Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Maple Creme Sandwich Cookies

Maple is probably my second favorite flavor after lemon. I love maple in just about anything - including my favorite honey and maple cured bacon. Those little maple sugar candies that are so abundant during the holidays can send me into ecstasy. Every once in awhile I also spot maple sandwich cookies at the grocery store. It's one of those hit or miss things in the "gourmet cookie" section. But, I figured I could do my own version at home.

So, I began to work on a sandwich cookie. My first thought was to use a basic sugar cookie dough and cut the cookies out in the shape of maple leaves. But, I thought the sugar cookie might overwhelm the maple filling and also be too crunchy. So, I decided to adapt my Shrewsbury Cakes recipe for a softer cookie and flavor it with some maple to compliment the filling.

These turned out exceptionally well, and I could almost sit and eat the filling by itself! You can make these as big or small as you like. I used a large scoop for the cookies so my finished cookies were about 3-4 inches across.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cranberry Pecan Bread

Cranberry-Pecan Bread 
Nothing seems to remind us of the holidays quite so much as cranberry and pecan. Since I had a lot of cranberries left over after making my Cranberry and Fig Stuffing for Thanksgiving, I decided to put them to use in a dessert/breakfast bread.

This is loosely based on an old recipe I have for Praline-Apple Bread but I tweaked it somewhat to create a new moist and flavorful combination indicative of the holidays. The secret ingredients in this are some finely diced figs which add some moisture and a nice flavor as well as some Calvados in which the cranberries are soaked. These add some extra special flavor punch to this delightful and filling bread. The glaze is a simple sugar and butter mixture flavored with a little Calvados.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Chicken Roulade with Cranberry-Fig Stuffing

As promised in the Gingerbread Cupcakes post, here is the rest of our Thanksgiving Dinner. I had originally decided to do a Turkey Roulade, but the dearth of turkey breasts in the store forced me to change my mind. Instead I used chicken breast and was very pleased with the result.

The stuffing features dried cranberries and figs soaked in Calvados, an apple flavored brandy. Hot and sweet Italian sausage along with Herbs de Provence and red and white onion and celery add even more flavor. The stuffing is wrapped in the chicken breast then lightly browned in the skillet before being transferred to the oven to finish baking. Excess stuffing can be placed in a pan to cook alongside the roulade.

I found that the stuffing was even better on the second day, so you might want to make this a day ahead and stick it in the refrigerator overnight for an even richer taste.

This was served with steamed asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gingerbread Cupcakes

I really didn't think I was going to do anything special for Thanksgiving. For the past several days my back has been acting up again, meaning I haven't felt like doing much at all. But, I decided I should probably make some attempt.

Yesterday, while Michael was working, I hit the stores and did some shopping for a Thanksgiving meal. I decided to make a Cranberry-Fig stuffing and had originally planned to do a Turkey Roulade. Unfortunately, the only Turkey breasts I could find were huge. I really didn't want to waste so much so decided to go with chicken breast instead. That was paired with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Michael's favorite vegetable, asparagus.

Those recipes will be coming up later, but for dessert I chose a Gingerbread Cupcake featuring a butter cream-cream cheese frosting. These are a little different from my usual gingerbread since they contain diced crystallized ginger and sour cream.

They're an excellent upscale gingerbread treat. If you like you can add rum soaked raisins for an even more decadent flavor. I opted out of the raisins since I'm not a huge raisin fan. However, to use them in this recipe you'll just need to take a 1/2 cup of golden raisins and soak them in 1/4 cup dark rum in a small sauce pan. Heat covered until rum boils then set aside and allow to cool. You'll add them to the batter when you do the crystallized ginger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cinnamon Pecan Cookies

Pecans are such a great holiday treat. I love sugared pecans and when I worked for an antique store back in South Carolina we carried wonderful sugared pecans for the tourists. Of course, I think those of us working at the store bought nearly as much as the tourists! I adored the rum soaked sugared pecans.

These delightful cookies are chock full of pecan flavor and topped off with sugar and spice. It's really the best of both worlds - a cookie and sugared pecans all in one! This is a very easy cookie to do and you can really kick it up a notch by using brown butter instead of butter right out of the package. Brown butter is very easy to do, just put the butter in a sautee pan or small pot and allow it to melt over medium-low heat until it just begins to brown and turn a golden color. This gives the butter a lovely nutty flavor. Then allow it to cool slightly before adding it to the dish.

I also found that using my coffee grinder to grind half of the pecans into a meal gave a nice texture and boosted the pecan taste in the cookies. The remaining 1/2 cup I chopped very fine so that the nuts would be visible within the cookies.

These Cinnamon Pecan Cookies are a combination of a brown butter pecan shortbread that is an old Southern favorite and an updated quasi-healthy recipe I ran across in a magazine recently. The flavor is delicious and I found these great with a glass of milk or cup of coffee (or cocoa). Thankfully, our mornings here in the desert are getting rather chilly so it really feels like Fall - even if there are no leaves to turn colors. The Cinnamon Pecan Cookies are perfect with a warm drink on the patio to wake up in the morning!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Danish Kringle

There probably are few sweets more appropriately named for the holidays than Kringle. After all, Kris Kringle is supposedly the name of Santa Claus. This Kringle, however, comes to us via Denmark and Scandinavia where it has been an important sweet for centuries.

Usually made into either a horseshoe, ring, or pretzel like shape, Kringle can either be made of puff pastry or a sweet yeast dough. It is then filled with all sorts of good ingredients from marzipan and raisins, to almonds, to this slightly "southernfied" version that features pecans.

In reality a Kringle is a type of coffee cake and makes a great treat for holiday breakfasts. Glazed with a vanilla glaze and sprinkled with more pecans, this ranks right up there with great breakfast holiday fare.

These really aren't that hard to make and I found that by my second one my technique for rolling and shaping the Kringle had improved dramatically. A couple more and I should be ready to present these as nice gifts for the holidays!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Perfect French Fries

French Fries in cold oil that are crisp outside and fluffy inside? How can this be?
A couple months ago when I saw Cook's Illustrated on PBS demonstrating a slow cooked French Fry recipe I was dubious. They claimed that putting fresh potatoes into cold oil then bringing it up to frying temperature would turn out fries that were crisp on the outside while remaining fluffy on the inside as well as full of potato taste and not greasy.

Really? It went against everything I knew about frying potatoes (which is ALOT). It was common knowledge that frying potatoes at the wrong temperature created fries that were greasy and limp. How could taking them from cold to hot create any other result? After all, the queen of home cooking, Julia Child, had taught us nearly 50 years ago that the keys to French Fries were soaking, icing, frying low, then frying high. It was a multi-step process. How could such an elaborate procedure (which was often hit or miss) be simplified so drastically?

The folks at Cook's Illustrated were kind enough to point out the science behind the idea. It seems that dropping potatoes into hot oil actually increases the amount of grease soaked up because it forces out the potato's natural moisture. So, frying at a slightly low temperature seemed to redouble that effect - thus the limp greasy fries. Taking them from cold to frying temperature slowly trapped the moisture in the potatoes and kept them from getting soggy.

Well, as luck would have it, I had some Yukon Gold potatoes last evening that I wanted to fry. Yukon Gold potatoes work best for this recipe because of their smooth and velvety texture. So, I set about slicing up some potatoes and dropping them in cold oil.

The result was fantastic. These were some of the best fries I have ever done in my kitchen. They were crisp on the outside with a satisfying "crunch", while the interior was light and fluffy and tasted like the best fresh fries. I'm sold on the technique. Sprinkled with some Kosher salt these easily stacked up against some of my favorite fries of all time including Fiske, In N' Out Burger, and Five Guys.

If you're a French Fry fan, this recipe is a must try. You'll be shocked at how stupidly simple it is to turn out incredible fries every single time right at home!

Note: I use a very inexpensive chopper to create my fries. It cuts perfect 1/4" square planks in seconds. However, if you don't have a chopper see the video following the recipe for instructions.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes with a pad of butterphoto © 2009 Quinn Dombrowski | more info (via: Wylio)

I was looking for something to do for dinner last evening when I spied my big bag of Yukon Gold Potatoes in the pantry. At first I thought of just rough chopping some and baking them alongside the Oven Barbecue Chicken I was planning. Then I thought, "Why not do some mashed potatoes?"

Michael loves mashed potatoes and honestly despite all the boxed "flakes" in the grocery store, they're not hard to do. So I pulled down a few and went to work.

Mashed potatoes basically consist of boiled potatoes that are then mashed along with other ingredients for a velvety smooth and creamy texture. In this case I used some garlic along with cream and sour cream to get a rich and smooth mashed potato. The results were great and Michael scraped the bottom of the pot on his second return for more! I'll post the basic recipe here, but in mine I also threw in about 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan for a little cheesy-garlic taste. But that's optional. This recipe is based on one by Paula Deen.

For dessert we had some more of the Cream Cheese Pound Cake which has become a hit. I can always tell when a dessert really passes muster because no matter how many helpings Michael has had of the main dish, when I suggest dessert he'll have some. So far the Cream Cheese Pound Cake hasn't been turned down.

Note: The photo above is a stock item because I forgot to get a photo before the mashed potatoes were devoured.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Cream Cheese Pound Cake served with Raspberry Sauce 
What a couple weeks it has been! Last weekend we attended the Tucson All Souls Procession which coincides with the traditional Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration throughout Mexico. The event was wonderful with lots of interesting costumes and people! Certainly, this is something in Tucson that is not to be missed!

Following the procession, I got to work on Dennenkoeken for Karin and the homeless project. She's now feeding 100+ people every weekend in the parks! Luckily, some of her newer helpers have been able to hook her up with a local high end bakery who is providing leftover cupcakes twice weekly! That certainly cuts down on the amount I have to make each week to keep up! (About 5 or 6 dozen cookies at a shot is about my limit in my small kitchen!) Of course, who would have thought the homeless folks would be eating gourmet cupcakes sprinkled with gold powder! I taste tested one of the Red Velvet cupcakes that were donated and it was very good. The icing was incredible and I'm going to set about trying to replicate it over the next several weeks. I think it's a combination of butter-cream and cream cheese frosting that is whipped. If I'm successful I'll post my "knock off" here.

Karin also was honored with a "Ben's Bell" this past week. Ben's Bells are local honors that are highly prized. They are presented to people who do extraordinarily good works in the community. Karin certainly deserved hers! It's hard to imagine the work that goes into her meals each week. When I dropped off the Dennenkoeken yesterday she was running behind in her preparations. She and Jen were frantically trying to finish the Tortilla Soup before 5pm and still had nearly 30 pounds of zucchini to chop! Since I had some free time, I stayed to help with the chopping. She was preparing four huge (and I do mean huge) pots of the soup - 2 for each day. Her love and dedication just can't be measured and I'm happy I was able to help her meet her deadline.

Yesterday also happened to be our friend Nora's birthday. She had requested a "spice cake" for her birthday and they were having a little party at the Animal Inn for her. So, Friday night when we got home from a fun evening at Flandrau Planetarium's Pink Floyd laser show, I set about making an Apple Cider Spice Cake for her. The cake was a hit at the party so I'm glad I was able to make her birthday special with a cake.

With all the goodies out of the house, I decided to use up some cream cheese I had in the fridge by doing a Cream Cheese Pound Cake. This recipe comes from Southern Living's Classic Southern Desserts cookbook.

Of course, sour cream pound cakes are very common and my favorite "Gert's Mama's Pound Cake" features sour cream for a smooth and moist interior. But I'd never seen cream cheese used in place of sour cream. I wondered how it would turn out.

The result was wonderful. This cake is very tasty with a hint of tang from the cream cheese and a nice buttery vanilla flavor. This is excellent served barely warm with no icing. I opted to use a warmed slice with some chilled Raspberry Sauce for a lovely dessert. The texture of this cake is very soft and velvety. My only caveat is to remember to place your oven rack so that the top of the cake pan is just above the center of the oven. I forgot to do that and had my rack set too high so the top (bottom when removed from pan) got done too quickly and cracked. It didn't affect the taste but I was glad this was going to be enjoyed at home as it wasn't as pretty as I'd have liked.

This is certainly a cake to add to your repertoire and a wonderful classic to serve with any meal.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Crispy, crunchy, and oh so delicious, this Danish cookie is perfect
for cool Autumn days!
I love those "Danish" butter cookies in the tins that populate store shelves during the Christmas season. The crunchy sugar on top, the buttery taste - it all just screams "Holidays!" to me. So, recently when I was browsing websites, I was intrigued to find one from Denmark that listed a number of traditional Danish cookies.

Looking through them, I discovered one from the north of Denmark called Dennenkoeken. It features butter, brown sugar, and a variety of spices topped with that nice coarse and crunchy sugar. It sounded yummy so I thought I'd give it a go.

The first thing I realized was that whomever had translated the recipe from metric to English measurement had some math problems. So, after adjusting the measurements I set out to create this little Danish cookie.

The original recipe called for the cookies to be brushed with beer before being sprinkled with sugar. Of course, not being a beer drinker there was none in the house. So, I finally hit upon a rather unusual but tasty (and attractive) way to stick those sugar crystals to my cookies. I took about 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and one egg and created an "Maple Egg Wash" that I brushed over the cookies. Then I sprinkled on my sugar. The sugar stuck, the cookies had a nice crisp, shiny surface and the maple syrup gave them just a hint of maple flavor. It was the perfect Autumn combination!

Monday, November 1, 2010

English Coconut Biscuits

When is a biscuit not a biscuit? When it's an English Cookie!
We Americans hear "biscuits" and immediately think of a type of quick bread served with a meal. However, the British translation of that would be what we call a "cookie" or perhaps "cracker" depending on whether it is sweet or not. In this case we're talking cookie.

When our friends Nora and Larry were over recently for the Project Food Blog dinner party, Nora brought along an old cookbook for me. She knows how much I enjoy perusing old and out of print works for interesting things that might not be in vogue today. The book she brought was the "Good Housekeeping Picture Cookery Book" which was published just after World War II in Great Britain. At first, I didn't realize it was British and thought there just was no section for cookies. Then as I flipped through its worn pages I noticed the spellings and the reliance on weights instead of the usual volume measurements used in the USA. Then I happened upon the "biscuits"!

There were many interesting variations including one for my favorite Shrewsbury Cookies. However, in glancing at the recipe, I feel my adapted 18th Century version would be far superior to the one given in this book. I did happen upon a recipe in there for a coconut cookie. That looked interesting and I had all the ingredients including Castor sugar.

So, while I waited for Halloween Trick or Treating to get underway this afternoon, I decided to whip up a batch and see what this old recipe wrought.

Looking at it, I knew I'd need to add a couple things to it for more current tastes. The original didn't use any flavorings beyond coconut. I felt that might be a little much without something to balance it a bit, so I chose to add a bit of vanilla. The original also didn't utilize any salt to help brighten the flavors so I felt I'd need just a touch to wake up what could otherwise have been a rather one note cookie.

I began working on the recipe but quickly found that the dough was much too loose to work with or roll out. I'm not sure if there was a mistype in the old book, but a scant 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of coconut just wasn't giving the body necessary to roll out this dough! So, I decided to up the flour content slightly so the dough would come together a bit better, then instead of rolling it out, I went with my cookie scoop.

The results were great! I got a very delicate cookie with a nice light coconut flavor balanced with the vanilla. These almost melt in your mouth! I thought about dusting them with powdered sugar but decided in the end that it would be almost too sweet. I liked the less sweetened "biscuit" more.

You could also use a bit of lime juice in place of the vanilla for a lime-coconut cookie. Either way, these are marvelous little discoveries from the period when Britain was still recovering from the effects of the Blitz!

The good news too, was that they kept me out of the Halloween candy between Trick or Treaters! As it was we had candy left over (never a problem back east!) Luckily, it's mostly bubble gum and a few lollipops so it won't hit my waist too hard when I eventually get into it!

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