Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cinnamon Oatmeal Pumpkin Bars


The holidays are fast approaching. As far as I'm concerned this is the time of  year that I spend even more time in the kitchen. These cinnamon pumpkin oatmeal bars bring together seasonal favorites: cinnamon and pumpkin. Cinnamon is a wonderfully fragrant spice that just heralds the holidays. Baking is one of those time honored holiday traditions; and this recipe fits the bill beautifully and is super easy to put together. Time is always an issue, no matter what time of year and this recipe is quick to throw together and bake.
Perfect for drop by guests, coffee or tea time, or a quick dessert served (heated if desired) with a scoop of ice cream (a drizzle of caramel or chocolate sauce) and/or a dollop of whipped cream. It also has many adaptations: cranberry can be substituted for the pumpkin (making it even easier by using can whole berry sauce), as well as using different preserves, jams, jellies and nut butters. Fresh fruit can also be used; depending upon the fruit, it can be used as is (think mashed and seasoned bananas) or apples (pears) which will need a bit of cooking to get them to the right consistency. Jar or can pie fillings will also work.
Here I used can pumpkin puree (the unseasoned variety) which I then added my own combo of spices and sugars, but you can also use the seasoned, ready to use type to speed up the process even more. Make adjustments as you see fit, add sweet notes using honey, molasses, assorted sugars as well as "amping" up the flavor by adding additional spices.
There is no wrong here; and considering how easy these bars are to throw together, you can experiment and still have time for the rest of your insanity (holiday or not!).


Oatmeal Pumpkin Bar

  • 2 tsp. Cinnamon, ground
  • 1 cup Flour
  • 1 cup Oats, not the quick cook kind
  • 3/4 cup brown Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking Powder
  • 8 tbsp. Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Pumpkin puree, seasoned 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 baking pan, set aside. Combine all the dry ingredients. Add the butter and mix to form crumbles. Place half into pan and press into the pan, forming the base. Spread the pumpkin evenly over the base. Top with the remaining oat-mix and press gently. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until it browns. Serves: 4-8, depending on the size of the bars.

If seasoning the pumpkin yourself add cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and/or allspice (1/4 tsp each, to start). You can also use pumpkin pie spice if you like. You will also have to add a bit of sugar. I use brown, but use your choice. I suggest that you add the sugar in small increments as well (start with 1/4 cup, for instance) because the pumpkin really absorbs flavor and sweetness quickly...you can always add, much harder to take away and make adjustments!
Make it your own by seasoning to your tastes.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Compound Butter


Compound butter is a simple product to make and can be used for a variety of applications. It seems to be the latest trend; one that the major companies, like Land O Lakes, are beginning to turn out and advertise all over television. The concept is not new, but with most folks pressed for time, it is a great and easy way to season your dishes without much fuss.
But rather then purchase pre-made versions, I would suggest you to take some time to make your own. It's a simple process and can be stored in the refrigerator ready for use. The benefits of making your own compound butter really out weigh purchasing. First, you can use the butter (or margarine, or substitute) of your choosing (I use unsalted butter). As well, you can personalize the flavor profiles to suit your needs, and it is fresh! To hasten the whole process, I use a food processor to mince all the herbs and spices that I incorporate into the butter.
I use softened butter (not melted!) and add fresh herbs and spices that suit my cooking style. I like to make a variety; some combinations to consider: parsley, thyme and garlic (pictured here), green onion with Old Bay Seasoning, lemon-pepper (using the peel, no pith), sage and garlic, tarragon-pepper and cilantro-lime (again peel, no pith).
Easily stored, wrapped in wax paper or placed into a covered plastic container, compound butter has a really good shelf life. Use it as you would oil or butter in your applications. Choose flavors that work well with poultry, fish and meat. As well, you can make ones with a sweet note to them to use as spreads or in baking and pastry applications. Some to try include: honey-mint, dried cranberry-orange or raisin-toasted pecan.

Compound Butter

1 stick Butter, soft
3-4 cloves Garlic
1 tbsp. Parsley
2 tbsp. Thyme, fresh

Combine herbs and 
garlic in food processor.
Pulse to mince. 
Add to butter and
combine thoroughly.
You can also mince by hand.

I use more then less when it comes to the herbs. I prefer the flavors to be bold. I also like to use fresh rather then dried. Much better flavor and eye appeal.


This is also great for your basic bread service; place into decorative ramekins or chill and slice. Serve with crusty bread, muffins or rolls.



Be creative and try 
combining your 
favorites. 
There really isn't 
a wrong combo, as long as you like it.
Use them in place of  
plain butter called for in 
recipes; you've created 
a "signature" 
dish without 
re-inventing the recipe.




















































Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Red Cabbage Salad


I like to try different types of salad. I am not much for the traditional iceberg lettuce variety, with the mandatory tomato, cucumber add-in, but rather ones that use different lettuces and add more or varying stuff. It is best to have a variety of texture that compliments well and that has crunch. I just don't like mushy, soggy salads, with limp, lifeless lettuce.
That being said; I'll never pass up a Caesar salad (yes, with anchovies) or a really good Cobb salad. Again, it's really a texture and interest thing. Lettuce alone makes one feel more bovine then human. Omitting lettuce altogether is yet another option. And why not? It's not like lettuce should be allowed to monopolize the market. That's why here, we look at an option that is a bit atypical and satisfying.
The use of roasted Brussels Sprouts adds a really nice twist, both texture and flavor. The roasting adds a subtle flavor, without being overcooked, so they still have a really nice bite to them. They compliment well with the nuttiness of the toasted almonds. The red cabbage not only adds eye appeal with its pop of color, but a real crunch to bite into. Tossing in the golden raisins adds a sweetness and texture contrast that really ties it all together. There are many adaptations that can be made, a few possibilities include: adding blue or feta cheese, replacing the raisins with dried cranberries or chopped apricots, using toasted pecans or walnuts instead of the almonds.
As for the dressing, I went with a simple vinaigrette. This too can be adapted and changed to suit your needs---but you do not want to overpower the other ingredients, so I suggest that you keep it simple. I provided a recipe here for my "go-to" dressing, from which you can build your own signature version.
 Experiment; just remember to be conscious of the textures and flavors that you are incorporating.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Red Cabbage Salad

  • 1 lb. Brussels Sprouts, cleaned and quartered
  • 1 head Red Cabbage, shredded (thicker, as for slaw)
  • 1/2 cup Golden Raisins
  • 1/2 cup Almonds, toasted (sliced or slivered)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil, spray with cooking spray or oil pan, and place Brussels sprouts onto it. Roast until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes, depending upon the size. Remove and set aside to cool. Toss all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, add the sprouts and combine, set aside and make the dressing.

Basic Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. Mustard (your preference, I used a Dijon variety)
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil
  • 3 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. Honey, (optional)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad, toss to incorporate (be gentle, you don't want to break the Brussels sprouts down), adjust seasoning again. It can be served immediately or made and let to marinate. Either way, serve at room temperature or just cool. If it is too cold, the flavors don't meld as well.. Yields: about 8 servings.

Note: Depending upon the type and age of Balsamic vinegar you use, the honey might be overkill. My suggestion is to taste it after adding everything else to see if you really need it.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Broccoli Slaw


We all know the traditional Cole slaw served at most barbecues and picnics, and now as it begins to cool a bit in Tampa (yeah, I know...), the season for tailgating and outdoor entertaining is more pleasurable as the temperatures and humidity give us a break.
This side is a great alternative to the traditional cabbage based dish. Lots more color and flavor. The addition of jicama and dried cranberries give this a slight sweet note and a great crunch. Using both the broccoli and jicama gives this slaw a really excellent texture, holding up well to the dressing and giving it a better shelf life.


Broccoli Slaw
  • 2 bunches Broccoli, chopped (I use the stems too)
  • 1 1/2 cups Jicama, chopped
  • 2 stalks Celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried Cranberries
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp. Sour cream
  • 1/4 cup Cider vinegar
  • 3 pieces Bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • Salt and lemon pepper, to taste
Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add the next 4 ingredients and toss to combine thoroughly. Adjust the seasoning with salt and lemon pepper. Add the bacon last, toss to incorporate. Yields: about 8 servings.

This can and should be made ahead of time to get the flavors to meld together. You don't have to use the lemon pepper, but I like the variance that it gives and the lemon impacts the flavor, giving it a bit of a boost.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

All about Kale




Considered one of the more nutrient dense foods; kale is getting a lot of attention these days. It's certainly not new, but more of one of those tried and true greens that should be more of a "mainstay" consideration in your cooking repertoire.
Classified by leaf type; kale comes in both curly and flat leaf varieties, color can range from dark green to purple. Kale is a part of the family Brassica, which also includes: cauliflower, broccoli, collard greens and Brussels sprouts. A hearty green, kale can grow just about anywhere and can take variances in temperature well. It is found in many cultures and climates; throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Netherlands. There are the "ornamental" varieties that you can find at Lowe's and Home Depot, and these also range in color from white, purple, lavender, pink and blue-And yes, THEY ARE EDIBLE (although, I would not suggest raiding your neighbor's front yard...pesticides and all...).
High in beta carotene, calcium, antioxidant vitamins A,C and K, this green is a nutrient "powerhouse". It helps in lowering cholesterol and the absorption of dietary fat. Promotes eye health, contains copper, potassium, iron and manganese. Even claims of containing anti cancer properties, boosting DNA repair in cells. More technical and health information can be found at wikipedia.com, huffingtonpost.com or webmd.com.


Here, the cooking and food uses prevail. Let's start with choosing the perfect bunch: hardy leaves, full color, no wilting with firm stems. Best to store it unwashed in an airtight (Ziplock-type) bag, about 5 days or longer, you can tell when its truly past its prime. Kale also freezes well.



Its use is varied: everything from center-of-the-plate options, sides, soups and salads. Kale is sturdy and can really stand up to strong flavors and applications. Remember, kale cooks down so when you think it seems like it is too much..it isn't.
Here are a few recipes that I've put together to tempt; just experiment and have some fun with it.


Kale with Pasta, Pancetta & Mushrooms
  • 1 lb.Pasta, cooked (your choice, here rigatoni, choose hearty to compliment kale)
  • 1/2 cup Pancetta, chopped
  • 4 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch Kale, chopped, about 5 cups, your choice on type
  • 2 cups Mushrooms, sliced
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • 3 tbsp. Milk/cream/half and half,  or as desired
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the pancetta and garlic  in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the pancetta is rendered, beginning to crisp. Add the kale and mushrooms, olive oil as needed. Cook until the kale and mushrooms are tender. Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add the milk, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Use a bit more milk (cream, half and half) and/or olive oil as desired. Heat thoroughly and serve. Yields about 4-6 servings.

I used the flat leaf variety of kale for this dish, but either one works nicely.
Grated cheese, red pepper flakes can be used at your discretion. It's a really quick meal to pull together, great for a busy weeknight "go-to". Add a salad or garlic bread, if you want...but really this is a pretty hearty dish on its own.








Kale with Smoked Pork Jowl 
                                                                      
  • 1 cup smoked Pork jowl, chopped
  • 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
  • 1 bunch Kale, torn into pieces, about 6-8 cups
  • Water, as needed
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
Place pork jowl into large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute until jowl begins to crisp. Add the kale carefully (watch for oil spatter). Stir and continue to cook, stir often, checking for sticking, add water as needed. Add pepper and Old Bay seasoning. Cook until tender. Yields: about 6 servings as a side. 

I do not add salt because I think the smoked jowl takes care of it nicely; but again, adjust it for your taste. I like adding red pepper flakes or hot sauce. I serve a home made hot-spiced cider vinegar (on the side) along with the kale.



I used curly kale for this one. It makes a great side with steak, chicken or fish, as well as BBQ ribs. Perfect as a bed for poached or fried eggs, served with toast, bagel or English muffin. As a different twist to eggs benedict, use the kale along with or as a substitute for the ham or bacon layer, works nicely with the hollandaise sauce.






This picture shows yet another version that uses smoked sausage,
onions and both curly and flat leaf kale. Similar concept to the pancetta recipe, but this can be used as a "center-of-the-plate" option. All types of sausages can be used. Just remember to give it a bit of browning before adding the kale. Flat kale is pictured, but curly varieties can be used as well. Again, this is one of those dishes that can be thrown together in a snap; flavorful, filling and adaptable. Add tomatoes, canned, whole that have been broken down in the pan, to make a stew like dish. Adjust seasonings to your taste: add jerk flavors for a Caribbean twist, creole, south west, Mexican (add canned kidney, black or white beans-protien packed and good for you) are all possibilities.
It's supposed to be an adventure in your kitchen. Intelligent food, conscious choices and a well stocked pantry is all you need.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 Foods to Never Refrigerate...



Although there are plenty more that can be added to this list...a look at the site kitchendaily.com, shared this information, but here they are;
Avocado: best if used just when beginning to soften,. sometimes the seed inside will even rattle a bit if it is at ripeness perfection. Remember though, that once cut the avocado flesh will darken when exposed, doesn't mean its bad, but really isn't the most attractive to eat. I let them ripen along with my bananas and other fruit, on the kitchen counter.
Basil: placed in a glass of water, (or a small vase, just like fresh flowers), allows this herb to breath and not get damaged by the moisture and condensation in the refrigerator, and just like cut flowers, change the water often.
Tomatoes: Fresh off the vine or store bought, tomatoes do not like refrigerators. The texture and taste quality is diminished greatly.
Onions: Again, the moisture from the refrigerator allow them to go bad faster, so best in a cool dry place...except when cut, then the refrigerator is your best bet for the leftover.
Potatoes: Refrigerators wreck havoc on them. Definitely deteriorates the texture and taste. Another one that is best kept cool and dry.

I also keep out my garlic, there are those who refrigerate, but it seems to make it harder to peel and I think it affects the texture and allows for mold. Realistically, garlic never lasts that long at my house, so its best to have it handy. A garlic pot or stored with my onions is how I do it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mainstream Meatloaf


Mainstream Meatloaf



Okay...we all know that meatloaf isn't one of those dishes that we think about for upscale entertaining (although this humble dish can be raised to "gourmet standards" with use of high end ingredients and more...), it is one of those standards that should be in everyone's repertoire. It is an easy to make dish that can be served with gravy and a side or as sandwiches and wraps. It is a great "leftover go-to" in our house.
I choose to form the loaf by hand rather then using a loaf pan; this is a matter of personal preference. Although, the "bacon wrap" turns into a couple of strips placed onto the top instead.
The bacon wrapped around it not only adds flavor, but also eye appeal, moisture and gives the loaf a bit of structure. I make sure that the ends of the bacon overlap and (to keep it in place), toothpicks are used at the areas of the overlap. I remove them once it is baked.
I serve this out of the oven with roasted root vegetables that I cook with the meatloaf. I season as desired and place them around, cut into chunks. The pan juices really add tons of flavor..(remember, bacon here!!), and cook crusty on the outside moist on the inside.


Meatloaf

  • 3 lbs. Beef, ground
  • 1 cup Bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. Parsley, chopped
  • 2 tsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. Paprika
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1 tsp. Steak seasoning (I used McCormick's)
  • 2 tbsp. Ketchup
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3-5 strips Bacon
Combine all the ingredients except the bacon in a large bowl. Combine thoroughly and form onto a foiled covered baking dish or sheet pan. Wrap with the bacon slices and apply toothpicks. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the bacon is nicely browned as is the meatloaf itself. Yields: about 6 servings.