Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hot Toddy for a Cold Winter



It’s cold and snowy here in Kansas, which is perfect weather for a Hot Toddy. This warm beverage is one I’ve heard of my whole life, usually in books where a ski lodge is the setting. I also think of it as a feel-better drink when you have a cold or are dealing with the winter blahs.

Traditionally made with water, honey, lemon, cinnamon, and spirits (typically whisky, rum, or brandy), some Hot Toddy recipes also include tea, which is how I like it. (It seems more British that way, which pleases this Anglophile’s heart.) It’s a comforting drink sure to take the chill off the most dismal winter evening.


Hot Toddy
Serves 1
1 cup hot water
1 tea bag
1 cinnamon stick
1 ounce brandy
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 of a large lemon
Lemon slices, for garnish
           
Bring the water to a boil. In a cup, place the tea bag and cinnamon stick. Pour in the boiling water and allow the tea to steep until it reaches your desired strength.
           
Remove the tea bag and add the liquor and honey. Squeeze in the juice from 1/4 of a large lemon. Add a lemon slice. Serve.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

German Pancake for One




What does it take to inspire a busy food writer to post on her blog? For me, it was the windfall of new kitchen items I received for Christmas, thanks to my wonderful mom who shopped via my Amazon wish list.





I picked these items based on their rankings by the folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine, who are also responsible for the America’s Test Kitchen and Cook's Country television shows. Anything I’ve ever bought based on their recommendations, be it a gadget or ingredient, has never been a disappointment.



Mom’s generosity gave me:







A Victorinox chef’s knife, which cuts like a dream and feels wonderful in my hand.











Cuisipro Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons, which fit perfectly into a spice jar or tin.











A Vollrath baking sheet…just like all the pros have on television.












T-fal Professional Non-Stick Fry Pan…also makes me feel like a pro.












Nordic Ware Naturals Nonstick 9-inch Cake Pan.  







To test out my new cake pan, I decided to make a German pancake. Most recipes are made in a skillet, but I saw this one on the Smitten Kitchen blog made in a pan.

I love pancakes, but most recipes make more than this one person can eat for breakfast. This is the perfect alternative. Plus, it’s easy to make. Just mix the batter in a blender (or, since I don’t own one, with a hand blender), pour it into the cake pan, and bake.

There are many topping options for a German Pancake. Berries, sautéed apples, a sprinkling of powdered sugar, and whipped cream are common choices, but I went with the traditional pancake condiments of butter and real maple syrup.   

German Pancake for One

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a 9-inch cake pan into the oven to get hot.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

Place the eggs into a blender and mix until light yellow fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the milk, vanilla, and flour mixture. Blend until well mixed, about 1 more minute.

Working quickly, remove the cake pan from the oven. Place the softened butter into the pan and use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with the melting butter. Pour in the batter from the blender, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the pancake is golden brown.


Remove the pancake from the pan onto a plate. Serve with favorite topping. 


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Life’s Curve Balls








An autumn sunrise over Topeka.



Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. Believe me, I wanted to! I have all kinds of recipes lined up and restaurant experiences I want to share.





Unfortunately, life pitched a curve ball to The Picky Eater’s family. Do you remember my post from 2014 about his sister, Lisa, and her husband, Don, adopting four children from Ukraine? They got stuck there when the Independence Square uprising happened.

On October 16, Don had open heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. The surgery went well, but a day later he had a massive stroke, which damaged 2/3 of his brain’s left side, impacting his right side. He had emergency surgery to remove part of his skull so the swelling had someplace to go…and to save his life.

Since then, the family has been on a roller coaster ride, with Don having good days and bad, including needing to have fluid drained off his brain last week. He has some movement in his right leg, so everyone is hopeful he will walk again. He isn’t moving his right arm and he can’t speak (yet?).

Don is a fun-loving guy who loves God and his family above all else...though fantasy football may run a close third. His humor-filled spirit still shines through at times when he's interacting with people. Especially with his beautiful daughters. 

Now Lisa and Don face a long, long period of rehab two and a half hours away in Nebraska. Family and friends will pitch in to watch over the kids while Lisa is at Don’s side. Needless to say, the loss of income is hitting them hard. If you would like to help, a Go Fund Me page has been set up were you can donate. If you want to follow Don’s progress, check out the Don Jenkins Update group on Facebook.

Prayers also help, too. A lot.
Thank you for your understanding.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Baking Sheet Supper for One


I was intrigued from the first moment I saw it.

While scrolling thought my Facebook feed early one autumn morning, I game across a post from BBC Good Food titled “10 Meals Worth Being Alone For.”  Since I cook for one now, I was curious. When I clicked through to the website, I saw a suggestion for All-in-one Gammon, Egg and Chips. I was hooked.

Just think; an entire meal made on a baking sheet. How easy would that be?

Turns out, the answer is very easy! Clean up was effortless, too, since I lined my smallest sheet pan with foil first. Plus, you eat the meal straight from the pan.

Gammon is the hind leg of a pig that is cured in much the same way as bacon. It may be smoked, and like bacon, needs to be cooked before eating. Since a slice of gammon isn't commonly available in my grocery store, I decided to use smoked sausage instead. Also, to go with the potato wedges and egg, I wanted a veggie. So I added thick slices of zucchini and summer squash to the mix.

This meal was so much fun to prepare. Once everything was cut up, the rest of the work was done by the oven. No muss or fuss. The meal came together in stages by adding different elements during the baking time, but it was simple.

The result was hearty and delicious. Honesty, it was almost enough food for two people. Just add another egg and a few extra zucchini slices. 

I can already imagine switching up the ingredients—sweet potato instead of regular, ham instead of sausage, asparagus to replace the zucchini, etc. Any other suggestions? I’ll be making this supper often as the autumn chill sets in.

Baking Sheet Supper for One

1 large baking potato, cut into wedges
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 pound smoked sausage, cut into 3-inch slices
1 small zucchini, summer squash, or both cut into 1-inch slices
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with foil and lightly spay with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, toss the potato wedges with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the wedges onto the baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. The potato wedges should have started to brown. Turn them over and move them to one side of the pan. In the small bowl, toss the zucchini slices with the rest of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Add the slices to the baking sheet, along with the smoked sausage. Return the baking sheet to the oven for 7 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Turn the zucchini slices over, and move both the zucchini and smoked sausage over enough to make room for the egg. Crack the egg in the corner of the baking sheet. Return it to the oven and bake for an additional 7 minutes, or until the egg and sausage are cooked to your liking.

Serve on the baking sheet.

  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ham and Tortellini Toss


With the start of autumn, and in spite of today’s 80-plus temperature, my dinner thoughts turn to hearty dishes that ease the evening chill. However, the recipe must be one compatible with busy fall schedules. This Ham and Tortellini Toss is perfect. The rich, Alfredo-style sauce comforts the soul, but it comes together in less than 30 minutes.


I got the original recipe from my friend, Shannon, in New Hampshire just before I made my move westward. She got it from Pampered Chef. Of course, I’ve tinkered with it a bit along the way.

The original called for fresh baby spinach. Since not everyone likes spinach, and I hardly ever have it on hand, I switched to frozen peas. I’ve also used fresh broccoli, which I steamed to partially cook before adding it to the mix. Both veggies work well. The original also calls for frozen cheese tortellini, but I couldn’t find any here in Topeka. I used Buitoni Three Cheese Tortellini, which I keep on-hand in the freezer until I needed.

Oh, and yes, you read the recipe correctly. The tortellini is cooked in just two cups of chicken broth. Don’t worry. It works! Plus, the broth lightens the sauce a bit and adds a lot of flavor. Also, please use good Parmesan cheese and not the stuff in the can. It makes a difference.

Quick to prepare, tasty to eat, and easy to clean-up…this recipe will be an autumn regular.

Ham and Tortellini Toss
Adapted from recipe by Pampered Chef
Serves 2 to 4

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 9-ounce package Buitoni Three Cheese Tortellini, or variety of your choice
3 tablespoons unsalted-butter
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup diced ham
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Pour the chicken broth into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook according to the package directions until just done. Be sure not to over cook.

While the tortellini cooks, melt the butter in a large, 12-inch, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk. Once the mixture begins to simmer, stir in the cheese until melted. Add the ham and peas. The mixture will be very thick at this point.

When the tortellini is ready, pour it and the broth into the skilled with the ham mixture. Stir until combined. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, and cook until you reach the desired thickness. Stir in the black pepper and serve.

   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream


Is it just me, or are we being inundated by everything pumpkin? Television commercials, social media posts, and magazine pages are full of pumpkin-spice everywhere. Don’t get me wrong. I like pumpkin. But what happened to apples? It is apple season, too. Why not save the pumpkins until later and enjoy apples now while they're crisp and fresh from the tree.

Okay, that is my food rant for today. Thank you for listening. 


Apple season always brings back memories of apple crisp ice cream from Arnie’s Place in Concord, New Hampshire. I lived in an apartment right across the street from this ice cream/hamburger/ barbecue spot open seasonally from February to October. (This photo is from the window in my old apartment...in March! Only in New England are you eating ice cream in the sunshine one day and shoveling snow the next.) 

Arnie's owner, Tom Arnold, serves wonderful homemade ice cream. I also enjoyed his Inferno Burger (a hamburger topped with cheddar cheese, Pete’s hot sauce and jalapenos) and pulled pork sandwich.

Most of the time, my ice cream choice was the Extreme Chocolate, which lived up to it’s name and was so rich I could only enjoy one scoop at a time. However, when autumn approach, I switched to the apple crisp ice cream full of bits from the classic dessert.  

Since I now live too far away to enjoy Arnie’s ice cream, I decided to try making it myself. While I researched the recipe, I remembered the jug of apple cider I had in the refrigerator. Could I add apple cider to up the flavor of the ice cream?

Yes!

There are two parts to the recipe—the cider ice cream and the apple crisp. The cider ice cream tastes great on its own and would be tasty served with a couple of ginger snaps on the side. However, I enjoy the crumbs of apple crisp mixed throughout the ice cream.

You’ll notice the apple crisp bits look a little dark. That’s because I accidentally used dark brown sugar instead of light brown sugar. It tastes great, but if you want lighter crisp bits, then go with the light brown sugar.

Also, I like a lot of apple crisp in my ice cream, so I used the entire amount. However, one of my tasters thought there was too much. So add as much or as little as you like to fit your taste.

For me, Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream is a perfect transition dessert as we move from summer’s heat to autumn’s chill.
 
Apple Cider Crisp Ice Cream
Makes 1 1/2 quarts

For the ice cream:
2 cups apple cider
1 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups heavy cream

For the crisp:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
2 apples, diced

To make the ice cream base: Pour the apple cider into a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil until the cider reduces to 1/4 cup, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Pour the milk and sugar into another saucepan. Stir over medium heat only until the sugar is dissolved, just two minutes or so. Pour the milk/sugar mixture into a bowl. Whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cider reduction. Then stir in the cream. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

To make the crisp: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 or 9-inch cake or pie pan.

Place all of the ingredients except the apples into a medium bowl. Cut in the cold butter with a pastry cutter or two knives, or squish the cold butter bits into the other ingredient with your fingers, until well combined.

Place the diced apples into the bottom of the buttered pan and cover with the oatmeal/butter mixture. Bake until the topping is golden brown and the apples are soft, 45 to 55 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the ice cream: Pour the chilled ice cream base into the ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. Break up the apple crisp into small pieces. Just before the ice cream is finished churning, add the apple crisp pieces into the ice cream. Once the crisp is mixed in, transfer the ice cream into an air tight container. Freeze for at least 6 hours to harden the ice cream before serving.   


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Preserving Apples: Apple Jam and Pie Filling


I love apple season. When I lived in New England, I made regular trips to Apple Hill Farm throughout autumn to get the freshest apples and all the goodies made with them. (I loved their apple pie!)  Here in Topeka, I like to head just outside of town to Rees Fruit Farm for the same reason. (Their apple cider donuts are to die for!)


Last weekend, the Topeka Capital-Journal ran my recipes for Apple-Maple Jam and Home-Canned Apple Pie Filling. They were such a hit I wanted to share them here as well.

One word of caution: When I started researching the pie filling recipe, I found many of them on the internet. Most, like mine, were adapted from this one put out by the Ball canning folks. However, some of the recipes said to use quart-sized jars, with the same timing as the Ball recipe, which calls for pint-sized jars. I called up the Ball help line, and the lovely lady on the other end said the recipe has only been tested for pint-sized jars and would not be safe using quart-sized jars! So please, stick with pint jars. (This is a good lesson in not believing everything on the internet.)

The pie filling recipe calls for Clear Jel, a modified corn starch that works as a thickener but is made to withstand the heat of canning. I couldn’t find it in a local store, so I ordered it on Amazon. Be sure to get the regular variety, not instant. I’ve heard you can use equal amounts of flour as a thickener, but supposedly it creates a cloudy filling.

I’ve enjoyed the jam on my PB&J sandwiches, and the pie filling is so much better than the store-bought kind. Thinking ahead, these would also make great Christmas gifts.

Apple-Maple Jam
Recipe adapted from Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Makes 8 half-pint jars

Approximately 6 pounds baking apples (Granny Smith, Gala, Jonathan, or Golden Delicious)
Lemon juice to prevent browning
6 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pure maple syrup
           
Prepare jars: Wash jars, lids, and rings. Place empty jars without lids into boiling-water canner filled with simmering water. Keep the jars in the hot water until ready to use.
           
To make the jam: Peel, core and dice the apples into cold water with lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown. You will need 12 cups of diced apples.
           
Place a small plate into the freezer. Drain the apples and place them into a large pot. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. Keep stirring and boil for 20 minutes. Take the plate out of the freezer and drop a small amount of the jam on top. Use your finger to test how well it gels. If it has gelled enough, turn off the burner. If not, keep boiling and test every 5 minutes until ready, up to 30 minutes.
           
When ready, turn off the heat. Take a jar out of the water and drain. Ladle in the hot jam (a funnel helps) to about 1/4-inch from the top. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to clean off any drips. Place a flat lid on top and screw on a ring. Repeat until all of the jars are filled.

Place the jars into the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Place the lid on the canner, bring back to a boil, and process for 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow the jars to stand in the hot water for 5 additional minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool completely. You will hear the lids start to pop almost immediately as they cool and seal.  After 12 to 24 hours, check the seal on the cooled jars by pressing on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Or remove the ring and make sure the flat lid is stuck tight to the jar. If the jar is not sealed, the jam is still good. Just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator. Also refrigerate any jar after opening.
 
Home-Canned Apple Pie Filling
Adapted from recipe found on the Ball company website 

Makes 7 pints
           
This recipe calls for Clear Jel, a modified corn starch that works as a thickener but is made to withstand the heat of canning. Be sure to use the regular variety, not instant. I could not find it in local grocery stores, so I ordered it from Amazon.

12 cups peeled and sliced baking apples (Granny Smith, Gala, Jonathan, or Golden Delicious)
Lemon juice to prevent browning
1 1/4 cup water
2 1/2 cups apple cider
2 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup Clear Jel
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
           
Prepare jars: Wash jars, lids, and rings. Place empty jars without lids into boiling-water canner filled with simmering water. Keep the jars in the hot water until ready to use.
           
To make the jam: Peel, core and slice the apples into cold water with lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown. You will need 12 cups of apples.
           
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drain the apple slices and blanch them in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
           
In a large pot, add the apple cider and water. Whisk in the sugar, Clear Jel, spices and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Mix in the lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stir in the apple slices.
           
Take a jar out of the water and drain. Ladle in the pie filling (a funnel helps) to about 1 1/4-inch from the top. Remove air bubbles with a wooden skewer or plastic knife. Wipe the rim of the jar with a damp paper towel to clean off any drips. Place a flat lid on top and screw on a ring. Repeat until all of the jars are filled.

Place the jars into the canner. Make sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 to 2 inches. Place the lid on the canner, bring back to a boil, and process for 25 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and allow the jars to stand in the water an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and place on a towel to cool completely. You will hear the lids start to pop as they cool and seal.  After 12 to 24 hours, check the seal on the cooled jars by pressing on the lid. If it springs back, the jar is not sealed. Or remove the ring and make sure the flat lid is stuck tight to the jar. If the jar is not sealed, the filling is still good. Just store the unsealed jar in the refrigerator. Also refrigerate any jar after opening.
           
For a 9-inch pie, you will need to use 3 pints of pie filling.