Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ham and Green Beans

Mieke's Ham and Green Beans

The Christmas ham is naught but a sweet memory by this time. The sticky glaze has long ago painstakingly been scrubbed from the corners of the roasting pan, you've eaten your last ham casserole and used up the last of the little pieces of pink lurking in the bottom of the ziplock bag....all that's left is that big old bone.  Just throw it out and the ham is history, right?  WRONG!  The best part of the life of a Christmas ham  is about to begin. 

My Mom always used up the hambone in a dish we simply called Ham and Green Beans.  It is a simple dish.  Ham, celery, onions and potatoes.  Almost a soup, almost a stew.  Good old-fashioned down home comfort food.  Simple or not, it has stood the test of time as my own family still looks forward to a good meal of Ham and Green Beans.  Of course, I've changed it over the years, not much, but a little. 

When we lived in Maryland, I first started using the magical spice blend called Herbes de Provence (I love to use the French name instead of Herbs of Provence...makes it sound so fancy!).  There is something about the combination of rosemary, thyme, lavender (yes, lavender!), basil, savory and fennel that turns the ordinary into extraordinary.  And so it is with Ham and Green Beans.

While we were just visiting in Michigan, Mieke made a big pot of it for her family from the last vestiges of their own Christmas ham.  Keep in mind that two of the three grandkids are very picky eaters.  Wouldn't you know, even the fussiest eater loves it!  

It does my heart good to see the family recipes still being carried forward.  It would absolutely make my Mom happy to know one of her own recipes is still being enjoyed today.  

Here's the recipe...maybe your family will like it, too.  If nothing else, it will make that ham AND your food dollar stretch just a little further.  Not a bad idea for the New Year, is it? 

Ham and Green Beans

  • 1 ham bone, with lots of ham on it
  • 1 pound frozen green beans, or 1 pound of fresh (use more if you wish...I like MORE!)
  • 4 stalks celery, WITH leaves, or more to taste
  • 3 onions, cut in 1/2" strips
  • 3 pounds potatoes, cut into chunks (leave the skin on....lots of iron there!)
  • Herbes de Provence, to taste, maybe 4 tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons seasoned salt, Janes Crazy Salt, of course,or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup garlic, dried, slivered - get in Oriental market (if you can't find isn't easy...use granualated garlic or garlic powder)

Put ham and bone in large soup pot, add celery, garlic, onion and cover all with water.  Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  

Add rest of ingredients except potatoes, adding more water, if necessary.  

Cook another hour or so and take ham and bone out of pot.  Remove all ham and return to pot, discarding bone.  Add potatoes and cook until potatoes are tender.  

Adjust seasonings and serve.

NOTE:  All you need to make this a complete meal is a good crusty loaf of bread!

P. S.  This isn't the ONLY dish we make with a hambone, of course.  In fact, tomorrow our own hambone is going to good use in Black Bean Soup.  Sometimes I make a good, hearty Navy Bean Soup, too.  You can bet those recipes will be showing up here.  Soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Road Again. Or...Watch Out Michigan!

On the road again!  This time Mark and I are heading to Michigan to visit our daughter and son-in-law, two grandsons and our only granddaughter.  I LOVE the holidays!  We don't need a holiday to make the trek up north, but holiday excitement always makes it even more fun than usual.

While we're there, Mieke and I will have a chance to do a little (um...make that a LOT!) of cooking together.  Fun!

Mieke and Tall Matt are having a get-together while we're there. Turns out, I'm not the only one who is eating gluten-free now....Jackie is, too!  So I'm taking along my Mochaccino Chex Mix.  Thank you Chex for being gluten-free now...well, except for the Wheat Chex kind, of course.  

This snack mix is chocolate-y, cinnamon-y, coffee-flavored crunchy deliciousness with little pillows of marshmallow melting everything all together....and it's addictive!

Mochaccino Chex Mix

  • 1/2 box corn chex®, chocolate variety (check to be sure it's gluten-free!)
  • 1/2 box corn chex, cinnamon variety (check to be sure it's gluten-free!)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, extra dark
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups almonds, dry-roasted, a whole jar of the brown sugar cinnamon variety
Preheat oven to 250.
Stir espresso powder and cocoa powder into melted butter until well blended.  Add maple syrup & mix well.
In a LARGE roasting pan, mix chocolate chex and nuts, pour butter mixture over all and mix WELL.
Bake for an hour stirring every 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and mix marshmallows in completely (you'll see them start to melt slightly and hold the cereal together).  Let cool completely and store in zip top plastic bag.

NOTE:  One of my grandsons has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy.  So he can enjoy the mix, too, I substituted crushed gluten-free pretzels for the almonds this time.  Everyone can enjoy it...even the lucky people without food issues! 

New Year's Good Luck in One Pot!

Just after the kale has been stirred into the chili.

Traditions.  Most families have them.  Our family most certainly has a few.  Growing up in a family of mostly German heritage, with some Welsh thrown in for good measure, New Year’s was filled with traditions from the Old Country brought to the new. 

Back in the old days, every Christmas each woman and girl in our family got a new apron from my Nana so we could start off the New Year all clean and fresh.  Symbolic, yes?  Sadly, that is one of our traditions that has gone by the wayside. These day none of us wears an apron anymore! (I do, however, have a gorgeous collection of handmade aprons that I treasure.) 

The food traditions?  What Pittsburgh German family doesn’t enjoy a steaming pot of fragrant pork and sauerkraut to insure luck and money throughout the New Year?!  Just check out the Giant Eagle flier to confirm that custom is still intact! 

While living in the almost-Southern state of Maryland, our New Year’s food traditions were influenced by some good old Southern good luck foods.  Greens and black-eyed peas insure luck and money in that area of the country, so we added black-eyed peas to our tradition.  Every bit of luck helps!

Some years we had ribs (pork is good luck because the pig goes forward when it roots for food...forward = progress), coleslaw (greens are good luck because they're the color of money), and black-eyed pea chili (peas and beans = coins = money)....definitely a change-up from pork and sauerkraut!  One year I found a recipe for Cowboy Caviar using black-eyed peas.  That one made it to our appetizer table and has been a family favorite ever since.  (During the year we use black beans in place of the peas…delish!  It’s a regular at picnics and parties.) 

So what’s going to be on our table this New Year’s day?  A new recipe.  I’d intended to make Michael Symon’s Pork Cheek Chili.  First off, I used ground pork in place of pork cheeks…come on, where do you get pork cheeks in Pittsburgh?!  Kimber and I made it together on Christmas Day.   Now you know there were some necessary substitutions…you just KNOW we didn’t have everything we needed…grocery stores aren’t open on Christmas Day!  So we made do with what we had on hand.

We only had one red pepper – no big deal.  No San Marzano tomatoes?  Fire roasted tomatoes stepped up to the plate.  Not enough of those?  Eh, add a can of RoTel, too.  Not enough fresh jalapenos?  That can of jalapenos lurking in the back of the pantry finally made it to the big leagues!  We added extra garlic and extra canned chipotle peppers.  And to make sure we get our good luck greens?  We added some chopped kale near the end of the cooking process!  Now we have all our good luck in one pot!  Sorry about the changes Michael.  (Somehow though, I think he’d approve.)   

How did it turn out?  It is a fantastic amalgamation of porky goodness, fragrant spices, a good heft of heat, sweet tomatoes, onions and peppers in a heady, smoky sauce. Since I haven’t had the original I can’t compare, but I can’t imagine it being any better than this.

Now I can sleep in on New Year’s day confident that 2012 will be filled with lots of luck and good fortune – all in ONE pot - thanks to our pseudo Michael Symon’s pork chili.  Hell, just sleeping in is a good start of good luck!


Smoky Pork, Black-Eyed Pea and Kale Chili

  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds, warmed in a skillet until fragrant, then ground in a spice grinder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, a good Hungarian variety
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground pork
  • salt and pepper, freshly ground black pepper!
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound bacon, thick cut, sliced across into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 large jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (less if you like less heat)
  • 1/2 can jalapeno peppers, canned, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1   beer, gluten-free to make this GF
  • 2 cups chicken stock, canned is fine (be sure it's gluten-free to make this GF)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes, fire-roasted kind
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chilies, RoTel (or another can of fire-roasted tomatoes if you like less would be a shame, though)
  • 4 chipotle chiles canned in adobo, plus a little of the juice, chopped (less if you like less heat)
  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked through
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 pound kale, washed well, chopped, leave the moisture on the leaves

Mix the pork, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper to taste together until thoroughly incorporated.

In a large soup pot, pour enough olive oil to just cover the bottom of the pot.  When it's good and hot, crumble half of the pork mixture into the bottom and brown well while stirring occasionally.  Remove that batch of pork and repeat, using more oil, with the other half of the pork.  Remove when it's browned to the same bowl as the first batch.

In the same pot, add the bacon and brown well.  Pour off almost all of the bacon fat, return to heat and add onions, garlic, jalapenos, canned jalapenos and red pepper and cook until the veggies are softened.

Add the pork back into the pot and all the juices, too.  Add the beer, stock, tomatoes and RoTel, chipotles, dried peas and the cinnamon stick.  Bring to boil, cover with lid and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until the peas are tender.  2-3 hours.

Once the chili is done, remove the cinnamon stick and add the chopped kale (it looks like a whole hell of a cooks down to almost nothing) and cook until the kale is wilted and the flavors come together beautifully.

Serve in bowls with cornbread on the side and it's dinner!

P.S.  Other Pittsburgh New Year's traditions?  1. A good luck New Year's pretzel from the bakeshop.  It's like a coffee cake in the shape of a big pretzel and drizzled with icing.  2. Standing on the front porch banging pots and pans with big spoons, making a racket!  3. Fireworks!  Nothing in Pittsburgh is celebrated without fireworks....just give us any excuse and we send up the rockets and party under the noise and explosions of color!  4. This one is a Welsh bring good luck, the first person through the front door in the New Year has to be a handsome dark-haired, gentleman.  No problem in our house when that describes my husband to a T!  5. Eating herring is a German tradition that my Dad enjoyed.  I don't follow this tradition these days although I loved herring when I was a kid! 

And finally, I always share the black-eyed pea dish of the year with all the family.  Share your luck!  Makes it all the sweeter. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Twist on the Classic Moscow Mule...the Chocolate Mule!

Chocolate proper copper mugs!

Kimber and I are huge fans of a well-made Moscow Mule...AND we are huge fans of 360 Double Chocolate Vodka!  Naturally, we  experimented and came up with...drumroll, please....the Chocolate Mule!  
Crisp and refreshing, chocolaty, gingery and ice cold, this is almost the perfect cocktail.  Do you think the "mule" part might be inspired by the kick of the vodka?!  You've got to try one of these and we think you'll be glad you did.  Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Mule

In a cocktail shaker:
  • 2 shots 360 Double chocolate vodka
  • juice of half a lime
Fill the tin 3/4 of the way with ice, put on the top and shake until the tin is icy cold.  Strain the liquid into a chilled copper mug for the classic presentation or a chilled tall glass.  Add fresh ice and fill the mug or glass with 
  • good Jamaican ginger beer
Stir gently and garnish with a wheel of lime.

Variation:  To make the classic Moscow Mule version, use regular vodka instead of the chocolate variety and garnish with a pretty sprig of mint.

So refreshing!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Satsuma Tangerine, Pomegranate, OR-G Bellini

Just a quick post to share our recipe for a little Christmas cheer and our wishes for a very Merry Christmas!  Cheers!

Satsuma Tangerine, Pomegranate, OR-G Bellini

  • 2 T. pomegranate seeds - do you know they're actually called arils?  Yep.
  • juice of 1 tangerine
  • shot of OR-G liqueur - Mango, Persimmon, Papaya, Lime infused into French vodka - amazing!
  • Champagne, Pro-seco or Asti - we used Asti Spumante, chilled
In a champagne glass - we didn't have one, so use whatever glass you have on hand, muddle the seeds (arils) in the bottom of the glass, add the tangerine juice and OR-G (don't you love the name?!).  Stir gently, top off with your bubbly of choice.
Thanks to John at Bad Decisions (Fells Point in Baltimore) for the Bellini suggestion - although there were no blood oranges to be found in the land, we somehow sucked it up and made do with the tangerines and pomegranate.  Cheers!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas-y Cranberry Triple Coconut Cake

There's nothing like a beautiful and delicious dessert to finish off a fine Christmas dinner and I think this coconut cake qualifies on both levels!  Not only that, this one is gluten-free.  Of course, instructions are here for both a regular version and the GF one.

What makes this cake "triple?"  There's cream of coconut and coconut extract in the frosting and in the cake (if you're counting, that's cake and frosting - two) and, of course, that gorgeous snowfall of coconut enveloping the moist interior (three!).

The cake is relatively simple to make since you start with a cake mix and jazz it up.  The frosting is a simple cream cheese frosting with some of its own "jazzing."  The cranberry crown is super easy, too. Here's the still have time to make it if you hurry!

Cranberry Triple Coconut Cake

  • 2 boxes Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix (or 1 box regular yellow cake mix)
  • 1 box vanilla instant pudding mix (3.5 oz or similar weight)
  • 1/3 C. sugar (leave this out of the regular cake mix)
  • 1 C. sour cream or Greek yogurt (I use 0% fat Fage Greek yogurt - my fave)
  • 3/4 C. lite coconut milk
  • 3/4 C. canola oil
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 T. vanilla extract (the REAL stuff, not imitation!)
  • 2 t. coconut extract
  •  2 8-oz. blocks cream cheese, room temp
  • 1/2 C. unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/2 C. cream of coconut (the same stuff you use for a pina colada - get it in the cocktail section of your supermarket)
  • 1 C. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 t. vanilla extract (again, use the good stuff!)
  • 1 t. coconut extract
  • 1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
  • zest of 1 orange, use a peeler to remove just the thinnest top layer of the orange and then chop the zest into fine dice
  • 1 bag of sweetened flaked coconut
Cake directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray two 9" cake pans with Pam and dust with gluten-free flour (or regular if you're not doing the GF version).  Set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, gently mix the cake mix(es), pudding mix and sugar at low speed.  Add all of the wet ingredients and beat on low speed until just mixed, scrape down the sides.  Increase the speed to medium and mix until the mixture is smooth.  Divide the batter between the pans; tap the pans firmly on the counter to work the bubbles out.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, probably about 45-55 minutes.
Cool the cakes on racks for a few minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and let continue cooling on the racks until completely cool before proceeding.
Put the cranberry sauce into a small pot with the zest.  Stir and bring to a simmer.  Let simmer about 5 minutes and let cool. 

Frosting directions:
With electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter, cream of coconut, vanilla and coconut extracts.  When thoroughly incorporated and light, lower the speed to low and add the powdered sugar.  Beat until smooth and light.

Place one cake layer on a platter.  Put strips of wax paper or parchment on the plate to keep it clean while you work.
Fill the layer with about a cup (or more) of frosting.  Place the second layer on top, spoon the cranberries into the center and spread them out evenly to about 1/2" from the edge of cake.  
Using the rest of the frosting, frost the sides of the cake, bring it up to meet the edges of the cranberries, leaving no cake visible.
Start applying the coconut!  This is the hard part - well, messy at least.  Just take handsful of coconut and work from top to bottom until the entire cake is covered and gorgeous!
Remove the wax paper from the bottom, decorate the top with a sprig of holly and get ready for them ooohs and aaahhhs.  
Merry Christmas!!!!

Thick and Spicy Meat Sauce with Red Wine

Thank goodness I found the very last of my homemade spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the freezer!  With all of today's baking and cooking, not to mention the continuing cleaning and wrapping (it IS Christmas Eve EVE  after all), I am NOT fussing over dinner! 

When the hubbub of the holiday is over, here's my recipe for my sausage-y, meaty, garlicky, thick and rich spaghetti sauce made with a good, hearty red wine.  Make a big pot to freeze for your own busy days to come!

Thick and Spicy Meat Sauce with Red Wine

  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage - if you don't like hot sausage, use all sweet sausage or half ground beef
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage - I really like mine with fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • 2 large green peppers, chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 6 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 18-ounce cans tomato paste
  • 2 24-ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, do not drain
  • 1/4 cup instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 3 tablespoons basil
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 36 ounces red wine (2 tomato paste cans full - get all that paste residue out of the can with the wine)
  • 2 bay leaves

In your biggest soup pot, saute sausage (removed from casing (if it isn't bulk sausage), breaking up with potato masher) until browned.  Remove from pan, pour off grease.  Saute veggies in olive oil, add the rest of the ingredients. 

Cook slowly for several hours, stirring frequently so the bottom doesn't burn.

Freeze what you don't use in quart containers or zip top freezer bags.  Don't forget to write the date and what's inside on the container.  Before I learned to to that, I can't tell you how many times I pulled spaghetti sauce out of the freezer only to find out after it thawed that it was chili!

Brisket, Bacon & Beer Cowboy Stew


After all the hustle and bustle of the days (weeks?) leading up to tonight, it is finally time to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors.  So what's for dinner at our house on Christmas Eve?  Something we cooked ahead of time.  Yeah, making this stew was part of that aforesaid hustle and bustle, but to my way of thinking it's better to put a little time into making this ahead than to spend Christmas Eve cooking!  It's time for family, friends, fun and relaxation!

Kimber texted me the other day that she was craving one of our favorite wintertime meals - Brisket, Bacon & Beer Cowboy Stew.  These flavors have me imagining cowboys sitting around the campfire, the cattle mooing, the horses whinnying and coyotes howling in the distance while this stew simmers away in an old black cast iron Dutch oven over the flames.  I can almost smell the campfire!

The stew is a hearty, beefy broth kicked up with smoky bacon, garlic and onions, a zip of heat, undertones of coffee and smoothed out with creamy potatoes and sweet corn.  Make a pan of Bacon Corn Cheddar Green Chile Cornbread, add a green salad and it's dinner!  

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone!

Brisket, Bacon & Beer Cowboy Stew

  • 8 slices bacon, sliced across into 1/2" pieces
  • 5 pounds beef brisket, trimmed and cut into bite size pieces
  • Jane's crazy salt, to taste
  • Hot Shot, to taste (if you can't find Hot Shot, mix cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper), or just freshly ground black pepper if you don't want the heat
  • 12 ounces beer, 1 bottle, gluten-free to make this GF
  • water
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 5 large red potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
  • 10 ounces canned corn, DelMonte Summer Crisp or frozen
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chilies, Ro-Tel brand
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, ancho chile powder if you can find it - enhances the smoky flavor...or try chipotle chile powder!
  • 2 tablespoons beef bouillon granules, beef soup base - check to see if it's GF if you're making this gluten-free
  • 2 tablespoons coffee powder, instant

Fry bacon over medium-low heat in a large Dutch oven.  Remove and set aside. 

Toss brisket cubes with Crazy salt and Hot Shot.  Brown the brisket cubes in bacon fat, cooking in batches.  When last batch has been browned, add garlic and onion; cook until onion is soft while scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  

Return meat to pot, add beer and water to barely cover and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer until tender beef is tender -  about 2 hours. 

When brisket is tender, add potatoes, corn, Ro-Tel, chile powder, instant coffee and soup base.  Simmer until potatoes are tender and stew comes together nicely.

Serve with reserved bacon sprinkled on top of each serving.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gifts From the Kitchen....and the Heart!

Gifts from the kitchen....and the heart.

Have you noticed the paucity of actual dinners on Dinner Plan-it lately?  'Tis the season! There's so much going on in the kitchen besides actual dinner.  If you've been following the blog - or even if you just stop in once in a while - you've seen cookies and cocktails recently.  What else has been going on in my kitchen besides dinner? I've been working on some secret food gifts!  And now that my friends have gotten their gifts, I can share the pics and recipes with you...I couldn't spoil their surprises before this!

The picture above?  The ribboned package holds a Chinese takeout container of Orange Spiced Walnuts, a jar of golden Ginger Peachy Marmalade and a little bag of The Captain's Balls (that's the one recipe you already have).  

Now I'm not normally a jam or jelly person, but I am HOOKED on the marmalade!  Tart oranges and lemons, a gingery bite of crystalized ginger and summery sweet peach come together so nicely...without being cloyingly sweet.  It is perfect on buttery toast or an English it would make a nice filling for thumbprints, too!

Ginger Peachy Marmalade

  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups peaches, fresh or frozen, chopped (I used frozen - it's winter!)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped fine

Zest the citrus and put the zest in a heavy pot with the water.  Cut up the bald fruit (what else would you call it after it's had it's zest removed?) and put it into a food processor; chop well.  Add the pulp into the pot with the zest and water and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
Add the chopped peaches, sugar and ginger to the pot.  Bring to a boil and cook, occasionally stirring, until it thickens and looks like it is geling.
Heat clean, new jars in boiling water (refer to the directions on the package of jars, lids and rings for proper handling).  Remove from water carefully.  

Ladle the hot marmalade mixture into the hot jars, leaving 1/4" space at the top.  Do not fill more than this.  Put the lids onto perfectly clean jars, making sure the tops of the jars are squeaky clean so the lids can seal completely.  Screw the rings onto the jars and finger tighten.  Put the jars back into the simmering water and process for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from water carefully!

Cool the jars on a rack for 24 hours before checking the seal and making sure the lids aren't popped up.  You want them to have that nice concave top.  Probably the nicest sound, when your jams and jellies are cooling, is that soft "pop" sound when the center of the lid goes down.  You know you have a good seal!  If any of them don't seal properly, don't worry...just refrigerate those jars and use in a couple of weeks.

Walnuts Spilling From The Container...YUM!

Orange Spiced Walnuts

  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 6 cups walnuts, whole (I buy mine at Costco - VERY good price!)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, using electric mixer, beat egg white and water until frothy, not even soft peaks.  Add walnuts and stir gently by hand just to coat.   

Mix together the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl and add to the nuts.  Stir to coat completely

Have 2 Pam-sprayed rimmed cookie sheets ready and divide the nuts between the two pans.  Spread out thinly.

Bake 20 minutes, stir thoroughly and redistribute the nuts, bake another 15 minutes, stir and redistribute and bake another 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, stir again and let cool completely.

Store in a big zip top bag.  To make pretty gifts, put them into pint or quart jars with lids and tie with a pretty ribbon.  Or put them into pretty cellophane bags from the cake/candy making store and tie with a pretty ribbon.  I used small Chinese takeout containers this year - NEW ones, of course!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Cookies, Two

Egads!  Busy weekend!!  You know, the shopping and wrapping, baking...and wrapping up the homemade gifts, cooking - no wrapping!, blogging, cleaning, final Christmas decorations, tedious adjusting of the spotlights on the wreaths outside, laundry, etc., etc...the same stuff you were busy doing, too.  By 7:00 p.m. Sunday night I couldn't wait to get back to work today for a break!

Mark's favorite Fudge Thumbprint Christmas cookies FINALLY 
made it into the oven on Friday night.  Did I feel like baking after a long week at work?  Not really.  (Actually, the real response to that question was "Hell, no!")  But, I sure didn't want to let his Christmas cookie craving down. 

This cookie combines a non-traditional short chocolate chip cookie cup chock full of smooth, deep, rich chocolate fudge. Make a double'll be glad you did.  I make them gluten-free now - and you know I don't make anything GF if it tastes GF.  Nope, nobody would know the difference.

Fudge Thumbprints

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (for gluten-free cookies, use either Jules or Tom Sawyer gluten-free all purpose flour)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 cup Nestles mini chocolate chips
  • powdered sugar

  • 3/4 cup Nestles mini chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 Heat oven to 375.  Mix butter, salt, vanilla & brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Blend in flour, milk and mini chips.  

Shape into 1" balls and make thumbprint....make it nice and big to fit LOTS of fudge in there!  

Bake 10-12 minutes (or more - make sure they're set) and while still warm, roll in powdered sugar.  Cool.

In a double boiler over simmering water on the stove, melt 3/4 c. chocolate chips with shortening.  Cool slightly and add corn syrup, water and vanilla.  Heap into center of cookies. Let these set on a tray until the filling is solid before storing.

I store these in one of my Christmas cookie jars.  However you store your cookies, be sure to put wax paper between layers of cookies to keep the fudge pretty!

The Captain's Balls
On Sunday, I made The Captain's Balls.  You've had bourbon balls or rum balls (or whatever you make them with yourself) and you know it isn't really a cookie at all.  Don't you think it's more of a cross between a cookie and a truffle?  Yeah, me too.
I changed mine up a number of years ago for my friend Judy, in Maryland.  Judy loves her Captain!  Instead of regular rum, I used Captain Morgan.  I added ginger and cinnamon to the dough to pick up the spiced rum flavor and added the same warm spices to the powdered sugar/cocoa powder coating mixture.  They pack a nice punch of spice AND rum now!  

I haven't done a gluten-free version of The Captain's Balls yet, but plans are in the making....I'll let you know after I nibble a few whether the new balls are worthy of your own nibbling pleasure.  I've been making The Captain's Balls and lame Captain's Balls jokes since long before SNL's Schweddy Balls came along - by a good number of years!  
  • 60 vanilla wafer cookies
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  •  2 t. ginger 
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/3 cup Captain Morgan

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 t. ginger
  • 1 t. cinnamon
In food processor, whirl cookies, cocoa, powdered sugar, ginger, cinnamon & walnuts.  Process until fine.  Add corn syrup and Captain Morgan.  Process until well-blended and there are no dry spots.
Make the coating by mixing the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, ginger and cinnamon together and mix until thoroughly combined.

Next, form the dough into 1" balls and roll in the coating mixture.  Let sit on a tray for an hour or so until they've firmed up nicely.  Set each ball into a truffle cup for easy storage and to look pretty when you serve them!  Store in an airtight container.  

It's best to make these a week (or more!) ahead of time because the rum seems to get more potent as they age.  Yum.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Easy, Delicious, Slow-Roasted Pulled Pork

In our house, the aroma of BBQ spice-encrusted pork roasting in the oven is better than potpourri. In fact, why hasn't Yankee Candle come up with that candle scent yet?!  Pumpkin pie - check.  Apple pie - check.  Cinnamon buns - check.  Surely there's a market for the savory scents of roasting pork or chicken...hey, remember when you see those candles on the shelves that you saw the idea here first!

This is so blasted easy it's almost criminal to call it cooking.  Too busy to cook while you're shopping, wrapping, baking cookies, running the kids to their holiday activities?  Yup, throw this in the oven and forget it for 6-8 hours.  Have company coming over and you STILL HAVE TO CLEAN?!  Yup, let this baby roast away and there's nothing else you have to do.  Really, you rub the spice mixture into the meat, slow roast it ALL day long, and many hours's dinner, hon.

Make the BBQ sauce a day or two - or more - ahead of time and sauce it at the last minute.  Or make the pulled pork several days ahead, mix the sauce into it and refrigerate it until you need it...or freeze it.  It freezes perfectly!  There aren't many recipes as easy and forgiving as this one.  

When the family's ready to eat or company's almost coming through the door, mix up some coleslaw - pre-shredded stuff is just fine (use  Marzetti's slaw dressing for simple and delicious slaw), put out the buns, some nice dill or bread and butter pickle slices, extra sauce if anyone likes a little extra, maybe some good store bought potato salad and dinner is ready!

Pulled Pork

  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 6 pounds pork roast, Boston butt or shoulder

  • 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • at least a teaspoon freshly ground black pepper - more is better!

Mix dry rub ingredients.  Rub all over the pork and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.  If you don't have time to start it the night before, go ahead and put it right in the oven.  Like I said above, this is a forgiving recipe!

Preheat oven to 300.

Put the pork in a roasting pan fat cap up and bake 6-8 hours or until it falls apart easily.  Pour off any fat in the bottom of the pan, but be sure to use all the pieces of the crusty brown crispy, crunchy fat on top when you pull the pork apart with two forks.

Sauce:   Do this while the pork is roasting or ahead of time.  Combine vinegar, mustard, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, salt, cayenne & pepper in a saucepan.  Simmer gently for about 10 minutes until the sugar dissolves.

Pour 1/2 the sauce (or just enough to moisten the meat) over pork and mix gently, but well.  Serve rest of sauce on side.

Gluten-Free Note:  The pulled pork is naturally gluten-free.  Look for Udi's gluten-free hamburger buns - wonderful!  Hallelujah, its fantastic to enjoy this on a bun they way God intended!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas Cookies

Delicious, and Beautiful, Gluten-Free Cookies

What Christmas cookies are your family's absolute musts?  You know, the ones that it wouldn't seem like the holiday without ?  We sure have our favorites!  I don't bake the hundreds of cookies that I used to make - my waist can't handle it, I work too many hours, the kids are scattered all over the place so there just isn't the need for all those cookies....and none of us want the temptation either.  
If you're like me, you've whittled down the cookie list to the basic necessities.  You come up with a list of favorites that are the CORE cookies for the holiday. Let's face it, none of us have the time that we used to have, do we?

This whole gluten issue put a damper on the cookie baking, too. It was a problem at first, but not any more.  Over the years, I searched everywhere for GF cookie recipes that would taste like the ones I used to make.  I tried countless "special" recipes and, you know, they just didn't cut it.  So I started to use my old recipes, yep, the ones I'd been using for years -  only I substituted GF flour for regular wheat flour. Honestly, it doesn't work for every cookie - I still haven't come up with a sugar cookie that I'm happy with.  But with trial and error I found recipes that not only worked, I ended up with a stable of recipes that you can't tell the difference between the original recipe and the GF recipe! 

So far this year, I've only gotten two kinds of gluten-free cookies made - Coconut Orange Tea Cakes and Chocolate Drizzled Orange Cranberry Pecan Biscotti - so those are the only ones I have pictures of to share.  Here are the recipes for the pictured cookies.  (I'll post more pics and recipes as I get them done - especially for my husband's favorite cookie of all time....Fudge Thumbprints!)  If you don't need a gluten-free version, make them using regular flour - the recipes work beautifully either way.  Yay!  

 Chocolate Drizzled Orange Cranberry Pecan Biscotti
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 2 cups Gluten-free all purpose flour (or regular wheat all-purpose flour if gluten isn't an issue)
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted, divided into 1/4  cup and 1 1/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, I like Trader Joe's orange cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 325.
In a food processor, process 1/4 cup of pecans to a fine meal.  Set aside.  Next, roughly chop the remaining 1 1/4 cup of pecans.  Set aside.  Cool pecans.
Cream butter and sugar until nice and light.  At slow speed, add in the eggs and extract; increase speed and mix until completely incorporated.  Next, again at slow speed, add flour, pecan meal, cornmeal, baking powder and the salt.  Next, on slow speed (what else?!), mix in the nuts and cranberries.  If the dough is too loose, add a little more flour until the dough comes together, but isn't dry.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces.  With your hands, roll it gently into logs that are approximately 10" long and 3" wide.  Make them pretty!  Place each, as it is formed, onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  You should be able to get 2 logs to a cookie sheet.
Bake about 40 minutes.  Make sure they are firm.  Take out of oven and cool the cookie sheets on racks.  Slice on the diagonal into 1/2"-3/4" slices and place back onto the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.  (The slices sometimes lose their corners - what the heck....they'll still taste wonderful and will still look pretty once they're drizzled with chocolate!)  Bake on one side for about 15 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes.  Keep an eye on them so they don't over-brown.  Remove and cool completely.
Once the biscotti are cooled, melt the chocolate chips and the butter together in a microwave oven.  (Follow the directions on the bag.)  When the chocolate and butter are melted together and smooth, put the mixture into a ziptop sandwich bag and snip the tiniest piece off the corner.  Pipe zigzag lines of chocolate onto the tops of the biscotti and let dry completely before storing.

Coconut Orange Tea Cakes

  • 1 1/2 cups coconut flakes
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted, then measured
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 1/4 cups Gluten-free all purpose flour (or regular wheat all-purpose flour if gluten isn't an issue)
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350.  Bake coconut on rimmed baking sheet until light golden, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes.  Check often!  It burns quickly!
Using electric mixer, beat butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and both extracts in bowl to blend well. Beat in flour, orange zest and salt.  Stir in coconut.  Cover and chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.  Soften dough slightly before shaping.
Preheat oven to 350.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using 1 level tablespoon dough for each cookie, roll dough into balls..  Place on prepared sheets, spacing at least 2" apart.  Bake about 18 minutes.  Cool on sheets for 5 minutes and toss warm cookies in remaining powdered sugar.  Cool.  Store in airtight container.

NOTE:  The gluten-free cookies tend to spread and make a pretty mounded cookie.  Cookies made with wheat flour tend to be a ball shape - the gluten keeps them from flattening.  Both taste the same!  Both are beautiful!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Coq au vin

Coq au Vin...see the bacon??!!!!

Bacon, bacon, bacon!  Apparently, without realizing it, Dinner Plan-it has a theme going on.  And, hellloooo, it's a bacon theme.  Today's Coq au Vin is the third post in a row  that has some bacon-y goodness goin' on!  

First there was the beer and bacon mac and cheese, then the gumbo with some pretty righteous bacon notes to it.   (If you look further back in the blog, you'll find even more bacon recipes!)

And what do we have today?  A rich, hearty French peasant dish that starts off with a smoky bacon base, builds flavors in the pot with a beautiful mirepoix - aka celery, onion and carrots, but doesn't mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah) sound so much fancier?   And with 3 cups of red wine to simmer the chicken and veggies in, it ends up being one happy dish! Then again, if you soaked me in red wine, I'd be happy, too...bordering on silly, even.  They say that bacon makes everything better.  I say, bacon and red wine makes "better" even better than that!

 Coq au Vin

  • 8 slices bacon, thick sliced, hardwood or applewood smoked, sliced into 1/2" pieces, set 1 slice of pieces aside for later
  • 8 chicken thighs without skin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper , to taste
  • 1 large onion, diced fine
  • 2 celery ribs, diced fine
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced fine
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 2 large bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3 cups red wine, I use burgundy
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, smallest ones you can find
  • 10 ounces pearl onions, frozen is just fine, thaw them and dry them well

Cook 6 slices of the the bacon until crisp in a big heavy skillet.  While the bacon is cooking, season the chicken on one side with salt and pepper.  Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside.

Place the chicken, seasoned side down, into the hot skillet with the bacon grease; season the other side of the thighs liberallly with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken, turn over and brown the other side.  Make them pretty!   Remove the chicken to a a large Dutch oven.

Add the diced veggies (not the mushrooms and pearl onions), thyme and bay leaves to hot skillet. Cook, stirring up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, until the veggies have softened.  Add the tomato paste and stir until it is incorporated thoroughly.

Pour the veggie mixture over the chicken in the Dutch oven.  Don't clean out the skillet; pour the burgundy into the skillet and stir well for a minute or so.  Pour the wine over the chicken with the veggies.  Set the skillet aside - don't clean it out're going to use it for the mushrooms and onions later and you want all that good flavor!

Move the Dutch oven to the burner and bring the chicken to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes.  Cover and simmer another half hour.  If you start this early in the day, at this point, you can wait to finish it about half an hour before you're ready to serve dinner.

In the skillet, saute the remaining bacon pieces and until crisp, remove bacon and set aside with the bacon you cooked before.  Saute the mushrooms and onions in the bacon fat until beginning to brown, then gently mix them into the chicken.  Simmer the chicken until the flavors all come together - maybe 15 minutes - and serve over hot, buttered and bacon-sprinkled noodles.

Gluten-Free Note:  This dish is naturally gluten-free.  Use a good brand of gluten-free tagiatelle noodles so the entire dish will be GF.  I like Schar Tagliatelle.  I use this brand for tuna casserole and homemade chicken and turkey noodle soups, too!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mom's Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

So, I have been slacking with posting the past few weeks! Work has been crazy with lots a shows…and that is a good thing! During the week of craziness I got to go to one of my favorite restaurants, Fat Fish Blue, with a few people from work. Unfortunately it was the last time we will ever get to go because it closed this past Sunday. There are a few other locations in the US, so if you see one go!  

Fat Fish Blue is a Cajun and Creole restaurant, serving some of the New Orleans classics like Po Boys, Gumbo, Jambalaya, Craw Dads, and more. Not only do they serve up great Cajun and Creole grub, they are a venue featuring nationally known Blues artists! What else but the blues would make for an authentic New Orleans experience?!

We started off with an order of buffalo tails for an appetizer, they are craw dad (crayfish) tails fried and covered in buffalo sauce…YUMMY! I will say the first time we ordered them I was a little apprehensive, I had never had crawdads before and had no idea what they would be like. I am so happy I tried them, because they are delicious!

Since it was my last time going, I had to get my favorite dish...gumbo! It was a colder day and it warmed me up for sure. It tasted just like the authentic gumbo I had while in New Orleans this past spring.

The good thing about gumbo is that you can make it at mom makes it often this time of year and I love it! Here is her recipe:

Mom's Chicken and Andouille Gumbo

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, store bought, cut into pieces
  • 4 medium onions, cut in chunks, peeled first, of course
  • celery leaves, all of them from a whole bunch of celery
  • Crazy Salt - maybe 3 T.
  • water, to barely cover

  • 10 cups chicken broth, reserved (use the stock from above, adding canned chicken stock, if necessary)
  • 8 slices bacon, sliced into 1/4" pieces (nice, thick hickory smoked bacon)
  • 1 pound Andouille sausage or smoked sausage, sliced into half rounds 1/4" thick
  • 1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
  • 2 large green peppers, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, diced (use all the celery leaves you can...that's where the flavor is!)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 14.5 ounce can (I like the fire-roasted ones)
  • 1 can tomato sauce, 15 ounce can
  • 10 ounces frozen corn
  • 20 ounces frozen okra (LOVE my okra!)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Hot Shot (if you can't find this in the McCormick section, use 1/4-1/2 t. cayenne and the rest fresh ground black pepper)
  • Jane's Crazy Salt, to taste (or seasoned salt...but please, look for this magic ingredient!  Even Paula Deen used to use it before she started marketing her own.)
  • 1-2 T. file powder (optional) - If you have a Penzey's near you, you can get it there.  It isn't necessary, but it lends a very authentic flavor and also serves to slightly thicken the gumbo. 

In LARGE soup pot, put chicken (yes, the store-bought rotisserie one), onion chunks, celery leaves and Crazy salt; cover with water. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken, cool, and set broth aside. Discard onion and celery leaves. Remove chicken from bones. Set aside.
(If you wonder why I do it this way...a roasted chicken gives a deeper, richer stock.)

Cook bacon and sausage in the same pot until bacon is crisp and sausage is browned. Remove meats and set aside. There will be lots of brown stuff on the bottom of the pot.  Leave it there!  It will get deeper until you add the stock at the end.  Then, as you stir the soup, the stock will loosen all that browned, rich goodness and give the soup amazing flavor!

Add chopped onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender. Stir OFTEN! Add chicken, bacon, sausage, broth, and all the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally - especially get the bottom to get that flavor up into the soup!

Serve in bowls, topped with a scoop of cooked rice - that's the traditional way. Without the rice is good, too!

GLUTEN-FREE NOTE:   Not all rotisserie chickens are gluten-free.  Read the label and/or talk to the store you buy it from.  I get mine at Costco for a lot of reasons...first, it is gluten-free, but check each and every time you buy one.  You never know when the store's recipe will change.  Second, Costco has the biggest and cheapest and BEST rotisserie chicken anywhere.  Period.  (Boston Market also has a GF rotisserie chicken!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Smoky Bacon and Beer, Gouda and Cheddar Mac and cheese

Humble, basic, good old-fashioned macaroni and cheese - the one your mom - or maybe your grandmom - dutifully served up once a week when you were a kid has gotten all gussied up lately.  Have you noticed?  Now I'm not talking about the blue box variety, I'm talking about the made from scratch, hand-grated cheese of your choice (but pleeeeease don't tell me you make it with Velveeta), baked in the oven until the top gets those crusty browned yummy bits on the top kind.  The REAL mac and cheese that dreams are made of!

All of a sudden it's on virtually EVERY restaurant menu everywhere!  And not just with cheese...oh, yeah, there's cheese in it - it wouldn't be mac and CHEESE without the cheese part now, would it?  It's the other accoutrements that define this formerly modest dish that suddenly turned gourmet:  lobster, shrimp or crab mac and cheese, bacon mac and cheese, chorizo mac and cheese, 3-cheese or 4-cheese or even 5-cheese mac and cheese...then there are the veggie additions like poblanos, jalapenos, cilantro, asparagus, broccoli or spinach.  Truffles even! The list of possibilities is staggering!  The combinations endless!

And, sadly, when dining out I have to pass every single one of them by - I get teary-eyed knowing I can't indulge.  Yes, that old gluten devil keeps me from a lot of gustatory enjoyment.  But not now.  I'm fighting back!  I'm standing my ground, standing up and exercising my right to enjoy those honest-to-God, new-fangled versions of my childhood (and pre-celiac diagnosis) favorite....yes, I'm talking about GOURMET MAC AND CHEESE!  Only made at home. In my very own kitchen.   And I'm fine with that.  More than fine, actually because I can take the best of what's out there on the menus and create the mac and cheese of my very own dreams!

I got busy in the kitchen with some good, smoky gouda and cheddar cheeses, hmmmm, what would go with that?  BACON!  Smoky gouda and bacon mac and cheese.  Ehhh...still needs more to bring it up to those restaurant offerings...what to do, what to do....BEER! The final creation bubbling away in my oven became, wait for it.....Bacon and Beer Smoked Gouda and Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese! Take THAT all you snazzy restaurants with your high-priced gloriously tempting, inaccessible (to me...sniff) fancy-schmancy pasta dishes!  I did it, dammit!  

And so, dear readers, here is the recipe so you can do it yourself, too.  There's no difference in the recipe between the gluten-free version and a regular version...I just used GF flour in place of the regular all-purpose flour you would normally use and gluten-free beer in place of the regular beer you would normally use.  Use the mac of your choice - elbow, ziti, will all turn out wonderfully.  (Of course, I made this gluten-free - yep, with gluten-free beer, gf flour and gf macaroni.  And there is NO difference whatsoever!)

Smoky Bacon and Beer Gouda and Cheddar Mac and Cheese

  • 5 slices thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon, cooked crisp and broken into nice sized pieces
  • 4 T. butter
  • 2 T. (make them heaping) flour (GF flour to make this GF)
  • 1 t. salt
  • several grinds of black pepper
  • 1/2 t. Coleman's dry mustard - or any other dry mustard
  • 1 can or bottle of your favorite beer (gluten-free for GF version)
  • 1 C. half and half
  • 1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded, plus extra for the top
  • 1/2 lb. smoked gouda cheese, shredded
  •  1 lb. elbow macaroni (gluten-free to make this GF)

Melt butter in 1 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Combine the flour, salt, pepper and dry mustard and then gradually whisk  the mixture into the liquids, stirring until smooth.  Continue stirring over low heat about another minute to cook out the raw flour taste.  
Continually whisking, add the beer and the half and half  and stir until smooth and thickened.  Over very low heat, now add the cheeses a handful at a time and stirring until smooth until all the cheese is incorporated and the sauce is silken.
In the meantime, cook the pasta in heavily salted water (Mario Batali says the water should be as salty as the sea!).  Remove the pasta from the water while it is still al dente - that way the pasta soaks up some of the sauce...yummy!  (Also, it isn't a mushy mess - you want firm pasta!)  Drain the pasta well and then.

Pour the sauce over the pasta, add the bacon, mix well, pour into a large, buttered casserole dish and cover the top with a layer of shredded cheddar.   

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until it is browned and bubbly. 

NOTE:  I use nothing but the best, top quality gluten-free ingredients.  If you don't want to be disappointed in your version, use the very best yourself.  (This goes for the regular version, too!)

GF pasta can fall apart easily if you don't use a really good brand.  I use BiAglut pastas.  They're a Heinz product that is imported from Italy - IT IS EXPENSIVE!  And worth every penny.  It stays firm, it has substance that is identical in every way to normal pasta in taste and texture.  

For GF flour, I use either Jule's or Tom Sawyer.  Both brands are used just like wheat all-purpose flour - measure for measure.  

And I use Redbridge GF beer which is made by Anheuser-Busch. 

Soergel's, in the Wexford area north of Pittsburgh, is where I buy my gluten-free products.  If you're around Pittsburgh and you haven't tried Soergel's Naturally, make the trip.  You'll be glad you did.  And you'll become a regular there, too.  And they're so knowledgeable  and friendly!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Swiss Steak....Bordering on Italian Steak!

Swiss Steak

SWISS Steak?  While the name says "Swiss," clearly this recipe has had major influences from across the borders of Switzerland...the southern border, the ITALIAN border!
My mom made this all the time when I was a kid.  Her version came without the garlic, without the oregano and basil, without the red wine, without the red pepper flakes...I liked it back then, but my own family's tastes have changed and gotten (arguably) more sophisticated over the years.  Somehow the recipe segued into what it is today...a jazzed up Italian-style, rich, hearty, beefy family favorite.
Back then, when Mom served up her Swiss steak, it came accompanied with mashed potatoes, tomato-y sauce drizzled over the potatoes, Argo canned peas (ugghhh...a shiver goes down my spine from the memory!) alongside.  (Those damned peas were my dad's favorite vegetable...and that's a stretch even referring to those greyish, mushy orbs as a vegetable.)
Today I serve the fork-tender, slow-simmered steak in somewhat the same style as Mom - with mashed potatoes still drizzled with a tomato-y sauce.  Only now it's a spicy, rich, garlicky sauce redolent with wine and deep, rich flavors.  But no canned peas for my group!  Usually we enjoy bright green al dente broccoli alongside or a few beautiful stalks of asparagus.   SO much better!  I think Mom would agree.
You know, I've thought about calling my version "Italian Steak"...come on, with the red sauce, the TRULY green veggie and white potatoes on the plate you've already got the colors of the Italian flag!  I couldn't bear to change the name though...I have to hold onto at least part of the family tradition...and the memories.
Swiss Steak
  • whole bottom round stead, about 1" thick, cut into approximately 6 pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 2 large green peppers, sliced
  • 28 ounce can of tomatoes (break up the tomatoes)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 t. basil
  • 1 T. oregano
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • granulated garlic, to taste
  • 1 C. red wine, or more if needed
Remove all fat from steaks, cut into serving pieces, season well with granulated garlic, salt and pepper and brown in oil in a hot, large electric skillet (with tight fitting lid to use later).  When browned, remove from pan.
In the same skillet, add garlic, green peppers and onions; saute 5 minutes.  Remove veggies, put steaks back into skillet and cover with the veggies.  Add tomatoes, wine and seasonings.  Cover with lid (told you you'd use it later!), reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 hours or until fork tender.
Check often to be sure there is enough liquid in skillet and, if not, add a little wine or water.  Do NOT let it dry out.