Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In case you missed them...

It's not always easy coming up with a recipe each week for my food column. In fact, it's seldom easy. But it's worth the effort. This food column is one of the most rewarding things I do, especially in recent years since my daughter, Anna, started taking the photographs for me.

I cannot tell you the pleasure it brings me when someone tells me, "I look forward to reading your food column every week." And it happens often. Just ask my kids; they like to tease me about it!

Just a few days before Christmas, one of my son's former high school teachers stopped me at a store to tell me she tries my recipes often and had recently made my microwave peanut brittle and rocky road fudge. Her comments made me smile.

This past year, as I've struggled with heart-breaking grief after my mother's death, just 11 months after my father's death, I've really relied on the routine of trying new recipes, sharing them with my readers and hearing feedback as therapy. It's amazing how far a little encouragement and thanks will go (not to mention a hot bowl of soup or a sweet treat) to mend a broken spirit.

Again this year, I decided to use this year-end column to re-publish some of my favorite food column recipes for the year. I wasn't sure there were any memorable ones until I started looking through our archives and realized it was this year I shared so many recipes that I'm still making such as a super yummy veggie filled ham and cheese pie that my husband and I adore.

I make honey mustard pasta salad at least once a month for lunches, and I keep Chicken Tetrazzini Florentine in my freezer for nights I don't want to cook.

My daughter often requests that I make pizza melts, and my husband looks forward to nights I make seasoned turkey burgers.

Son Robert requested a fruit pizza for his Christmas Eve birthday. We all love this easy recipe.

And my recipe for microwave bread and butter pickles was one of my most popular ones ever. For weeks after that one ran, I got calls and e-mails from people telling me how much they loved them.

So in case you missed these favorites, here they are again.

Thank you for reading my column every week, and please don't stop. I got cookbooks for Christmas, and I'll be experimenting and sharing!

The best recipes of 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good-for-you Chili

My sister was visiting at Thanksgiving and told me about this wonderful new turkey chili she had made. She suggested we save out three cups of shredded turkey and freeze it for the Cooking Light chili.

We did just that.

A week or so after Thanksgiving, I thawed the turkey, and in a short time after work one evening threw together this very easy chili.

Before making it, though, I read some reviews and made a change or two based on other cooks' recommendations and on my family's preferences.

The recipe calls for three cans of Great Northern beans, which are white. I wanted to add a little variety to my chili, so I followed a suggestion and used one can of black beans along with two cans of Great Northern beans. I also cut back on the spices because I don't normally like spicy foods, but when I make it again, I'll probably add as much cumin and chili powder as called for.

I did add a little more tomato, cutting two roma tomatoes. Next time I'll probably add even more because we liked the texture and color they added to the chili.

I added the fresh cilantro to my chili; it's the first time I've ever cooked with cilantro. I didn't particularly like the smell of the cilantro on my hands after it was chopped, but I threw it in my chili pot anyway. I didn't especially like the taste, either, and I'm thinking I'll leave it out when I make the recipe again.

When it came time to serve our chili, my husband and I added a dollop of reduced-fat sour cream and a sprinkling of shredded Mexican cheese. Wow! These two ingredients added so much flavor to the chili.

The chili smells so good cooking and lived up to expectations. My husband and son gobbled it down; so did I.

In reading reviews, I noticed that several people often cook a turkey breast just so they can have turkey to make this recipe. After my first bowl, I could understand why!

I considered saving this recipe until next November, but I decided my readers need to be making it this winter! So for those of you who cook turkey for Christmas, save out three cups of shredded turkey and make this delicious and good-for-you chili soon.

White Bean Turkey Chili
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups diced yellow onion (about 2 medium)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 (15.8-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained*
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups chopped cooked turkey
  • 1/2 cup diced seeded plum tomato*
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 lime wedges (optional)
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 10 minutes or until tender and golden. Add chili powder, garlic and cumin; sauté for 2 minutes. Add oregano and beans; cook for 30 seconds. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes.

Place 2 cups of bean mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Return pureed mixture to pan. Add turkey, and cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from heat. Add diced tomato, chopped cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper, stirring well. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

Notes: I used 2 cans of Great Northern beans and 1 can of black beans, all rinsed and drained. I used 2 plum or roma tomatoes, and next time I’ll use more, probably to equal at least 1 cup. We garnished our soup with light sour cream and a blend of Mexican cheeses.

www.myrecipes.com from Cooking Light

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Microwave sweets

A friend seemed surprised Friday to find me shopping for stocking stuffers. He claimed it was too early for that. Not at my house!

I like to do my shopping early, plan ahead what I'm cooking for the holidays, and save time wherever I can. That includes cooking.

I've always been a fan of the slow cooker, and I used my very first tax refund check to buy a microwave oven. I made a lot of quick recipes in that first microwave and continue to take shortcuts, from melting chocolate to boiling water, in my microwave.

So why not use that same appliance for holiday treats? My go-to fudge is a very simple recipe made in the microwave oven, so it was no surprise that I was drawn to another microwave fudge recipe, this one for Super-Easy Rocky Road Fudge, found in Nestle's "Holiday Recipes" publication. The photograph alone, showing off the marshmallows and walnuts, was enough to convince me to give it a try.

As the name implies, this fudge is simple, requiring just a minute in the microwave followed by a little stirring. The only time-consuming step for me was cracking the walnuts. I know that was the hard way to get chopped walnuts, but they are so good freshly cracked.

When I poured this fudge into a baking dish to cool, I made sure to leave plenty of the chocolatey treat behind in the bowl so I could eat it still warm. It was heavenly, especially the bites with chocolate, nuts and marshmallows.

If you have kids at home, let them help you make this fudge.

But you might want to keep the kids out of the kitchen for microwave peanut brittle. The mixture is just too hot for little guys. In fact, you really need to think ahead with this recipe to make sure you are prepared to get the hot bowl out of the microwave oven.

I've never made a lot of peanut brittle. As I've said before, I don't like to make recipes that require a candy thermometer, but this one does not. The nut and sugar mixture cooks in the microwave for a total of 8 to 10 minutes until bubbly and brown. The unmistakable aroma from the microwave also signals it's time for peanut brittle! I found this recipe at allrecipes.com and read the many reviews. I'm glad I did. I followed recommendations and used a glass mixing bowl with a handle so I could safely remove the very hot bowl with very hot ingredients from the microwave. My microwave is above my stove, so it's even more important to remove this mixture carefully, using a reliable pot holder (which I have very few of!) My microwave oven cooks fast; I used the 6 minutes recommendation for the first cooking and about 2 1/2 after stirring.

I spread out the peanut brittle on a cookie sheet prepared with spray but wasn't careful enough to spread it evenly. Some parts of my peanut brittle were thicker than others, and a little chewier than I like. Next time I'll be more careful to spread it evenly and quickly.

I hope you'll consider this delicious recipes when you're planning your holiday goodies this year.

Microwave Oven Peanut Brittle
  • 1 1/2 cups dry roasted peanuts
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 pinch salt (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
Grease a baking sheet or use cooking spray and set aside.

In a large glass bowl with a handle, combine peanuts, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Cook in microwave for 6 to 7 minutes on high; mixture should be bubbly and peanuts browned. (Bowl and ingredients will be very hot.) Stir in butter and vanilla; cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

Quickly stir in baking soda, just until mixture is foamy. Pour immediately onto greased baking sheet and spread to consistent, thin layer. Let cool 15 minutes or until set. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container.


Super-Easy Rocky Road Fudge
  • 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Line 13- by-9-inch baking pan with foil; grease lightly.

Microwave morsels and sweetened condensed milk in large, uncovered, microwave-safe bowl on high, 100 percent, power for 1 minute; stir. Morsels may retain some of their original shape. If necessary, microwave at additional 10- to 15-second intervals, stirring just until morsels are melted. Stir in vanilla extract. Fold in marshmallows and nuts.

Press mixture into prepared baking pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into pieces.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Festive holiday dip

You might be surprised how I come up with ideas for this food column. Take this week's topic, for instance. It's the perfect example of putting the cart before the horse, as my daddy used to say.

I was shopping in the Kohl's home section recently, drooling over pots and pans I'd love to cook my dinners in and wishing I could replace my everyday china with something more colorful. And don't get me started on my desire to own more kitchen gadgets. But what really caught my eye was a collection of blue-tone dinnerware adorned with the cutest, chubby snowmen. I especially liked a small square bowl and immediately envisioned a pretty holiday photo for a future food column. Yes, I admit, I often buy plates and bowls and linens that I like and then plan a food column around the purchase.

As soon as I saw this pretty little bowl I knew I must do a dip recipe. Hostesses can't serve cookies and cake only at Christmas, right? (But don't fret; you'll see holiday sweets soon enough in this space!)

Back to the dip. My family enjoys dips at home, at parties or even restaurants. I don't make appetizers often, so it's a treat when we have something new to dip our chips or crackers or veggies into.

I really treated everyone last week with a new dip from Kraft Foods. I read many recipes featuring a favorite dip ingredient -- cream cheese -- before I settled on Red Pepper Cheese Dip.

It only takes a few minutes to mix this four-ingredient, delicious recipe. Let it chill for an hour or so, and it's ready to dip with snack crackers. I loved the flavor combination in this recipe, which reminded both me and my husband of pimiento cheese. The dip's color is a lovely shade of orange with pretty pieces of roasted red pepper and green chives to dress it up. Put the dip in a pretty bowl, and you have a festive addition to your party table.

We ate our dip for several days.

I must make another confession. While my turkey breasts were cooking Thanksgiving Day, getting nice and tender for our evening meal, I ate dip and pumpkin pie for lunch. A new tradition is born!

Red Pepper Cheese Dip
  • 1 container (8 oz.) whipped cream cheese spread
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 jar (7 oz.) roasted red peppers, drained, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen chives
  • Crackers
Mix cheeses, red peppers and chives until well blended; cover.

Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.

Serve as a dip with crackers.

Kraft Foods