Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

With these words, I must say “Auf Wiedersehen!” and “A Bientôt!” for an indefinite period. It’s been such a pleasure sharing my recipes with you over these past eight months! I’ll certainly do so again - but not for a while. 
Although I don’t normally talk about my day-to-day life, over the past year I’ve been privileged to co-write an innovative non-fiction book that has my co-authors and I very excited. Right now, I need to pay close attention to the completion of that work. Following that, I have to buckle down on a Top Secret book about … well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you (Hint: It's not about cooking)! Both books need my full attention, leaving me almost no time to blog.
I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it! To be sure, I’ll drop in with a few special-occasion recipes in 2012, but not very often, I suspect. Having written a scattering of internationally published books over the past 40 years, I know from experience that the process is neither quick nor easy. 
I’ve been intrigued that this blog has found such a steady readership in so many countries around the world. I’ve also appreciated your wonderful notes and recipe suggestions.
Just as the coming New Year is a time for looking back, it’s also a time for looking forward. And I’m going to look forward to completing these two books so I can blog for you again! Until then, Dollinks, Happy New Year!       
xox    Nicole

Friday, December 30, 2011

Grandpa’s Secret Macaroni and Cheese

Be still, my beating heart! Ron has given up the secret recipe he has clutched to his bosom for 28 years, since he first created it for his younger daughter’s first-grade class. It was an instant hit, and has been a family favorite ever since. Friends and family have tried without success to pry this recipe from him, but I’m his wife, and Dollinks, I haf vays! 
Got the recipe! Promised him I wouldn’t tell a soul! Liar, liar, pants on fire, here it is! The secret ingredient is Worcestershire sauce - and plenty of it! The correct way to pronounce that lovely word is Woos-ter - but some folks disagree.

Two of our grandchildren are having a sleep-over at our place in a couple of days; Ron will be preparing his Secret Macaroni for dinner that night, and I’ll be making the kid-friendly treat I call Marshmallows in the Embers. That post follows this one.
Grandpa’s Secret Macaroni and Cheese:
4 c. dry macaroni
2 tsp. oil
4 c. milk
¼ c. butter or margarine
¼ c. all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
7 tbsp.Worcestershire sauce
5 tbsp. ballpark mustard
1 lb. pkg. grated aged cheddar
Two pieces dry toast, crumbled 
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water and a little oil to a rolling boil. Add macaroni, stirring well to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pot.  Cook about 12 minutes. Drain cooked macaroni, returning to pot. Melt butter in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. Add flour, stirring about 30 sec. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Remove from heat, adding half the grated cheddar cheese and stirring until melted. Pour cheese sauce over macaroni, combining well. 
Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Transfer cooked, sauced macaroni to large, greased baking dish. Spread half of remaining cheddar evenly over macaroni. Top macaroni and cheese with crumbed toast. Sprinkle remaining cheddar over bread crumbs. Bake 20 min.
Assemble your ingredients - milk
and cheese, too!

Boil salted water. Add macaroni. Cook al dente - just until tender

To make the cheese sauce, combine melted butter with flour

Gradually add milk, whisking well

Whisk! Whisk! Whisk! as the macaroni simmers

Whoo hoo! Bring on the mustard for some zip!

Add the Worcestershire sauce - lots!

Remove from heat; stir in half of cheese until cheese melts

Pour cheese sauce over well drained macaroni, mixing well

Transfer to greased baking dish

Sprinkle on half remaining cheese; we are gilding the lily, here

Crumble cubed toast (or croutons)

Sprinkle the crumbs over the entire dish, Dollinks!

The balance of cheese goes on top, and into the oven this goes!

Marshmallows in the Embers

When our grandchildren play “pretend camping” in our living room, we play along! These marshmallows can be had “over the camp fire” - a small fan set on low, with attached strips of red crepe paper blown by the fan.
Marshmallows in the Embers:
Milk chocolate melting wafers, as required (a comfortable handful for each marshmallow)
Large, soft marshmallows, as required
Orange-and-black sprinkles left over from Halloween) or toasted, sweetened, short-thread coconut, as required
Heat chocolate melting wafers by placing a metal bowl over - not in - simmering water, stirring until partially melted. Remove from heat, continuing to stir until fully melted. Using one fondue fork per marshmallow (see Note), coat each marshmallow in chocolate, allowing excess chocolate to drip off. Stand fork upright in tall, straight-sided drinking glass until chocolate has partially set. Dip ends in bowl of sprinkles and allow chocolate to harden fully.
Note: Because this treat is intended for kids, don’t use skewers or sharp sticks - a fork is safer. These treats are rich and filling, so I suggest you offer no more than two per child.

Poke fondue forks into marshmallows
Melt chocolate over stove top
Allow excess chocolate to drip off
Place in tumbler to partially set chocolate
Dip in sprinkles the color of "burning embers"
Be sure to "blow out the coals" before eating marshmallow!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Make-Ahead 24-Hour Slaw

I know you’ll enjoy this tasty, tremendously simple dish! I consider it one of the very best coleslaws in my repertoire! It’s exactly the sort you’d find in a New York deli, and Dollinks, everyone loves New York! I served it at our family Christmas gathering, and silently breathed a prayer that it was such an effortless dish to make! Its make-ahead aspect puts it high on my list for any buffet or large dinner party, and the fact that it’s very, very economical (about $2 for the works, dressing and all!) is a bonus. A word of caution: Read the instructions very carefully! Follow them to the letter! 
Make-Ahead 24-Hour Slaw:
To Prepare the Salad: 
8 c. (1 - 16 oz. or 454 g pkg) coleslaw mix (see Note
⅓ c. granulated sugar
2 large sweet white onions, peeled very thinly (see Further Note)
Combine the coleslaw mix and sugar, stirring well. Place half the sugared slaw into a large bowl. Cover with onion slices. Top with remaining coleslaw mix. Pour boiling hot dressing slowly over entire surface of salad. Do not stir. Immediately cover and refrigerate. Chill 24 hr. Toss to combine onions and coleslaw mix just before serving. Serves 12.
To Prepare the Hot Dressing:
½ tsp. celery seeds
½ tsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. dry mustard
¾ tsp. salt
½ c. white vinegar
½ c. canola oil
Combine all dressing ingredients except oil in saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Stir in oil, returning to the boil. Immediately pour over salad, as above. Send Nicole $1,000 cash for publishing this recipe. (Wassa-matta-wit-chew?  Didn’t I tell you to follow these instructions “to the letter”?)
Note: It’s generally simpler and cheaper to buy a mix than to fuss with a head of cabbage!
Further Note: I use my marvelous hand-held mandolin to slice the onions wafer-thin! My May 16, 2011 post for Warm Chèvre Spread and May 22, 2011 post for Marinated Cucumber Salad show photos of my mandolin in action. Also ideal for Scalloped Potatoes, it’s less than $20 in better kitchen shops everywhere.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Buffet Biscuits

Keeping it simple over the holidays means not doing so much that you wind up exhausted. I make three lists of what needs to be done. These, I categorize as “Must Do,” “Should Do,” and “Can Do.” When time is tight, my “Can Do” list is the first to go, with my “Should Do” list a close second. I never delete these biscuits from my “Should Do” list: They are easy and quick to make, and are always a massive hit. The dough can be made ahead, with the buns popped into the oven while the turkey rests before carving. By the way, if you have lots of time, try my recipe for Goofy Buns, posted July 13, 2011. 
Buffet Biscuits:
4-½ c. (40 oz. or 630 g) of any biscuit mix such as Bisquick (see Note)
¾ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
¾ c. chopped green onions (“spring onions”)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 c. milk
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. In a large bowl, combine the biscuit mix, ½ c. of the cheese, green onions, eggs, and milk. Roll dough into a soft ball, kneading four or five times on lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, transfer the dough to a 9x13-in. baking sheet with low sides (basically, a cookie sheet) lined with parchment paper. Pat into a rectangle to fill the pan. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Score dough into 2-x3-in. pieces, cutting to the base of the pan. Bake 40-to-45 min. Makes 24-to-30 biscuits.
To Make Ahead: Prepare dough up to 3 hr. before needed, rolling into a circle and refrigerating. 
Note: Do not sift this mix! The measurement is 4-½ c. by volume, but 40 oz. by weight

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Potatoes Gratiné

One, potato, two potato, three potato, four ... As your thoughts turn to your New Year’s buffet, here comes a delicious and fast way to serve potatoes that taste “special”! This recipe marks the first of three featuring simple, tasty ways to prepare potatoes in any quantity:

Potatoes Gratiné:

Peel, quarter, and steam one medium potato per person (I prefer russets). Slicing the cooked, cooled potatoes lengthwise, layer them in a lightly greased casserole with a sprinkle of diced green onions, a generous grating of cheddar, and a dash of salt and pepper. Repeat, ending with a final layer of cheddar. Into the oven this goes, uncovered, at 350 deg. F. for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Ron’s Savory Roast Potatoes

Ron’s not just a good cook - he’s an excellent cook! His Savory Roast Potatoes are a terrific make-ahead company dish. I love them!
Ron’s Savory Roast Potatoes:
1 large russet potato per person, peeled and cut into about 12 chunks
Enough olive oil to lightly coat potatoes
Enough fresh or dried rosemary to toss with oiled potatoes
Seasoning salt, to taste
Peel and chunk potatoes, blotting dry with paper toweling. Toss with olive oil, rosemary, and seasoning salt. 
Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Bake potatoes in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet with sides for 40 min., turning over twice during baking time. Serve immediately.

Note: To make ahead, peel and chunk potatoes the day or morning before, submersing them in a bowl of cold water until needed. Blot dry with paper towels. Toss and coat just before baking.
One More Note: These crispy, perfectly seasoned potatoes are so good that Ron normally throws in an extra one or two, because everyone always wants seconds!
From this ...
To this, in no time flat! So crispy you'll be tempted 
to nibble these superb spuds as finger food!

Lorna’s Buffet Hash Browns

My friend Lorna served these delicious spuds 10 years ago and I’ve never forgotten them! I finally begged her for the recipe, which she kindly provided. The recipe serves 12-to-14, making it a quick, easy dish for your year-end holiday table.
Lorna’s Buffet Hash Browns:
2 lb. (1 kg) pkg. frozen hash brown potatoes (shredded or chunked)
½ c. melted butter or margarine
1 - 10 oz. (284 mL) can cream of chicken soup
2 c. dairy sour cream
2 c. grated cheddar cheese
1 c. chopped onion (or ½ c. dried onion flakes)
Salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
1 c. coarsely crushed potato chips
⅓ c. melted butter or margarine
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Combine frozen hash browns, melted butter, condensed soup, sour cream, cheddar, onions, and seasonings in a large bowl. 

In a large bowl, combine ingredients as above
Pack into a well-greased 9x13-in. casserole and set aside. Sprinkle crushed potato chips over casserole, drizzling with melted butter. Bake, covered, 45-to-60 min.

With its potato chip garnish and the last few drops of
melted butter, this great casserole is ready for the oven!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Carrot Soup Indienne

About this time of year, many of us welcome the return to simpler, more basic foods. If you enjoy Middle Eastern food, you’ll love this creamy soup! Most of the “creaminess” comes from the carrots and leeks - there’s only a whisper of cream!
Carrot Soup Indienne:
2 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 lb. carrots, peeled and grated (about 5 large)
2 leeks, sliced and green part trimmed off or ¾ c. dried leeks (see Note on dried leeks in my Dec. 5, 2011 blog on Leek and Potato Soup)
1 tsp. fresh, minced ginger or ½ tsp. ginger powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. curry powder or 2 tsp. curry paste
½ tsp. cumin
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
¼ c. heavy cream
Salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
Assemble and prepare all ingredients as recipe directs. Melt butter over medium heat in large, heavy pot. Stir in carrots, leeks, ginger, garlic, curry, and cumin. Sauté 5 min., or until carrots and leeks soften slightly. Add chicken or vegetable stock, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook covered 20-to-25 min., with a toothpick between pot and lid to allow steam to escape. Purée in two batches in a blender. Immediately add heavy cream, seasoning to taste. Simmer 5 min. more, allowing flavors to blend. Serves 4-to-6.

Shred carrots: A food processor helps!

Cook in butter together with leeks

Add stock and slowly bring to a boil

Purée in two batches; add cream,
seasoning to taste

I floated a little basil on my soup, but it's not needed!

Happy Kwanzaa!

Celebrate your special day in happiness and contentment!
xox   Nicole

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

From our house ...

To yours!
When you combine equal parts of empathy, understanding, and contentment; and add wisdom, kindness, faith, and love; and leaven the mixture with laughter; and share it joyfully with others, your happiness will grow and replenish itself. 
Whatever your beliefs, and however you celebrate, light a candle for peace, harmony, and understanding on this day. The best of the season to you all!      

xox   Nicole    

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Plans Go Awry ... Keep Smiling!

My final festive posts are immediately below this one. But here’s a little personal message from me. Chances are, not everything will be “perfect” today or tomorrow. The buns may burn. The turkey may slip from the platter to the floor. The whipping cream may not. Small and large disasters happen. That’s life! I’m leaving you with some food-related clips that I hope will make you smile:
The easiest way to find a place to stay for the holidays: 

The easiest two ways to clear a table: 

The easiest three ways to over-eat: 

The easiest way to tell your mother you won’t be having any holiday ham or turkey: 

And finally, the best way to find a willing worker to help out in the kitchen:

Happy Holidays, Dollinks!

Bûche de Noël

As I’m doing this year, I sometimes make a Bûche de Noël for Christmas dinner. Made to resemble an old-time Yule log, this cake is intended to represent a log for the ancient Winter Solstice fire festival. Not only is this recipe showy, but it’s fairly simple to make. As with any baking, be sure to have all ingredients at room temperature when you start, ensuring the proper distribution of butter and egg molecules and lessening the chance of failure. Because I’ll be baking and decorating this cake today, I’ve relied on a photograph from Wikipedia, to show you how the completed cake should look. 
Bûche de Noël with Mocha Cream Frosting:
To Prepare the Cake:
5 medium eggs, separated
⅔ c. granulated sugar, divided
¼ c. sifted cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla extract
⅛ tsp. salt
Icing sugar (confectioners sugar or powdered sugar), for sprinkling
Preheat oven ro 375 deg. F. In large bowl with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beating constantly, add 4 tbsp. of the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. In medium bowl with mixer at high speed, beat egg yolks until well mixed. Gradually add remaining sugar 1 tbsp. at a time, beating about 5 min. until thick and lemon colored. Stir in cocoa, vanilla, and salt until well mixed. With silicone spatula, gently fold cocoa mixture into egg whites until well mixed. 
Spread evenly in a 15-x10-x1-in. jelly roll pan that has been greased and lined with waxed paper. Bake 15 min. or just until cake springs back when lightly touched. Sprinkle clean dish towel with icing sugar. Quickly invert pan over towel, carefully turning out warm cake. Peel away paper. Roll up cake with towel from wide side. Cool.
To Prepare the Cream Filling:
1 c. heavy cream, whipped
1 tbsp. icing sugar (confectioners or powdered sugar)
1 - 1/3-oz. (10 g) pkg. whipping cream stabilizer (optional; see Note)
1 tbsp. coffee-flavored liqueur such as Kahlua or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
When cake has cooled, beat cream until soft peaks form. Add icing sugar and whipping cream stabilizer, continuing to beat until cream stiffens further. Fold in Kahlua or vanilla extract. Unroll cooled cake, spreading whipped cream filling to within ½-in.of edges. Reroll. Diagonally slice a 2-in. portion off each end of cake; set aside. Refrigerate cake until ready to frost.
Note: The addition of Whipping Cream Stabilizer allows you to prepare the cream a couple of hours in advance, with no danger that it will lose its shape by the time you’re ready to use it. I’m mentioning this product because many cooks don’t know it exists. It doesn’t affect the flavor of the whipping cream.
To Prepare the Mocha Cream Frosting:
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. instant coffee powder
½ c. butter or margarine
2 tbsp. brandy
½ c. icing sugar
2 tbsp. chopped, toasted walnuts, as garnish (see Index: How to Toast Nuts)
Melt chocolate at 60% power in microwave oven or over low heat in small saucepan. Stir in coffee powder; set aside. Beat butter or margarine in medium bowl with mixer at medium speed. Add cooled chocolate mixture and brandy, beating until smooth. Gradually stir in icing sugar (confectioners or powdered sugar). Cool just until mixture is thick enough to spread. Reserving about ¼ c. of frosting, spread cake with remaining frosting. Using a fork, make ridges in cake to resemble “bark.” Position reserved cut ends of cake against frosted log to resemble “knots.” Ice edges of knots with reserved frosting. Randomly sprinkle walnuts on knots of log. Store cake in refrigerator. Just before serving, sift a little icing sugar over cake. Serves 10. 
With thanks to The Vancouver Sun (I have modified this recipe)
and to Wikipedia, for illustration

The famously delicious Yule log cake! I recommend
that you make your knots smaller than this one, Dollinks!

Santa’s Chocolate-Peppermint Cup

Whether Santa slides down the chimney or the banister, he’s going to love this minty hot chocolate! I don’t condone drinking and driving, so Santa’s going to have to put his feet up and rest after he’s sipped this. I created it just for him - and for you, Dollinks! 
Santa’s Chocolate-Peppermint Cup:
For each 8-oz. mug, have ready:
2 heaping tbsp. Nicole Parton’s Hot Chocolate Mix (recipe to follow)
Boiling water
1-to-2 tbsp. evaporated milk or heavy cream 
1-¼ oz. Irish Cream liqueur (see Note)
⅛ tsp. peppermint extract
Whipping cream bomb
Red and green candy sprinkles, as garnish (see Further Note)
⅛ tsp. chocolate shot, as garnish
1 unwrapped candy cane, as a stir-stick
The No. 1 reason why Santa
is such a chubby old elf!
Add 2 heaping tbsp. of my Hot Chocolate Mix to a heat-proof mug with enough evaporated milk or heavy cream to make a smooth paste. Pour in boiling water to fill mug ⅔ full, mixing well. Stir in Irish Cream and peppermint extract. Spritz with whipping cream bomb - lots of whipping cream! Top with sprinkles and a little chocolate shot. Pop in a candy cane for use as a stir-stick. 
Note: No Irish Cream liqueur in the house? I’ve got the recipe in one of today’s posts! It’s delicious!
Further Note: These holiday-season sprinkles are sold in your supermarket’s baking aisle. If you don't have any of these sprinkles, place broken bits of candy cane inside two plastic bags, tapping the canes lightly inside a plastic bag to break them further and using that as a garnish.