Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I consider myself a novice still when it comes to using the slow cooker, but I decided I was ready for a challenge. With a ham bone in the freezer from the lovely glazed spiral ham we served at a recent Christmas party, I thought I'd try to make split pea soup in the crockpot. I've seen recipes using a variety of dried beans to make soup and none of them called for presoaking the beans. I decided I would rinse and pick over my split green peas, but skip the soaking. I dislike potatoes in my split pea soup, but wanted something besides carrots and decided to use some parsnips, one of our favorite root vegetables.

The soup went together very quickly and we headed out to return a few Christmas gifts. When we arrived home some 3 hours later, the house was already fragrant with the soup. It was hard to wait the other two and a half hours until it was done, but it was well worth the wait.

Head on over to Crockpot Wednesdays on Dining with Debbie for some more slow cooker inspiration.

Serves 6 - 8 WW pts per serving
1 lb dried green split peas, rinsed and picked over
1 medium onion, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped (medium chop)
4 large parsnips, peeled and chopped (medium chop)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ham bone with a generous amount of meat still on it
6 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste

Add the chopped carrots, parsnips, and garlic to the slow cooker. Cover with the split peas, then with the water. Nestle the ham bone in the middle of this, submerging it. Cook on high for 5-6 hours. About a half hour before it's ready, remove the ham bone, let it cool, then remove the meat and add it back to the slow cooker. Season to taste.
This was, without a doubt, the very best pea soup I've ever made--and dare I say--eaten. It was naturally sweet due to the glazed spiral ham. The parsnips melted on the tongue and were so much more satisfying than potatoes. We each ate a very generous bowlful and I have 4 more generous servings in the fridge. I will definitely make this again, as is, but will also use the slow cooker in the future to make my dried legume-based soups. There was no need to stir (okay, I confess, I took the lid off and stirred; but, I didn't have to) and the peas were creamy smooth.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Taking a page from a number of my favorite bloggers, I've decided to review the recipes I've shared from The Food of Love kitchen this year and to cull from them my personal 10 favorites. I must confess that this was a more difficult deliberation than choosing my dissertation topic. I thought about choosing one appetizer, one entree, one side dish, and so forth. That left me dissatisfied. After finally narrowing down my favorites, I felt the need to put them in order of preference (no one ever accused me of taking the easy way out). Try as I might, I just couldn't decide which of my favorites I liked the very best. So, after great deliberation,  here they are, in no particular order, my top ten favorite recipes from The Food of Love kitchen for 2009:

Distract the Neighbors Grilled Chicken

Ina Garten's Macaroni and Cheese

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Swedish Pancakes

Ina Garten's Flag Cake

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese

Slow Cooker Country Style Pork Ribs with Sauerkraut and Apple

If my list seems heavy on pasta, you'll be surpised when I tell you I had to be forced to eat "macaroni" when I was growing up. As good as mom's gravy was, I just wasn't a tomato sauce fan. You'll notice that is still true today, though I permit tomatoes to have a supporting role in my favorite sauces. While my photography isn't as good as it can be, just looking at the photos accompanying my favorites makes me hungry for a bite of each of them.

What were your top ten of 2009?

Friday, December 25, 2009


I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with family, love, and good food.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


When I saw the photo of this dish in Nigella Express (and saw the word "bacon" in the title), it seemed like a perfect protein to go with my Paprikash noodles. With just 4 ingredients, it qualifies for healthy fast food.

4 servings - 5 WW pts per serving
1 tsp garlic infused oil (I smashed a garlic clove, placed it in hot oil until fragrant, 30 seconds)
4 strips bacon (I used center cut bacon)
4 (4 oz) chicken escalopes or boned and skinned breast halves
1/3 cup white wine

Put the garlic oil in a skillet and add the bacon. Fry until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon to a piece of foil, wrap it, and set aside.

Fry the chicken about 2 minutes per side, making sure the pan is hot so the chicken will take on a bronze color.

Remove the chicken to a serving plate.  Quickly crumble the bacon into the skillet, then pour in the wine and let it bubble up. Pour over the chicken pieces and serve.
I have to admit that it went against all my cooking instincts not to season the chicken, but I wanted to experience this dish as Nigella envisioned it. The result:  a bland, nothing-special piece of chicken. I didn't think anything that had garlic and bacon and wine in it could be so insipid, but this dish proved me wrong. I'd rather eat a plain, grilled chicken breast and forego the dirty skillet and stovetop. I'm afraid this is 2 out of 2 Nigella recipes that were just plain forgetable. I'll try one more time, but 3 strikes and you're out--of the rotation, that is.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I caved! Our house hasn't seen the usual flurry of holiday baking. Thanksgiving came and went and still there were no trays of stollen, carefully wrapped in foil, the better to soak up the brandy before being unwrapped and enjoyed on Christmas morning. The first two weeks of December rolled around with nary a tin of cookies in sight. With no temptations to lead me astry, my weekly weigh ins have shown a slow, but steady loss. Of course, the peanut gallery has not been pleased with this ban on holiday treats, and so, today I caved. Two packages of cream cheese and a can of reduced fat crescent rolls were taking up space in the refrigerator and seemed likely candidates for a sweet treat. Since allrecipes.com is the kind of site where such foods would likely yield a few recipes, I went online, typed in cream cheese, and voila! After perusing a number of possibilities, I decided on these cream cheese bars. I scaled the recipe down (cut it in half), cut back on the sugar and butter, and added some strawberry preserves. My version of the recipe follows:


1 (8 ounce) can refrigerated crescent roll dough
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 tbs strawberry preserves
1 tbs butter, melted
additional white sugar, for sprinkling on top
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 6 X 4 inch pan.

Press half the can of the crescent rolls into the bottom of the prepared pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spread over the crescent layer.

Cover the cream cheese mixture with several tablespoons of a good strawberry preserve.

Unroll the second half of the can of crescent rolls and lay them on top of the cream cheese layer. Do not press down.

Brush the melted margarine over the top layer. Combine about 1 tbs sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over the top.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top is crisp and golden.

Since I need to report to you about the success of this recipe, I took one, very small bite of this confection. I am pleased to report that even with the reduced fat crescent rolls and the reduction in the butter and sugar, this was a rich, Danish-like pastry. I tasted it when it had cooled and would recommend eating it at that temperature, rather than fresh from the oven. This is a simple recipe made with staples that you likely have on hand. It would be as welcome at a weekend breakfast as it would be with a cup of coffee midaftertoon. The peanut gallery agreed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Surfing through the blogosphere a few weeks ago, I came upon Thought4Food, a blog by Faith who also lives in upstate New York. The particular recipe that caught my eye was this one for Twix bar cookies. Faith had gotten the recipe from Stephanie at The Joy of Baking. Borrowing a technique from Paula Deen for make dulce de leche in the oven, Faith made these bars since Twix is her husband's favorite cookie.

Taking pity on the non-Weight Watcher in The Food of Love kitchen, I decided to whip up a batch and put half away for our weekend company. This is the kind of recipe for which you'll most likely have all the ingredients on hand.

Twix Bar Cookies (Adapted from Stephanie Jaworski’s Millionaire Shortbread Bars)

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ sticks salted butter
¼ c white sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 ½ c all-purpose flour
6 oz good quality dark or semisweet chocolate chips

For the caramel filling:
Preheat the oven to 300F. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 9 by 9-inch glass baking dish. Cover with foil and place the dish inside a larger poaching pan. Add water to poaching pan until half way up sides of baking dish. Bake for 60-90 minutes (no need to stir) until thickened and caramel in color. Transfer to a bowl and beat until smooth.

For the shortbread:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the flour and mix until just combined. Press the dough into a buttered 9 by 9-inch pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Allow it to cool on a wire rack.

Pour the warm caramel over the cooled shortbread and let it set and cool completely. Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave, then spread it over the cooled caramel. Allow the chocolate to set completely before cutting into 18 pieces. 6 WW pts per cookie.

While these taste absolutely amazing--at least the teeny crumb I cut off to sample for "truth in reporting" purposes only--I could see immediately that my caramel was not as "dry" or "set" as the caramel in Faith's picture. I don't know the reason why. I cooked it for 90 minutes and it was a nice golden brown when I beat it. I'm guessing I should have cooked it longer. The man of the house was very, very--did I mention very?--happy with these. Storing them in the refrigerator keeps the caramel from getting too soft, but I'll have to try making the caramel again. In fact, I think it would be amazing as a filling for my amazing chocolate birthday cake.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


I can thank George Gaston of A Nod Is As Good As a Wink to a Blind Horse... for, first, teaching me what a sugarplum is and second, providing a recipe for these holiday treats. I adore dried fruits and wanted to try his sugarplums immediately. When I assembled my ingredients this morning, I learned that in my haste I had neglected to buy prunes. Not to worry. I  had some lovely dried figs and they worked beautifully. I decided to make just half a batch since I'm the only fruit eater in this household.

Ingredients (Makes approximately 5 dozen)
12-oz pkg pitted prunes
8-oz pkg chopped dates
6-oz pkg dried apricots
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped (optional)
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tsp grated orange zest
1.2 tsp grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processer, process the prunes, dates, and apricots about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides.

Transfer to a bowl and add the pecans, graham cracker crumbs, orange and lemon zests. Mix completely, then chill for 2 hours.

Using your palms, shape into 3/4 inch balls (I used a small melon baller to keep balls uniform in size). Roll in the granulated sugar, then chill. Store in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.
Of course I had to sample one of these delectable sweets. It was perfectly delicious, making me sorry I had made just half a batch, but determined to save them for an upcoming Christmas party.  I know that visions of sugarplums will be dancing in my head until that date. Thank you, George Gaston.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


At brunch on Sunday, I picked up a copy of a magazine aimed at increasing tourism in the county where we live.  It always includes a recipe or two, many provided by local restaurants. I knew as soon as I read the recipe for the Harvest Cafe's cider-braised chicken that I had to make it. The recipe did not offer measurements, but that was easy enough to work through.

1 whole chicken, cut up (I cut mine into 10 pieces)
root vegetables (1 medium onion, 3 parsnips, 3 carrots, 3 stalks celery, 1 ruttabagas-medium dice)
salt and pepper
fresh thyme and sage (I used a big bunch of thyme and 2 large sprigs of rosemary, tied up in cheesecloth)
cider (2 1/2 cups)
flour for dredging (1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
olive oil (2 tbs)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Season the chicken parts and dredge in the flour.
Saute the chicken in olive oil in a Dutch oven until browned on both sides.
Remove the chicken from the pan, put in the root vegetables, and saute until browned and carmelized.
Return the chicken to the pan, add the fresh herbs and salt and pepper, then add the cider.
Bring to a simmer on the stovetop, then cover and place in the oven for 45 minutes.
Serve over polenta or other starch.

Mere words cannot do justice to this dish. From the incredible aroma that made our mouths water and long for the timer to go off, to the succulence of the chicken, this is a dish that I will make again and again. I already have a request for it to be made with all dark meat, something that I am only to happy to do. The slightly bitter tang of the ruttabaga came to life after braising in the sweet cider. The carrots and onions added even more sweetness, but a natural sweetness. Served over grilled polenta rounds, this was my very favorite newcomer this fall. Don't take my word for it; make it! Soon!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


There's frozen white meat turkey in the freezer ready to be used for soup or a fricasee, but I was searching for something different and found it in the November issue of Bon Appetit. Who doesn't love empanadas? And, I happened to have 2 packages of the Goya discos in my freezer, so I was good to go. The recipe below is my version; the original called for using 3 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed and cut into six, 6-inch rounds. I opted to use the empanada discs and made 10.

Makes 10 - approximately 8 WW pts per empanada
2 cups diced cooked turkey, white and dark meat
1/2 cup chilled gravy
1 pkg Goya discos for empanadas
1 cup mashed potatoes, divided
1 cup stuffing, divided
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp cold water for glaze
cranberry sauce

Mix the turkey with the chilled gravy in a small bowl. Place the discs on a work surface. Spoon about 2 tbs mashed potatoes onto half of each round, press lightly to flatten, leaving a 1/2 inch border. Top with 2  tbs stuffing, then a small mound of the turkey-gravy mixture. Brush glaze around filling on 1 pastry half. Fold plain pastry half over filling, stretching dough to cover. Seal edges with fork tines. Repeat with all discs. Brush with the egg white glaze and cut small slits in the top to allow steam to escape.

Transfer the empanadas to 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Or, you may freeze them at this point to bake at a later time. Serve with cranberry sauce on the side.
I had to taste just one of these little treats and it was absolutely delicious. I'm quite certain it would be just as delicious with the puff pastry. I split mine in half and stuffed some cranberry sauce into each half while they were still hot. I loved the crunch of the shell contrasted with the soft, moist stuffing and mashed potato base. The bit of gravy was more than enough to keep the turkey moist as well. I plan to serve the rest of these at my Christmas party as one of my appetizers.