Sunday, December 28, 2014

Recipe #42: Absolutely the Most Wonderful Rum Raisin Walnut Fudge...or, Plain Fudge...Absolutely!!!

Now, this recipe is for rum raisin walnut fudge, but you can go many ways...made with vanilla instead of rum extract, without the raisins, without the nuts.  I can't say enough about this doesn't require a candy thermometer, you don't have to use a spatula to get all the marshmallow fluff out of the jar, because there IS no marshmallow is foolproof and comes out perfect every time...yes, every time.   It's not's super creamy.   And it makes 5 pounds, half for you to eat right away (lol), half to freeze (yes, it freezes wrapped in double foil for a number of months), or  I cut up 3" squares, wrap in foil and tie with ribbon to give as gifts.  You must try this recipe.  You will thank me the rest of your life. 

1 stick butter                                                             1 large can evaporated milk (14 oz)
4 1/2 cups sugar                                                       1 10 oz bag of mini marshmallows
2 12 oz bags chocolate chips, plus 1/4 cup*        1 small bottle of imitation rum extract (1 oz)
2 cups chopped walnuts                                                or 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt                                                              

*You can use chocolate chips (I use Nestle's) or you can use a combination of dark, milk, etc., as long as it's good chocolate, and as long as it equals 26 oz.  Also, before you start, have the chocolate ready to go, the nuts chopped, the raisins in a bowl, the marshmallows opened, the extract nearby, your 9x13 pan foiled, greased and ready to go.

Stir together in a large dutch oven, over moderate heat, the butter, evaporated (remember, evaporated, NOT sweetened condensed) milk and the sugar.  I use a big wooden cooking spoon with a hole in it (see below).  Bring to a boil.  Turn down heat to medium low, almost low...the mixture should still be boiling.  Cover and boil for 5 minutes, (make sure to set a timer), then turn off heat.  Add marshmallows and stir until they are all melted.  Add the chocolate, stirring until melted as well.  At this point, you will add the rum extract or vanilla, raisins and nuts.  Stir until combined.  Pour into a 9x13 pan, lined with tin foil (long enough to hold when you take out of the pan), and sprayed with cooking oil.  The fudge will start to set rather quickly, so get it out of the pan, even it out, and let it sit while it cools.  Yes, you can eat what's left in the pan or on the spatula...just be careful, cause sometimes it's still pretty hot.  When cooled, lift it out of the pan, and cut into squares.  Bon appetit!

This recipe is dedicated to a dear friend, Kathy Sanchez...

butter, salt, sugar and evaporated milk still melting...

this batch I goofed and added the chocolate first, then the matter...

everything is mixed in and ready to go...

doesn't it look GREAT?

always a nice shiny top...

you can see a few raisins, a few nuts...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Past...There Were Good Memories Despite...

I know in a previous article, I wrote about many Christmas's that weren't too nice.  But, I have to be fair and mention the flip side.  It seems like every holiday invokes memories of our childhood...some that are dear to our heart, some that make us feel like a kid again, if only for a moment.  Here are some of my fond memories that I think of every Christmas holiday...and we're talking 50 years plus...

There were a lot of Christmas Eve's that my dad would make dinner.  The menu included his salad with his homemade dressing, shrimp cocktail, twice baked potatoes and filet mignon broiled with a large mushroom cap on top.  It was quite a treat.

Many years my family got our Christmas tree from Goldblatt's department store in Niles.  They had an outdoor area filled with live trees, and when you walked in, it smelled like heaven. 

My mom had a dear friend, Clark, who owned Clark's Florist and Gifts.  It was on the north side of Chicago, and let me tell you, it was the most elegant florist/gift shop.  It wasn't just a florist, and it wasn't just a gift was sublime!  To walk through was like walking through an upscale interior-designed indoor garden.  Mr. Clark, as we kids called him, had quite the knack for design and d├ęcor.  Even though this was back in the 60's, I STILL remember how absolutely lovely everything was...his taste was exquisite.  Mr. Clark had a standard apricot poodle, named Angelique, and she wore a rhinestone-studded collar..she was a love.  Since my mom was also a floral arranger, they had a good friendship.  Every Christmas Mr. Clark had a holiday open house, and you had to be invited, and yes, we were.  I remember getting all dressed up...well, it was just the highlight of the season.  There were hors d'oeuvres, gifts...gosh, it was grand, opulent, chic...just over the top.  When a place is as beautiful as his shop was, the memories don't leave you, even after 50 years.

My parents would take us downtown at night right before Christmas, and there was only one store we went to...Marshall Field's. Their windows were decorated to the hilt, with moving people, animals, you name it.  We would walk window to window to view the different scenes in each.  It was quite a treat, and we would stand there, just mesmerized.

There were many shows we watched on TV during the holiday season.  Andy Williams, Perry Como, Mitch Miller, Mr. Magoo's Christmas, Lawrence I'm really dating myself. 

Back in the day, there was only one kind of Christmas light to put on the tree...the colored bulb kind, most everyone decorated with tinsel, and if you had a fake tree, it was aluminum that was silver, and there was a colored dial that would light the tree blue, pink, green and back to silver.  Do any of you remember this?  There were train sets and etch-a-sketch and candyland.  Now there's ipods, flat screen TV's and blue tooth...where did the time go?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Recipe #41: Shortbread Caramel Chocolate Bars Finished with Sea Salt

So, what can be wrong with this triple-play combination?  Nothing, of course.  You will need a candy thermometer for making the caramel, which couldn't be easier.  I'm sure, though, I lost some of you when I mentioned those two words, "candy thermometer".  They aren't that expensive, and again, making the caramel isn't hard, just tedious as you watch the thermometer slowly creep upwards to that 238 degree.  See if any one of your neighbors has a candy thermometer and borrow theirs.  You won't believe how soft the caramel is, it is just heavenly, as you can see by the pictures below. 


2 sticks butter,  1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt


2 sticks butter, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/4 cup light corn syrup, 1 14oz can sweetened condensed milk


2 3.5 oz chocolate bars, such as Lindt or Ghiradelli, kosher or sea salt

Cream together butter, salt and sugar.  Gradually add flour and baking powder, beating well after each addition.  Pat into a 9x13 pan.   I use a piece of plastic wrap wrapped over my fingers sprayed often with a little cooking spray to make this easier...see below.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350, or until light brown.  Cool.  To prepare caramel...melt butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and milk in saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir constantly for about 8 minutes, or until you reach 238 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Pour onto the first layer and cool.  You will be tempted to eat this caramel right out of the pan, but you don't want to for 2 reasons.  First, you will burn your tongue royally, and second, you won't have anything left to spread on the shortbread.   For the third layer...melt chocolate in a saute pan or small saucepan and immediately pour over caramel.  I then spread evenly with an offset spatula.   Sprinkle top of chocolate with salt.   At this point, you may want to cut through the cookies into squares, or let the whole thing cool before cutting.  This will present some cracked chocolate, but it will not come off the cookie.  Bon appetit!

kept this half without sea you could eat one right now!!!

Put sea salt on this half

patting the dough in the pan...

I use a flat whisk to get around all the inner edge of the pan...

it's starting to boil...

we're getting there..almost at 215 and we need to get to 238...

finally...pour the caramel on top of the baked dough and let cool...

then, pour the chocolate on top of the this point you can sea salt or not...
up close and in your face...omg, what a sight to behold....                                                              


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recipe #40: Split Pea Soup with Canadian Bacon, Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Peas

I have stated before that I am not much of a soup person, but when I do have it, I like my soup nice and thick.  That said, a great onion soup with a piece of baguette and some gruyere melted on top could ace that out.  It's not often that I have a ham bone lying around the kitchen...perhaps at Easter, but sometimes not even then.  And, some of you may not want ham in this soup, but I have solutions for all.  Also, this soup usually has no potato, but if it does, it's more often than not chopped up red skin potatoes.  Personally, I love sweet potatoes, so that makes this a whole new ballgame.  Even further, I had some fresh frozen peas in the freezer, not really enough to make anything with, so added them at the end.  I really like the bite they give, as well as the bright color. 

1 lb dried split green peas                                        1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, chopped                           1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, diced                                                             2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 qt water                                                              1 cup frozen green peas
1 ham bone, or ham hock, optional                        1 cup chopped Canadian bacon, optional
2 tbsp butter                                                                salt and pepper

If using ham bone or ham hock, place in large stockpot with the water, split peas and chicken stock.  With heat on medium-high continue to cook for 30 minutes, or until boiling.   In the meantime, saute the onion with the butter until just starting to color, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat on the soup to medium-low and add onions, celery, carrot and sweet potato.  Continue to cook until tender, about another 45 minutes.  At this point you want to take the ham bone or hock out and place on a plate to cool.  You should also see the split peas starting to break down and thicken the soup.  Take any meat from bone or hock and place back into soup.  If you are not using either, but using the Canadian bacon, put in at this point and stir.  If you aren't using any meat, just follow directions, disregarding the meat portions.  Salt and pepper to taste.   I do not put any of this soup in my Nutribullet as it thickens naturally.  Bon appetit!

Below you can see the fresh peas, the chunks of sweet potato, the diced carrot, and if you look closely enough, the Canadian bacon...


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recipe #39: Toffee Bars

This recipe was from a cookbook in my mom's kitchen from 1964, called "Our Best Cooky Recipes" by Martha Logan, Home Economist.  THIS IS MY GO-TO COOKIE when I need an easy cookie, a lot of cookies and one that has chocolate in it.  I can't count the number of times I have made these.   Before I moved to this house, my neighbors next door included triplets...Devlin, Lauren and Kaysan.  They absolutely loved the raw dough.  So, on some of their birthdays, this year being the most recent, I made a double batch of dough, without the eggs, divided it into 3 logs, wrapped in parchment paper, and put their names on each one.  They said it was one of the best birthday gifts they got that joke!

2 sticks butter                                                   1 tsp vanilla
1 cup packed brown sugar                              2 cups flour
1 egg                                                                    1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans,            1/2 tsp salt
   or nothing if you want

Cream butter, salt and sugar.  Add egg and vanilla.  Mix well.  Add flour and combine.  Spread 1/4" thick over an area of 10x15, which is usually a jellyroll pan.  Bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes, or until the edges start turning a dark brown.  The longer you bake this, the crispier the cookies will be.  Take the cookies out of the oven and turn oven off.  Sprinkle chips over cookies and put back in the oven for 5 minutes.  Take out and spread melted chips over cookies with an offset spatula.  Then sprinkle the nuts over all.  Also, at this point, I cut the cookies, so when they cool, you can just score again and it will be easier to get them out of the pan. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Recipe #38: My Grandmother's Spritz Cookies

When I wrote the article about Chris Kimball, Martha Stewart and Ina Garten, I mentioned my grandmother's spritz cookie recipe.   This is, bar none, the best spritz cookie you will ever make.  Now, that said, if you've been making spritz cookies your way for a number of years, you may not agree.  But, there are two things which makes this recipe different from any I have seen...instead of a whole egg, it takes an egg yolk (this I've seen in some recipes) and the flour used is not all-purpose, but cake flour, which produces a more tender cookie.  My mom also had a great cookie wasn't narrow like the ones they make today.  My kingdom for having the opportunity to take so much more stuff from our kitchen back in Niles when my mom died.   If you look at ebay, you will see what I'm talking about...the old Mirro cookie presses.   You could just pile the dough in, instead of having to roll it into a log and fitting it into a tube.   So, unless I invest in another one, I now just roll the dough into a log on parchment paper, refrigerate or freeze, cut them into slices like refrigerator cookies, then decorate.   I have done this a couple of times in the past years when visiting my brother's family.  He calls them "spritzer's".  I would make up a double batch, bake one, and surprise him by putting the other one in the freezer, ready to go.  The batch I made for the blog I used a cookie cutter, (see below).  I hope you do try this recipe, even if you just drop them by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet (although they may be a little underdone in the middle).

2 sticks butter                                                      1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar                                                       1 tsp pure almond extract (plz do not compromise
2 cups cake flour                                                     this recipe using artificial almond extract)
1/4 tsp salt

Cream butter.  Add sugar and salt and beat until light.  Add egg yolk and almond extract.  Blend.  Combine flour with creamed mixture and mix to a smooth dough.  Press through a cookie press, or roll into a log on parchment paper and refrigerate or freeze until use, (see below).  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.  For a chocolate dough, add 1 tbsp cocoa and mix thoroughly.  My mom would take half the dough out, then mix the cocoa into the other half of the dough.    Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Recipe #37: Raspberry Jam Coconut Thumbprints

This dough is extremely versatile, and is a basic shortbread eggs.  I will be posting two other cookie recipes using this same dough.   These cookies look lovely before going into the oven, and even lovelier after taking them out of the oven.  I make these for my Boehm's family every's their favorite.  If you're not a lover of coconut, you can roll these cookies in any finely chopped nut, or even sugar.  I do remember about 5 years ago, I added half the amount of flour the recipe called for...very buttery and flat as a pancake, but still good.

3 sticks butter                                                                   1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla or almond extract                            3 1/2 cups flour
   (I usually use vanilla, but almond would                 1/4 tsp salt
   be great with the raspberry)                                       1 egg beaten in a bowl with 1 tbsp water
raspberry preserves                                                         2-3 cups coconut

In a mixer bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and salt until blended, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla, then incorporate flour, about 1/2 cup at a time.  Empty mixer and put dough on counter.  I usually divide in 2 and put each on a piece of plastic wrap.  Close the wrap loosely, then flatten with the palm of your hand into a disc.  Refrigerate for at least an hour, or place in freezer Ziploc and put in freezer for future use.  Roll dough into about 1 1/4" balls...I have an old postal scale I put each one on...actually, I do this more to see how close I am in weight...each should weigh about 1 oz.   Then I usually proceed this way.  I put all of the balls on one half of a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then have the egg wash next to that, then have the coconut in a medium bowl.  The raspberry preserves are in a small bowl that I have stirred a few times with a fork just to loosen up and are on standby next to the coconut.  Dip each ball into the egg wash and then roll in the coconut, lightly pressing onto the dough to adhere better, then place on the other half of the cookie sheet.  Proceed with all of the dough.  This is where my wooden lemon reamer comes in handy, for I use the bottom of the handle to make a round indentation in each cookie, and it's the perfect size, (see below).  You could also use a melon baller if you have one; otherwise, just use your finger, and if the dough is somewhat soft, dip your finger lightly in flour then press a round indentation.  Drop a spoonful of jam into each indentation, then I take the coconut that has fallen off and press lightly onto each cookie.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the coconut starts to turn brown.  You need to keep an eye out at about the 20 minute mark so that the coconut doesn't burn.  Place on a cooling rack.  Bon appetit!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Recipe #36: Pork Chops Baked with Apples & Onions in Mustard Sour Cream Sauce, Served with Butter/Maple Syrup Roasted Yams

I think pork is my second love, only to lose out to a good grilled steak.  I love ham, I love bacon, I love pork roast, I love pork chops.   There is very little prep work in this dish, as well as few ingredients, which I know sells a lot of people on a recipe.  I just made this again the other night, and know if you like pork chops as much as I do, you will certainly enjoy this dish.  It can be made with bone-in or boneless chops.   I also roasted some yams in a butter and maple syrup combination, which is shown below.   Remember...pure maple syrup.

2 onions, chopped                                                    2 lbs apples, cored, peeled and sliced thin
2 tbsp butter                                                              1/3 cup dry white wine
4 pork loin chops, about 3/4" thick                      1 cup sour cream, mixed with 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup Dijon mustard                                             salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9x13 baking dish.  Spread the onions and apples in prepared baking dish and bake for 15 minutes.  In a large pan, saute the chops in butter over medium heat until lightly browned on each side--about 7 minutes per side.  Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder on each side.  Remove and arrange in baking dish over the apples and onions.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine, reducing by half, scraping up the brown bits, then drizzle over the chops.  Bake about 45 minutes, or until the chops are tender.  Combine the sour cream/milk mixture with the mustard in a bowl.  Pour over the chops and apples.  Bake another 15 minutes.  Bon appetit!


2 lbs yams, peel and cut into chunks                    2 tbsp each butter and pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp salt                                                             sprinkling of pepper

In a small saucepan, melt butter, then add maple syrup and whisk together.  Put yams into bowl and pour the butter mixture over.  Toss and coat with a spoon, then spread onto a foil-lined baking sheet with sides.  Bake in oven when you put the apples and onions in.  If baking when not doing the chop recipe, bake for 15 minutes at 400, use a pancake turner to flip the potatoes over, and cook another 10-20 minutes, until potatoes start to carmelize.

Friday, December 5, 2014

My First Job....Fannie May Candies at Golf Mill in Niles, Illinois

When I was 16, I got a part-time job at Fannie May Candies.   At the time, this was quite an undertaking as it was a very prestigious company to work for.  My sister, Pam, was already working there when I got hired.  Fannie May was started by H. Teller Archibald in 1920 in Chicago, and by 1935, had expanded to 4 dozen stores over a few states.  All of the candy, at the time my sis and I worked there, was made in the factory on Jackson Street, under the el, or elevated train tracks, near downtown Chicago.   Every Friday night the inventory would come to each store and we would have to account for every tray.  We sold many different selections in boxes; some that came pre-packed, but most we packed by hand at the store.  There were charts to follow for each selection, and each piece of candy had to be cupped as well.  The paper cups came in either brown or white, depending on which candy you were working with, and they came in would put a stack in one hand, and start pushing them out with your thumb on the other hand, like a card dealer.  In the wintertime, they were deadly.  As you washed your hands many times at the store because you would handle candy and then the cash register (we didn't wear latex gloves in those days), your hands would be dry, and you would get many, many, and many more paper cuts.   There was a confection called Heavenly Hash, which was a combination of whipped light chocolate, marshmallow and pecans, and it came in a half sheet tray and had to be cut into squares, wrapped and priced.  Fannie May made three different kinds of fudge...chocolate, chocolate nut and maple nut.  Each came in a large square and would have to be cut into smaller squares, then cupped for the customer.  Since this particular store was in an outdoor mall (back in the 1960's, many of the malls were outdoors, which was actually nice), we could get quite the business.  When I started, most of the selections which consisted of creams, ran 1.95 per pound.  When I worked a Sunday, which was usually by myself, I would take in 400.00, which at that price per pound, was a lot of candy, and a lot of hard work.  There were times that I would line up a dozen boxes on the counter to pack, but sometimes the best laid plans in trying to pack those 12  boxes went by the wayside, as you would continually get a customer.   And, as it usually worked out, the boxes you were trying to pack in between each customer was just what they wanted, and not only did you not have them finished, once you packed one of those boxes for a customer, you were down a box that you were trying pack for your inventory.  Valentine's Day was my favorite holiday to work.  Fannie May had beautiful satin hearts with a thin layer of stuffing underneath the lid...they had large hearts that held 3 pounds of candy, they had small hearts that held a quarter pound.  The color of the hearts ranged from red to pink to yellow...they were gorgeous!  And, if you were creative, you would pack the inside of the heart and start with the outer rim first, trying your best to evenly arrange the candy so it would look like a reflection of itself on either side.  We had some candies that had beautiful colored shells...caramel bon bons that were white on the outside, apricot bon bons that were bright yellow on the outside, trinidads that were a cream color with toasted coconut on the outside and pink ladies that were pink with coconut on the outside.   We also had wrapped caramels, hostess mints, which were rectangle pieces of candy that had three layers...chocolate, light green in the middle, and chocolate again, all mint flavored, and peppermint ice that was the same shape as the hostess mints, but was white chocolate tinted a light pink and had crushed peppermint in it.  You could pack a truly beautiful heart with all the choices you had.   Easter was another favorite of mine.   We had cream-filled eggs that were to die for...white buttercream, pink buttercream with chopped cherries and walnuts, and chocolate buttercream, as well as chocolate covered marshmallow eggs.  Fannie May's marshmallow was, bar none, the best I ever had.  It wasn't gummy, like some, but had an almost creamy quality about it.  It was fantastic!  There were also solid chocolate bunnies, and the quality of the chocolate used for these was top drawer.  I remember one year while working at Fannie May giving up candy during Lent, which lasts 6 weeks until Easter Sunday.  Talk about was so difficult, I blew it the week before Easter...yes, the week before Easter.  I was so mad at myself, that the next year I did it again, and made sure I was on the schedule to work Easter Sunday.  Yes, we were open on Easter Sunday as that was a very busy day for candy sales.  Anyway, that year I made it all the way to the end, and while at work on Easter, decided to go for our biggest solid bunny, which was 15 oz. at the time, and on our highest shelf.  I "accidentally" knocked the box over so it fell on the floor and broke.  Well, can't sell that and yes, I pretty much finished most of it before I finished my shift.  We also had a fudge sale every fall and the factory would deliver pre-poured one pound boxes of all three kinds of fudge.  That stuff flew out the door..we would sell hundreds of pounds.  Some of the other items that we were famous for was our colossal cashews and our bridge mix.   I worked at Fannie May for a total of 4 years.  It was a job that could be very stressful, especially when you were working by yourself.  Even sometimes when my sister and I were working together, we could have 10-15 customers in the store at one time.  I did have a streaker one evening.  I was putting together a box of candy for a customer and a man stood outside the front door, which was all glass, and opened up his rain coat.  I just kept packing the candy as if nothing happened.  Of course, my face gave me away, but by the time I told my customer, the man was gone.  People often commented to me that I probably got sick of eating candy as it was in front of me all the time at the store.  The truth was that because the quality was so high, you never did get tired of it.  And the selection of candy was amazing.  What was my least favorite...chocolate covered orange peel.  What was my favorite...a candy called carmarsh.  It was an oblong piece of candy with marshmallow on the top, caramel on the bottom and covered in dark chocolate.  Sometimes the pieces came to the store and the sides were misshaped, which told me that there was an overrun of caramel on the side, so those were the pieces I always put aside for myself.   That job helped me buy my first car...a 1975 Ford Mustang,  but I earned every penny.  You did more than just sell candy there.  You had to take inventory, pack boxes, take mail orders, make sure all your money balanced at the end of night, clean the store...quite a lot for a 16 year old...but it taught me many be responsible, to be efficient, to be good with the public, but above all, to love sugar even more than I did before I started that job.   Little did I know, though, that all of that would serve me well 40 years later!   Stay tuned the next segment, Boehm's Candies...

Take it from the top clockwise...turtle, dark strawberry cream, light peanut cluster, light chocolate covered cherry, trinidad, dark buttercream and in the center, dark chocolate chocolate buttercream...I still know my stuff!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My all time favorite at Fannie May...the Carmarsh...fluffy marshmallow on top with soft caramel on the bottom, covered in dark chocolate...

Almost all selections are still cupped, placed in the box, and wrapped by hand...I could tell you every piece in this box, except for the ones that came out after I left...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Recipe #35: My Grandmother's Kolaches

There are  dozens of recipes for this Czech-originated cookie.  All I know is that this particular recipe came from my grandmother.  When I was young, my mom would make these for dessert at home dinner parties during the holiday.  She would use apricot and prune filling for the centers, but you can use poppyseed, lemon...just about anything, as long as the filling is not thin.  A thin filling will spread over the cookie, and it will taste great, but not look so nice.  Two things about this takes no eggs, and if you like to nibble on raw dough like I do, this is "not" one of my favorites.  But, the end result is something you can get addicted to.

2 sticks butter                                                 1 cup confectioners sugar
8 oz cream cheese                                          2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour                                                     1/2 tsp salt
Solo pastry filling, or other canned filling

Sift flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Cream butter and cream cheese in a mixer until fluffy.  Add flour mixture gradually until all is incorporated into the dough.   At this point, I split the dough in half and place each half on a sheet of parchment paper.  I try to spread it into a log shape with a rubber spatula, though I know this is not an easy task.  Just do the best you can.  Then roll into a log shape within the parchment paper.  There are two tricks I use to make this easier.  Once you do two rolls with the parchment, use a 12" ruler and force it lengthwise against the roll.  This will compact the dough.  Continue to roll and repeat a couple of times.  Sometimes I will even unroll the dough a little and start using the ruler again.  The other trick is after you have rolled the parchment to the end of the paper, twist one end, then the other.  This will automatically tighten the dough and provide a more tubular shape (picture below).  Refrigerate dough for a few hours, until firm.  Cut into slices a little more than 1/4".  Place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Now you need to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.  What works well is either a melon baller, the bottom of a wooden lemon reamer or your thumb dipped in flour for each cookie...something with a round shape.  Fill with a spoonful of filling.  Bake 10-15 minutes at 350 or just until the edges start to brown.  Cool on a rack and dust with confectioners sugar.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Holidays for Me...It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...Usually Not..

Good Morning.  When my niece Abby, and I created this blog, I never thought I would be including my life's stories, as well as some of my reflections.  But, all of this is an important part of who I am, and sharing them with you is just as important.  There is happy, there is sad, there is nostalgia.  This post is really quite deep, and I dwelled for quite a long time whether to post it or not.  You notice the first line really relates to Thanksgiving evening, and that's I first starting writing this piece.   I wrote, and rewrote, put the story aside, took it back out.  So, here it is to share with you.  It is very heartfelt...more than you will ever know.

Well, another Thanksgiving is over...everyone has visited, everybody's been fed, the dishes are done, the leftovers put away, eaten or delved out for the company to take home.  Thanksgiving and Christmas can be very bittersweet for many of us...I know it is for me.   I remember as a kid having some not so pleasant Christmas's.   I wish I could say every one was great, but it wasn't.  For whatever reason, my mom would be capable of causing angst during a holiday, making it not very pleasant for the rest of the family.  I really think she suffered emotionally, whether it was her childhood, or her teen years before she married my dad.  I do know that she was very close to her mother, who died a few days before my mom's junior prom.  This has never left me, because my mom told me she wore her prom dress to her mother's funeral.   My mom was very fair, though, and made sure all of us kids got the same amount of presents.  This was a quality that all three of us kids clung to, and still do, today.  Her wrapping was perfect, the presents were always stacked beautifully, but again, many times the holiday was ruined because of something that would affect her.  Then I went into marriage with my late husband, who wasn't fond any holiday, particularly Christmas.   He wasn't spiritual either, and Christmas to him was nothing but a marketing scheme.  I really couldn't disagree to a point...having holiday decorations out in stores in August is pushing it, even in my book.  But, every holiday seemed to come and go, and, he was never too keen about going back to the Midwest to our families either.  Yes, I had my friends here, but they had their own families to celebrate the holidays with.  I felt pretty isolated, which would cause me to feel not only depressed and lonely, but worse, alone.  I pretty much lived this way for 26 years, always hoping the coming year would bring some sort of miraculous change, but it didn't.   Also, my dad died in 1987, and my mom in 2002.  There were times I would pick up the phone to call them, only to hold the receiver in my hand, reminding myself they were gone.  Talking to someone you love in one's mind, or even out loud, only goes so far.  I guess my dilemma was that I depended upon others too much to bring me happiness.  But, how "does" one find inner peace, security and happiness within themselves?  Is it something we're just born with, is it something we have to work at, is it something that one day, we just say, Eureka, I got it!   I kept trying to work through these emotions, only to find myself in the same place.   I would love nothing more than to be with someone who shares the same passion I do at holidays.  To go for a sleigh ride, to cut down a Christmas tree, to be somewhere in the snow, and drink hot chocolate.  A dear friend of mine has always dreamed of a Norman Rockwell-type holiday with her family, but every year seems to miss the mark.  She gets rather melancholy on the rare occasion she talks about sounds like it should be so easy to achieve because she has a lovely family.  But, what should change to make it happen, what can she do?  We always seem to find ourselves in the same spot, then say "next year will be the year" only to find here it is, next year, and we're in exactly the same place.  I remember being on a trip with a friend probably about 8 or 9 years ago.  We went to Connecticut the first week in December.  Driving into Ridgefield, there was a colonial home with candles lit in each window along with a wreath framing each pane.  It was snowing, and it was like being in a Christmas card.   Arriving at our destination in Salisbury that afternoon, they were just about to begin their tree lighting ceremony.  I mean, really, I was like a little kid, I was so excited.  But then, reality set in when I got home, and even though the memories lingered, I embraced them so hard as if I could "will" the whole scene back to where I lived.   And, what is something "I" have always dreamed about during the holiday?  Being invited to a grand cocktail party...semi-formal, waiters bringing trays of hors d'oeuvres, music filling the air.  It's never happened, but every year, I always have it in my mind.   Do I set myself up for something that is too hard to achieve?  Or, perhaps I don't know the right people, or I haven't networked enough over the years.  It's downright hard for me to simply enjoy the holiday.  In addition, I also have regrets not having children, so therefore, no grandkids to share the Easter Bunny, Halloween or Santa.   I keep telling myself to get out there and make the best of it, cause every year that goes by that I don't, is another year that I'm older.   Maybe someday I'll get it...I want to get it, because I don't want to be unhappy.  But sometimes I feel like I have exhausted all of my avenues....where "do" I look for whatever it is I'm looking for?  What is the "it" that I'm lacking?   This is not the lightest reading, but I have met others in the same situation, and if this story helps you to know that you are not alone out there, then my blog has served a purpose.  Although this is something we can't cook in our kitchen, I believe it "is" something we can procure in our's just that the recipe is quite long, so it may take some time to finish.  I just hope I have all the ingredients...

My mom, dad, me holding spice, our dog, my brother, my sis and her then boyfriend, now husband

Recipe #34: Delectable Cod Cakes...You May Never Want to Go Back to Crab!

There's nothing better than a good crab cake, until you experience a shell.  Sort of like eating egg's great until you bite into an egg shell...then it's all over, at least for me.  With every bite afterwards, I feel like I'm navigating an egg shell land mine.  I had the pleasure of going crabbing with my neighbor last summer.  He had a boat in the marina not even a mile from where we lived, and we didn't have to boat miles, like you do with some fishing expeditions.  He had the cages and the boat, and I thought, gosh, this will be great!   Okay, so my license was $25.00 and the turkey wings I bought from the grocery store were $23.00.   I thought, $48.00, but, this will be good.  We were going out at 6 a.m., 12 noon, 5 p.m. and 7 the next morning.   I'm not used to getting up at 5 a.m. anymore, and it was a push, but I was excited for all the crabs we were going to catch...I was ready!   Regulations for Puget Sound are 5 males per day per person and they have to have a length of at least 6 1/2"; that tells you how old they are.  To make a long sad story short, in our four trips, we caught about 70 crabs, 50 of which were female, not good, and of the 20 left that were male, 8 were legal to take, and that was between the two of us, and to top it off, my neighbor lost a cage when it got tangled up in some ropes.  I took my 4 crabs, picked through them THREE times for shells and set out to make crab cakes.  They were excellent...until I got a shell, as did my friend in his.  How can that be, as I was swearing under my breath...well, it was.  So my solution is below, and I have made these time and again.  And, the beauty with cod is no shells, no bones.  They..are..great!  Once you make these, you may never go back to crab cakes again...

1 1/4 lbs cod                                                                    2 tbsp butter
salt, pepper, paprika                                                      l large egg, beaten
1/4 cup sliced scallions                                                  2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice                                                2 tbsp Dijon mustard
6-7 tbsp breadcrumbs                                                   2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
5 shakes hot sauce (optional)                                      1/4 tsp salt

Heat oven to 400.  On a baking sheet, I place a piece of aluminum foil, and fold all the edges up.  That way I don't have to clean the pan.  Place cod on foil.  Slice butter very thin and place in a few places on fish.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika.  Bake about 10-12 minutes.  Place on a plate lined with paper towels and cool.  In the meantime, add the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until blended.  Crumble the cod into the don't need to break it very small.  Sort of like crab cakes, really, as large as you want the pieces to be.  Form into patties, and with this amount of fish, you should get 5-6, (see below).   Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and put in the frig for a few hours.  In a large skillet, heat about 2-3 tbsp canola oil on medium/high heat.  I use a pancake turner to place the cod cakes into the pan.  Cook until brown on one side, flip to the other side, and do the same.  Place on a plate lined with paper towels.  Serve with tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, or I eat them just as they are.  Bon appetit!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Recipe #33: Cream Cheese and Apricot Almond Puff Pastry Braid

Puff pastry is the can do so many things with it, and no matter what you do, the presentation is always lovely.  Though I show many pictures below, this braid is easy to make.  I did a step-by-step as I did with the apple galette so those of you who are daunted by this recipe will see that it's not that difficult.  I have always been a lover of apricot, though apricot pastry filling is rather hard to find.  Locally, I get it at Metropolitan Market.  As a rule, grocery stores carry lemon and poppyseed pastry filling, and all are in a 12 oz can under the brand SOLO.  Back in the 60's, when my mom used to make filled cookies, she would use apricot and prune filling.  The SOLO company is located just outside of my hometown Chicago, and when my mom was buying this filling, it was then under the name BOHEMIAN KITCHEN and the filling came in a plastic container such as cottage cheese.  Just a little bit of culture.  Some of you may wonder why pastry filling instead of a jar of preserves?   Pastry filling is thicker and holds its shape instead of spreading all over your baked goods. 

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted                         1  4oz pkg cream cheese at room temp
1 egg yolk                                                                         1 12oz can solo pastry filling, or a
3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp white sugar                           jar of your favorite preserves
   and 1 tsp cinnamon mixed together                        1 tsp pure almond extract
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water, for egg wash            sparkling sugar for top of braid*
slivered or sliced almonds, optional          

Have the white sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, mixed together.  Also have your eggwash in a small bowl, ready to go.  Mix cream cheese with the egg yolk and almond extract until fully blended.   Unfold the sheet of puff pasty onto a lightly floured surface with the seams going vertically.  These will act as your guidelines when you are cutting the strips for the braid.  Roll out pasty into a 11x14 rectangle, with the 11" being your horizontal measurement.  I use a pizza cutter to trim, see below.   Roll dough onto rolling pin and place on parchment lined baking sheet, (although the picture shown is for a pie crust, the concept is still the same), see below.  Spread cream cheese mixture down the center row of your pastry (you should still be able to see all three seams), see below.  Sprinkle half of sugar mixture on top of the cheese, see below.  At this point, if you are using preserves, you will probably use about 1 1/2 cups.   Put spoonfuls on top of sugar mixture.  Spread over all of sugar with offset spatula, see below.   Sprinkle rest of sugar on top of preserves.   With a pair of kitchen shears, cut 1 1/2" strips at an angle down each side of braid, stopping just short of seam on each side of preserves.  Starting at top, lay one strip on braid, brush a little egg wash at end of strip where the next strip will overlap on top.  Continue down braid.  Fold top and bottom of pastry into braid.  Brush entire braid with egg wash to seal all strips and sprinkle entire braid with sparkling sugar, see below.  Bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes, or until braid is brown on top.  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Slide braid onto cooling rack.   Bon appetit!

* you can get sparkling sugar locally at qfc and met market