Thursday, December 30, 2010

Great ideas

I love pork in the slow cooker -- the method produces a tender result without watching a pot or timing anything. My children dearly love the pork recipe with cream of mushroom soup that I posted in September. But this week I decided to try a new recipe for pork loin, this one in the oven. It incorporates cinnamon, brown sugar, apples and dried cranberries or raisins. I will post the results soon (and modify it for the slow cooker if it is a hit.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black and white chili

I love chili and I have loved making it since I was a teenager; it was a favorite Saturday meal growing up and one I have continued to modify, tweak and share. But I had always made it with kidney beans until my youngest son balked at eating them. He would eat the tomatoes, the meat, even other types of beans. But the kidney beans were a deal breaker. So I kept tweaking -- navy beans passed muster, ditto for black beans. So I settled on something we now call "black and white chili" in honor of the black and white beans. Last week, my husband told me he preferred it over the traditional kidney bean recipe.

Another thing we all love is the addition of tomatoes that have chipotle peppers added. In recent years, most stores carry tomatoes that are seasoned in various ways, especially Italian (with oregano, basil and onions) and Mexican (with chili peppers.) More recently I have found diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers in local stores. Chipotle peppers are smoked jalapenos -- they give a small amount of smoky heat. All my children love this addition and can eat it. Don't let the fear of too much heat keep you from trying this. It gives a smoky warmth similar to barbecue sauce (something I have also added to chili recipes in the past.)

Eating beans is an excellent source of low fat protein. And the slow cooker was made for the needed long, slow cooking for beans that have been dried. Be sure to drain excess fat from the meat to reduce the amount of fat in the finised dish.

Black and white chili

1 cup dried navy beans, soaked in water overnight, drained
14.5 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 pound hamburger, browned and drained
15 ounce can diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
½ cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon black pepper
2-3 shakes crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon chili powder

Place the drained navy beans in a 6 quart slow cooker.

Cook one pound of hamburger meat. I started with a frozen block of meat:

And cooked it until it was browned; drain any excess fat before adding it to the beans.

Add the canned black beans, drained and rinsed, and the diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers to the slow cooker.

Add the oregano, black pepper, chili powder, red pepper and two small bay leaves. Do not add salt until the beans have finished cooking -- it can make them tough. Add water to cover beans.

Cook on low for 8 hours. Makes 8-10 servings -- and it will go fast.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Peanut butter balls

This candy is so simple and delicious that I can't believe I never tried it before now. Like the "remarkable fudge" recipe, I tried this at my husband's urging. Once I found a recipe and realized how easy it was, I was happy to give it a try. Once I tasted one, it became my new favorite candy.

These balls taste like Reese cups -- peanut butter on the inside and chocolate on the outside. The hardest part is forming the balls because the combination is a bit crumbly. But that crumbliness (if that is a word) is what gives the candy a texture just like its famous cousin.

You'll need:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, until they adhere. The mixture will be a bit crumbly (and your hand will hurt from stirring; just keep mixing!).

Scoop the mixture into teaspoon-sized balls and shape them with clean hands. Work quickly and don't press too hard. I had a great helper on this part.

Our dog, Jake, dearly loves peanut butter and was hoping for a few balls to get free and roll away.

He was disappointed, though. The recipe makes about 30 balls. Once you have all the mixture rolled, put it in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then heat chocolate candy bark until melted (I used the microwave, heating in 30 second intervals until it was melted and smooth.) Dip each ball in the candy coating, covering completely, then shaking off the excess. I lowered the balls using a spoon, then pulled them out with a fork to let the extra chocolate run off. Place each ball on aluminum foil until set, then store in the fridge.

My husband went crazy over these. Rarely do I think a homemade candy really tastes like its famous counterpart, but these candies are dynamite.

Remarkable fudge

I've always had poor luck with fudge -- I wind up scorching it, or it fails to set up. But my husband loves (I mean looooves) fudge, so I decided to try again this week. I found this recipe for "remarkable fudge" in my tried-and-true Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. It was delicious and easy and despite my initial fears that it was not going to set properly, a quick trip into the fridge gave excellent results.

Even if you are not experienced making candy, try this one. You don't need a candy thermometer; just patience while stirring.

Remarkable fudge

4 cups sugar
10 ounces of evaporated milk
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
7 ounce jar marshmallow creme
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 9x13x2 inch pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan. Butter the foil (we sprayed it with non-stick spray). Set aside.

Butter side of a heavy 3-quart saucepan (non-stick spray again). In the pan combine sugar, evaporated milk and butter.

Cook and stir over medium-high heat until the mixture boils. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.

Remove pan from heat. Add the chocolate pieces and stir well.

Add marshmallow creme, walnuts and vanilla. Stir until all melts and is well combined.

Beat by hand for one minute. Spread into prepared pan. Score the fudge while it is still warm. When fudge is firm, use the foil to remove it from the pan. Cut into squares and store in a covered container in the fridge. Makes about 4 pounds or 96 pieces (if you cut it in small pieces).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Savory favorite for Christmas

According to the box, people have been chowing down on the original Chex brand party mix for more than 50 years. I remember my grandmother bringing it to us in Norfolk, Va., from her home in Raleigh, N.C. And today when I smell the mix toasting in the oven, I think of her.
It is a Christmas favorite in my house and I have made countless batches of the stuff over the past 20 years. But the thing about the mix that makes me chuckle is the fact that I have never made it precisely like the “original” recipe – one I doubt is truly original. This year the recipe promoted on the Chex website gives microwave directions first. There are also methods for cooking it in a slow cooker. The directions used to urge you to melt the butter in a 9x13-inch pan, add the other flavorings, and then dump the cereal on top. Big mistake, unless you wanted some cereal soaked in Worcestershire sauce and some pieces with nothing.
The “original” recipe also calls for bagel chips (Seriously? We are supposed to believe that in the early 1960s people were commonly eating bagel chips? I couldn’t find more than two kinds of pasta at the grocery store 20 years ago.) It also calls for garlic powder and onion powder; I’ve never used either in this recipe.
The original recipe is available on any box of Chex brand cereal you might buy, so check it out for yourself. But I still think the best part of making this savory Christmas favorite is putting your own spin on it. Two favorite additions in my recipe are Bugles snacks and Cheerios. I am not a fan of the wheat cereal in this mix, so the other cereals make up for it in volume. Former coworkers in Norton, Va. suggested addding the Bugles and Cheerios. Both win rave reviews. But to be clear: I hardly ever buy the name brand cereals, especially when I am making snack mix. The generic versions are cheaper and, in my view, you can’t tell the difference. Yes, I am a cheapskate.
And I never follow the dump method suggested in some recipes. Don’t add the dry cereal to a pan of butter and Worcestershire sauce, unless you want a soggy mess. Instead, melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds, add the Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt. Stir well and slowly add it, while mixing, to the cereal, pretzels, nuts, etc. that are in the baking pan.
My version:
Savory snack mix
3 cups square corn cereal
3 cups square rice cereal
1 cup Bugles
1 cup round oat cereal
1 cup mixed nuts (I often add extra raw pecans, if I have them on hand)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine (half a stick)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup small pretzels (I often use sticks)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
Mix cereals, nuts and pretzels in a 9x13x2-inch pan. Melt butter in a microwave safe dish for 30 seconds. Add Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt; mix well. Pour over cereal mixture, mixing well. Bake for one hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes.
The original recipe gives storage instructions (airtight container). We just gobble it up at our house.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keeping warm from the inside out

For years I enjoyed making Russian tea and hot chocolate for the Norton, Va., Christmas parade. Hundreds of cold parade watchers would warm up inside The Coalfield Progress newspaper office and enjoy a cup of something warm, while the floats rolled past. But it has been since 2005 that I worked at the newspaper and this year the weather was so unpredictable that the Norton parade was cancelled.

But I still enjoy making these drink mixes for my family and friends. They are super simple and make great gifts. The Russian tea recipe using a favorite drink mix from the 1960s, Tang. And the hot cocoa mix comes from a church cookbook in Wise County, Va. The addition of coffee creamer and powdered milk makes this recipe, which is blended with hot water, particularly creamy.

Consider making a batch of either or both. They are great gifts and guaranteed to please a crowd.

Russian tea

3 cups sugar
2 cups Tang
1 cup instant tea mix
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix thoroughly. Add three heaping teaspoons to a mug of hot water.

Best-ever hot chocolate

Two 10-ounces boxes powdered milk
16-ounce bag powdered sugar
1 large jar coffee creamer
1 large container Nestle Quik

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons to a mug of hot water. Enjoy!