cut chiffonade
-balsamic vinegar
-salt
-pepper
-a bit of sugar
-extra virgin olive oil
-free WILD MUSHROOMS! (...or any kind of mushroom, or mushrooms you have to pay for, or omit the mushrooms entirely. You decide.)
-crusty, dense bread given to you by your mother (It could be either purchased or baked bread, I suppose, but I can't guarantee the results if it's not bread given to you by your mother.)


First, roast your peppers. Google instructions if you've not done it before. I'm too slothful to show you anything but the final product.




Toss eggplant slices in a bowl with balsamic vinegar, basil, minced garlic,



Stir in the roasted red peppers.




Go into the woods and search for wild mushrooms OR grab your free jar!  (Or buy one, but, again, I can't guarantee the results.)  Dump as many drained mushrooms as you like into the bowl and stir together to coat.  Season it all with salt, pepper, and sugar, to taste, and then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees?) until eggplant is soft and the rest is hot and steaming.



While the eggplant is baking, take your sliced onion, throw it in a frying pan with a couple of teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, and cook until onions are caramelized, adding salt and stirring as needed.

When onions are finished, toss with the eggplant mixture in a big bowl, lightly toast your crusty bread, and top with a hearty mountain of the eggplant mixture.



Top with a second slice of bread if you want, and then act like Dagwood.
Watch out.  It may be messy.


Thursday, March 07, 2013

Kale, Sweet Potato, and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Buildabelly doesn't accurate reflect my family's diet, but, hoo boy, I wish it did!  We'd eat lots o' meat (MEAT!), cheesecake, butter, butter, butter....more butter. Did I mention sugar? Sugar, sugar, sugar.  Sadly, our diets are more lackluster and barren. (What?  Our diet is cheaper and healthier?  Who cares!)  We do have pizza on most Friday nights, which, in summer, we top with all manner of garden vegetables, but in winter, it's cheese pizza every blessed week.  Once in a while I toss on roasted broccoli or caramelized peppers and onions, if we find a good sale, and there's the occasional white spinach pizza for good measure.  Yummy.  Boring.

 Enter kale and sweet potato pizza, a riff on this recipe.
Before you proceed, let it be known that while John and I loved it, the girls would have preferred yummy, boring cheese pizza, but what do they know?


 

Ingredients:

-Your favorite pizza dough recipe (I used 50/50 mixture of white and whole wheat flour)

Topping:
-2 sweet potatoes, sliced thinly (I use a mandoline slicer) tossed with 2-3 tsp. olive oil and a hearty sprinkling of sea salt.  Spread in a single layer on cookie sheet and oven-bake at about 400 degrees 'til centers are soft and edges are lightly golden crisp (in my oven, this only takes 10 minutes or so for thin slices)
-2 onions, sliced into thin rings and caramelized with  2-3 tsp. olive oil 'til sweet and golden brown.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.
-6-7 cloves fresh garlic, minced, and added to onions for last several minutes of cooking until soft
-several generous handfuls kale, torn and ribs removed, tossed with 1 tsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp. or so balsamic vinegar, and a hearty pinch of sea salt
-shredded mozzarella

Onto your unbaked pizza crust, spread the caramelized onions, spread the kale, layer the sliced sweet potato slices, and top with shredded mozzarella cheese before baking as you usually do.  (High heat oven, baking stone, cookie sheet...you pick!)

 
 


I had intended to add some ground rosemary to this, also, but I plumb forgot.  Next time I will, because (sorry, girls) I will be making this again!

 
 

Blast-from-the-past Pizza Pods a la Buffalo, NY: A Non-recipe




 

While John was getting his master's degree in Buffalo, we'd go to the Pizza Plant when his family visited, and I would eat the most delicious pizza spin-off ever created-- The Chicken Souvlaki Pizza Pod. I love pizza.  I love chicken souvlaki even more than pizza, so this was a match made in heaven.  The pizza pods at the Pizza Plant (say that 20 times as fast as you can) were essentially creatively-stuffed calzones in a trademark pod shape but executed in such a brilliant way as to become something new-- PIZZA PODS.

Anyway, to bring us back to earth with an abrupt crash, I've never made a chicken souvlaki pizza pod.  Here's a non-recipe for the spinach pods I occasionally make.



Ingredients:
-Pizza dough recipe, your choice
- A bag of frozen, chopped spinach, drained well
- Lots of fresh garlic cloves, minced and cooked in a bit of olive oil over medium heat until softened slightly. (When I say lots, I mean LOTS. We like garlic around these parts.)
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper in liberal amounts
-Your favorite homemade or storebought Italian vinaigrette
- Lots of mozzerella cheese, shredded (If you've got feta, go for it!  Do it!  Do it now!)
-I've only done this once, but to make to-die-for spinach pods, grill up some of these and add them to the mix.  

In a large bowl, toss the well-drained spinach with the garlic and parmesan.  Drizzle many glugs of the Italian vinaigrette, to taste, and then add s + p, to taste.  Stir in the shredded mozzerella and/or feta, in the amount you desire.

Divide the prepared dough into fist-sized balls (or larger, depending on how large a pod you want to eat).  On a lightly flour-dusted surface, roll out very thin in an oblong shape and heap a mound of filling down the center, leaving at least a one-inch margin around the edges. Roll up, pinching the dough together as you go.  When it's sealed, carefully move to cornmeal-dusted baking stone or sheet*, seal-side up, and bake at a high heat until dough is done.  (If you've made pizza before, just do whatever you do to normally bake your pizza.)
*If you're using a cookie sheet instead of a preheated stone, you can roll the dough out right onto the cornmeal and save yourself the trouble of moving it.

Also, here's proof that a few times a year, we even buy pepperoni.
Yum.
Long live the pig!


 

(I rolled this one out too thickly.  Oops.)
 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Some Form of Squash Soup

 
It's pretty, isn't it?  What a shame that I have no idea what I put in it.  The scrap of paper is long gone, and I'm three years too late...

Blast-from-the-Past Apple Bars


  
 

I took these pictures over three years ago with my non-fancy camera, and now they've surfaced to nobly serve the people.  Apple desserts are always noble, but this one is especially so.


 


I've been gobbling these since childhood, and they're actually called "Apple Pizza," but the name is misleading, and I feared readers might gloss over a recipe that deserves their closest attention and is a 100% Absolute Keeper. Hence, I changed its rightful name to a dull (but safe) "Apple Bars."  When John and I were first married, I naively would make entire batches of this, and we'd spend a week eating nothing but apple pizza.  We still both love it, which I think says something for its yummy, noble nature.

My in-laws prefer this to apple pie, and it's easier to make than apple pie.  Win-win!  It has a buttery bottom layer that's a marriage of shortbread and pie crust, a soft, apple-packed center layer, and a thick, sugar-crumb topping.  Every person to whom I've served this has professed love, the reason for which will be perfectly clear when you see how much butter it contains. 
 

Classic Apple Pizza or (if you're cautious) Apple Bars

Crust:
- 2 and 2/3 cup flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 cup butter
- about 6 tablespoons cold water*
*If you're crazy, you can slightly decrease the water and slightly increase the butter.

Filling:
- about 8 large apples, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp. cinnamon (I always dump in lots more; nutmeg and/or orange peel are optional, and I don't usually add them)

Topping*:
- 1/2 cup butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 and 1/2 cups flour
*I one-and-a-half times this, 'cause the topping is so stinking good.  (so 3/4 c. butter, 3 c. sugar, and so on)

1. For crust, cut butter into flour and salt.  Mix in water with a fork just until moistened and pat evenly onto ungreased jelly roll pan or large, rimmed cookie sheet.

2.  Mix sliced apples with cinnamon and layer in a single layer over the crust.

3.  For topping, cut butter into sugar/flour mixture and sprinkle evenly over the entire sheet.

4. Bake at 375 degrees until apples are soft and crumb topping is golden brown.

5.  Eat five all in a row!

Spicy Ethiopian Chicken





I don't remember why I called this dish Ethiopian.  I remember thinking it was funny for some reason, but that reason has disappeared in the year and a half since I made it.  Perhaps because of the cardamom?  Perhaps the ginger, the allspice?  Perhaps because I thought it elevated the recipe to new, hoity-toity heights?  Who knows. I do remember that it was savory and delicious enough for me to sip leftover broth from a spoon, and that's always a good sign, right?

Here's a hoity-toity Ethiopian dish.  Make it, gobble it, and feel like a globe-trotting, culinary superstar! Oh, and here's another small and funny thing.  When I'm cooking or baking something off the cuff (which happens nearly daily), and I think it might turn out to be a keeper, I quickly jot down approximations of what I dumped into the dish/muffins/cheesecake, and then I stuff that scrap of paper into my recipe box of doom.  As near as I can tell, I just found the right garbled scrap of paper for this snapshot, but it's not labeled, so....

Oh, bother.  Throw caution to the wind!  Live with your eyes wide shut!  Ride the winds of danger!  Make this for supper tonight!


 


Abigail-Has-Never-Before-Flown-in-a-Plane Globetrotting Superstar Cajun-Ethiopian Chicken with Rice   (I realize the title could use some work.)

For the rice:
-3 cups dry rice, cooked in the manner of your choosing

For the rest:
-chicken broth (or water/bouillon)
-1 large white onion
-1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
- about six cloves fresh garlic, minced
-1 and 1/2 tablespoons, or thereabouts, homemade Cajun seasoning (The recipe I use can be found here; just scroll to the bottom.  Thanks again, Emeril!)
-3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
- 3 chicken breasts, cubed in large chunks

Aaand that's all I have jotted down on the scrap of paper!  Brilliant, isn't it?

However, here's what I suggest you do with the above ingredients.

1. Dice the onion and saute it in a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil until softened and slightly translucent.  Add the minced ginger and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes until the garlic softens and flavors are blended.

2. Dump in several cups of chicken broth, diced tomatoes and juice, spices, and the chicken pieces and simmer, covered, until the chicken is juicy and cooked through.  Add additional water, as needed, to keep the fluid levels constant.

3.  Serve piping hot beside the rice.

4.  Sip the leftover savory juices from a spoon.

5. Hop on a plane, fly to an exotic place, and think of me in Nanticoke.

Cumin-Spiked Barbeque Sauce




This was the most unusual and delicious barbeque sauce I'd ever made and had a perfect balance of flavors. I stole the recipe from somewhere, took a picture, and promptly lost the recipe.  Sigh. 

R.I.P, awesome barbeque sauce.