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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hosting a Friendsgiving

I wasn't too familiar with the concept of a "Friendsgiving" but I did know some of our friends in Chicago would host one - many of them not Chicago natives, would travel home for the holiday, so they decided to gather on a different day with local friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Friendsgiving is a great way to extend the turkey-related festivities - sometimes you can't travel home for the holiday or can't see everyone you'd like to. Try hosting a Friendsgiving! A few of our Chicago friends recently moved back to Michigan so we were very excited to not only be able to participate this year, but host the first Michigan edition of "Friendsgiving."

You can stick to traditional Thanksgiving foods that you know and love, or it can be a great time to try new twists on traditions, try out new recipes, and share new experiences. I seriously contemplated attempting a Turducken. I researched it for days - three meats layered with three types of stuffings - this could be really good! I also kept running into reviews of it being "just so-so" and eventually we decided on going a different route that we were more familiar with - a deep fried turkey.

You can organize your Friendsgiving any way you'd like, but our friends typically conducted it in a "pot-luck style" fashion. The host handles the turkey, gravy, etc - and the other invitees fill in the menu with other holiday favorites like stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, vegetables, desserts and appetizers. You can really great creative with menu items and the pot-luck style helps spread out the cooking effort.

This was our first formal dinner party in our new house and I spent most of the time just prepping the house, unpacking my party serveware and making updates to personalize our home a little.

Did you see that magnetic chalkboard with the Friendsgiving sign above? That was one of my little projects I just had to do the week before the party. I had wanted a magnet board somewhere in the kitchen as well as a chalkboard, but some of the custom ones online looked quite expensive and never combined them both. Then, when I was at Ikea, I saw they had a totally affordable magnetic board and they said you could cover it with fabric and hot glue it in the back- cool, that's something I can do! More graphic prints that I love! I quickly googled to see if there were any magnetic backed chalkboards and Amazon had this awesome "ziggy board" which is way better than a chalkboard because these pens are brighter, easier to use, and wipe right off with water. Love it! Now I can use the chalkboard for reminders or menu lists, and use my personalized magnets for invites and other papers. When I get sick of the pattern, I can just rip it off and change it.

My mom is a wreath wiz and made me this super cute fall wreath (I glittered the B and added that), too bad hardly anyone uses our front door! Haha! I pressed these leaves and used some for decorations on my table as well. My mom was a big help with this party and she listened to all my ideas and gave me lots of great advice on the food and decorating!

I decided on a buffet-style way to serve the food - lay it all out in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves - and this left more room for decorating the table. This was more elaborate than I've ever done in the past so I had a lot of fun buying a new chevron runner from Etsy, making nice floral arrangements, pressing leaves, and adding other touches of fall decor with candles.

I also went to Nino's and got a cool assortment of fall and unusual flowers and made 3 flower arrangements - two with a white/green/yellow theme and one big red and yellow one for the table centerpiece. I used raffia to tie around the vases for extra decoration. It was really fun!!

More flowers on the table and also an extra arrangement in a green vase - even several days later I am enjoying the flowers!

I also was trying to bring in the old with the new - I hadn't cared for the design on my grandmother's china set that my mom was thinking of donating to good will, until I was planning for this party and realized it's perfect for a fall dinner. Plus, it has more meaning than just buying something new - it had a gold leaf pattern. My mom also has many wine and champagne glasses with gold and even a gold stainless steel silverware set - but! How was this going to go with my already ordered gray chevron table runner and silver/gray pattern curtains? Ah ha - a gold and silver, old and new - theme! I bought some cheap silver chargers from Bed Bath and Beyond and added raffia and silver ribbon with the napkins, and I think the overall look was a good mix of old and new, modern and traditional, silver and gold. It was really fun to plan it all out!

Now on to the best part - let's talk about all the food! I did not do a great job taking a picture of the appetizers or desserts, but I can still describe everything. I tried a few new recipes which I would definitely make again.

First and foremost, spiced nuts from Martha Stewart! They were the very yummiest homemade nuts I've ever had. I got the idea from watching "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" where Giada was talking about some rosemary nuts from a bar/restaurant in NYC. I tried that recipe the weekend before Friendsgiving but it was not quite sweet enough and too salty. Martha had a similar recipe but featured more butter and sugar so I knew that would be perfect and it was! The only thing her recipe was missing was a dash of cayenne so I added that, but it could have used some more to get a little spice going. Definitely try these - it's a perfect appetizer for holiday cocktail parties, the rosemary is very interesting and matches great especially with pecans - I used about 90% pecans vs the other nuts.

See Martha Stewart's recipe for Roasted Rosemary Nuts below! It's so yummy!
Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe here. 

2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I added this myself - add spice to your taste preference!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

When I made it, I had extra butter/sugar chunks and it made for really tasty large brittle-like texture. I made three batches (6 cups of nuts) and had 1 cup leftover, for 11 people. They were delicious the next day, as well, so this is a good make-ahead dish. The problem is it's hard to ever have any leftover! We had impromptu guests a few days later so I made a 1.5 batch and I wish I had made more, it was only 3 people eating but it's mostly gone!

I had a selection of cheese and crackers - Costco had an interesting "tapas" selection of Manchego, Tipsy Goat and Iberico - pre-sliced which was convenient. The Londoner was gross though, I will not try that again! The blue cheese was fabulous though no one liked it plain however it played a key role in my next new appetizer recipe that I tried, which was a big hit - Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese!

I forgot to take a picture, but I used cute bamboo skewers with a twist at one end to secure them. Bacon is obviously delicious and this is a great tapas-style appetizer that is easy to put together and can be served room temperature! I tried this recipe the week before with my mom, half with goat cheese with herbs and half with blue cheese. I liked the herbs but the blue cheese gave the best tang! The dates are sweet like caramel candy, the bacon is salty and smokey, and the blue cheese inside breaks it all up with a tangy bite. Yum! Here is a photo of what they look like from the blog The Sweets Life:

They have the same recipe on their blog that I used from
Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese
1/2 pound bacon cut in half
16 plump medjool dates, pits removed
2 or 3 oz blue cheese

Spoon blue cheese into the center of each date and wrap with a half slice of bacon, then secure with a tooth pick or wooden skewer. Bake in the oven at 375 for 30-40 minutes until the bacon is crispy. If some of the cheese melts out, that's OK. These can be served warm or room temperature and they weren't half bad reheated the next day for leftovers!

Of course your guests who do not like blue cheese will not go for these, as The Husband would not try them, but it's worth it for the rest of us who love blue cheese. For me, I only want one or two of these, but many of my friends really had several and enjoyed them quite a bit.  They are a wonderful addition to a cocktail party especially if you are going for a tapas theme! Try them with your favorite cheese, too. I tried a Danish Blue from Papa Joe's and an American Blue from Costco, both were tangy but the Danish Blue was creamier. I got the dates from Costco as well - I buy these often, the boys and my parents love them!
Finally, I had planned on using my appetizer spoons somehow and was going to make shrimp. However, I eventually decided against it and bought some sushi and put one slice on each spoon and had a few different kinds of rolls for my 18 spoons. I put the soy sauce and ginger on top and there was also wasabi there and everything was ready in a bite-size package - forget the chop sticks! I thought it was a good way to use appetizer spoons with not much effort. I forgot to take a picture the day of so this was just a recreation that I did a few days later.

I was looking up ideas for fall cocktails and came across a Pear / Prosecco combination from Claire Robinson which I wanted to try. This was my "welcome" cocktail and it was pretty tasty though I'm not a big anise/licorice fan. Of course it's more of a girly drink and I wasn't thinking about the fact that most of my guests were either children, pregnant or men. Those of us who tried it enjoyed it and now I have a bottle of pear liqueur to figure out what to do with! I used my mom's gold champagne glasses on a silver tray for presentation. Would I make it again? No. But, it looked cool. As an aside, have you seen these super cute chalkboards I'm using for labeling foods? I saw them at Crate and Barrel a year or two ago and finally got to use them for this party. They came with some chalk but the ziggy pen from my ziggy board worked WAY better! Love it!

Anise and Pear Bubbly
Recipe from Claire Robinson, found here here
2 cups pear nectar
1 cup pear liqueur (recommended: Poire William)
2 star anise
4 bottles Prosecco
16 cranberries
In a small saucepan over moderate heat, add the nectar, pear liqueur and star anise. Bring up to a boil and turn heat off. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then discard the star anise. Cool to room temperature and chill until ready to use.

To serve, drop 1 cranberry to the bottom of each champagne coupe or flute. Add 2 tablespoons of the spiced pear mixture for coupe glasses and 3 tablespoons for the flute glasses. Top with Prosecco and enjoy!

I liked the cranberry floating in the glass. I only opened one bottle of sparkling wine, Asti Spumanti, as that was more than plenty for the two people who were partaking!

After frying our cajun-seasoned (cajun and poultry seasoning rub and creole butter injection) 18 lb turkey for an hour or so, it was perfectly golden brown. I should have taken a picture of it before carving but trust me in saying it had the most beautiful crispy brown skin! Success! Our friend expertly carved it and he did a wonderful job, it looked beautiful on the platter and all of the sides that everyone contributed looked great, too. Finally it was time to eat! We had 11 adults and the 18 lb turkey was just the right size, hardly any leftovers.

I had decided on buffet style serving so the kitchen counter was cleared off and I used my new leaf-cut place mats as a backdrop for the food. Everything was delicious! We had Chris' sausage apple cornbread stuffing, Karen's sweet potatoes, Tom and Gwen's baked garlic green beans and rolls, Megan's cranberry relish and corn, and I finished out the dinner with classic mashed potatoes (inside that adorable ceramic bird serving dish - isn't that adorable?) and gravy. It was all so flavorful, everyone really enjoyed it and we were stuffed, and we haven't even gotten to dessert yet!

I didn't get all the recipes from everyone but everyone totally loved Karen's sweet potatoes - check out her recipe below - I have always wanted to try one of these casseroles with the marshmallows on top and I was so glad she brought this!!

Karen's Sweet Potato Casserole
Yield: 16 servings


2 ¼ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup half and half (may substitute whole milk for a lighter version)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Cooking spray

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

1.              Preheat oven to 375°.
2.              To prepare potatoes, place potatoes in a dutch oven, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until very tender.  Drain; cool slightly.
3.              Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add half-and-half, ¾ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.  Add eggs, beat well (mixture will be thin).  Scrape mixture into a 13” x 9” baking dish coated with cooking spray.
4.              To prepare topping, sprinkle miniature marshmallows over top of casserole.  Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, level with a knife.  Combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in pecans, and sprinkle over potato mixture and marshmallows.  Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

The rolls, butter, gravy boats, cranberries and wine is ready and waiting at the table for us!

Next, let's talk about desserts! Andrea brought a lovely French apple cake which was chock full of apple and Megan made a delicious pumpkin pie from Crate and Barrel / Cook's Illustrated. She had put a lot of work into a homemade crust and the special preparation and wasn't sure about it but I loved it - it came out perfect. I found the recipe online - check it out below:

Pumpkin Pie 

by Cook's Illustrated as seen here.

Serves 8

Why This Recipe Works: Too often, pumpkin pie appears at the end of a Thanksgiving meal as a grainy, overspiced, canned ­pumpkin custard encased in a soggy crust. We wanted to create a pumpkin pie destined to be a new classic: velvety smooth, packed with pumpkin flavor, and redolent of just enough fragrant spices. To concentrate its flavor, we cooked the canned pumpkin with sugar and spices, then whisked in heavy cream, milk, and eggs. This improved the flavor and the hot filling helped the custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust. For spices, we chose nutmeg, cinnamon, and, surprisingly, freshly grated ginger. Sugar and maple syrup sweetened things, but for more complex flavor, we added mashed roasted yams to the filling (switching to canned candied yams streamlined the procedure). To keep the custard from curdling, we started the pie at a high temperature for 10 minutes, followed by a reduced temperature for the remainder of the baking time. This cut the baking time to less than an hour and the dual temperatures produced a creamy pie fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.
Make sure to buy unsweetened canned pumpkin; avoid pumpkin pie mix. If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The crust must still be warm when the filling is added. When the pie is properly baked, the center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. Serve with 
whipped cream.

  • 1 recipe Foolproof Single-Crust Pie Dough (see related recipe)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup canned candied yams, drained
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Lay pie dough on generously floured counter and roll dough outward from its center into 12-inch circle. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it over 9-inch pie plate. Lift dough and gently press it into pie plate, letting excess hang over plate’s edge.
2. Using kitchen shears, trim all but 1/2 inch of dough overhanging edge of pie plate. Tuck dough underneath itself to form tidy, even edge that sits on lip of pie plate. Use index finger of one hand and thumb and index finger of other hand to create fluted ridges perpendicular to edge of pie plate. Wrap dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic and freeze until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Line chilled pie crust with double layer of aluminum foil, covering edges to prevent burning, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake until pie dough looks dry and is pale in color, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and remove weights and foil. Return crust to oven and continue to bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack and let cool slightly. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
5. While crust bakes, whisk cream, milk, eggs and yolks, and vanilla together in bowl. Bring pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to simmer in large saucepan and cook, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Whisk mixture, then pour into warm prebaked pie crust.
7. Place pie on prepared sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake until edges of pie are set and center registers 175 degrees, 25 to 45 minutes longer. Let pie cool on wire rack to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Serve.

Also my mom was nice enough to participate even though she wasn't attending, and she made delicious spice cookies and buckeyes. I also couldn't resist getting some cupcake-shaped chocolates and belgium chocolate cups from Costco just to add some items to the dessert table.

Last but not least, did you see that super cute fruit turkey? This was an idea I saw online and it was one of the first things I did to prepare Saturday and then I covered it and put it in the garage to chill and totally forgot to serve it! I noticed it after all the kids were done eating - oh well - I brought it out at the last minute and we enjoyed most of it the next day as well. I used a pear and jabbed in the skewers and then cut a clementine for the beak and fixed it on with a toothpick, along with the strawberry underneath and a sliced blueberry for the eyes - also fixed on with toothpicks. Cute!

I hope you enjoyed all of my fall recipes and Friendsgiving ideas! We are very blessed to have wonderful friends and family and very thankful everyone could make it. I hope you try a Friendsgiving or some new recipes for your Thanksgiving meal - let me know your favorite recipes!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Easy Thanksgiving Turkey Cupcakes

I'm sure everyone has seen these around the internet or in magazines but last year for Thanksgiving I decided to give them a try and it was a lot of fun for my son's Thanksgiving Feast party as school.

I had some chocolate buttercream leftover from a previous cake recipe so that made it even easier! First you just bake the flavor of cupcakes that you'd like  - I went with basic yellow cake for the picky toddlers these were for. I think a spice or pumpkin cake would be nice with spiced or brown butter frosting, also.

After the cupcakes are baked, (I made both regular sized and mini sized cupcakes),  you put chocolate buttercream into a pastry sleeve fitted with a big star tip. Pipe out a big lump and then a curvy neck/head for the turkey. Once all of the chocolate buttercream is done, use the wonderful seasonal candy -candy corn - to create the fan tail for each turkey. My large cupcakes used more than the mini cupcakes, of course.

Then with some leftover vanilla buttercream, I colored a very little portion red, orange, and black, and kept some white. Using the white and then black, make two eyes for each turkey just using regular round tips. For the beak, use orange with a leaf tip. The red should be used for the jowl of the turkey.

These were a big hit with the toddlers who ate them while being dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians. It was pretty easy, I would definitely make these again!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Homemade Roasted Tomato Salsa and Salsa Verde

We are participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with Country Roots Farm. We signed up for the "half share" which means we get a bushel of fresh vegetables and fruits and herbs every two weeks throughout the summer season. I love it! Each delivery is very exciting to unpack the bushel basket and see what we got.

The recent delivery included a bag of tomatillos. We love green salsa and I've seen them in the stores but I've never bought them or used them for cooking. We love Mexican food so it has been on my list of things to try, for sure. The CSA forces us to try new things, which is a good thing when you have two little kids at home and aren't feeling too adventurous in the kitchen.

So, I'm very excited to share the two recipes I made
- the Salsa Verde recipe I chose was from Rick Bayless. I love him, he is a renowned chef of traditional/modern Mexican cuisine and has several restaurants in Chicago. I'd love to go to one but so far I've only seen him on TV on Top Chef: Masters, a competitive charity show.

The red salsa recipe I just kind of made up since we make fresh salsa each year and cooked salsa once or twice.

The Rick Bayless recipe said you could either roast the tomatillos and peppers or make it raw. I chose to broil everything, including the tomatoes and bell peppers I was going to use for the red salsa. This went pretty easily and then I had my cuisinart at the ready for blending them into sauces.  I made simple chicken quesadillas, a typical weeknight dinner, and included some of the roasted bell peppers inside of those as well. When paired with these fresh sauces, this really made the basic quesadillas delicious. I would definitely consider serving mexican food for a dinner party and absolutely make these sauces again to make it special. It's a totally different flavor compared to the jarred salsas we buy from the store. Yummy!

Salsa Verde
By Rick Bayless as seen here

8 ounces (5 to 6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsedFresh hot green chiles, to taste (roughly 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed5 or 6 sprigs fresh cilantro (thick stems removed), roughly choppedScant 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 garlic clovesSalt

Note: I did not add the water, as noted in some of the reviews of this recipe, and I added 2 garlic cloves.

Roast the tomatillos and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, even blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side, 4 to 5 minutes more will give you splotchy-black and blistered tomatillos and chiles. In a blender or food processor, combine the tomatillos and chiles, including all the delicious juice that has run onto the baking sheet. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, blend to a coarse puree, and scrape into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove the excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

Roasted Tomato Salsa

4 or 5 fresh tomatoes or any tomato you have on hand
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup cilantro
1 lime
1-2 hot peppers (or use mild if you do not want spicy salsa)
1-2 cloves of garlic

DirectionsRoast the tomatoes and peppers under the broiler until the skin is black and blistering, flip and do the same thing again. Scrape tomatoes and juices into a food processor, add onion, cilantro, lime juice and peppers (leave out seeds if you'd like to reduce the heat), and cloves of garlic. Process gently until the consistency is to your liking, perhaps slightly chunky. Taste to adjust for seasoning - salt, more garlic, more lime juice, etc. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Homemade Claussen Style Pickles

Perhaps you have a little garden with tons of pickling cucumbers in the works, or perhaps, you're like we were last year, with a little garden where the pickling cucumbers used to grow, until the ground hog ate them all. We tried to plant some more but the stores had all run out, so, we went to the Royal Oak Farmer's Market and they had a great deal on pickling cucumbers. It was something like a dollar or two for a few big grocery sacks full of "funny shaped" pickling cucumbers, which worked perfect for us - who cares if your pickles are curved and irregular?

The reason we were trying to grow pickling cucumbers in our newly built raised garden bed was to try out pickling pickles for the first time. I had scoped out a few recipes online and decided to go with my favorite type of pickle to eat - the Claussen style dill pickles in the refrigerator case at the store. Any kind of pickle like that, including the super fancy and tasty McClures or other pickle-makers who pop up at farmer's markets, are super tasty! The kind of pickles I really don't like are those yellow mushy ones in the canned food section of the grocery store.. except the sweet gherkins which are always good. Anyhoo, I found this post by Foodie With Family post about Claussen Pickles and wanted to give it a go. It seemed easy enough!

We found the ingredients except I could only find regular dill at Holiday Market, boo!.. and then set off to make a large 2 gallon batch on the same day that I was also trying a new homemade salsa recipe to can.

The outcome turned out pretty good, these are also known as Lithuanian half sours and my mom said that my grandma used to make them like this too, and she's Ukrainian, so maybe they are Ukrainian half sours, also. Definitely something reminiscent of the "Old Country." This made a TON of pickles, and I had to give a ton away, luckily my parents love love love pickles. They last about 6 months in the fridge. There are a few other versions of a similar knock-off Claussen pickle recipe. I might try a different one next time!

Here is the recipe that Foodie With A Family has posted:

Homemade Claussen Knock-Off Pickles

Yield: 2 gallons of pickles
Always crunchy and garlicky, this perfect homemade pickle requires no special equipment, no canning experience and tastes just like Claussen's refrigerated kosher dill pickles.
  • 35 to 40 small to medium pickling cucumbers
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons mixed pickling spices
  • 2/3 c. canning or kosher salt (Do NOT use iodized salt!)
  • 4 cloves garlic or more, to taste
  • 4 fresh dill heads ~or~ 4 tablespoons dried dill seed (not weed!)
Wash cucumbers but do not scrub them.
Trim 1/8-inch from the blossom end of each cucumber and slice in half lengthwise or into quarters, depending on how large your cucumbers are and how big you want them to be when they're done.
In a gallon jar (or large, wide-mouth, food-safe container) layer the dill heads or seed, garlic cloves and sliced cucumbers.
In a separate pitcher or bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients until the salt is dissolved.
Pour the brine over the cucumbers, taking care to make sure all of them are fully submerged. If needed, place a plate or mug or other non-reactive heavy item on the cucumbers to weigh them down and keep them under the brine!
Cover lightly with a lid just perched on top or secure a piece of cheesecloth over the jar with a rubber band to keep fruit flies away.
Leave out of direct sunlight on the counter for two to four days*, or until the cucumbers taste like pickles throughout.
Fix your lid onto your jar or container and chill. These can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months provided you keep them covered with brine.
*If at any point in the proceedings "fuzz" or "foam" develops on top of the brine, use a spoon to remove it. If there is "fuzz" attached to any of the cucumbers, remove the ones affected and be sure the others are still fully submerged.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Brownie Berry Tart

I saw a neat idea for making a brownie fruit pizza (instead of the classic sugar cookie crust) and decided to give it a try for a Memorial Day BBQ with the family. Well, we just moved and I quickly realized that all the recipes for the brownie pizza crust required a quite large pizza pan - somewhere around 15" or so. I have a large circle cake pan, maybe 16" somewhere - but I don't know where. For all I know, it is still in storage. So.... I had all the ingredients but needed a plan B.

What pan I did find was a tart pan with the fluted edges and the bottom that pops out. I love this tart pan, it is nonstick and the tarts always look nice and pop out easy. The bottom circle stays with the tart but it fits on one of my white plates well and a damp paper towel folded up hidden underneath provides  enough grip to keep the slippery tart pan from sliding off the plate.

So, originally I was picturing a big flat brownie pizza but I quite like how the taller/thicker brownie tart turned out. I used a ghirardelli brownie box - a basic chocolate fudge. I followed the directions on the box and packed the brownie batter into the tart pan and baked for around 35 minutes at the temperature noted on the box.

I made the brownie bottom the night before and then the day of the party, I set out the cream cheese in the morning so that it had time to soften. I also washed the raspberries and took the time to tip them stem-size down on a paper towel so that they had time to dry, with another paper towel on top. I washed the other berries in a similar fashion well in advance so that the berries wouldn't be dripping onto the tart and would be pretty dry by the time I used them.

I mixed up the cream cheese with the other ingredients and spread it on top of the tart pan and then just leave it to your creative eye to arrange the fruit in a pleasing manner - there are lots of options! I put some apricot jam in the microwave for around 30 minutes and then used a pastry brush to put a gloss on top of the tart. It wasn't really anything you tasted in the final product but the glossy sheen was attractive. This was a delicious tart and I would definitely make it again - I'm thinking I would like it better than the original intent, you get more brownie at once with the tart than the pizza idea! Yummy!

Brownie Tart Topped with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Berries

1 brownie mix box or your favorite 8x8 or 9x9 brownie recipe

1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened
~1/4cup powdered sugar, or more to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract

blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or any other fruit topping you'd like

1/4 cup apricot or apple jelly

Make the brownie mix as noted on the box and spread into the tart pan, bake for around 35 minutes or until just done - but not too long, because chewy brownies are the best! The brownie tart bottom can be made in advance and left out.

When you're ready to decorate the tart, mix up the cream cheese with the powdered sugar and vanilla. Adjust vanilla and sugar amounts so that it is sweet enough to your taste. Spread over the top of the tart, leaving an edge uncovered, if you like that look.

Spread washed (and dried - I washed my berries and let them dry a few hours earlier) berries and other fruits in a neat (or sloppy) design on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Pop the jelly in a microwave safe dish and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, until it is more liquidy. Use a pastry brush to paint the jelly on top of the fruit until everything is glossed up.

This can set out a few hours but if it's going to be several hours before you eat it, it is better if you pop it in the fridge to keep the cream cheese safe.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Chim, Chim, Chim-Chim-Churri

What's all this talk about chimichurri sauce these days? I see it on tons of cooking competitions and cooking shows - it seems to be becoming more mainstream. I first tried it at a Cuban restaurant in Royal Oak several years ago, and it's a delicious fresh herb green sauce for dipping all sorts of things, often sliced skirt or flank steak. I love the cilantro flavor with bright lime and zesty garlic.

I've read that the sauce was originally from Argentina and the main herb used was parsley but I much prefer the cilantro version which hails from Cuba, as described in this recipe I used from Three Guys From Miami. I have used other recipes from them, including mojo marinade and twice fried tostones, and they seem like a great resource for making your own Cuban food at home. I made a double batch last time and that was way too much but it ended up being a great cooking sauce to jazz up regular chicken breasts later in the week, so maybe it was a good idea afterall! One thing to note is that it calls for a lot of olive oil and when I cut down on that (didn't want to use up my whole jug on this recipe!), I should have cut down on some vinegar also, so it was a little vinegary to me. Just follow the ratios as noted in the recipe and then tweak to your own preferences, you will not be disappointed. It was great to dip our flank steak in and a delicious marinade/cooking sauce for chicken as well.

Chimichurri Sauce – Garlic Citrus Sauce for Meat

By Three Guys From Miami 

1 large bunch cilantro leaves
8 cloves garlic
1/4 cup vinegar
lime (Juice only)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup onion
Dash or two red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Put everything except the olive oil in a blender and using the "chop" setting, pulse on and off until you have a thick mixture. Do not over process! This is the kind of dish you need to taste and adjust so that you get just the right flavor! So taste it! (The best way to taste it is with a piece of bread.) Whisk in the olive oil. (If you use the blender to incorporate the oil, the oil and liquids will emulsify, giving your chimichurri a white, paste-like texture.)
Add salt, pepper, more vinegar and lime juice as needed. The flavor should be very intense with garlic and cilantro. Don't be stingy with the salt either!