Thursday, December 31, 2009

Holiday Traditions

For over 30 years now, I have been making the same meals for Christmas eve dinner and Christmas morning breakfast. I suppose that would make them Traditions. My family expects these meals. My older daughter, who now has a family of her own, is continuing some of the traditional recipes.

Christmas eve dinner consists of white posole, homemade flour tortillas, and, sometimes, a salad of sliced oranges and pomegranate seeds. While the posole is simmering, I make the tortillas using my comal. Homemade tortillas are much better than store bought ones. They are so tender that they melt in your mouth.

Simmering posole:

Finished soup with garnishes and tortilla:

Christmas breakfast is composed of cold blueberry soup, topped with a dollop of sour cream, eggs, bacon, and a sweet bread.

While I was cooking the posole, I was also making the Blueberry Lingonberry Soup. It’s not Christmas without this delicious chilled soup. In a moment of distraction, I accidently dumped a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns into the blueberry soup rather than the posole. I did manage to retrieve most of the pepper before it sank to the bottom of the pan. The blueberry soup was exceptionally good this year, so I’m wondering if a few peppercorns added an extra flavor level.

This year’s sweet bread was one of my favorites, scones from the Stone Lion Inn in Massachusetts. Years ago I discovered this recipe through the King Arthur Baking Circle, and it is better than any other scone recipe I’ve tried. I added mini cinnamon chips and pecans to the dough, and threw in a few mini cherry chips for color. The scones always turn out tender and delicious and can be varied by the addition of different fruits, nuts, and chips.

I’m sending along the scones to Cinzia at Cindystar for this month’s Bread Baking Day (25), Baking under the tree.


Blueberry Lingonberry Soup can be found here.


2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt (preferably Kosher)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup dried fruit
1 1/4 cup heavy cream (more or less depending on type of flour and humidity)

1 - 2 Tbsp. melted butter for brushing top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Measure dry ingredients and mix together in a bowl with a fork. Add dried fruit and mix so that fruit does not stick together.

Add cream and stir until a dough forms. Gather dough together in bowl and turn out onto work surface dusted with flour. Knead 8 - 10 times until dough holds together.

Pat dough into a circle approximately 10" in diameter and brush top with melted butter. At this point I sometimes sprinkle the top with coarse sugar. Cut dough into 12 triangles and place on buttered sheet pan (or use parchment paper on the sheet pan). Bake for 15 minutes until just golden. Transfer to cooling rack.

Makes 12 scones.

For dried fruit, you can add: dried cherries, chocolate chips, lemon chips, nuts of various kinds, other dried fruit of various kind, chopped in to raisin-sized pieces.

Can also make round with biscuit cutter.

White Posole

1 lb boneless lean pork (if using a large piece, cut into 1” cubes; I use boneless pork chops)

6 boneless chicken thighs, or 3 boneless chicken breasts.

½ medium onion

2 garlic cloves

2 teaspoons salt

12 peppercorns

6 cups water

2 1-lb cans golden hominy, drained

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 lime

crushed red chile pods, to taste


Salsa Fresca

Radishes, julienned

Green onions, sliced

Shredded lettuce

Diced avocado

Place the first 7 ingredients into a large pot and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam from the surface. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour, or until the pork is tender. Remove the chicken thighs after 45 minutes, or the chicken breasts after 30 minutes.

After one hour, remove the pork. Strain the broth and return to pot. Shred the pork and the chicken and add to the broth. Then add the hominy, oregano, juice of one lime, and the crushed chiles. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Season, if necessary.

Serve in large soup bowls with garnishes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

BB: Sausage-stuffed Mushrooms

Ah, so much to post, so little time.

Before I wax poetic about mushrooms, let me say that a certain chocolate cheesecake will be forthcoming, probably before the end of the week. The ingredients are present; time isn't. Yet.

Now, back to the current topic.

The last Barefoot Blogger recipe of the year (really?) turned out to be Sausage-stuffed Mushrooms. They make a lovely appetizer, or a light snack, and they are quick to prepare.

They don't photograph particularly well, being all browns and such. I chose to use Stuffing Portabellos rather than white mushrooms, because the portabellos (or mature creminis) have such a meaty, substantial flavor. Did you know that the name portabello was just a marketing ploy, akin to kiwi fruits? Apparently, the name made the plain brown mushroom seem more exotic, and thus easier to market and sell. Taste alone would have done that for me.

Anyway, while I did bake the mushrooms for the requested 50 minutes, I thought it was just a tad bit too long. Next time I will cut back to 45, maybe 40 minutes. Even so, every bite was delicious.

This recipe was chosen by Michelle of Welcome to the Club. Be sure and stop by Michelle's blog for the instructions.

I'm looking forward to the 2010 selections now.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

TWD: Jazzed-up Pecan Pie

What a busy week this has been! Work took a back seat to baking and cooking for a change, and, hopefully, I won't pay for it later on.

On the schedule for Tuesdays with Dorie was My Favorite Pecan Pie, chosen by Beth of Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina. I saved this one for our Christmas day dessert

As a switch from a normal pecan pie, Dorie's version jazzes it up with additions of cinnamon, chocolate, and espresso. I watched the progress of the baking pie, and decided to add about 10 minutes to the total time so it would be cooked through. The end result was a perfectly baked pecan pie.

We enjoyed the pie, so I'm sure it will be considered for future holiday feasts.

Although, I have to say, as good as this pie is, and, as much as I like it, it still can't quite beat my favorite pecan pie.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Daring Baker Gingerbread Home

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

If you can believe it, I have never made a gingerbread house before in all my years of baking. When the December Daring Bakers challenge was announced, I hesitated for a moment. These projects always seem like too much work, especially around the holidays.

But, as a Daring Baker, I looked at the challenge in various ways. First, I would make it a Christmas day project. After all the presents are open, what's left to do? Well, this year, it was house-building.

Second, during the holidays, I always dream about being back home in New Mexico, so I figured a pueblo-style house was the next best thing.

The challenge was on.

I used the second gingerbread recipe, Y's recipe from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas. My dough turned out nice and pliable, sort of like play dough.

I placed it in a gallon-sized plastic bag, rolled it out, the placed it in the refrigerator for its overnight rest.

Architectural plans were drawn up.

The dough was cut accordingly, then baked. There was some dispute among the builders about pre-cutting the windows.

I won. And, they turned out perfectly.

For the royal icing, I used some dried pasteurized egg whites, just to be on the safe side. The final icing texture was great, and I have plenty left over to decorate the cookies that will be made from the gingerbread scraps.

Of course, there had to be a blue door with chile ristras along either side. And, don't forget the luminarias to light the night. The vigas were fun to make, too, thanks to miniature Tootsie Rolls.

The final touches were a dusting of powdered sugar and some edible white glitter.

I have to say, the house turned out better than I expected. Perhaps this will become a Christmas day tradition.

For the recipes, head on over to either Anna's or Y's blogs. For house viewing, check out the Daring Bakers' website.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Barley and other things

If you're tired of the usual potato/rice/pasta side dish, I'd like to recommend barley. It has a nutty crunchiness that is a nice change of pace from the usual. I always have barley in my pantry, but I don't use it as often as I could, and even then I primarily make one specific dish, barley stew.

However, the most recent issue of Everyday Food (#68) contained a recipe for Barley Pilaf (p. 126) that I couldn't pass up. I served it with Baked Parmesan Chicken and it was a hit. I've included the recipe at the bottom of the post.

On to some general comments.

Remember last week's volcano cookies? I am reporting that these cookies actually tasted better the second day. Sometimes cookies are like that. They were gone by day three.

With the remaining half of my Wholewheat Cranberry Orange Challah dough, I made a 6-braid loaf. This time I preheated the oven to 425F, then lowered it to 350F when the bread went in. As a result, I had improved oven spring and a second tasty loaf of bread.

And, last but not least, I made a simple boule from the last third of my Pumpkin Pie Brioche.

That should clear up all the loose baking ends. My Tuesdays with Dorie post will be later this week, since I plan to make the pecan pie for Christmas dinner. Everyone has been raving about it, so I'm looking forward to baking it.

If I can squeeze in some cookie baking, I will, but this year has been such a busy work year that my usual baking has taken a back seat.

Be that as it may, I wish everyone a joyous holiday over the next two weeks.

Barley Pilaf

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook 1 cup of pearl barley until tender but still al dente, about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat, then add 1 minced shallot and saute, seasoning with salt and pepper, until it softens, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the barley and stir to combine, then transfer to a serving bowl. Stir in 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, and 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Taste, and season again if necessary.

Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TWD: Volcano Cookies

These cookies remind me of macaroons, the coconut kind, where you mix together egg whites, sugar, and coconut, then bake. This is the nut version.

Today was my quilt group meeting. It was also our holiday salad potluck and cookie exchange, so what better time and place to make and bring cookies. I knew I would get honest feedback from my friends.

First thing this morning I toasted the nuts that my dear daughter had so kindly chopped up last night while I was at work.

Then I mixed all the ingredients together and baked the cookies.

Next my daughter and I tasted them. The verdict was mixed. I thought they were ok, but needed some extra flavor boost. After much stalling, my daughter just said they weren't her favorite.

Really, though, I had no choice but to bring them to my meeting since I had no more time to bake and no other cookies hidden away.

The quilt ladies said they like them just fine, and most of the cookies disappeared. While they are a great way to use extra egg whites and are easy to prepare, I'm not sure I'll make them again because of the mixed reactions.

It's always good to try something new, however, so if you want to try the recipe, head over to Macduff of The Lonely Sidecar.

My friends brought some killer cookies, today, too. There were some no-bake peanut butter-chocolate bars (broken oven), some brown sugar bars that were fabulous, some shortbread/nut bars, and some itty bitty key lime cookies straight from Florida, to mention a few. It was definitely a fun and delicious meeting.

TWD: volcano cookies soon

Just took the cookies out of the oven but I have to run so my post with photos will be coming later.

I must say, though, that my cookies don't look like anyone else's.

Verdict is still out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Salmon en Croute

The 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. Simone chose Salmon en Croute (or alternative recipes for Beef Wellington or Vegetable en Croute) from Good Food Online.

The latest challenge from the Daring Cooks called for ingredients that I typically have on hand. I try to keep salmon fillets in the freezer for quick meals. I prefer wild-caught salmon because of the food safety issues regarding farmed salmon. I know there are reputable farming operations, but because this information doesn't usually appear on the labels, I'll stick with the wild ones.

For the crust, I prepared a basic savory pastry, upon which I laid the salmon with seasoning.

Over the top I spread the spinach-arugula cream cheese mixture.

After encasing the salmon with the second piece of pastry, I used my little fishy cutter to decorate the top, giving a hint as to the contents.

The end-result was a tasty salmon mini-pie. Next time I make it, though, I will add some lemon juice. The overall flavor needed just that splash of acidity to make it really stand out.

This is a pretty straight-forward preparation, and a lovely way to fancy up a piece of salmon.

For the recipe, go to Simone's blog, and do check out the other Daring Cooks to see the other salmon and beef wellington versions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Healthy Breads: Holiday Challah

Our second bonus recipe for the HBin5 baking group is a Whole Grain Challah with Cranberries and Orange Zest. Photos do not do this bread justice -- it is lovely in appearance and tastes delicious.

Because my braid was on the long side, I decided to form it into a wreath. It just seemed appropriate for the holiday season.

Just before putting it into the oven, I brushed it with an egg wash and then sprinkled the top with an orange zest-sugar mixture. For both the topping and the bread, I zested one of my blood oranges and used my fingers to rub the zest and sugar together. There was a great orange aroma in the kitchen afterwards, and I even have a bit of topping leftover for the future second loaf.

Fresh from the oven.

The topping was orangey and crunchy and yummy.

The crumb was nice, too. I'm not sure how much this bread was supposed to rise, but the insides look good to me.

For the recipe, head over to Michelle's blog. If you have the new HBin5 book, find the recipe for Whole Grain Challah and customize it with dried cranberries and orange zest for a great holiday treat.