Friday, December 17, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Speculoos and Sweet and Spicy Coctail Nuts


This has been a wonderful holiday week at our house!  There has been the usual baking, Christmas caroling, friends dropping by with their Christmas greetings and special gifts, Christmas stories and music, shopping, wrapping, service projects, Christmas movies, kids taking their college finals, year end work, making crafts, decorating, putting up the tree, raking the leaves (yes, about mid-December in Arizona, some of our trees lose their leaves for a month or two), family time, and best of all, my sweet daughter #3 gave birth to her firstborn, a healthy son.  He was 2 weeks early, just  6 1/4 pounds, 18" long, with a healthy appetite, a great set of lungs, and he is the sweetest and best gift to our family during this season of joy and love.  We are so blessed!


My terrific son-in-law is taking great care of his little family way up in cold and snowy northern Idaho where they are in school.  He is taking his final exams and will have a couple of weeks off before school resumes in January.  I plan to travel up to help them and to meet my new grandson the first week of January (if I can wait that long?); after a couple of family birthday parties, a family outing to the Charles Dickens play,  The Christmas Carol, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve,  New Year’s Day, house guests, and a 1/1/11 wedding for my almost daughter, a lovely young woman who we brought here from Eastern Europe on a student visa who helped us with the adoption of two of our daughters 6 years ago.  Never a dull moment at our house!



The Speculoo Cookies were fun to make.  I tried a shape similar to Dorie’s, and then found some mini Christmas shapes that also worked well.  Hubby loved them...reminded him of an old fashioned Christmas...brought back childhood memories for him.  He was excited that I would make lots to sent to his brother, Jimmy as a special holiday treat.

For easy roll out, I used powdered sugar instead of flour.  The sprinkling of sugar took away the stickiness and very little is absorbed into the dough...and what does just added a little sweetness and that is OK with me!   I had planned to do some fun things with some of these cookies, like dip them in chocolate, I saw another blogger do...but they just all got mailed away in their simple goodness.  I will definitely be making more.

It was fun and actually helpful for our gift-giving to work on a couple of Dorie’s recipes this week:   1. Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts and  2. Speculoos.


It was my Dad’s birthday this week and he loves nuts.  Since he lives in another state we wanted to make some yummy treats for him that would survive the mail...the FFwD nuts are perfect!  We also have Uncle Jimmy who never married and is alone for the holidays.  We traditionally mail him a nice Christmas box with lots of goodies and fun packages.  We made several flavors of the nuts and made a 4 X batch of the cookies, packaged them up in little bags, enclosed them in bubble wrap, and both my Dad and Jimmy should have received their packages today or at least by tomorrow.  And...Uncle Jimmy who graduated from Culinary Arts school in Baltimore  has been a chef on Hilton Head Island at a fancy resort for the past 25 sending him our foods can be a little scary, but I know he will like these treats...they are great!!!   


For the nuts, I followed Dorie’s recipe exactly except for one that is not exactly.  But after reading many fellow FfwD  posts about the nuts and shaking the egg whites off each one or posts about “mess” , etc., I decided to add more nuts...enough to use up the egg white without any excess.  I added about 2/3 cup more nuts to each recipe which means that there was just enough egg white to coat the nuts with no excess and yet the spices stuck to the nuts really well.   Then all I had to do was spread the nuts on the silicone mats and roast them.  I did add more spice/sugar amounts to compensate for the extra nuts.  Also, I read some posts complaining about the mess left on the baking mats...there was none.  A couple of batches needed an extra 5 minutes of roasting time, but at that point there was no gooey mess left behind and the silpat mats clean up with just a quick wipe.  Totally easy.


I also roasted the cardamom recipe...and I tried another with cardamom, cinnamon and cayenne...and I just kept playing with other yummy flavors.  All the combinations I tried were great.  The trouble:  just keeping hands out of the nuts so that I would have nuts to mail away...these nuts were getting eaten by everyone in the house, including neighbors who came to bring their Christmas gifts ..they seemed to smell the nuts from blocks away and after tasting they just all had to take home their own little bags of spiced nuts.  Made me totally happy!  I made 15 batches (kept 2 ovens going) while watching the old Alastair Sim’s version of the Christmas Carol movie.








And, yes, Arizona does allow me to have roses blooming in my yard all winter.

I have the carrots remaining for this month.  I have enjoyed all the other December recipes and will make them all again.  I am especially fond of these two that I tried this week...they are just perfect for the holidays.  Thanks, Dorie, for 2 more great recipes that I will add to my permanent baking repertoire. 

Merry Christmas to all my Cyber Friends!   See you next time around when I post my carrots.

Oh, you want to see my new grandson?  Well, ok...he is absolutely adorable!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Leek and Potato Soup, Smooth or Chunky, Hot or Cold

My Bowl of Leek and Potato Soup Garnished with Cheese and Fresh Parsley
This week we have a house guest from Singapore who is accustomed to eating only Chinese food every day. I love americanized Chinese food and would gladly cook it for him, however, one of the fun things about staying with other people is attempting to fit into their culture and trying new things, including new foods.  I decided  to prepare an “assignment” from Dorie, thinking that telling him about our Dorie-food-blogging-group would also be a fun topic of conversation.  I know that he eats very little sweets, in fact, fruit is a dessert. And, with all my family daily drop-ins, it is nice to have a pot of soup in the fridge for any hungry bodies.  I chose to make the Leek and Potato Soup which would have no strong flavors for our guest to get used to, and yet it would stretch him culturally...potatoes instead of rice; such a new concept for many.    With potatoes, butter, and milk even a simple soup would be that stretch for him.  I doubled the recipe and found a few mix-ins  that added color and brought interesting flavors to the pot.
Onions and Garlic Added to Melted Butter
Our sunny AZ temperatures kissed 80^ today, so I felt like visiting my garden for some fresh herbs...and I  found, instead, some very appealing, exceptionally flavorful, small, sweet red peppers.  I decided on the peppers instead of the herbs, as the herbs might take some getting used to for our guest (some o f  my kids can taste each one I add to a recipe), and I decided to add just a little parsley as a garnish.
While the Potatoes Simmer I will Ready My Additions

 Leeks Sauteed in Butter Before Adding to Soup

Sweet Red Peppers from my Garden

Looks Like Christmas with the Addition of Red Peppers to the Leeks
With Christmas music in the background, I first sauteed, in butter, diced onion with minced garlic until they sparkled.  The aroma quickly filled the house and excited me to continue (before Dorie, I would have  used olive oil, not butter).  I chose a tasty chicken stock and whole milk  over water which I added with my diced potatoes to the onion mixture.  While that was heating, I  sauteed leeks, and added my minced red garden peppers, and the color was beautiful...just like Christmas.  Then I found some ham that just begged to be used.  While the soup gently simmered, hubby and I untangled Christmas lights and put up a few strands decorating the front of our house...we are the last ones on our street to get our lights up this year...Did all of you cyber friends get your lights up almost before the Thanksgiving turkey was cleaned up and the dishes were done?  I am still wondering what happened to Thanksgiving this year.  With Black Friday beginning on Thanksgiving afternoon and continuing through the following week, and with all the neighborhood getting their decorations up on Thanksgiving afternoon...well, I feel like I was cheated out of a portion of that very special day.
I Used the End from our Thanksgiving Spiral Cut Ham

Diced Ham Added to Leeks and Red Peppers
One of my daughters dropped in and asked for a cheese garnish.  With that in mind, I just could not help myself from adding about a pound of grated cheese to my soup....who am I to argue with a cheese suggestion?  Cheese is almost up there with chocolate (well, not really).  Between the two of them, they can fit into just about any common recipe.  I had thought about putting my add-ins into separate little bowls on the table so each person could choose their own garnish, but they kept jumping into the pot, just like magic.

A Pound of Grated Cheese
By now the whole house is really smelling great and hubby cannot refrain from stirring my soup...and, he is extremely interested in what I am cooking as our guest is his very special friend...and Hubby worries that he should go out and find some Chinese food to please his guest...but I am not concerned.  The soup is beautiful, the aroma that fills my house is delicious, the Christmas decorations are getting up, the house is clean, and a batch of freshly baked cookies is on the table...if our guest does not need sweets, by this point, I do! 

Hubby Can't Resist Stirring the Pot as the Cheese Continues to Melt into the Broth
It was all quite irresistible.  Hubby could not wait. All that pot stirring was more than he could take.   I had planned to make the croutons and  some dinner rolls, and I thought about picking some fresh chives to snip as a garnish.  But he was starving and just had to eat.   The verdict: He loved the soup! especially with all my add-ins.

Well, gotta go...our guest has just arrived.  Talk to you all again next week.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE:  I was sidetracked a bit during this cooking experience...the Cub Scouts came to the door, singing Christmas Carols with gusto, and then asked me for a can of soup for their charitable food drive.  I went to the pantry and dug out every can of soup I could find...and there were many...and gave the scouts every can.  No more canned soup in this house.  There are too many easy and wonderful soups that can be cooked with very little effort...and I always have ingredients needing to be used.  The flavor of this wonderful soup and last weeks "Daube", and my use-up-the-turkey-noodle-soup from about a week ago have all convinced me that I will never again buy a can of soup.  Period!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Elena's Orphanage Christmas Project


At this thankful time of year, I must acknowledge my gratitude for the bounties of life that my family and I enjoy.  All the ingredients for this (see previous post) tasty and  nutritious stew were in my house; no shopping was necessary. 

It was six years ago that we added two very special daughters to our family, increasing our children to 7.  We adopted two older girls from a Moldovan orphanage.  Moldova is the smallest and poorest of all the Eastern European countries.  Aids, women and child trafficking (Moldova ranks #1 in this department), prostitution (which leads to abortions...some of my daughters' friends have had over 10 abortions), starvation, freezing, suicide, filth, disease, and suffering were in their future,and are now in the lives of the friends they left behind.  My daughters were the rare lucky ones, brought to America, to a loving family, and to opportunities that were before unimaginable. (When we were there, the unemployment rate was 68% and life expectancy for a woman  was less than 55 and about 50 for a man).  The children are sent out of the orphanages at the age of 16 without a place to go, food to eat, often without shoes or a jacket, and with no love and no hope in their future. If it is winter, the children often crawl into the underground sewers to find a place of shelter from the elements. If they get caught stealing a loaf of bread, they are sent to prison where they are usually dead within 2 months.  If the children die, that is good; one less child for the government to care about, but they don't care anyway. The children are considered not to be real humans...just a little higher up than animals.

I traveled to Moldova twice, spent a month there, and had my eyes opened to many things that I am now thankful for.  I wanted to travel to that small country again, but my name was added to Moldova's equivalent of a mafia list, and I was not allowed to return.  One of my daughters had been sold (usually to Arab men) by her orphanage director.  Because of the adoption, his $1000 deal fell through.  I tried to get the director removed, but as a former KGB officer, he is a very powerful man.  The country does not want to admit that it cannot care for its own children.  It is an embarrassment.  

Today, as I cleaned and peeled the vegetables for our stew, I was reminded of a young Moldovan lad carrying an old bucket, walking down the icy January streets, begging for peelings so that his moma could make a little soup.  I thought of the orphanage children who slept 3 or 4 to a small cot with a tattered blanket, huddled together so that they would not freeze in the night, and often the babies did freeze.  The house we rented had ice on the inside walls.  I remember shaking all night every night even though I wrapped up in my warm coat and the blankets I brought along.  I remember taking a 14 year old girl out to lunch, to McDonalds.  She was so excited; it was a dream come true.  And then I watched as Hubby took off his scarf and his hat and put them on this little girl before we took her back to the orphanage.  At the age of 14 she only weighed 60 pounds.  A 12 year old who we cared for on another occasion weighed only 40 pounds.

In 2 weeks, one of my adopted daughters, who is now 21 will return to Moldova for a month.  She is working hard to bring a little Christmas to some orphan children during her college winter break  She is accepting donations that are being used to purchase winter coats and to take fresh fruit for all the children in one of the many orphanages.  She has earned her own airfare and an extra $500 to get started.  She needed $2000 more and now has donations of almost $1500. 

I know that charity fills many hearts at this time of the year, and if anyone out there would like to help a child, my Elena is accepting donations at:  Elena Barlow, P.O. Box 970653,  Orem, UT  84057.  She is also working toward a goal of building a type of "Stella House" which will be a home for orphan girls who have reached their 16th birthday and have no where to go.   Preliminary work for this project is in the works, but Elena's "Stella House" project will be in the future.  These Moldova "Stella house" projects can be googled if anyone is interested.

Monday, November 29, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: My Go-To Beef Daube (Beef Stew)

My Daube

Food Fit for a Cold Winter Day
What a wonderfully diverting day I had in my kitchen!  I cooked “My Go-To Beef Daube”, a delicious beef stew which will hopefully balance out the coldest day of the year here in AZ.  It may actually freeze tonight, which concerns me greatly as we have many citrus trees and our garden is abounding with lovely vegetables and fresh herbs that most of the country grows during the summer months.  We have not had a freeze for the past 5 or 6 years, so I guess we are due.  But so early in the year...usually if it does not get this cold it waits until the end of December or into January.  As I write this afternoon the temperature is 54^.   I can remember many times enjoying a swim in the pool over the Thanksgiving weekend, but not this year.
A few cut up strips of Bacon frying until brown
Saute the beef in small batches until browned
The Cubed Beef

The browned beef added to the browned bacon
While the chunked up beef was browning in bacon fat and oil, I swept through my fridge and found many wonderful vegetables that begged to be added to this stew, which in Dorie’s recipe is mostly meat, carrots, perhaps parsnips, and onions with “a little herb bouquet to keep it company.”  My version is loaded with sweet potatoes, onions, mushrooms, carrots, leeks, shallots, potatoes, celery, scallions, the meats, and the herbs.  And since I had lots of left over parsley from Thanksgiving, I minced and sprinkled that over the stew for an extra measure of wonderful flavor

After removing the meat, mushrooms and leeks were sauteed in a little fat

Then Added Sweet and Russet Potatoes, Scallions, Celery, Carrots...and Decided to make 2 pots
Tomorrow is our neighborhood ladies’ Christmas dinner where I will remake the potatoes gratin as my assigned dish.  It will be a wonderful event to ring in the Christmas Season, and I will enjoy treating my friends to Dorie’s wonderful recipe.  Since I’ll be at my party, Hubby is planning his own event, a men’s dinner with six of his friends.  I thought I would make the stew for them to enjoy as part of their feast.  Tomorrow I’ll make dinner rolls for the men, and Hubby can figure out his own dessert...he actually makes terrific chocolate chips cookies, and he buys great frozen yogurt in a variety of the I think he will be OK.  (If I get ambitious, I will make the suggested spaetzle to accompany the stew as I have not made that in a few years.... it sounds good to me!)

Getting the Fresh Herbs Packet ready...Parsley, Rosemary, Oregano, and Thyme.  What a Lovely Bouquet!
Listening to Christmas music in the background, eating leftover Thanksgiving pie, and cooking the stew has been relaxing.  The smells, the colors, and the art of chopping all those ingredients has been a great way to unwind after a very busy weekend...all that eating and shopping and cooking and entertaining and baking...oh my!  And, it’s time for something besides turkey and trimmings; we’ve eaten it 5 or 6 times already over the past few days.

Ready for the Oven
We don’t use alcohol in our house.  Instead of the brandy and wine I added a good beef stock.  The color is rich and the aroma is fabulous, and all my veges looked quite happy simmering away in the pot...actually two large pots.  I had to make enough to have a taste myself,  I’m sure at least one  son-in-law is stopping by later, and when he smells what has been cooking, he will also consume a bowl, and I will need enough for Hubby and his men friends.  And, I was motivated  to use all those wonderful refrigerator items that won’t keep forever

Just Out of the Oven and Ready to Eat
It is still November and for me it is a time of year to be thankful for so much.  This stew was made from ingredients found in my house, no need for any shopping.  I am so blessed to have so much especially compared with most of the world.  My heart is full and ready to march forward with zeal into the Christmas season.  I enjoy reading all your posts.  You all make this Dorie experience fun...your enthusiasm and positive attitudes are catching!

Note:  A few days later...My neighborhood ladies' Christmas dinner party was wonderful!  There were 90something of us who attended.  Three of us made Potatoes Gratin as our assigned dish.  My Dorie version was devoured and people were looking for more...the gratin was a hit and was practically perfect if I can brag just a little!  Thanks, Dorie, for a great recipe that my family and friends enjoy.  (Hubby's party also consumed a large baking dish of these potatoes and they also loved them.)  We give this recipe a "Thumbs-Up!"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

French Friday with Dorie: Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake

Caramel -Topped Semolina Cake Reminds me of my Mother's Baked Rice Pudding

One of my favorite comfort foods, and actually one of my favorite desserts, is pudding.   I always have both homemade chocolate and vanilla, and sometimes other varieties in my fridge...makes great quick cream pies or kid snacks, or me snacks.   I have fond memories of my mother using left over rice to make a creamy baked rice pudding.  She always added raisins and I thought it was much better than the rice that was originally used as part of the meal.

Making the Cream of Wheat into a porridge
Dorie’s Caramel-topped Semolina Cake reminds me of my mother’s delicious rice pudding: creamy, sweet, grain based, and with raisins.  The recipe was simple, quick, and had an elegant  quality...I could have eaten the entire cake all by myself and would have loved every bite.  (And by the end of the day, I did finish all but the piece hubby enjoyed....making this a very dangerous food!)

The porridge is changing into a pudding with the addition of eggs, vanilla, sugar, and raisins

The sugar mixture boiling...for only a couple of minutes
After reading the posts written by fellow FfwD friends, I was careful not to let the caramel get too amber, I used the correct 8" size pan, and I tried to learn from their other mishaps...thanks very much!!! because mine is delicious and, yes, I will definitely make this cake, which to me is really a pudding, very similar to my mother’s rice pudding, often.

The sugar changes into a caramel very quickly and easily coats that heated cake pan
The caramel was quick.  Dorie suggests 5 minutes, but at less than 3 minutes it was finished!  And when it is finished there is no time to take a photo or to needs to get off the heat!  Other FfwD cooks wrote that there was a little bitterness to the caramel, which I do not detect (maybe they were taking a photo instead of removing the caramel from the stove).  And Dorie's tip to heat the cake pan in the oven before adding the caramel made this part of the recipe a breeze.  The caramel swirled and coated the pan bottom with ease and was quickly ready for the batter.  After baking, and with no greasing the baking pan, the cake plopped out perfectly onto my serving platter and looked beautiful, with just a little caramel dripping down the sides of the cake.  And, unlike some other FfwD cake bakers, the caramel did not all absorb into the was a bit like flan: looks beautiful and tastes delicious.

With the addition of the "batter", this cake is ready for the oven.
This semolina cake would be a great brunch dish, a wonderful bedtime snack, or a fun treat for my grandkids.  And, of course, being cereal based, it would also be great for breakfast  (my mom also made some type of  "mush" several times each week...another reason this cake reminds me of my mother).  Even though it is sweet, it also has a very healthy quality. 

Just out of the oven, this cake easily falls out of the pan onto the serving platter.
Oozing with caramel and with a creamy, light texture, this was a lovely recipe to bake during this busy Thanksgiving week when so many other delicious foods are being cooked.  Total cooking/photo time was about 10 minutes plus the oven time.  Thanks, Dorie, for a quick yet delicious recipe that fit easily into my very busy holiday week...the biggest food week of the year.

My  first slice  (This cake is small, about 6 servings)

This cake could enjoy a dollop of whipped cream, a variety of fruits, berries, a little cinnamon, or other personal favorites.  I thought the golden raisins were a perfect fit.  My hubby also thought it was yummy and would enjoy having it again  (if I don't eat it all myself).

Hope everyone had a lovely more blessing for me to be thankful for are all my wonderful new cyber this fun FfwD experience I am enjoying each week.  I'm not a sleeper, so I have a new in-the-night activity...reading all of your posts...and it is both fun and informative...thanks to you all!