Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year’s Day Deviled Eggs with Black-Eyed Peas, Spinach and Bacon

[Although I normally post new recipes on Saturdays, this week’s recipe is being posted on Friday so you’ll have it in time for your New Year’s celebration!]

In America, one of the great New Year’s Day traditions comes from the south: eating black-eyed peas for good luck. I admit it lacks the obvious appeal of the Dutch custom of eating donuts on New Year’s Day for good luck, but black-eyed peas – which are actually beans – are high in iron, fiber, potassium, and high quality protein, and low in fat, sodium and cholesterol. Take that, donuts! 

I was introduced to this tradition by my mother-in-law, who hailed, and proudly, from Meridian, Texas. Every New Year’s Day, all family members were expected to have at least one black-eyed pea. (I can’t prove that eating them brought us good luck, but not eating them when she offered would have resulted in immediate bad luck, which amounts to the same thing.) As it turned out, I liked them, which was good for at least a few points with my mother-in-law.

The usual southern custom is to make them part of a larger dish that includes bacon, ham, or similar fatty meat as a symbol of hope for a “fat” year ahead. (It also doesn’t hurt that bacon just tastes good.) The dish also often includes greens of some kind, which legend tells us symbolize paper money.

And so, to get 2011 off to a proper start, my offering today is “New Year’s Day Deviled Eggs with Black-Eyed Peas, Spinach and Bacon.” Rather than the usual egg-yolk-with-mustard filling, these deviled eggs are filled with a tasty black-eyed pea hummus. (Loyal reader and fellow food blogger Sandra of Toronto Bites recently created a lovely cranberry sauce I was honored to learn was inspired by mine. As an admirer of the wonderfully creative work Sandra has done with hummus, I’m pleased today to return the inspiration-favor.)

This recipe makes enough filling for your New Year’s Day open house, about 48 deviled half-eggs. If you don’t need to make quite that many, you can also use the filling as you would any other hummus: on flat bread, as a healthy dip or sandwich spread, etc. (Earlier this week I rolled some up in a large tortilla with grape tomatoes and some fat-free cheese slices and had a delicious lunch!)
Make your tahini by toasting ½ cup of sesame seeds at 350 degrees for 5 – 10 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool for about 15 minutes, then combine with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a food processor, pureeing until creamy.

Mix the tahini with 1-3/4 cups of black-eyed peas (canned is ok, drained but not rinsed); 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice; 1-1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire; 2 chopped garlic cloves; ½ a chopped green pepper; 1/3 cup spinach (frozen is ok if thawed and the excess water is squeezed out); 1-1/2 tablespoons of chopped onion; and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Put the mixture in the food processor – in batches if necessary - and process briefly to a thick, spreading consistency. (Don’t over-process the mixture; you don’t want it to get creamy!)

Fold in 3 tablespoons of crisp turkey bacon, chopped small. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.

Remove and discard the yolk of each half egg, and fill the well to slightly heaping with the black-eyed pea filling. (Be careful not to overdo the filling. It will make the eggs look sloppy and, more importantly, will put the egg-to-filling taste out of balance and make it not taste as good.) Top each with a few pieces of diced tomato. (You’ll need about a cup of diced tomato if doing all 48 deviled eggs.) Top each filled egg with a small amount dried parsley.
You’re now ready to serve this delicious – and healthy – treat to friends and family. Just remember to save some for yourself. You don’t want everyone else to have all the good luck, you know! (And why take chances? Grab a donut while you’re at it.)

For a cookbook style, notebook ready copy of this recipe, just let me know in a comment, an e-mail or on Facebook at Kissingthecook Recipes, and I’ll send it along.

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, everyone! Now and throughout 2011, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pecan Pie with Cranberries and Bourbon, and a Bonus: Ben's Gingerbread Hall of Fame

For this week's article, it is with great pleasure I bring to you not one, but two holiday treats as we welcome our first Christmas together, dear readers: Pecan Pie with Cranberries and Bourbon, and this year’s inductees into Ben’s Gingerbread Hall of Fame.

Pecan Pie with Cranberries and Bourbon
For many people, few things say holiday season like a fresh Pecan Pie. The problem is that often, when we say Pecan Pie, we end up meaning Pecan-Flavored-Sugar-and-Syrup-Pie.
To keep the pie’s traditional deep flavor while making the sweetness a bit less overpowering, today's recipe introduces fresh cranberries and orange zest into the mix, uses less corn syrup than many other recipes, adds some half-and-half to give the filling a smooth, praline-like quality, as well as just a bit of bourbon. I’ve also used my reduced-fat pie crust, egg substitute and butter substitute which, for Pecan Pie, I admit seems at first to be a bit like the old joke about someone ordering a double hot fudge sundae without the cherry because he’s on a diet. It still reduces the fat content, though.

Here’s how to make this delicious and somewhat different Pecan Pie:

In a mixing bowl, blend 1 cup packed brown sugar, 3 tablespoons of melted butter substitute and ¼ teaspoon of kosher salt. Once that’s mixed well, add 3 egg substitute eggs and mix till they absorbed. Then add 6 fluid ounces of light corn syrup, 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, ½ cup of fat-free half-and-half, and 2 tablespoons of bourbon. Whisk into a smooth, thick liquid.

Blind bake a 9” pie shell and, when firm, apply an egg glaze. Line the inside of the pie shell with 1-1/4 cup pecan halves, the zest of one orange, and ½ cup of halved fresh cranberries. Then fill the shell with the liquid mixture.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is set and jiggles similar to jello, about another 30 minutes. (Note that when the pie is baking, the filling will puff up higher than crust. Don’t worry; it will settle when the pie cools.) The filling will get firmer when the pie cools.

The Gingerbread Hall of Fame
Every year – well, every year that I feel like it – part of making gingerbread cookies is inducting a few deserving people into my Gingerbread Hall of Fame. Its purpose it to pay homage to those who, either in the past year or more generally, have achieved legendary status, and then bite their heads, arms, and legs off. Before we get to the 2010 inductees, please welcome these previous recipients of this great honor:

The "Great Artists" series (from left to right: Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Toulouse Lautrec):

You’ve Got Mail:

CSI North Pole:

For people with a good memory for 2008 magazine covers, Jennifer Aniston:

For people with even better memories of 2008 football heroes who turn out to be complete knuckleheads, Plaxico Burress:

Rod Blagojevich

And now, without further ado, please welcome the Gingerbread Hall of Fame, Class of 2010:

From left to right: Lady Gaga…Justin Bieber…and The Old Spice Guy!

Wishing everyone a holiday filled with smiles and sweet stuff!

See you in 2011! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember – especially this Friday night - to kiss the cook.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gingerbread Christmas Dollhouse

 [I apologize in advance for this article being longer than usual. It was shortened where possible, but making a gingerbread house, while fun and accessible to all, can’t be fully described in 500 words, especially if all the helpful tips and tricks I learned along the way are included. The time spent reading the extra paragraphs will be well worth it!]

Introduction: Why a Gingerbread Doll House?
“Do you know what I want to do this year?”

My wife has endured this Ralph Kramden-like wait-till-you-hear-my-latest-great-idea thing for enough years to now take it in stride. “What do you want to do this year?”

“I want to build a gingerbread house. Ever since the first one we tried didn’t work, it’s bothered me.”

“That was thirty years ago.”

“Well, it’s bothered me for thirty years.”

It’s true. In December of 1980, we’d been dating for a few months and decided, for some reason, to make a gingerbread house. And so, armed with a gingerbread recipe and, in those pre-internet days, nothing else, we forged ahead. I’ll spare you the details, dear readers, and will say only that to call the results a disaster would be generous.

Fast forward to December 2010. Having now had actual cooking experience, I was ready try again. Of course, true cosmic vengeance against the failure demons was not going to come from a kit. It would require something different, and special. Something like…a gingerbread dollhouse. This meant an open-faced house built to dollhouse scale, where 1 inch equals one foot. For the simple house I used – one room with an attic – this would end up being about 11” wide, 10” deep, and about 16” high. And while the large (by gingerbread house standards) dimensions made for a challenge, the same process also applies to normal size gingerbread houses. I hope that by setting down the pieces and steps that go into making a gingerbread house, this article will encourage readers to give this old, wonderful art form a try.

The Gingerbread
There are countless gingerbread recipes available on the internet, in cookbooks, etc. You may even already have one you like to use. Any will do. (I use a lemon gingerbread recipe that I can’t publish here since it doesn’t belong to me. But I’ll be happy to send it along to anyone who asks.)

The Icing
The icing you’ll use is critical, both for general decorating and as glue for holding the pieces together. I’ve found royal icing to be the best choice. I recommend learning royal icing even if you’re not planning on making anything with gingerbread. It’s easy to make and handle, tastes lovely, and takes flavors and food coloring well. You’ll find it to be a powerful multi-purpose tool in your baking arsenal. It’s used on a wide range of items, including cookies and cupcakes.

The ingredients are simple: 2 egg whites (from real eggs, not from a carton), the juice of ½ lemon, and three cups of confectioner’s sugar. (For added firmness, you can also add a pinch of cream of tartar.) Since you won’t be cooking the egg whites, it’s necessary to prepare the icing in a way that addresses the very remote possibility of salmonella. This is easier than it sounds. You can either just make the icing using powdered egg whites, or, if you’re using real eggs, combine the egg whites, lemon juice, and one cup of the confectioner’s sugar, and microwave the mixture until it reaches a temperature of 160 to 170 degrees F. (The time will vary with the microwave; it takes about a minute in mine.) Then add the remaining two cups of confectioner’s sugar (and the cream of tartar if you’re using it), and beat well until stiff peaks form. (This can be done with either a hand mixer or a stand mixer, though you’ll find the stand mixer to be a good bit faster.) Put the mix into a sealed plastic bag and clip off a corner (or use a regular piping bag) and you’ve got a delicious icing that will dry hard when left in the open, and that will stay soft in the plastic bag for several days.

The Design
I recommend keeping the basic (undecorated) design simple and of normal dimensions. The dollhouse scale idea ultimately worked, but it did make the project quite a lot harder to do, and I would not do a gingerbread house to that large scale again. It’s possible to buy kits, but if you look at gingerbread house pictures on the internet you’ll find many you can do without a kit using simple, straight cuts.

The Model
Working things out ahead of time is the key to making a gingerbread structure that works. A big help will be to measure the pieces out on cardboard first and cut them out for use as templates when working with the gingerbread. You can also fit the cardboard pieces together first to make sure the overall design works. I found it helpful to use foam-board for this, since it’s about the thickness of the gingerbread and so makes for an especially good model.

Decorating Your House
Just have fun with this. I started out planning a design for the decorations, but found it was easier – and more enjoyable – to just walk in the candy section of the food store and get anything that looked like it might be good on a gingerbread house. (When your house is finished you’ll have a lot of extra candy this way, but that’s a good thing.) When decorating time came, I sat with the piles of different candies and improvised. A couple of candies in particular that I’d recommend you include are fruit roll-ups, which were useful for the floor tiles, roof shingles, and the curtains on the windows; and fruit flavored Tootsie Rolls, which not only have good colors but also are soft enough to be molded like clay to fit around corners, into tight spaces, etc.

Making the Gingerbread Parts
After making the gingerbread dough as per whatever recipe you’re using, roll it out to about 3/16”, cut the pieces out using your cardboard templates, and bake on parchment on a baking sheet at about 350 degrees for 7 to 14 minutes (depending on the size of the pieces), turning the tray around half-way for more even baking. When it’s baked, but still hot and soft, use the templates to trim the pieces, since they’ll expand a bit while baking. (Helpful trick: when you first cut the raw dough, cut it just a bit large, so that when you trim the pieces after baking, you’ll have nice squared edges to work with.) Let the pieces cool on a rack and harden thoroughly before assembling them. And don’t forget to set aside the trimmed-off parts for eating. It’s still gingerbread, you know!

Assemble the pieces using the icing as glue. To do this, apply a thin coat to one surface to be joined, and a generous bead on the other surface. Press them together and hold for about 30 seconds before releasing. (Depending on the pieces, you may in some cases need to reapply the icing.) Even after it starts to get firm, it can take several hours (think overnight) for the icing to get really hard. In some cases, it may be necessary to glue over a couple of days, waiting until the icing is hardened before attaching other pieces to it. Assemble the pieces on a base (a tray, cardboard, etc.) for ease of handling, transporting, etc. Having someone to help will make assembling the pieces much easier. If necessary, use cans of food or something similar to hold the pieces in place while the icing glue hardens.

Should a piece of gingerbread break, the icing makes good glue to repair it. Just let the patch harden before using the piece.

Applying the Decorations
Attaching all that wonderful candy is the most fun part of all. You might even consider sharing the fun with other family members, especially younger ones! For technique, you’ll just apply a generous amount of icing to either the gingerbread or to the candy, and press it on, wiping away any excess, then press down for a few seconds to set it. (For some candies, you’ll find it necessary to turn the house so that the side you’re working on is horizontal; if you apply candies to a vertical surface, gravity will be working against you.) Just make sure you use enough icing, and let the icing firm up before you turn the house upright again.

One other tip about decorating: use plenty of candy, but not so much that the whole surface of the gingerbread is covered. Let the gingerbread be the gingerbread.

So there it is! I hope you’ll give this a try, though I recommend making a normal small house before trying something large. You’ll have a great Willy Wonka feeling in no time, lost in a wonderful world of cookies and candies.

In the days ahead I’ll get some additional photos onto the Kissing the Cook Facebook page. Come check them out!

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Electric Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Apricots

Aside from being easy to serve, canned, jellied cranberry sauce has this redeeming quality: eating it is such good-tasting fun that you forget it doesn’t have any other redeeming qualities. I confess, with just the right amount of righteous guilt, to being a big fan of the stuff.

Still, with Christmas dinner barreling toward us at high speed and us staring at it like a reindeer in the headlights, it seems as good a time as any for "electric cranberry sauce with apples and apricots." It's a delicious, easy, and just a bit grown-up cranberry sauce I think you’ll like.

In a cup or small bowl, soak ½ cup of chopped dried apricots in 1/3 cup of brandy while you prepare the other ingredients. (It's this touch of brandy that gives this sauce both its deep taste and the word "electric" in its name.)

Combine 2 cups of cranberries, 1 large chopped apple, the juice and zest of one orange, 1/2 cup of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon of nutmeg in a saucepan. Heat it to boiling, then reduce it to a simmer until the cranberries are tender and start to burst, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water, and mix into the cranberry mixture, cooking until thickened. Add the apricots, including the brandy, and heat until cooked through and the smell of alcohol subsides, about 3 minutes. If necessary, add additional sugar to taste. (I've found adding another 3 tablespoons works for me, but you may like more or less.)

If you’d like a cookbook style, notebook-ready copy of this recipe, just let me know in a comment or e-mail and it will be on its way, guaranteed to arrive in time for Christmas.

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dreamy, Creamy Broccoli Soup

I’ve heard it said that musicians dream in music. It makes perfect sense to me, because my wife, at least sometimes, dreams in recipes.

One day last week, my wife woke up and told me that dinner that night was going to be a low-fat creamy broccoli soup recipe she’d just dreamed. She’s a good cook, particularly with regard to instinct and improvising, and since it was not the first time this recipe-dreaming thing happened it sounded good to me. It wasn’t until dinner that night that I knew just how good, and that, with my wife’s permission, the soup had to be the first (and hopefully not the last) “guest recipe” presented in this space. My only contributions to this were:
  • recogni

Ladle about half the vegetables into a bowl, leaving the other half in the roux. Puree the vegetables removed in a blender, then add the pureed vegetables back into the roux.

In a separate pan, sauté about a do

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ginger Beer Can Chicken

Roasting a chicken is likely to be the last thing on anyone’s mind while we’re still trying to figure out what to do with all that leftover turkey, so my timing for this post could probably have been better.

Still, this is not about just any roasted chicken recipe. Beer can chicken is one of those culinary staples that most people who cook either have made or eventually will get around to making. Many recipes for beer can chicken are for the grille, some (including mine) are for the oven, but most are similar; you can probably tell from the photo that there just aren’t that many different ways to put a beer can up the back end of a chicken. (I did feel a little intrusive taking this photo, and kept thinking the chicken should really be holding a newspaper.)

Still, wanting to do something different with this fun and interesting cooking method, I made “Ginger Beer Can Chicken.”  Not ginger beer can chicken, mind you, but ginger beer can chicken. It uses the classic beer can chicken approach of baking a chicken with spice rub on its outside and a beverage can in its body cavity to provide a moist, flavorful inside, but replaces the beer with ginger beer and uses a spice rub combination that’s compatible with that.

Ginger beer, for anyone not familiar with it, is a soft drink that’s something like ginger ale but with a much stronger bite and more complex taste and color. (The original ginger beer was an alcoholic beverage, and if you look hard you can still find that, but the soft drink kind is by far the most common now.) Not every store carries it, but finding one that does is worth the effort. I found mine through an on-line search that indicated it’s available in my area at many 24-hour bodega type stores and at Trader Joe’s.

Some general notes before beginning:
  • I admit “ginger beer can chicken” is something of a misnomer, since ginger beer normally comes in a bottle. There are several reasons why I think putting the bottle inside the chicken would not be a good idea, so we’ll be pouring our ginger beer into an empty soda or beer can.
  • It’s possible to purchase a beer can chicken rack to hold both the can and the chicken in place during cooking. This is probably a good idea if you’re cooking it on a grille but, as you can see from the top photo, it’s not necessary for an oven recipe.
  • Be sure to handle the chicken using all the usual safe hygiene practices.
This is an easy and fun method for cooking a delicious, moist chicken. And it may even start some very entertaining dinner table conversations among your family or guests.

Begin by preheating  your oven to 400 degrees. (Be sure the oven rack is low enough to allow the chicken to stand on end while baking.) While the oven is preheating, rinse a four to five pound chicken, inside and out, with cold water, and dry using paper towels.

Prepare a spice rub by combining the following:  2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon dried sage, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley. Rub half of the spice rub under the skin onto the chicken breast meat, then rub the other half inside the chicken’s body cavity. Once that’s done, coat the skin of the chicken with olive oil.

Put 8 ounces of ginger beer into an empty 12 ounce soda can. Cover the outside of the soda can with foil and punch two or three extra holes in the top using a can opener. Insert the can into the cavity (as shown in the top photo) and place the chicken, standing up, in a pie pan (serving as a drip pan) on a baking sheet, using the drumsticks to support the chicken.

Bake the chicken for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 and bake until the internal temperature in the thigh meat is at least 180 degrees (about 90 minutes), basting every 20 minutes or so. After that, remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for about ten minutes.

After the chicken has rested, carefully extract and discard the soda can. While the logistics of removing a hot can from inside a hot, oiled chicken without tearing the chicken and/or spilling the can’s contents into the chicken are often the most challenging part of making any form of beer can chicken, I found a way to make it easy. All that’s required is to punch a small hole in the bottom of the soda can and let the contents drain out. Once the hot liquid is drained, the can becomes much easier to remove using tongs.

You can serve the chicken with cranberry sauce (as in the photo, a recipe I’m putting the finishing touches on and hope to post in the near future), with the pan juices after the fat has been removed using a gravy separator, with a gravy made from thickening the pan juices, or with any other topping you like with chicken.

Want a notebook-ready, cookbook-style copy of this recipe? No problem! Just let me know in a comment or an e-mail and I'll get it right out to you.

I hope to see you again next week. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)