Category Archives: Recipes

Easy, Elegant Mushroom Bisque – Plus a Bonus Recipe

This soup blows the doors off the canned stuff and delivers instant comfort. It’s so quick and easy, I actually make it for myself for a weekday lunch, and the leftovers are just as magical the next day!

First let me say that Better Than Bouillon’s Mushroom Base is the magic ingredient.  Mushrooms are naturally full of flavor boosting glutimates (think naturally occurring MSG) so they amp up the flavor of anything they are added to.  This mushroom base is a quick, convenient way to add depth of flavor and umami-liciousness to so many things.

I add it to soups, stews, stir fries, gravies.  A half tsp or so adds that savory “something” without your being able to detect the flavor “mushrooms!”  My man has a primal loathing for mushrooms and even he doesn’t mind it at all when I add this to dishes.

Quick tip:  Better than Bouillon makes a wide range of bases and they are all some of my most-reached-for flavor boosting ingredients.

If you have a jar of this mushroom base and 30 minutes, you can make a swoon worthy, creamy mushroom soup – or – BONUS!  If you stop in the middle of this recipe, you will have a glorious mushroom sauce for steaks, burgers, meatloaf, grilled portobellos or heck, a piping hot, fluffy mountain of mashed potatoes!

Here’s what you need:

  • 8 oz of sliced mushrooms – all one kind, or as I used here, a packaged, precut blend
  • 2 Tbsp clarified butter (I love Trader Joe’s) or 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp neutral oil like grapeseed
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base
  • healthy splash of DRY Sherry, Brandy, DRY Vermouth, white wine, apple cider – optional but adds so much flavor
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp dried fine herbs or 1/4 tsp dried tarragon – optional but again, lots of flavor
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt, to taste if needed

Here’s what to do:

In a 4 qt Dutch oven or heavy bottomed sauce pan, sautee mushrooms in butter over medium heat

When the mushrooms start to pick up a little color…

add the shallots and sautee till they are tender and translucent.

Deglaze the pan with a healthy splash (2-4 Tbsp max) of dry Sherry, dry Vermouth, brandy, crisp white wine or even apple cider.

If you don’t want to use any of these options, skip this step.  But you’re skipping a lot of flavor.  Just sayin’…

When all the liquid has evaporated, add the flour, stir and cook for 2 minutes.

Resist the temptation to add more fat.  It might look a bit dry, but it will be fine!

Add the water, mushroom base, and black pepper.  Stir, bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes to thoroughly cook the flour.

At this point you have an amazingly flavorful mushroom gravy – just add salt to taste.  If you want it thicker, simmer a bit longer.  If you want it thinner, add more water.

To move on to create mushroom bisque…

add the fine herbs/tarragon and milk.  Bring to a simmer – once you’ve added the milk, don’t let the soup come to a full boil.

You can add more milk if you want a thinner texture, or a splash of half and half to add richness.

You have some texture choices with this soup. You can serve as is, hit it with a few bursts of your stick (immersion) blender to break up the mushrooms into smaller bits, or full-on puree it for a silky smooth soup.

I like the middle road of partly pureed with lots of mushroom bits, so I grabbed my stick blender.

This soup is rich tasting but not too crazy on the fat.  It will serve 4 as appetizer portions or 2 for a meal with bread and a mixed green salad.  If you need more servings, this recipe is easy to double, triple etc..

One caution: this soup will not freeze well. Plan to eat what you make within a day or so.

Enjoy!  E. <><

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Mixed Citrus and Beet Salad (Ensalada Navidad)

I love citrus season so much.  We scarf down big bags of grapefruits, Cara Cara and Heirloom Navel oranges (yay Trader Joes!) and I definitely break into my happy dance right in the produce aisle (can’t stop won’t stop!) when I spy the first Meyer Lemons of the season.  Swoon!  I also love me some beets, so I have always been attracted to the gorgeous Mexican Christmas salad, Ensalada Navidad.

There are numerous versions of this salad with all kinds of different formats and add ins, but a great many feature mixed citrus fruits and beets.  I needed to bring something to small group and I had everything I needed on hand, so I whipped up a platter of healthy, gorgeous, seasonal goodness to share.

Here’s what you need:

  • 5 oranges – all one kind or a mix of Heirloom Navel, Cara Cara, Blood, etc.
  • 1 lb of cooked beets (I used the kind you get in the produce aisle that are already cooked and vacuum packed. You can roast your own if you like, but that is 1000% more work than I think it’s worth here, but you do you)
  • 1 Meyer Lemon
  • 1/2 cup toasted, shelled pumpkin seeds (Pepitas)
  • 2-3 Tbsp honey, to taste
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup neutral vegetable oil such as grapeseed
  • kosher salt to taste

Here’s what to do:

Zest one of the oranges and put the zest in a small mixing bowl where you will build the dressing.  Carefully cut the rinds off all the oranges.  You do NOT need to cut the rind off the Meyer Lemon.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist another angle – is there anything more beautiful and cheery than citrus fruit??? Nope!

Okay, now don’t toss those rinds into the compost heap just yet.  You are going to give each one a quick squeeze over your dressing bowl to catch all that juice for your dressing. Hopefully you will end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 Tbsp of orange juice.

Slice the oranges and beets into 1/4″ thick slices, and the Meyer Lemon into paper thin slices.  The oranges & beets will be slicker than wet soap, so make sure your knife is super-sharp and you take your time!

Again, just so gorgeous, no?  It’s moments like this that I am once again grateful that God gives us such an amazing variety of foods to enjoy! If you noticed the beets didn’t make it to the photo shoot, I had them segregated in a small bowl so they wouldn’t bleed all over the other fruits or me!

Arrange the beets and citrus in rows on your platter – be creative and do it how it looks best to you.  I thought a blue platter would look nice with the orange & red fruits, but yeah, not so much!  I guess that’s why I mostly use white serving pieces…

Yep, a neutral serving platter was the way to go, but I was not about to embark on a do-over.  Why that didn’t occur to me on row 1 is I believe what psychologists call “Cognitive Tunneling”. ; )

You should already have the zest of one orange and about 3 Tbsp (give or take) orange juice in your dressing bowl.  To that add the lime juice and zest, the honey, oil and about 1/4 tsp kosher salt.  Whisk together and taste.

Add more honey or salt if you like, or if you feel like the dressing should be a bit more tart, add a splash of white wine or rice vinegar (something with a neutral taste).

Drizzle the dressing all over the salad (you don’t have to use it all – see below for what to do with any extra) and top with the pepitas.  Once you dress the salad, eat it fairly soon.

To make it ahead, you can arrange the fruits and chill them for a few hours at most.  If you store it too long the fruit will just start losing juice and wilt on you.  A decidedly un-Feliz Navidad.

Any leftover dressing is amazing tossed with crisp salad greens such as Iceberg or Romaine, supremed orange sections and diced avocado.  That was my glorious lunch the next day!

 

Christmas Cake Cookie Bon Bons

Whoa, I know that title is a mouthful, but these yummy Christmas confections are a magical blend of part fruit cake (don’t think the gross kind full of soggy nuts and chemical laden frankenfruits), part cookie and part candy-like bon bon.  They are chock full of real dried fruits and citrus rinds, crunchy walnuts, and oh yeah, Bourbon and dry Sherry!  They are definitely for the grown-ups, and utterly perfect with a cup of hot tea, a glass of sherry or if you’re really OG Christmas, Russian Tea.

Here is what you need and how to make them:

For the Cookies –

  • 3 cups total of chopped, mixed, dried fruits such as raisins, craisins, sultanas, dates, dried pineapple, dried cherries, candied orange & lemon rinds, etc.
  • 4 tablespoons Bourbon*
  • 4 tablespoons dry Sherry*
  • *(you can substitute Amaretto for the Sherry or apple cider for all the liquor)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, divided
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2″ paper candy cups (about 48 to 54 of them)

For the Glaze & Decoration

  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste (or regular vanilla extract)
  • 4 teaspoons Bourbon
  • pinch of salt
  • thinly sliced candied orange or lemon peel

In a medium glass bowl, toss mixed fruits and peels with the Bourbon and Sherry.

I used equal parts raisins, sultanas, craisins, dried cherries, dried pineapple, candied orange rinds and candied lemon rinds.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to “marinate” until almost all of the liquor is absorbed, stirring every couple of hours. This should take about 8 hours or you can do this overnite. When the fruit is ready, you will have a lovely plump, glossy mix that looks like this (I had already folded in the walnuts before I snapped the pic):

Speaking of candied citrus peels-

you want good quality ones that are just citrus rinds and sugar – not the dyed, preservative-filled stuff that is sold for “fruitcakes”.  I get mine at a Middle Eastern market, but many high quality grocers carry them.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 48 to 54 1.5” paper candy cups on a rimmed baking sheet.

Stir walnuts into fruit mixture. Sprinkle ½ cup of the flour into fruit mixture, and stir to coat evenly.

To make the cookie/cake batter:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat to incorporate thoroughly. Add remaining ½ cup flour, baking powder, salt, and spices and mix on low till combined. Add fruit mixture and beat on low till combined – stopping to scrape bowl to be sure batter is evenly distributed around the fruit, nuts and peels (there will be more fruit mixture than batter so this is important).

Using a #100 disher or a teaspoon, portion a level scoop of dough into baking cups.

Press disher into cup so dough touches paper before squeezing to release the dough ball.

The dough won’t spread, so you can place the cups right next to each other in the pan.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets at halfway point, until just lightly brown, about 23 minutes. Cool.

Dice a few strips of candied orange or lemon peel to garnish the cookies

Whisk glaze ingredients together to make a thick glaze (too thick to drizzle, but thin enough to spread a bit).

Spoon glaze onto cookies; garnish with peel.

These cookies keep well, so they can be made ahead and kept at room temp in an airtight container.  In fact, they just get yummier as they “ripen”.  Enjoy!

Easy, Festive Dessert for a Crowd

Hey, y’all, since it’s Christmas time and you may be looking for an easy, festive, make-ahead dessert to feed a crowd, I thought I’d share an updated version of the most popular recipe on my blog –

Chocolate Cream Trifle.

This simple Trifle recipe has been viewed over 750 times! It’s elegant enough to be the only dessert you serve, but simple enough to make for a buffet.

Click through to the post for the recipe and all the deets…

PS – If you’re not feeding a crowd, you can easily halve the recipe and make it in a smaller dish!

Enjoy!

-Elizabeth <><

Spritz Cookies 101 – Fast, Easy, Gift-Worthy and Delicious

Are you looking for a Christmas cookie that looks festive, tastes great, ships well, stays fresh and yummy for ages and oh, yeah, is quick and inexpensive to make a LOT of?  Would you like to crank out 10-12 dozen gift-worthy treats in less time than it takes to do a load of laundry? They say you can’t have it all, but with Spritz Cookies, you really can.

Spritz are my #1 favorite Christmas cookie, the only one I make every year.  If you avoid making Spritz because you think they are time consuming, fussy, and require an expensive gadget or hard-to-master techniques, let me tell ya, nope, nope, nope and more nope!  You can do this!  If you have failed at these in the past, I’m here to tell you all you need to make delicious, adorable Spritz cookies is a great recipe, the right (inexpensive) tool and a few tips and tricks.  And some fun practice.  I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to crank these out like a pro.

First, a great recipe.

I have been making Spritz as long as I can remember, and I’ve tried and tinkered with a LOT of recipes (my man is a very willing Spritz Cookie test subject).  This recipe is our favorite.  The dough comes together in minutes, doesn’t need to be chilled, is easy to work with and makes cookies with nice, distinct edges (Spritz cookies that puff or spread = Spritz Cookie Fail). Oh, and they are sooo buttery ‘licious you may need to make two batches just to have any left to give away (no comment). This recipe makes 10-12 dozen.

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, room temp (don’t use unsalted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp almond extract (totally optional)*
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (the magic ingredient for crisp Spritz)
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

In a large mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla (and almond extract if using) and beat until thoroughly combined.  Scrape down bowl sides to make sure everything is incorporated.  On low, beat in the cornstarch.  When the cornstarch is completely incorporated, add the flour and mix on low till just combined – do not overmix.  Scrape down the bowl to make sure you don’t have any dry pockets.

The dough should be fairly stiff (stiffer than chocolate chip cookie dough, but not as dry as pie crust) and look like this:

You’re now ready to press, and that took 10 minutes tops.  Totally easy, yes or yes?

A word about tinting.  If you want to divide the dough and tint it, knock yourself out.  I find that fussy and I don’t like the way it looks with a lightly browned edge.  Just my personal preference, so you do you.

Second, you need the right tool.

Here’s where the wheels can really come off.  If you have a cookie press that looks like this, RUN!

This type of press (which a plunger you push by hand) is great for piping whipped cream or frosting, or filling manicotti.  It is a NIGHTMARE for trying to make cookies.

What you need is a gadget that looks like this:

The “right” type of cookie press has a trigger mechanism. See the little “teeth” on the metal plunger bar up top?  Each time you squeeze the trigger, those little teeth engage and plunge out exactly one perfect spritz cookie’s worth of dough.  Most presses will come with several die for different shapes, and bonus points if yours also comes with a set of nozzles for filling canapes and deviled eggs – hey this ain’t no “unitasker”!  Don’t spend a lot here.  Mine cost $15 and I believe I’ve had it longer than I’ve been married, which will be 27 years this Christmas!

Third, you need some tried and true tips and tricks to speed things along

Preheat your oven to 350 and line several heavy gauge cookie sheets with silpats or parchment paper (silpats are easier to work with – the edges don’t curl up on you).

The press might not come with instructions, so here is how to use one:

Take it apart and release the plunger all the way back

Place your chosen die inside the cap and screw onto the barrel

Grab a blob of dough roughly the same size as the barrel of your cookie press and roll it on the counter into a log a bit smaller in diameter.

Plop the dough in the barrel.  Tap it down on the counter and smush out (so technical) any air pockets with your fingers.  Be sure to leave about 1″ of space at the top to insert the plunger

Insert the plunger and screw the press shut.  Yes, a bunch of dough is going to squish out the end.  If it doesn’t, squeeze the trigger till some does.  Is this taking anyone back to their Play Doh days?

Scrape off the squished out dough, toss it back in the bowl, and you are good to go.  Your loaded weapon should look like this:

Place the press right into the corner of your pan, and squeeze the trigger two times – do this for the first, and ONLY the first, cookie.  This primes the pump.  *Note: you need to do this priming step each time your refill your press*

You’ll get a jumbo cookie which you can either scrape off and toss back in the bowl or leave as a treat for the cook (my vote).

For each subsequent cookie, place the press as close to the last cookie as you can, always making sure the entire circumference of the press is resting on the cookie sheet.  Squeeze the trigger once and quickly lift off.  The cookies will not spread, so the more you can get on a sheet, the fewer batches you will have to bake off.

If you are right handed, it’s easiest to begin in the top left corner and work your way down and then across the sheet to the right, and vice versa if you are a leftie.  Once you get the hang of it, you can zip out a tray in about a minute.  That takes a bit of practice, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the zen of learning!

If you have trouble getting your cookies to “stick”  (a) your dough may be a bit too warm (if your kitchen is warm and humid) so chill it for 20 mins max (you don’t want it hard or you won’t be able to get it thru the press). Or (b) you may have a bit of butter, etc. on your silpats from your last batch of cookies.  They have to be meticulously clean or your Spritz will NOT stick and you will go nuts trying.

Don’t worry about those little “peaks” of dough on each cookie.  They help contain the sugar sprinkles, and you will pat them out a bit after decorating.

You can top the Spritz with any number of things: colored sugars, sprinkles, chocolate jimmies, nonpareils, edible glitter, etc.  Or you can leave them plain and drizzle or dip in chocolate.

After you put on your sugar, sprinkles, etc., verrrrry lightly pat each cookie to get the sugar to adhere and flatten those peaks a tiny bit.  Do NOT flatten the cookies!  This year I bought some edible glitter and I am loving the look (center row)

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are ever so slightly browned on the edges.  You can go to lightly browned edges if you like ’em extra crispy.

Okay, get those babies off the sheets right away.  

Here’s the only fussy step – you will have to wash the silpats very well between batches (or use a new sheet of parchment) so that your cookies will stick to the sheets and you won’t have color contamination from the last batch.  I also run cold water over the pans to cool them.

You can change die between batches or mid batch if you want to try a lot of shapes.  Be aware that the more complicated the die pattern, the harder it is to press it nicely.  In the top pic of my set, the 8-petaled flower is a pain in the patuckus, so I rarely use it.

At the end, you will be left with one blob of dough. I always shape it into a monster Spritz topped with peppermint crunch for myself. 

I also do a dozen or so regular spritz topped with peppermint crunch (smashed candy canes you can buy in a jar). 

The peppermint Spritz are just for us, because while DELICIOUS, the peppermints melt and look terrible!

I am, however, calling the edible glitter a big success because it looks great and doesn’t taste like anything but sugar (I was a little worried it would taste weird).

A word about storage: Store these cookies in an airtight container all by themselves. Because they contain so much butter, they easily pick up off flavors. They freeze beautifully but again you need to wrap them up tightly to protect them from picking up freezer flavors.

I hope I have encouraged you to give Spritz a try this Christmas!  Let me know how they come out!

Stollen Muffins

Merry Christmas in muffin form!

Finally!  It’s officially (past) time to start crankin’ the Christmas tunes, bustin’ out the holiday decorations and baking, baking, baking!  I’m one of those weirdos whose favorite season is winter, because faux fur throws, snow and CHRISTMAS!  Christmas is my happy place, and I hit it hard.  Today I whipped up a batch of my all-time favorite muffins – Stollen Muffins.

I’m not a massive fan of Stollen per se (too dry) but these muffins pack many of my favorite Christmas flavors into one moist, chewy and thankfully not-too-sweet package.  These babies are chock full of spices, nuts, fruits and candied rinds but only 1/3 cup of sugar!  If you don’t have or don’t like one of the ingredients, leave it out or swap something else in.  These taste so much like “Christmas” to me that I make them throughout the year when I need a dose of Christmas spirit.  I also individually wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze them for when a cheer emergency hits.  These freeze perfectly and are just the thing with a cuppa on your afternoon break.  Enjoy!

Preheat your oven to 400 and place a rack in the center of the oven.  In a large mixing bowl combine:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp. ground coriander seed
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice

Add, and toss to thoroughly coat & combine:

  • 1/3 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried pineapple, chopped into small bits
  • 1/3 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/4 cup candied lemon peel, chopped
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel, chopped

In a 2 cup glass measure whisk together:

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 6 Tbsp melted butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 10 drops Fiori di Sicillia – or – 1/2 tsp each lemon extract and orange extract (or equivalent of lemon and orange food grade oil)

Add to dry ingredients and stir gently just to combine.  Here’s where your trusty dough whisk comes in handy.  This dough is pretty stiff and full of goodies, so don’t panic if you think it’s not “wet” enough.

The batter will be fairly stiff and chock full of yummy bits. A dough whisk is a great tool for mixing muffins and other quick batters.

Generously grease a standard muffin pan and scoop the batter into the wells – an extra large #16 disher makes quick work of this!

Dishers make portioning cookie and muffin batters soooo easy!

Bake 18-20 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out moist but clean.  The muffins will be browned on the sides but not the tops.  DO NOT cook them till browned on top or you will have Stollen Hockey Pucks.

Bake till muffin tests done, the sides are browned but the top is not

Let the muffins cool in the pan 5 minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack.  A plastic knife is your friend here – easy to slide under the muffins without scratching your pan.

See?  Nicely browned on the sides – I love my USA Pans!  Use a plastic knife to avoid scratching your beloved pan.

When muffins are completely cooled, brush the tops with melted butter and dip the them in powdered sugar.

Any day I get to use my baby silicone basting brush is a good one!

I used King Arthur’s Non Melting Powdered Sugar – it’s a special type of powdered sugar that won’t melt into your moist baked goods like regular powdered sugar does.  It tastes and feels like the powdered sugar on a boxed powdered sugar donut (admittedly not fab, but hey, I gotta use it up!).  As you likely don’t have this stuff on hand, I would advise waiting to butter & sugar the muffins until right before you eat them.  Or – you can dip them warm from the oven in powdered sugar (which will melt) and then dip them again after they are completely cool (don’t use the butter).

These muffins will feel “firm” and dense in your hand, but the insides are moist, chewy and perfectly delicious!

Mmmm – moist, chewy and soooo flavorful!

Homemade Remineralizing Mouthwash

I am a bit of a stickler for oral hygiene.  Hand to God – I floss religiously! My dentist loves me!  But there is one thing he would like me to do that I just can’t get down with – swishing with some iteration of Listerine every day.  That stuff is excruciating!!! I dunno, pain is our bodies’ way of saying “yeah, not so much” so I’m just not keen on lighting my mouth on fire twice a day in the name of oral heath.

Due to a steady childhood diet of antibiotics to treat chronic ear infections, my husband’s adult teeth have especially vulnerable enamel.  He is the king of good oral hygiene and still faces a lot of challenges with his teeth.  Lately we have been thinking that all of this brushing, flossing, water piking, prescription pastes and rinses, etc. might be helping to stave off decay (though not very well!), but they aren’t really doing anything to promote health.  There is a big difference between eradicating or warding off disease and actually promoting health, right?

So I decided to look into more holistic approaches to having healthy teeth and gums. One of the first things I noticed was tons of people going on about homemade remineralizing mouth rinses.  Pretty much all of them contain calcium carbonate, trace minerals and purified water.  The variations come in how you sweeten it (if at all) and the essential oils you use for flavor and for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.

What the heck is a remineralizing mouthwash, and why should you use one?  Simple. We eat and drink a lot of acidic, sugary things that are no bueno for our teeth.  They create a plaque promoting environment in our mouths, and we end up with fur coated teeth by the end of the day.  A remineralizing rinse is a safe, all-natural liquid that bathes your teeth in a gentle, good-for-them, mineral-rich, neutralizing and quite tasty solution.

Can I say how much I LOVE this stuff???  It’s good for your teeth and gums, tastes amazing, leaves your mouth fresh and clean and doesn’t in the least bit hurt (unless you overdo it with the cinnamon oil – yikes!).  My husband and I both like how fresh it leaves our mouths feeling and tasting, and we’ve both noticed that our teeth are less “fuzzy” at the end of the day.  Plus, everything in it is natural, inexpensive, easy to find and can be used for other things around the house and kitchen.  You could actually swallow the stuff and it won’t make you sick – try that with Listerine.  Uh, don’t swallow it tho, because gross – you’re using it to flush the yuckies from your mouth!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • Calcium carbonate powder – this is just the powder form of calcium many of us take in our daily supplements.  Apparently you can also use it to make your own chalk paint!  You can find this online or in a vitamin store, and it’s very inexpensive.
  • ConcenTrace Trace Mineral Drops – this actually is a daily mineral supplement, made from water in the Great Salt Lake.  You can add it to juice or your smoothie, and some people add it to RO water to improve the taste.  I got mine on Amazon.
  • Xylitol – this is a natural sugar alcohol.  It is used in toothpaste, sugar free gum, etc. and it’s actually good for your teeth because it starves the bacteria in your mouth.  You can also use it to sweeten food or drinks, but I have read that you need to limit you daily intake to under 9 tsp. or it can have a laxative effect.  It tastes like “less sweet” sugar with no chemical or other off taste.  I like it in my iced tea!
  • Food-Grade Essential Oils – this is important – you need to use oils that are meant to flavor FOOD not make candles or perfume!  Lorann Peppermint and Cinnamon oils are fabulous (and extremely potent), and I’m a huge fan Boyajian citrus oils.  They can all be found at King Arthur, Sur la Table or Amazon.  At a minimum you need to have some peppermint or cinnamon oil in there for their antibacterial/antifungal properties.  Citrus oils are a flavor bonus.
  • Purified water – I use water from my Zero Water pitcher, but you can use RO or bottled as well.

Here’s how to make a batch:

In a clean, small jar with a tight fitting lid, combine

  1. 1 cup purified water
  2. 1 tsp. calcium carbonate powder
  3. 1 tsp xylitol (more or less to taste), optional but beneficial
  4. 8 drops ConcenTrace trace mineral drops
  5. Essential oils – my fave combos are: Cinnamint – 5 drops peppermint + 3 drops cinnamon; Cinnamon-Orange – 3 drops cinnamon + 5 drops orange;  and Lemon-Mint – 5 drops peppermint + 5 drops lemon.  *Tip:  cinnamon oil is POWERFUL, so go easy on that one unless you’re a big fan of fireballs!

Shake well every time you use it to distribute the oils and the calcium which will settle to the bottom, and swish a Tbsp in your mouth after you brush your teeth.  I also like to swish a bit after drinking coffee or tea.  Enjoy!

Not gonna lie – I get a kick out of repurposing this wee little vodka bottle for my mouthwash. It looks so cheeky sitting on my bathroom counter!

Waffled Potato Hash

I’m a pretty stiff critic of my own cooking, so when I say that this is one of the best dishes I have ever developed, that is saying something.  These little babies are waffled perfection!  Waffling things was all the rage last year, and I spotted a recipe in one of my fave mags, Eating Well, for a breakfast dish made by waffling a mix of potatoes, eggs, cheese and other add ins.  Looked so good!  Tasted so awful!  It had waaaaay too many eggs giving it a burnt scrambled egg taste (no bueno) a fussy first step of squeezing the potatoes in a kitchen towel (no thanks), and way too few add ins, making them (and me) sad.  BUT!  My desire for cheesy, crispy, savory waffle hash goodness was ignited and I set out fixing this mess.

After making several batches, tweaking ingredients and method, I have found the perfect mix of ingredients that come together in minutes.  Enjoy!

  • 20 oz frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (I like OreIda brand)
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp fresh grated black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 ½ cups finely shredded cheddar cheese (I use Kraft pre shredded Triple Cheddar or Mexican Blend, but you can use any cheese you like that melts well)
  • 3 scallions, finely sliced – or – 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • 2 Tbsp grapeseed (or other neutral flavored oil)
  • 2 eggs

In a large glass bowl, thaw potatoes in microwave, using the “defrost” setting if your micro has one.  Just be careful not to heat the potatoes up AT ALL – you can leave them a bit frosty, but don’t let them get warm!  Sprinkle flour, salt and pepper over potatoes and gently toss to thoroughly combine.  You want the flour to absorb any moisture from the potatoes and evenly hydrate – this will keep the “waffles” crispy and cohesive while making sure they don’t seem gummy or floury in the interiors.  While the flour hydrates, prepare the rest of your ingredients (just let the potato/flour mixture sit at least 10 mins or so).  Sprinkle cheeses, ham and scallions/shallots over potatoes and gently toss to combine.

Drizzle oil over potatoes, and add eggs. Toss and fold mixture until eggs and oil are completely and evenly distributed.  You will have a moist mixture, not a “batter”.  Don’t worry – the heat will melt everything together in a perfectly cohesive waffle.

Preheat your waffle maker to medium hot and oil or spritz with cooking spray.  We have a large waffle iron with 4 sections, so I make 4 small waffles at a time.  The directions that follow are for making multiple smaller waffles, but you can certainly make one large waffle at a time too.  Using a serving spoon, or a ½ cup disher (cookie scoop) or a ½ cup measuring cup, portion out 4 scoops of mixture into center of each section of large waffle maker.

Close lid tightly and cook until well browned.  Makes 12-16 small waffles.

You can vary this recipe in lots of ways – change the meat or don’t use any at all; change up the cheeses; add some very well browned sautéed mushrooms or some diced roasted veggies.  The only things you want to keep in mind are: (1) make sure your add ins aren’t adding a bunch of moisture (that is why mushrooms must be well-browned, not raw) and (2) keep the add ins diced small.

 

Apple-Cheddar Pull Apart Bread with Variations

ap-ched-bread-3

It’s finally cooling off around here (truth be told it’s literally freezing), and that means several things.  Clothes and bedding are swapped out for snugglier options, my army of space heaters is stationed at their posts, and I don’t have to think twice about heating the house up to do some baking!  This afternoon I felt like whipping up some bread to go with the roasted pumpkin, red pepper and potato soup we’re having for dinner.  My initial thought was hearty rolls to put that jar of Irish Wholemeal flour to use, but then I saw a recipe for Apple Cheddar Chop Bread that I saved off the King Arthur site.  That recipe made way more bread than I wanted and the dough seemed a little lean, so I used it as a springboard to make just want I wanted.  Because I bake frequently I did use some specialty baking ingredients I happened to have on hand, but there are easy peasy subs that should yield similarly delicious results!

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached (or a bread machine set to the dough cycle) combine:

  • 2 cups King Arthur AP flour
  • 1 ½ tsp SAF Gold yeast (or regular bread machine yeast)
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp grape seed oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp barley malt syrup (or 1 Tbsp of sugar, brown sugar or honey)
  • 2 Tbsp baker’s special dry milk (or regular powdered milk)
  • ½ cup warm water (if you don’t have powdered milk, use ½ cup warm milk)

Mix on low to combine ingredients, then knead for ~5 mins on med-low till you have a smooth, satiny dough.  Cover bowl and let dough rise till doubled – about 60 minutes.  I used a bread proofing box set at 85 degrees. A proofer is especially helpful when baking during the colder months, but I use mine year ’round.

Gently deflate dough and tip out onto a large piece of parchment paper; pat dough out into a 9″ x 13″ rectangle.  Leaving a 2″ border on both long sides, sprinkle over dough:

  • 1 cup chopped crisp, sweet-tart apple (such as Jazz or SweeTango)
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cut into small cubes.

Fold both long sides of dough over the filling and pinch them together in the middle; pat ends to seal them as well. Using a long knife or a bench scraper, cut bread widthwise into 1″ strips (don’t worry if you cut through some apples or cheese bits).  Do NOT separate the strips – you want the “loaf” to stay together.  On a slight diagonal, cut bread into 1″ strips lengthwise.  If you’ve done this right the bread will be in 1″ slightly diagonal squares – again do NOT separate them.  I apologize for not taking pics of any of this, but you’re a smarty and get what I mean!

Lift bread on parchment and place on a 13″ x 9″ or 15″ x 11″ baking pan.  Let rise 30-45 mins or until puffed and almost doubled.  During the last 20 minutes of rising, preheat oven to 350.  Bake 25-30 mins or until evenly browned.  Remove bread to a wire rack to cool slightly. The squares easily pull apart for big or little servings.  This bread is soft and fluffy and the sweet-tart apples play off the melty cheddar perfectly.  Makes one 5″ x 13″ loaf.

This is a great bread to have with soup or salad for a light dinner or to bring to a potluck, and you can vary it endless ways:

  1. change the cheese – I think blue cheese with apples and walnuts would rock!  or apples and brie…or fresh figs and gorgonzola…or Fontina, craisins and walnuts…or oil cured sundried tomatoes, parm/peccorino shards and oregano…sigh…
  2. for a sweet dessert/coffee bread, add 1 tsp apple pie spice (or just some cinnamon, cardamom and allspice) and another Tbsp or two of sugar to the dough.  Sub in a cup of chopped pecans or walnuts for the cheese.  After baking, glaze bread with a simple glaze of powdered sugar and apple cider with a pinch more of those apple pie spices.  Yep, I see that variation in my near future!!!

ap-ched-bread-1

Roasted Sweet Potato-Red Pepper Soup

Roasted sweet potato-red pepper soup garnished with butter-fried sage leaves

Roasted sweet potato-red pepper soup garnished with butter-fried sage leaves

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  Well, last week I needed to bring something to small group and didn’t really want to hit the market.  On hand I had some fresh sweet potatoes, a jar of Trader Joe’s roasted red peppers, and a bunch of gorgeous sage from the CSA so I thought “soup!”  I wanted to add complexity to the soup and also tone down the sweetness of the potatoes and peppers so I seasoned the soup with shallots, a poblano from our garden, smoked Maldon sea salt and my beloved Dolin Dry Vermouth.  Ah, the joys of a well stocked pantry (or food hoarding, as my husband sees it).

Don’t be tempted to save time by either steaming or microwaving the sweet potatoes – you’ll just rob yourself of the luscious texture and rich, smokey, caramelized flavor of roasted sweet potatoes. Tip: sometimes when I roast sweet potatoes I roast a whole pan full, and if I won’t use the extras within a week in a casserole, soup, muffins, salad, or pizza (yes!), I freeze them.  Then, when the urge for sweet potato deliciousness hits, I’m halfway there!

  • 6 large sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 3 large shallots, diced
  • 1 poblano*, seeded and diced
  • ¼ cup Dolin Dry Vermouth (or very dry white wine)
  • 2 tsp. smoked Maldon (or regular sea salt)
  • 1 large roasted red pepper (homemade or jarred), diced
  • 1 ½ qts. chicken broth

*Poblanos can range from “eh, why bother?” to “zoinks!” in heat, so take a little nibble to see what you’re cooking with and adjust accordingly.

Scrub potatoes and prick them all over; place on a foil or parchment lined heavy-duty baking sheet.  Bake sweet potatoes at 375 for 30 mins, then at 350 for 30-60 mins till soft, turning them every 30 minutes.  If your potatoes are not uniform in size, remove them as they are done to avoid burning the smaller ones. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and chop into large chunks.

Sauté shallots and poblano in grapeseed oil in 5 qt Dutch oven till softened (3-4 minutes). Pour in Vermouth and boil 1-2 minutes.  Season with Maldon, then fold in sweet potatoes and roasted pepper. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings and add more broth if needed.  Let soup cool 10 minutes.

Puree in small batches in a blender (don’t fill blender jar past half way to avoid boiling hot overflows).  Reheat pureed soup over medium heat, adding more chicken broth if you want a thinner soup.  Serve with fresh sage leaves that have been fried in butter (see below), or with chopped peanuts or candied pecans.  Makes 3 qts.  Enjoy!

This soup is a perfect balance of sweet and savory - rich tasting with hardly any fat.

This soup is a perfect balance of sweet and savory – rich tasting with hardly any fat.

Butter Fried Sage Leaves

These babies are great to top a hearty soup or to toss with butternut squash raviolis or other filled pastas.  Don’t throw out the seasoned browned butter you’ll be left with – it’s perfect for tossing with said pasta, gnocchis or potatoes.  As you pull the sage leaves off the woody main stems, make sure you remove the thin leaf stems – when the leaves fry these will become very tough and inedible.  As you can see in the pix, I failed to do this – lesson learned!!!

  • 2 Tbsp organic butter
  • ½ cup fresh sage leaves, stems removed

Melt butter in small non-stick skillet.  Add sage leaves and fry over medium heat, stirring and turning leaves, 1-2 minutes or until butter browns.  Remove leaves to a small plate to cool.  Save the remaining delicious sage-browed butter for another use.

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