Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prepared for New Year's Eve?

Well, just a few hours and we are at the last day of the year 2012. The day and night of parties, everywhere. One of my sisters is creating an Indian meal for friends. We have been consulting back and forth on the foods, how they are made, terminology and a host of other things. I created a menu for her, showing all the courses and sides. It is so lovely. She makes beautiful table settings, and I am certain it will be a masterpiece in silver and gold.

Easy Bean Dip

My husband and I are not party people in general, though we love guests and I especially love making foods to share and enjoy. I am sure our evening tomorrow will end at a sedate hour, and all the hoopla will pass as we sleep, and we will wake to the New Year and all the joys it will bring. We are having two people to visit and have lovely snacks again, as we did on Christmas Eve. Some of the snacks will be the same as last week, as they are particular favorites of my husband's, such as his favorite Bean Dip and Little Smokies wrapped in Puff Pastry. 

Little Smokies in Puff Pastry
I received a dip mix from Pepper Creek Farms as a Christmas Gift, so I am trying that out in a dip. I also am making a goat cheese appetizer that another of my sisters introduced to the family a few years back. Another of the appetizers one of my sisters makes is puff pastry, baked in little squares and then setting in a little cube of Brie and then some Cherry preserves. These are so delicious, and I was accustomed to having them for any festivity, as they were one of her favorites. Now that we live so far away, I have not had these for years, and want to make them. In all these years, I have not yet tried them myself. Go figure. Well, tomorrow is the day. My sister-in-law was kind enough to give me a chunk of Brie, so I am set.

Last week I had a piece of Puff Pastry dough left over after making the smokies and I just improvised and made some little palmieres. I brushed melted butter on the pastry since I had melted butter left from making the Spanakopita. Then I had a bit of an Italian blend of shredded cheese left and used that up strewn on the pastry. I ground a fair amount of coarse black pepper over all that, then sprinkled just a little Palm Island red sea salt over.  Then lastly, a handful of pine nuts. I rolled this and sliced, baked at 375 for about 20 minutes. 

Those little things were so incredibly good, though I did not write down how much of each thing I used. Tomorrow, I will rectify that lapse! When I get the amounts correct, I will post the recipe here. 

With so much to be thankful for, I wish all of my readers a most joyous and prosperous New Year 2013!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Nice, Homey Meal in Between Parties

Last night I was in the mood for something that was homier; a comfort food, rather than holiday food. I am not over fond of meatloaf, but there isn't much that's more homey than that. I have made many meatloaf recipes over the years, including my mother-in-law's recipe, which is good. I guess last night I was just inspired, and this one turned out so delicious. Even while it was baking it was wafting heavenly smells about. I couldn't wait to try it out.

I had been looking through recipes, but nothing really called me. I got some ideas, and then just went with it. This is what I came up with:

Meatloaf Inspired

2 pounds lean hamburger meat

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, chopped fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup walnuts, finely grated

4 tablespoons psyllium husks (or use bread crumbs)

2 small cans mushrooms, drained, chopped
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

1/2 cup barbecue sauce

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup barbecue sauce, for top of meatloaf

Saute the onion in the olive oil until nicely browned, then add in the garlic to saute for another minute. Place the ground meat into a large bowl, and add in all the ingredients except the last 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce. Mix well with hands until combined. Place mixture into a large loaf pan, or two smaller pans. Spread the remaining barbecue sauce over top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours for the larger pan, or 1 hour for the smaller pans, until done. 

Meat Loaf, or anything made with ground meat, can benefit by adding different ingredients.  Some can be fillers that extend the amounts, some are just for flavor, and some things act as binders. Fillers, such as I used in this recipe, are things like the mushrooms and walnuts. Have you ever added mashed potatoes to hamburger meat? I learned this trick over 30 years ago. Cook and mash some potatoes, then add some to the ground meat. The mashed potatoes can be added up to not quite half the volume of the meat, at your discretion. This addition will loosen the texture of the meat, so eggs are nearly a must, but the flavor is excellent, and will have the family guessing at what made this meatloaf taste so good. This will certainly stretch the amount of meatloaf or hamburger patties you get from a pound of the meat.

Other Interesting Additions
Some other things you may not have thought of to flavor ground meat are ground nuts or seeds, such as walnuts, pecans, sesame or sunflower seeds. Depending on the overall flavor combination, using sesame seeds with some ground cashews and hoisin sauce would make for a nice oriental flavored meat. Using nuts and cheese together is also a great combo. Try chopping olives or capers finely and using them to add piquancy. Adding extra vegetables, such as grated carrot, finely diced celery or green pepper add nutrition as well as flavor. Applesauce is another really splendid addition to meatloaf, giving a little sweetness to the finished product. Bacon can be fried and chopped and added to the meat, or strips of bacon could be laid over the meat before baking.

Get inspired.  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year Parties - Need a Little Organization?

Everyone is scrambling to plan parties for New Years. Everyone ends up with too much last minute work to do. With just a little planning, this should be mostly avoidable. It is far better to have almost all the foods finished or with very little prep work left to do. The party table(s) should be all set up days before. Lists should be made of the things left to do.
Elegant Table Setting
My Sister sets the most Elegant Table

Notice I say "should". We all do not manage to do these things, though they are very helpful in making the hosting of a party stress-free (or at the least, less stressful). These things I have mentioned are all ones I have learned over a lot of years and through a lot of stress, before the lessons were learned. I offer these tips to help you out.

Plan Your Recipes
Plan recipes so most of them can be made ahead. Selecting 6 different recipes that all have to be made last minute is simply poor planning, and will have you exhausted. Go through your party recipes and choose options that allow most to be made in advance, with just a little last minute prep. If all you have to do last minute is transfer an item to a party platter, that is the best way to go. Six things that all need to go into the oven at the same time, and at differing temperatures, is disastrous to a host or hostesses' peace of mind.

If you are doing a buffet style appetizer spread, do take a look at my Appetizers Index, as a greater majority of the appetizers I have created have been with these exact strictures in mind!

Make Lists
Be detailed. Plan out the sequence with the aid of the cookbooks or recipes being used. How far ahead can each part of a recipe be done? If there is a filling, can it be done 3 or more days in advance?  If there is a bread to make, can it be made days or even weeks before and frozen? Write out a list for three days in advance, two days, the day prior, and Party Day. List the items that can be done on each of these days. Cleaning can be done well ahead; don't leave that for last minute. Sauces, dips, spreads, can usually be made in advance. Plan out the days and make a line next to each item so a check mark can be placed there as the item is done.

Assemble Party Paraphernalia
Get out your fancy platters, bowls, glassware. Assemble all the decorations. If a party is a buffet style, set the table(s) up two or three days ahead. Set out decorations. Place all the plates, platters, stemware, flatware or anything else needed, all together so they are available. If you are having a sit down dinner, set the table completely. If you are concerned with dust, get one of the thinnest painter's plastic drop cloths and gently cover the table. If there is delicate stemware, lay them on their sides until the day of the party. Then remove the drop cloth and set the glasses upright.

Be Creative in the Display
Even if there is not a lot of room, be creative. In the photo here, various boxes were used to create different heights. One large tablecloth was draped over all the boxes, and allowed to drape down over the table. Pull and arrange the cloth so it will be flat on the flat surfaces, allowing plates and platters to set horizontally. Arrange another one or even two or more cloths of different colors to artfully accent the table, continuing to push the cloth into edges and corners, keeping the horizontal surfaces crease free. All this allows the view of all the foods to be presented to their best advantage, and makes reaching over a plate much easier for guests. A wonderful suggestion for colorful smaller cloths would be scarves, or even bathing suit sarongs, on this off-season.

I wish all of you a stress free, worry free relaxing New Year's party!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook and Pinterest.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to All

As the day is ending, I cannot but be thankful for family, extended family and all the blessings I have in my life. We spent our day with family in a small town in South Dakota, and the weather was frigid but fine, and family was warm and welcoming as always. Some of the family could not all be there at the same times, but came in and out as they were able. We missed those absent.

Cookie Selection
As I write blogs about everything food related, today was certainly what all the food work and research is all about. Recipes for foods and goodies of all kinds abound over the holidays. We get to try others' dishes and trade recipes, enjoying, indulging (and even overindulging). Children run around ecstatic with their new gifts and toys. The hustle and bustle of happiness is everywhere.

I have always been lucky to be a part of wonderful and loving families and extended families. Last night I invited 4 people to share in a little feast of appetizers and goodies. Most of the foods I made are not yet posted on my website, but will be soon. I made gougeres, for the very first time. If you have not tried them, they are a savory version of a cream puff, usually made with cheese in the batter. I made little Spanakopita, which are always a hit. I had a simple bean dip I have been making for just the longest time, and which my husband particularly loves. I made No-Knead Bread, and did my usual, slathering slices with pesto, then sprinkling generously with shredded Parmesan. I broil these until the cheese is melted. My sister-in-law is particularly fond of those. Little smokies wrapped in puff pastry dough are another treat my husband loves. Of course there was a plate of salami slices, an olive selection, cheese slices, and crackers. 

Then came the sweet treats. I have been making cookies up to just a couple of days ago, and set out a bit of all of the varieties. I have written here about most of them, and have been placing recipes on the website as I went. This pictured selection consisted of Bourbon Balls, Ginger Brandy Logs, Rolled Butter Cookies, Pistachio Tea Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Cherry Bon Bons, Gingerbread Cookies, Kifli, and Nutritious Delicious Fudge. The cookies all look so lovely set out this way.

Rolled Butter Cookies

Rolled Butter Cookies
Rolled Butter Cookies

2¼ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together first 4 ingredients. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Lightly beat egg and add to crumb mixture, along with vanilla. Mix well and chill dough. This dough may be made well in advance and frozen until needed.

Roll out and cut cookies into desired shapes. Bake @ 350 for 10 - 12 minutes.

NOTE: These cookies may be iced using a simple confectioners' sugar and water glaze. Mix until the icing barely puddles when dropped from a spoon; neither too thick nor too thin. Dip tops of cookies into glaze, allow to drip and set to dry on waxed paper. Best to allow 24 hours for icing to be completely dry, otherwise they may stick together when stacked.


Bourbon Balls

Makes about 4 dozen
Bourbon Balls
Bourbon Balls

3 cups finely crushed Vanilla Wafer cookies
1½ cups finely ground pecans
1¼ cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons bourbon

Place the finely crushed Vanilla Wafers in a large bowl. Add the ground pecans and stir; set aside. Mix together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder. Set aside. Mix together the honey and Bourbon.

Mix the honey / Bourbon mixture into the confectioners' sugar / cocoa mixture until it is syrupy. Blend this mixture into the crushed cookie and nut mixture until well combined. Form about 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar.

NOTES: As stated, other liquor may be substituted. Other nuts, such as walnuts that grind finely may be substituted. The little cookies may be rolled in confectioners' sugar rather than granulated.

With all these possible substitutions, it would be festive to make 2 or 3 different varieties.

Substitute different types of liquor. Try using rum, or Malibu Rum, or spiced rum. Try a type of liqueur, one that is not too sweet, such as Cointreau for a chocolate orange flavor.

Change the type of cookie used. Try using gingersnaps to make the crumbs, or even a chocolate wafer cookie. Any cookie that makes good crumbs would work.

Vary the kind of syrup. You may use honey, a more natural sweetener, but corn syrup works great also.

When you first start making changes to a basic recipe, try to stick to very similar ingredients and swap one to one.

1. If using an alternate alcohol, use a dry alcohol such as bourbon, whiskey or rum.

2. If using a different cookie to make the crumbs, try cookies that are very similar in texture, such as other hard wafer cookies.

3. If choosing a different kind of nuts, choose nuts that are easy to grind, unless you want a more textured cookie.

4. If substituting the kind of syrup, remember that honey or corn syrup are quite thick and very sticky. This helps the cookies stay together; trying to alter the syrup too radically may result in crumbling cookies.

Once you have the recipe down, try other possibilities:

1. Try using a sandwich type cookie, keeping in mind that you may need less syrup or honey to bind, as the filling adds both moisture and sweetness.

2. Try a different liqueur, keeping in mind that too much sweetness may be cloying.

3. Vary coatings: try colored sugar, colored sprinkles or little jimmies.


Nutritious, Delicious Fudge
Nutritious, Delicious Fudge
Nutritious, Delicious Fudge

makes one 13-x 9-inch pan

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed well
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 pounds confectioners’ sugar
2 cups pecans or walnuts, chopped

Spoon the beans into an electric food processor and process until smooth. Add the cocoa, butter and vanilla and blend until well mixed and beans are totally pureed.

Place the confectioners’ sugar in a large bowl. Add the bean mixture. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes. Stir in the nuts. Pour into a buttered 9 x 13-inch pan and refrigerate until set.


My little group enjoyed themselves immensely, I am thrilled to say, and we all ate and drank amid great laughter and conviviality, and still got to bed early enough to get an early start this morning. I hope all my readers have enjoyed this holiday as much as I, and if this holiday is not your holiday, I still pray all have enjoyed happiness and peace of family at this time of year.  Blessings to all. And to all a Good Night!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook and Pinterest.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Royal Icing for Decorating Cookies

Royal Icing has been around for a very long time. Anyone who has done any cake decorating knows about Royal Icing. Learning to make lovely roses and leaves for example, is a skill taught very early on. Because it is made with egg whites, it may seem daunting to someone just starting out. Egg whites that need to be whipped until light and fluffy can be a disaster if all utensils are not perfectly grease free.  Even using a flavoring agent that contains any oil will ruin the fluffy texture.

Follow some simple rules.

Following some simple rules, and following the recipe to the letter, will yield a wonderful medium that may also be used to decorate cookies. Understanding the use of egg whites in this icing will stand anyone in good stead. Egg whites need all utensils grease free.  There is no way around this, if the goal is whipping them to a glorious height and texture. For this reason, using a glass or metal bowl is essential. Do not attempt to whip the egg whites in a plastic bowl because no matter how clean, plastic will always hold some residual oils. Adding in any ingredients that are not completely oil free will cause the egg whites to deflate. Always use extracts of high quality and alcohol based. Do not attempt to use orange oil as a flavoring, or the result will be a soggy mess. Be extra careful when separating the eggs, so as not to get any yolk into the whites.

Next step, choose the recipe.

Once all your utensils are squeaky clean, you can choose which recipe to follow. The old tried and true recipe uses 3 egg whites. The egg whites are combined with 4 cups of sifted confectioners’ sugar, and a half teaspoon of cream of tartar, to help the egg whites hold shape. With a mixer, beat the ingredients until combined and then beat on medium high speed for 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff. Vanilla or other extract for flavoring is not essential, though it is nice. Remember to keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth when not in use or the icing will easily form a crust and be difficult to use.
There is another method for making Royal Icing, using 3 tablespoons of Wilton Meringue Powder in place of the egg whites, with 4 cups of sifted confectioners’ sugar and 5 to 6 tablespoons warm water. These are combined in the bowl of a mixer and beaten for 7 to 10 minutes or until very stiff. If too stiff, add in the extra tablespoon of water. The same rule applies for keeping covered with a damp cloth. Liquid food coloring may be added to tint the icing, as needed. Remember, being liquid, it will thin the icing a bit, so be judicious. Paste colorings may contain glycerin, and could deflate the icing, so either avoid, or check labels.

If making Royal Icing but not all of it is needed in one sitting, it may be covered tightly and kept for up to a week. Once reopened, if the consistency is spongy, you may need to beat it again to bring back the original texture.

How to use Royal Icing.

Now that you have the icing made, how to use it? The best way to use the icing is in a piping bag, using an icing tip. If you use a reusable icing bag, be sure it has never been used for other icings or enough grease residue may remain behind to ruin the icing. There are plenty of disposable icing bags available these days, making this task easier. If using disposable bags, you could use icing tips, or it is possible to simply snip a tiny opening at the tip and fill the bag.  Once you have filled the bag, grip it closed just above the icing level, taking it just at the base of thumb and first finger.  Hold the bag tightly and twist it, creating pressure on the contents. Lower the fingers around the bag, and squeeze to extrude icing for decorating. Release pressure to stop the flow. I realize that this may sound complex if one has not done it before, but once you get the feel of it, it will work perfectly.

There are many types of icing decorating tubes and things available these days that will take the difficulty out of those last instructions. If you prefer one of the gadgets on the market, do what works best for you.

The best way to decorate cookies is simply outlining them, or drawing designs. If the cookies are in a shape, such as a Christmas tree, or a bunny, for example, the tree can be outlined and then using criss-crossed lines, simulate a garland. The bunny may have ears and paws outlined and an eye added. Use imagination. For finer detail, be sure your bag or tube has a very small hole, so the icing comes out very finely. For simple and quick outlining, a slightly larger opening will do just fine.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook and Pinterest.

Friday, December 21, 2012

More Cookies for Christmas

Bourbon Balls
I am in full cookie-making mode. Yesterday I iced the Rolled Butter Cookies I had made the day before. Then I moved on to mixing up Gingerbread Cookie dough to chill. I made Cherry Bon Bons and Bourbon Balls. This morning I began by cooking dried apricots into the filling mixture for my Kifli. After setting that aside to cool, I started making gingerbread men. 

My friend here in town gave me the recipe for her gingerbread last year after I tasted her cookies. They were really delicious so I wanted to make some this year. I am planning to make some Royal Icing tomorrow and decorate them simply. The recipe made a lot of cookies - about 16 dozen little 3 inch men.

Rolled Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies
5 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vinegar

Sift together flour, soda, spices and salt; set aside. In a larger bowl place shortening and beat for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat till fluffy. Add egg, molasses and vinegar and beat well.  Add in dry ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets. Divide dough in thirds. On a lightly floured surface, roll each third of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Keep remainder of dough chilled until ready to use. Cut rolled dough in desired shapes and place 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Bake for about 5 - 6 minutes. Cool for one minute, then remove to a rack to finish cooling. Makes about 60 cookies, depending on size. May be iced as desired.

After icing these little guys, I will take some photos to share. After I finished up with the gingerbread men, I cleaned up that mess and got started making the Kifli. I had a jar of Lekvar, or Prune Filling already in my pantry, but making it is just as easy. I got the dough made, rolled, filled and baked.

I am tired, but well-pleased. I hope your cookie baking is going as well as mine! Merry Yule, on this longest night of the year.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook and Pinterest.