Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet Apricot Fregola Kugel with Spiced Cornflake Streusel

Recently, I was invited to participate in a Marx Foods Blogger Challenge. The Marx Foods site, in case you aren't familiar, is full of quality, bulk food products--some of it pretty hard to find, some of it exotic (kangaroo?), and all of it top grade. They sell organic fruits and vegetables, free-range meats, truffles, desserts---you name it. This particular challenge sounded like a lot of fun, so I was pretty excited when my package of goodies arrived. My mission was to create an original dessert recipe using Fregola Sarda and at least one of the other ingredients: Vanilla Beans, Star Anise and Saffron Threads.

Almost like being on an episode of Chopped, right? Except the time limit is a lot longer. :)

Fregola, what? Don't feel bad. I didn't know what the heck it was either. Fregola Sarda is an Italian couscous. But it's not really just couscous--it's couscous on steroids. And it's toasted. Sarda refers to the part of Italy (Sardinia) where the Fregola is a staple. So, now we know what we are dealing with--a pasta, so to speak. 

Isn't it beautiful? The rough exterior of the Fregola allows sauces to cling to it, and the toasting process gives it a nice nutty flavor. 

I knew right away that I wanted to make a custard or a pudding of some sort. One of the first things that came to mind was a classic noodle pudding--a sweet kugel, if you will. The obvious other ingredient to add to that would be the vanilla bean, of course, but one whiff of the licorice-y Star Anise, and I knew that I wanted to incorporate that in my dessert, as well. So, without further ado, here is my creation:

Sweet Apricot Fregola Kugel with Spiced Cornflake Streusel

1 cup Fregola Sarda
2 cups Whole Milk
1 Vanilla Bean
3 Eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup Ricotta Cheese
½ cup Apricot Preserves
1/3 cup Granulated Sugar
½ cup Golden Raisins

2 cups Corn Flakes, slightly crushed
½ cup Butter, softened
¼ cup Granulated Sugar
1 Star Anise, ground*
¼ teaspoon Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 ° F; butter a 1 ½ quart baking dish.

Combine the Fregola and milk in a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add all of it (seeds and bean) to the milk. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the Fregola is al dente, and the mixture is thickened and creamy. Take out and discard the vanilla bean and set the Fregola aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, ricotta cheese, apricot preserves, sugar and raisins. Fold in the Fregola mixture, stirring until well combined. Spread into the buttered casserole dish.

For the topping, place the corn flakes and the butter in a medium bowl. Stir the sugar, star anise and cinnamon together and add to the cornflakes and butter. Use a fork to blend the ingredients until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the kugel.

Bake the kugel in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

*For tips on how to grind whole spices, visit the site: How to Grind Whole Spices (I used a spice grinder for the Star Anise)

I have to tell you--I loved this stuff! The Fregola had just the right texture, you could see the bits of the vanilla bean, and the topping was buttery, crunchy, and had just a hint of licorice-y Star Anise.

I was tempted to use the last ingredient, the saffron, in a whipped cream topping, but something told me to leave well enough alone. Sometimes less is more--the kugel was perfect by itself.

On December 5th, you'll be able to see who my competition is in this challenge. Marx Foods will be posting all of the recipes and they will be put to a vote. There will be two winners--one by vote, and one by judges. How fair is that? The two winners will each receive $100 worth of baking goods. Wish me luck!

Disclaimer: Marx Foods sent me samples of their products in order to participate in this contest. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies with Penuche Frosting

A little messy, but so good...

I don't know where I got the recipe for pumpkin cookies, or even when I first made them. It's been years, and there are about a million versions out there. Some have chocolate chips, some have nuts. Some have cream cheese frosting, some have none. In the end, I just made them the way I like them. No nuts, no chocolate chips, and topped with a very delicious penuche frosting (that I use on a bunch of other stuff). These are my husband's favorite cookies.

Pumpkin Cookies with Penuche Frosting

½ cup shortening
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup light cream
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening, butter and sugars until light and fluffy; about 2 minutes. Add the egg and continue to beat for another 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spice, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and beat until just blended.

Using a cookie scoop, drop the batter, two inches apart, on cookie sheets. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Using a cookie scoop makes it easy to have the cookies turn out the same size.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the 3 tablespoons butter and ½ cup brown sugar. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, stir in the cream, and beat until smooth.  Gradually stir in 2 cups powdered sugar until frosting has reached desired consistency. Spread on cooled cookies.

I like to keep the frosting on warm heat and drizzle them on the cookies--then they harden up a little like candy. Alternately, you can add more powdered sugar and frost them the usual way.

Put a parchment lined pan underneath to catch the drips.

They're like little soft cakes with candy on top.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hot Fruit Compote

Wow...another Thanksgiving is over. Weren't we just sharing Minnesota State Fair pics? This year, I had to deal with two vegetarians, a mother-in-law who was looking forward to tradition, and an onion hater. Seriously, how can you do a proper meal with no onions? That was worse than dealing with no meat. I did manage to pull it off, however. A huge thanks to convenience foods is in order....and to Boston Market, for being open on Thanksgiving, so my MIL could have turkey. :)

While I am a day late with the Thanksgiving meal post, I would like to share a quick alternative to cranberries (in our case, it is in addition to cranberries). Every year, without fail, I make a hot fruit compote to go with the meal. Usually, there is so much food that I have most of it leftover. This is a good thing since hot fruit compote turns into delicious cold fruit compote. Or warmed up fruit compote. At any rate, you can put this easy recipe in your pocket for Christmas.

Hot Fruit Compote

  • 1 (8oz) package assorted dried fruit, cut up*
  • 1-1 1/2 cups white or zinfandel wine
  • 1 (20 oz) can chunk pineapple
  • 1 (20 oz) can cherry pie filling
 *I like to add 5 or 6 additional prunes since there never enough in the bag.

Place cut up dried fruit in a 2 QT casserole dish; pour enough wine over the fruit to just cover it. Refrigerate the fruit for several hours or overnight.

I leave mine in the fridge overnight. The fruit plumps up really nice from the wine. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

I don't think there is any other time of year when I use canned products as much as on Thanksgiving. There is so much to do, the convenience is so welcome.

Pour the can of pineapple (with juice) over the fruit; spread the cherry pie filling over the pineapple. Cover and bake for 45-60 minutes.

Be careful! This is lava hot when it comes out of the oven. Just stir it up and let it sit for a few minutes before digging in.

My favorite is to have it with leftovers the next day.

It's especially good on Dutch Pancakes.

So, what other convenience foods helped me out on Thanksgiving?

Good old Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. Everyone loves these.

How about you? Was everything from scratch, or did you open a can and/or a tube?

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Egg in the Hole

I thought I was being so clever the first time I made this. Use a biscuit cutter to cut a perfect circle in a slice of bread and then fry an egg in it. Ha--as it turns out, people have been doing this forever. Of course, it's called different things, depending on what area of the world you're in. Egg in the Hole, Toad in the Hole---I don't know what else. It's so simple, I actually felt a little weird about posting it, until I saw that The Pioneer Woman posted it and had over 1400 comments. People like stuff like this. Reminds them of their youth, I think.

Today, I had some eggs to try. As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I received coupons for some free Land O Lakes® Eggs. With the holidays at hand, those coupons came at a great time.

First, I had to find the eggs. They looked a little fancy to me, what with the packaging and the Omega 3 claims, so I was looking at the high-end grocery stores at first. As it happens, I found them at my usual grocery store. I would have known this if I had used their store locator. Duh.

Of course, I knew that Land O Lakes® had a quality product. I use their butter all of the time and I love it, not only for the superior flavor, but for the packaging. Each butter quarter is wrapped in a flavor sealed wrapper, so the butter doesn't absorb all of those other smells in your fridge. Really, who wants onion flavored butter? The egg packaging was interesting--the plastic outer cover (and inner cover) certainly protected the eggs, but I wondered about all of the plastic on a "natural" product. No worries, however. Land O Lakes® is all over it ---beginning in January 2012, all Land O Lakes® eggs will be packaged in a new pulp carton made from 100% recycled material.

The Omega 3 claim confused me at first, but it simply means that the hens are fed a natural, vegetarian diet that includes flax seed. This means that these eggs have an additional 160 mg of ALA omega-3 fatty acids per egg. You can read all about it on the Land O Lakes® website.  You can also choose to buy the eggs in the Natural, Cage Free, or Organic varieties.

Back to our recipe: 

I chose a Tuscan bread...just make sure your slices are big enough for your biscuit cutter.

Put plenty of butter in your skillet. You want the bread to absorb it and get nice and toasty brown. Don't forget to fry your "circles". They make good dippers.

Oops. I fried the first two a little too long. The yolks weren't runny enough. I gave these to my husband. :)

Much better. I love me a runny yolk.

Disclaimer: While I was given free product in order to make a review, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Apple-Praline Pie

Every year about this time my husband starts talking about what kind of food pie we're having for Thanksgiving. The thing is, there really is no discussion. There will be a pumpkin pie because....well, just because. Who doesn't have pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving? And, this year we will have a cherry pie, because it is his favorite pie (and I'm just that kind of wife). My daughter's favorite is the Chocolate Angel Pie, so I may have to make one of those, too. I have many favorite pies, but I think that a fresh, homemade apple pie might just be my ultimate favorite. The thing is, there will only be five of us this year. Four pies would be pushing the boundaries just a bit, no? We don't want gluttony. Actually, while I can handle a bit of gluttony, what I don't want is waste. So, I made my apple pie a week early and I shared it with my co-workers. I may be re-thinking that cherry pie.

My mother-in-law is famous for her apple pies. In fact, until now, I didn't dare try to make one...why compete with perfection? Unfortunately, her pie making days are over--she is officially retired from the kitchen. Rather than try to replicate one of her pies, I thought I'd make one of my own. So, I searched around and found the best of several different kinds of pie. This is what I came up with:

Apple Praline Pie
Printable Recipe

Pastry for a two-crust 9” pie*
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cardamom
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6-7 cups peeled and thinly sliced tart baking apples (I used a mixture of Granny Smith, McIntosh, and Honey Crisp)
3 tablespoons butter, cut up
¼ cup butter
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 425 ° F.

Fit one piecrust into a 9-inch deep pie plate.

Stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the apples, and then stir the apples into the cinnamon/sugar mixture; spoon mixture into crust and dot with butter. Top with remaining piecrust; fold edges under, and crimp. Cut several slits in top.

Bake pie at 425 ° F for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 375 ° F and continue to bake for another 35-45 minutes, shielding with aluminum foil, if needed, to prevent excessive browning. Remove from oven.

Melt ¼ cup butter in a small saucepan; stir in brown sugar and pecans. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly; cook 1 minute, and remove from heat. Stir in cream and vanilla. Slowly, pour mixture over pie; bake for an additional 3- 5 minutes or until topping is bubbling.

*I was on a mission to find the perfect pie crust this year. I had heard from a reliable source that replacing the liquid with vodka was the way to go (thank you Danny Klecko). I googled and found a recipe from Cook's Illustrated that worked perfectly.

I actually found cake flavored vodka...I did use it, but next time I'll just use regular vodka. I couldn't really taste the cake flavor in the finished crust, but sometimes less is more when it comes to flavors.

A friend had given me one of those extra-deep ceramic pie plates. I ended up using 10 large apples and increasing the brown sugar to 1 cup. This was one heavy pie.

 While nothing will compare to my mother-in-law's legendary pie, to me this recipe was a success. Did it pass her critical palate? The verdict is still out on that one. The piece I left for her was completely devoured...except for the pecans, which she carefully picked off. I'm beginning to understand why I have a 15 pound Chihuahua.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ultimate Tuna Casserole...Hot Dish at its finest.

Here's just a quick post for a quick recipe. I live in the land of 10,000 casseroles lakes, and it is beautiful. Winter can be harsh, however, so when the weather starts to cool, Minnesota starts to smell like comfort food. Casseroles are called "Hot Dish" here. Trying to spiff them up by adding truffle oil and calling it "Haute Dish" doesn't really work for me. It is what it is....simple, comforting food. The varieties are endless, but most of these hot dishes are filled with carbs, a bit of protein, and a creamy sauce to bind it all together. And they are always topped with something good and crunchy....crushed potato chips (Old Dutch, please), buttered bread crumbs, Tater Tots, and (my favorite) canned French-fried onions.

This recipe came from my sister. For years, I wouldn't even try it. Tuna Casserole? It sounds like school cafeteria food. I was the fool, however, for this is truly a hot, bubbling, dish of comfort food...and it's topped with lots of crunchy canned French-fried onions. Yum.

Ultimate Tuna Casserole
Printable Recipe

  • 1 (7 oz) package macaroni, cooked per package directions
  • 1 can (10.5 oz) cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 (7.06 oz) pouch albacore tuna in water
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 (9 oz) package creamed spinach, or 1 (12 0z) package spinach soufflé, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups french-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.

Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

In large bowl, combine macaroni, soup, sour cream, tuna and milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon half of macaroni mixture into casserole dish. Spread with creamed spinach, and then top with remaining macaroni.

Cover and bake for 55 minutes or until casserole is bubbling.

Take from oven, remove cover, and top with French-fried onions. Bake for an additional 5 minutes.

If I don't have a package of creamed spinach, I make my own. Remember to set aside extra onions--if you reheat any leftovers, put some fresh onions on the top.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

"The Elvis"

It was a little frustrating for me getting pictures of these cupcakes. Anymore, it is dark when I leave for work, and it is dark when I come home. Of course, I made them after the sun had gone down, so I didn't even attempt a picture until I brought them to work. At work, we have cubicles. And fluorescent lighting. I thought maybe I could get at least one good shot in, so I stuffed my frosting splattered camera in my purse, and I threw a white plate in my lunch bag. Pretty sure my co-workers think I'm weird...but no one said anything. They ate cupcakes for breakfast....

The lighting was a better than at home, but the setting was iffy.

Check out the highlighter in the background.

Finally, I took a couple shots the next day, before I went to work. It was just starting to get light out. Oh well, the cupcakes themselves turned out pretty yummy, so I'll give you the recipe. Next time, I'll get some prettier liners and sprinkle some peanuts over the top. 

Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

1 ½ very ripe bananas, mashed
½ cup sour cream
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt


8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line 2 (12 cup) muffin pans with paper liners.

Combine the mashed bananas and the sour cream in a small bowl; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Stir in the vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the banana/sour cream mixture. Scoop the batter (I use a cookie scoop) into the prepared liners.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool completely before frosting

For frosting, beat the cream cheese, butter and peanut butter together in a large bowl. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar. Add milk and beat to desired consistency.

It only looks a little dry because I had them in the fridge.  The banana turned a little dark, too...looks like chocolate. They were still good...just let them sit out a little if you refrigerate them.

The cake flour makes these a little lighter, but they are still reminiscent of banana bread. If you like banana bread you will like these. If you like peanut butter, you will like these. If you like bananas with peanut butter, you will love these!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Homemade Tomato Sauce

One of my earliest memories is of my mother putting tomatoes through a food mill. Of course, I had no idea what she was doing with them. The outcome was always tomato soup with little meatballs. Oddly, I hated tomato soup when I was a child. I also hated "noodles". Surprised? What kid hates noodles, right? I blame the nuns. One force-fed lunch and it took most of my life to come to terms with any kind of noodle. To this day, I prefer the term pasta....a word which didn't exist in that Catholic school so many years ago. Which brings me to today and a bowl full of tomatoes that were quickly going south.

The tomatoes started out green. Several weeks ago, my friend/coworker, Brenda, brought in a huge bag of them that she was about to throw away. She thought maybe I would make good use of them. I toyed with the idea of fried green tomatoes. I googled and found a recipe for green tomato cake. I thought maybe a green tomato chutney might be nice. But, with all of my procrastination, the tomatoes finally turned red, and were one step away from becoming rotten. I had to work fast and I had to work with what I had on hand. The decision was made: Tomato Sauce.

Tomato Sauce 
Printable Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves crushed garlic
10-12 ripe small to medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into wedges *
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste

Place the oil and butter in a large pot over medium/high heat. When the butter is melted, reduce heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and garlic. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about 5 minutes.

Oops, I forgot to peel my tomatoes. It's ok, though. I used a food mill when the sauce was cooked.

Add the tomatoes, seasoning, bay leaves, basil, and salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium/low. Simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the wine and the tomato paste. Adjust the seasonings, if needed. Continue to simmer uncovered until desired thickness is reached, about an hour.

I was doing everything backwards. Where are the onions? The carrots?

 Let the sauce cool for a few minutes. Discard the bay leaves and process the sauce through a food mill or a blender.

* If fresh tomatoes aren't available, use (2) 28 oz cans of whole plum tomatoes.

A quick swipe through the food mill will get rid of the skin and seeds and smooth out the sauce. I was an idiot and did it twice. I started with the tomatoes and did it again at the end. Once is plenty.

There they are!

Not sure what to do with the rest of the tomato paste? Plop it down on non-stick foil by the tablespoon, freeze, then wrap each one up in plastic wrap and put them in a freezer bag. 

 Brenda also brought me some homemade noodles. Perfect for homemade sauce, don't you think?

Now, wasn't that easy? I bet you'll never go back to jarred sauce again.

This is just a basic sauce recipe. Feel free to add whatever spices you like--maybe some red pepper flakes? Or some other fresh herbs? If the tomatoes are a little sour, add a pinch or two of sugar. Don't forget, this would make a great pizza sauce, too.

As for me, I made quite the mess of my kitchen today. No time left for dessert. Luckily, the husband stopped at See's and brought me back a Pecan Pie Truffle.