Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. They did not disappoint! Continue reading

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Keeping It Classic: Steak au Poivre, Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus

settable2

Not the best images as they were all snapped quickly with the iPhone. We were concentrating more on eating than snapping, as it should be.

Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but classic meals are timeless!

I was reminded of that once again last Friday night, when I shared this meal with my Valentine. We rarely eat steak, and even more rarely purchase filet of beef tenderloin, but since this was Valentine’s Day and we were dining chez moi, I decided to keep things very old school. Steak, potatoes and asparagus…that’s about as classic and old school as it gets.

It was a pretty snow, but that's actually about 1/2" snow on top of ice.

It was a pretty snow, but that’s actually about 1″ of snow on top of ice.

I ran through the grocery rather frantically on Friday—Valentine’s Day itself—after days of being “trapped” in our house last week from yet another winter storm. When I arrived at the butcher counter, a smiling young woman asked me what I wanted, saying that this was the kind of day that you just couldn’t be anything but happy. She was right. I ordered my two beef tenderloin filets and she handed them to me nicely wrapped in butcher paper—along with a beautiful little lobster tail! “Today only, we’re giving away a free lobster tail when you buy steak, for as long as they last…and you’re the last one!” she called out, beaming at me. And by this time I was beaming back, let me assure you, as I absolutely adore lobster. Surf and Turf for dinner—even more classic than I’d intended! Sweet.

After securing my ingredients for dinner and dessert, I was back home in a flash. And here’s what our very classic Valentine’s evening menu included:

Artichoke Squares
Schramsberg Brut Rosé 2009 Napa Valley

Steak au Poivre
Lobster tail sautéed in butter and finished with lemon
Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Fourme d’Ambert
Roasted Asparagus
2002 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Molten Chocolate Cakes with Coffee Ice Cream
(Another glass of the Schramsberg, naturally!)

MoltenchocolatecakeA truly elegant and deliciously decadent dinner, easily made and costing literally pennies on the dollar of what you’d pay to eat it in a restaurant. And with the most intimate setting—our own dining room. Lovely evening.

But it doesn’t have to be Valentine’s Day to enjoy this simple feast. These are classics for a reason…they’re delicious any time. This terrific meal comes together so quickly (if you’ve made and frozen your artichoke squares ahead of time like I told you), that you’re out of the kitchen in no time flat and able to relax and enjoy. See below for the recipes and links (in red.)

Bon Appétit!

Artichoke Squares (from my last post)

Steak au Poivre (Alton Brown)
Notes: I used a mixture of black and pink peppercorns because I had them left over from making Chai Tea mix. I’ve had this dish at a restaurant made with all green peppercorns, and it was amazing.

Lobster Tail Sautéed with Butter and Finished with Lemon
Simple is best here, and this allows the sweetness and natural briny flavor of the lobster to shine through. It also keeps the meat from getting rubbery, just don’t over cook it.

1 small cold water lobster tail removed from its shell and split in half lengthwise (small tails are typically sweeter meat)
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Melt the butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium low heat. Add the two sides of the lobster tail, making sure each is on top of the melted butter, and cook for 3 minutes, then flip the tails to the other side and cook for 3 minutes more, or until the meat has just turned opaque. Squeeze the fresh lemon juice over the meat. Plate the lobster meat and pour the lemon butter mixture remaining in the pan evenly over the top of the lobster meat. Eat and wish you had about 5 more small lobster tails.

Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes (The Neeleys)
This is a brilliant way to make mashed potatoes and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. You dice and cook your potatoes leaving on the skins, heat your cream and butter separately, add the blue cheese, then pour that over the drained potatoes and then mash…brilliant. I used Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese which is readily available here, creamy and lovely. Use your favorite cheese or no cheese, and do a happy dance!

Roasted Asparagus
(2-4 servings)

1 lb. fresh asparagus spears, washed and tough bottoms of the stalks removed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with foil. Toss the asparagus spears in the olive oil and lay them in a single layer on the cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, checking them after about 10 minutes and turning them over. They are done when the asparagus is tender and has a few browned spots on the stalk. Serve.

Bittersweet Molten Chocolate Cakes with Coffee Ice Cream (Bon Appétit Magazine)
I’ve been making this dessert since it first appeared in the magazine in January of 2003 and it’s always a winner, always reliable and always impressive. I’ve added a pinch of cinnamon to mine, or sometimes a bit of grated orange zest, and tried different ice creams, too, just to change it up. They’re not too hard to make, either. You can make these a few hours ahead of time, or the day before, then store them covered in the fridge, pull them out to get back to room temperature while you eat dinner, heat the oven up, bake them just after the meal and serve. What’s not to love?

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Try, Try Again-Revival of a Favorite: Artichoke Squares

That’s what they say, if at first you don’t succeed.

Sorry to post this again, but it seems just this one previous post from earlier today may have been corrupted so that you couldn’t comment on that version. Let’s see if you can comment now on this second posting. And if you can, I shall remove the original post from the record once it’s been diagnosed. For sure, I’d never close my comments to you…I do really love hearing from you, it’s part of what makes blogging so fun! Technology is great when it works correctly. Thanks for your patience.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

The weekend is upon us, and it’s time for a savory little nibble to go with that happy hour cocktail. Enter these delectable Artichoke Squares.

You know you want one!

You know you want one!

This is one of those throwback recipes, circa 1960 or so. I’ve updated it with some fresh ingredients, really tasty extra sharp cheddar cheese, herbs, spices and plain panko breadcrumbs instead of the canned, seasoned, Italian type.

And because I always try to use as few, or as minimally, processed foods and ingredients as I possibly can in my cooking, I decided to make my own marinade for the artichoke hearts instead of using the jarred marinated version. The result was wonderful. Fresh and clean-tasting marinated artichoke, and a commitment to marinate my own from now on for every recipe that calls for them.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

But I digress. These Mad Men-worthy bites of deliciousness are the perfect companion for most any cocktail—from martinis to sweeter concoctions, with a glass of wine or a beer…and they make for some darn good eating without an adult beverage, as well. They’re rich and have a marvelous texture, so I like to cut them into small squares where I can eat more than one…or two…or three.

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Since these Artichoke Squares can be made ahead and they freeze perfectly, they’re just right for that busy day when you need an appetizer you can pull together quickly and have ready for guests—or for yourself—pronto. Just take out what you need from the freezer, warm them in the oven on a cookie sheet and they’re ready to plate and eat. And they look pretty, too.

Cheers to the weekend!

Artichoke Squares Redux
Makes 54, some to eat now and some to freeze for later!

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Remaining ingredients:
1-14 oz can of artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed in water, drained again
1 large sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I use Cabot)
1/3 cup plain panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
4 eggs, beaten

In a small bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients. Finely chop the artichoke hearts and add them to the marinade, stirring to coat them well. Allow them to marinate while you prepare your other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 7 inch by 11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Drain the chopped artichoke through a fine meshed sieve, pressing on the artichoke, and reserving the marinade by allowing it to drain directly into a large, non-stick skillet. Set aside the artichoke hearts. Heat the marinade over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and sauté in the marinade for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, the sautéed onion and garlic mixture with the marinade, and all of the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth the surface, spreading evenly. Bake the mixture at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Cut into small squares with a very sharp knife. Serve at room temperature or freeze the squares on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag. When ready to use, remove what you need, warm them on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. These should keep a couple of months in the freezer, if they aren’t eaten first.

Revival of a Favorite: Artichoke Squares

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

Bathed in that late afternoon cocktail glow.

The weekend is upon us, and it’s time for a savory little nibble to go with that happy hour cocktail. Enter these delectable Artichoke Squares.

You know you want one!

You know you want one!

This is one of those throwback recipes, circa 1960 or so. I’ve updated it with some fresh ingredients, really tasty extra sharp cheddar cheese, herbs, spices and plain panko breadcrumbs instead of the canned, seasoned, Italian type.

And because I always try to use as few, or minimally, processed foods and ingredients as I possibly can in my cooking, I decided to make my own marinade for the artichoke hearts instead of using the jarred marinated version. The result was wonderful. Fresh and clean-tasting marinated artichoke, and a commitment to marinate my own from now on for every recipe that calls for them.

Come a little closer...

Come a little closer…

But I digress. These Mad Men-worthy bites of deliciousness are the perfect companion for most any cocktail—from martinis to sweeter concoctions, with a glass of wine or a beer…and they make for some darn good eating without an adult beverage, as well. They’re rich and have a marvelous texture, so I like to cut them into small squares where I can eat more than one…or two…or three.

Now reach in and grab one or three!

Now reach in and take a bite!

Since these Artichoke Squares can be made ahead and they freeze perfectly, they’re just right for that busy day when you need an appetizer you can pull together quickly and have ready for guests—or for yourself—pronto. Just take out what you need from the freezer, warm them in the oven on a cookie sheet and they’re ready to plate and eat. And they look pretty, too.

Cheers to the weekend!

Artichoke Squares Redux
Makes 54, some to eat now and some to freeze for later!

For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar, unseasoned
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Remaining ingredients:
1-14 oz can of artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed in water, drained again
1 large sweet onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 Tablespoons fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (I use Cabot)
1/3 cup plain panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon dried and crushed red pepper flakes
4 eggs, beaten

In a small bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients. Finely chop the artichoke hearts and add them to the marinade, stirring to coat them well. Allow them to marinate while you prepare your other ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and lightly grease a 7 inch by 11 inch glass baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Drain the chopped artichoke through a fine meshed sieve, pressing on the artichoke, and reserving the marinade by allowing it to drain directly into a large, non-stick skillet. Set aside the artichoke hearts. Heat the marinade over medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and sauté in the marinade for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, the sautéed onion and garlic mixture with the marinade, and all of the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine well. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and smooth the surface, spreading evenly. Bake the mixture at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. Cut into small squares with a very sharp knife. Serve at room temperature or freeze the squares on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a freezer bag. When ready to use, remove what you need, warm them on a cookie sheet in a 300 degree oven, and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. These should keep a couple of months in the freezer, if they aren’t eaten first.