Friday, December 25, 2015

Smoked Salmon Appetizers

The "sign-up list" at my place of employment was for Christmas "finger food." It was strategically and psychologically situated at the time clock.

The day before the "feast," I worked the late shift, so that precluded nothing complicated that involved turning on an oven.

So I whipped up this non-cooked recipe. It was a snap to put together just before I left for work. It had a festive "catered" look. More importantly, it was gobbled up.

I was able to purchase the smoked salmon (lox) at a sale price. One has an option for the cheese. I used President brand "rondele." One could, of course, use a Boursin cheese or herb-flavored cream cheese. It basically depends on one's budget.

  • 3, 3-ounce packages smoked salmon
  • 2, 8-ounce containers garlic and herb spreadable cheese, room temperature
  • 20 Party Jewish Rye squares
  • 1/2 English cucumber, sliced into 20 thin slices
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Dill for garnish
  • Smoked paprika (optional) 

Lay out the rye squares on a foil-lined sheet pan. Pipe (or spoon) softened cheese on each square. Be generous. Angle a cucumber slice onto one side of the cheese so it "sticks." Layer slices and bits of salmon onto the cheese. Tuck in pieces of thin-sliced red onion under the salmon. Sprinkle very lightly with smoked paprika, if using. Garnish with fronds of dill. Chill before serving to firm everything up. Remove to a serving platter or leave on foil-lined pan.

Serve and watch them disappear.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Black Walnuts, Candied Cherries, with Irish Whiskey

Black walnuts have always been a favored part of my heart. My maternal grandparents had huge trees that surrounded their Indiana home. My grandpa would throw the green-encased nuts on the driveway and run over them with his blue GMC truck to crack them open. Yum.

Growing up, I also remember a wonderful black walnut ice cream under the name of Sealtest.

Anyway ... Time passes on.

It's Christmas.

For some reason, I have had black walnuts on my mind. Candied red cherries. Irish whiskey. And Soda Bread.

I thought I would put them all together for a kind of Christmas Bread.


Once I marinated the black walnuts and candied cherries in the whiskey ... I could not stop eating the nutty, sweet-sopping result ...

What to do?

I do not know.

This essence needs to be a side on its own ... for rich, dark chocolate cake and whipped cream ... or ice cream... Better yet, serve a rich brownie with a scoop of ice cream and then topped with the mixture!

  • 2 ounces chopped black walnuts
  • 4 ounces whole candied cherries, snipped with kitchen shears or cut into pieces
  • 50 ml Jameson Irish Whiskey (one of those tiny bottles)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and cover for several hours or until most of the whiskey has been absorbed. Stir every-so-often.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Apple Rosemary Muffins with Almond and Lemon

These were little pillows of heaven. Light. Airy. Super easy to put together. Because I didn't have vanilla extract, I used almond extract, instead. Smart move. Lots of tastes going on here, but none overpowering. They all work together. Would I add the rosemary next time? Perhaps, but only if I had it on hand.

I used White Lily self-rising flour. It is readily available here in the South. Basically, it's cake flour, but it gives the most delicate crumb to cakes and muffins such as these.

I will probably tweak this recipe a bit more. But I thought it good enough to post.

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons White Lily Self-Rising flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced, fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 teaspoon (several grates) lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple-pie spice
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 average-sized apple, peeled and cut into a 1/4-inch dice (115 g) 
  • (If using all-purpose flour, use one cup, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder.)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter six muffin tins.

Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl and gently pour into the dry ingredients. Mix just until moistened. Fold in the diced apples.

Fill muffin tins to the top. Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the tops begin to turn golden brown and they easily pull away from the sides. Remove gently and place upside-down on wire rack to cool a bit. Best served warm, with butter.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Walnut Pie. With or Without Booze.

I have never been a fan of pecan pie. I find them overly-sweet. And all that Karo syrup kind of grosses me out.

So when my department boss brought me a piece of walnut pie his wife had made, I was a bit nervous and hoped my disappointed expression would not be too obvious when I hesitantly ate my first forkful.

Trepidation turned into delight. This was not a "nut pie" in the usual sense. It was creamy and brown-sugary.

After a lot of begging, I was finally given the recipe (thanks, Emily!).

Custardy in the center. Not too sweet. And look at that top crust!

Unlike a pecan pie, the filling for this pie is more like a brown-sugar custard. With walnuts. One could just as easily use pecans, but I prefer the more pronounced flavor of the walnuts. On my to-do bake list is a pie with half black walnuts.

This recipe is quite versatile. One can easily sub the milk for rum, whiskey or maple syrup or a combination. I have used rum (3 tablespoons). The taste is easily obvious the day you make the pie. The following day it is more nuanced and mellow. Feel free to add a bit of cinnamon/nutmeg to the batter.

If I were having guests, I would make the pie as is but serve it with a side of rum or bourbon-flavored whipping cream.  If not, a scoop of vanilla ice cream goes great with this.

I used a store-bought pastry which made assembling this pie as easy as one-two-three! It disappears just as easily, too!

  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 4 medium eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick), cooled
  • 1/2 teaspoon maple flavoring
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum flavoring
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple-pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons milk (I use evaporated milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons dark rum
  • 1 and 1/2 cups roughly cut walnuts

Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry of your choice. Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 300-degrees F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and eggs. Whisk in the butter, milk, flavorings and rum. Set aside for about ten minutes so the sugar is absorbed by the egg. I use an old-fashioned hand mixer, but a whisk is fine. Do not use an electric mixer. 

Fold in the nuts.

Pour into pastry shell and bake for about 65-70 minutes.

Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cauliflower with Ham, Cheese, and Alfredo Sauce

I make no apologies for the decadence of this dish.

Nor its ease to prepare.

It has been on mind for several months, ever since I saw a video of something similarly prepared with fussy, messy bacon and a complicated Bechamel sauce. The concept was divine. But I found the plethora of pots, pans and bowls a nightmare to clean-up.

So I created this. Deli ham. Store-bought Alfredo sauce. Smoked cheese.

And one pot.

It was all cozy-smoky. Kind of mac-n-cheese gooey-but with the al dente lushness of cauliflower instead of pasta. Rich. And oh-so-satisfying.

I used smoked Gruyere, but any good smoked cheese will work (next time I will use smoked Gouda). I did not shred it; instead, I kind of sliced/cubed it into tiny pieces. It lovingly melted into the ham and sauce mixture--except for that soft, happenstance-piece or two like soft toffee that melted on the tongue.

For the ham, I simply used a thick-sliced piece of ham-off-the-bone from the deli. For recipes like this, I never "cube" the ham. Instead, I sharply angle my knife and slice on the bias for un-uniformed thin, pink pieces. In the oven, the edges crisp like bacon. Leftover holiday ham is wonderful.

I like my sauce a bit on the thick side. So I sprinkled the layers of cauliflower with a bit of Wondra flour. I suppose I could have just as easily mixed it with the sauce itself. (Regular flour will work just as well).

This is really more of method than a recipe. Two days before, I tested a trial-sized one in a small dish. Trust me, you will want a larger dish!

Just before baking, I sprinkled with a bit of Cayenne pepper. You could just as easily sub paprika, smoked paprika or smoked chipotle powder. I liked the bit of "kick" but go easy.

  • 2 pounds fresh cauliflower florets cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 8 ounces smoked Gruyere, (or other smoked cheese) sliced and cut into a small dice (about 3/4 cup)
  • 8 ounces smoked ham, sliced into small pieces (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1, 15-ounce jar Alfredo sauce
  • 1-2 teaspoons Wondra flour
  • Pepper
  • Paprika of your choice (smoked, plain, or smoked chipotle powder)
  • 1, 7" x 10"  baking dish

Parboil the cauliflower for about 5-6 minutes, just until tender. Drain and return to pot.

Butter your casserole dish and pre-heat oven to about 375-degrees Farenheit.

Place half of the cauliflower in dish. Sprinkle with a bit of Wondra flour or plain flour. Arrange half of the ham and cheese over the cauliflower. Sprinkle with pepper, if desired. (I only peppered the first layer.) 

The sauce, ham and cheese has plenty of salt, so really do not need any.

Layer on the rest of the cauliflower, flour, ham and cheese. 

 Evenly cover with the Alfredo sauce and a sprinkle of paprika.

Bake, uncovered for 25-30 minutes are until all bubbly and the top has started to brown. If desired, put under the broil for just a minute or two to form a bit of a crust.

Allow a rest time of about ten minutes before serving.

NOTES: This a great make-ahead side dish. Simply cover and store in the fridge without the sauce. When ready to bake, spread with sauce and powder with paprika.  If cold, cooking time may take longer.