Monday, 30 December 2013

Creamy Mushroom Dip

This is a simple, classic dip that goes together very quickly. The original recipe, which I got from our family cookbook, called for tarragon. I hate tarragon, but you could replace the savory or thyme with a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon. Actually, I think chervil would be excellent, but chervil is next to impossible to find.

There was a fair bit of this left over from our Christmas party. I sautéed some more mushrooms with a chopped leek, added the dip to the pan until just heated, then tossed it all with pasta and cabbage, and I think it was an even bigger hit than it was as a dip. 

12 to 16 servings
20 minutes prep time - but allow an hour to rest

Creamy Mushroom Dip

250 g fresh button mushrooms
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1 cup cream cheese (light is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons dried chives (OR 1/4 cup fresh)
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Clean and trim the mushrooms, and cut them into quarters. Peel, trim and slice the garlic. Put them in the bowl of a food processor with all the remaining ingredients except the lemon juice. Process until well chopped and blended, but leave a little texture to the mushrooms if you can. Add the lemon juice and pulse it in, then scoop it out to a serving dish. Keep in the fridge until wanted.

Last year at this time I made Squash or Sweet Potato Puff.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Caramel Popcorn

Need a last minute Christmas present or stocking stuffer? Don't want to go out in the freezing rain? Here's something that can be whipped up pretty quickly with cupboard staples.

Christmas is nearly upon us, and now that I am kind of back in the swing of posting it's time to take another little break. Things are going to be very busy over the next few days, even though we are probably not going to go down to visit Dad and his partner. (We have learned our lesson from Snowmageddon.)  Stay warm and safe, everyone, have a good Christmas, solstice, or whatever, and if I'm not back before then, best wishes for a happy new year.

12 servings
1 hour 45 minutes - 45 minutes prep time

Caramel Popcorn

10 cups popped popcorn
1 cup peanuts or other nuts of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup Sucanat or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the popped popcorn and the nuts of your choice in a very large mixing bowl. You will have to stir hot syrup into this so you need lots of room!

Bring the vegetable oil, Sucanat and honey to a boil in a good sized, heavy bottomed pot. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Keep it boiling steadily, stirring constantly. Medium heat is what you want. At about the time the timer goes, the vegetable oil will mostly disappear into the syrup. This is the moment you've been waiting for. (Use the timer just as a guide.) Remove it from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pour it over the popcorn.

Use a spatula to scrape out the pot. The syrup should be stirred into the popcorn as quickly and evenly as possible. It doesn't hurt to have another person do this as you are pouring and scraping out the syrup. Be careful! Syrup burns are very nasty.

Spread the popcorn out evenly on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake it at 250°F for 1 hour, stirring once or twice during that time. Allow to cool and break it up slightly, so that there are no very large clumps.

Last year at this time I made Cranberry Turkey Meatballs in Mushroom Gravy

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Spaghetti Squash au Gratin

I still had some cooked spaghetti squash left, so it went into this casserole. Very nice! You could serve it as a side dish with plainly cooked fish or chicken, but it's rich enough to make a good vegetarian main dish as well, which is how we had it. A green salad or steamed green vegetable will complete the meal. 

4 to 6 servings
1 hour prep time, plus 1 hour to pre-cook the squash,
not including cooling time

Spaghetti Squash au Gratin

4 cups cooked, loosened spaghetti squash strands
8 to 12 button mushrooms
2 large shallots
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
140 grams (5 ish ounces) chevre (soft goat cheese)
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 teaspoon butter

Pierce the spaghetti squash with a fork, and roast it at 350°F (on a tray) for about hour, until soft. Let cool, then cut in half and discard the seeds. Loosen the strands of squash from the shell with a fork, and discard the shell.

Preheat the ovent to 350°F. Wash, trim and slice the mushrooms. Peel and dice the shallots. Peel and mince the garlic. Chop the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the mushrooms and shallots until quite soft and slightly browned, stirring regularly. Add the minced garlic and basil, and cook for a minute or so longer. Add the dried tomatoes and most of the chicken stock. Mix the arrowroot in with the remaining chicken stock, and when the vegetables have simmered for a few minutes and the tomatoes look softened, stir in the remaining stock with the cornstarch. Season with salt and pepper to taste; the amount of salt will be affected by whether your chicken stock is already salted or not. Mix in the chevre, until it is completely dissolved.

Oil a 2 quart casserole dish (8" x 11" baking dish). Mix the spaghetti squash with the sauce and spread it in the prepared pan. Sprinkle it with the breadcrumbs and dot with the butter. Bake for about 45 minutes, until browned and bubbly around the edges.

Last year at this time I made Crisp Winter Salad with Cottage Cheese Dressing.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spaghetti Squash Nests

This is a bit of a gimmick more than a recipe, but at least it's an attractive and good-tasting gimmick. Roasted Brussels sprouts make great "eggs" in little nests of spaghetti squash tossed with cheese and herbs. Serve them as their own course as part of a formal dinner, or with a piece of roasted or poached chicken breast alongside and call it the whole thing.

This was a spaghetti squash I grew myself, and it separated into nice clean strands, just as it should. I've had more troubles with purchased spaghetti squash being too soft and mushy, which is really annoying when they are not cheap. Pity we are not good growers of squash, generally getting few and small ones. I hope that one of these days we will get the amendments right and win the battle of the bugs.

Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 hour 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Spaghetti Squash Nests

1  1 kilo (2 pounds) spaghetti squash
1 kilo (2 pounds) Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon rubbed oregano
1/2 teaspoon rubbed savory
1/2 teaspoon rubbed thyme
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little more grated Parmesan to sprinkle over, if you like

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash the squash, and stab it in several places with a fork. Bake it - on a tray; it may leak - for 40 to 45 minutes, until soft.

Meanwhile, wash and trim the Brussels sprouts, and cut a cross in the base of each one to facilitate faster cooking. Toss them with the oil in a baking pan, and put them in the oven when the squash is about half done (20 or 25 minutes still to go). Sprinkle them with a little salt first if you like.

Have the butter and grated cheese standing by, along with the seasonings. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and cut it in half. Scoop out and discard the seeds, etc from the middles, then use a fork to pull out the strands. put them in a bowl and toss them with the butter, cheese and seasonings.

Divide the spaghetti squash onto individual serving plates, and form into little nests. Serve with the roasted Brussels sprouts divided amongst the nests, and with a little more cheese sprinkled over top if you like. You will need to work quickly as I found the spaghetti squash cooled off fairly quickly. They could go back in the oven to stay warm if you need a few extra minutes to get other parts of the meal ready, as long as your plates are happy with that.

Last year at this time I made White Chocolate Mousse with Cranberries, on the occasion of my mothers birthday. I was just thinking about what a fabulous knock-out dessert it was, and that I should make it for Christmas dinner this year, and there it is. Oh yeah, I think so. It was SOOO good.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Dressing (Stuffing) Flavoured Baked Beans

It has been my opinion, ever since childhood, that the best part of a Christmas (or Thanksgiving, or turkeys-were-on-sale) turkey is the dressing, or stuffing. (We can discuss religion and politics and even computers at our dining table. But don't get us going on whether it's properly called dressing, or stuffing. You'll notice I waffle on the topic.) So I'm always interested in bringing that flavour profile to other dishes.

I'm going to have to come up with a lot of bean dishes this winter, since we ended up with jars and jars of dried beans. Seed selection for the win! Also, we just plain planted a lot. Anyway, here is my first new bean dish of the season, and I am declaring it a success. Apart from the fact that dried beans are always a bit slow on their journey from jar to table, this is very easy to make, and requires little attention as it cooks. We both thought it was really tasty.

These are my rare and exotic Deseronto Potato beans, but navy (pea) beans are readily available and should work perfectly well for this dish; really any mild white bean.

We were impressed by the Deseronto Potato beans, by the way. This was the first time we actually tried any even though it is our second year of growing them and we got a decent crop last year. Unfortunately, last year I put them away in a glass jar when I thought they were well dried down, but I was wrong, and they went mouldy. The seed beans were okay as I had stored them in paper bags, but it's been a long wait to try these. THIS year I made sure they were well dried in our food drier before they went into the storage jar!

4 to 6 servings
3 hours - 30 minutes prep time. NOT including pre-cooking the beans.

Dressing (Stuffing) Flavoured Baked Beans

2 cups (450 grams; 1 pound) dried white beans
2 recipes Poultry Seasoning
2 large onions
OR 4 to 6 shallots
6 stalks of celery
OR 2 cups peeled, finely diced celeriac
salt as needed
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Put the beans (rinsed and picked over) into a large pot with plenty of water to cover them. Bring them to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover them, and let them sit and soak for an hour or so. Repeat the boiling and soaking one or two more times, until the beans are soft enough to eat. You can, and probably should, do this the day before you bake them.

When you are ready to proceed, mix up your poultry seasoning. If you decide to use canned beans, and your chicken stock is salted, you should probably omit the salt, as they will have plenty already. I found it necessary to use an extra teaspoon (so 2 teaspoons altogether) but neither my beans nor my chicken stock were pre-salted.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Peel the onions or shallots, and chop them finely. Wash and trim the celery or celeriac, and chop it finely. Drain the beans well.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions (shallots) and celery until fairly soft. Halfway through the process, add the poultry seasoning and mix it in well. Add the beans and mix them in well, then transfer everything to a 9" x 13" baking pan. Or you can mix them in the baking pan; whichever you think will be easier. Spread them out evenly and pour the chicken stock over them.

Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until starting to dry and brown just a bit on top. That's it; easy! We had ours with cole slaw.

Last year at this time I made Leek & Garlic White Bean (!) Soup, and Michael's Grandmother's Pickled Onions.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Yeah, I've Not Been Posting

You may have noticed, if there's anyone out there still to notice.

This has been a difficult season. Dad fell down the stairs and spent a week in the hospital being observed; fortunately he was just badly bruised and there were no long-term repercussions. This was followed by a discussion with my mother-in-law about how we think she shouldn't be driving anymore; fortunately, she agreed and we will now be spending a certain amount of time driving her around. UNfortunately, this was followed by her suffering from gallstones, kidney stones, and heart irregularities, and the driving started immediately and with a vengeance, not to mention the waiting around in doctors offices. Again, we are lucky that in spite of these problems she is basically in very good health.

While all this has obviously eaten up a certain amount of my time, the real problem (for me) is that it all sent me into a complete funk. Intellectually, I've known for a long time that we are all getting older. However it was a lot easier to ignore 2 months ago when I didn't even know any of this was on the horizon. So I've been busy digesting all this change and it turns out I needed such a complete break from the blog that I couldn't even bring myself to post a be-back-sometime message.

Since I have now been able to cope with the idea of posting a be-back-sometime message, I guess that means things are improving, and I'll be back - sometime - probably even this month and if I am able to get myself in gear, later this week. In general, though, I suspect I'll be posting at a slower rate than I was.

Hope you all have happy, holidays, with the people you love, and a healthy and productive new year.