Alton’s Ginger Ale Glazed Carrots

How many of you are fans of Alton Brown? I know his show, Good Eats, was corny, but it was also very educational. I like knowing the background of a recipe. And I really like knowing why – why put the salt into the bowl before the sugar. The Why factor is an extremely important component in the creation process. It brings a clarity and depth of understanding. It breaths life into everything.

While I don’t embrace everything that Alton Brown creates, he has some real winners in my book. One of the things we do while blogging is to create beautiful menus or special holiday dishes or main attractions, while overlooking the rest of the table. Side dishes are just as important. And it’s in the sides that we sometimes find ourselves in a rut. Alton’s glazed carrots sparkle with ginger ale. Just wait till you taste them.

Alton’s Ginger Ale Glazed Carrots
1 lb Carrots, about 8 medium
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heavy pinch kosher salt
1 cup ginger Ale
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves

Peel and cut carrots on the bias 1/4 inch thick.

Combine the carrots, butter, salt and ginger ale in a wide saute pan over medium heat. Cover and bring to a simmer. Remove lid, stir, reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove lid, add the chili powder and increase the heat to high.

Cook, tossing occasionally, until the ginger ale is reduced to a glaze, 4 to 5 minutes.

Move to a serving dish, sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

Original Recipe: Alton Brown

National Jelly Bean Day – Hooray!

I bet you were expecting something revolving around Earth Day for today’s post. I’m sorry if I have let anyone down. I’ve decided to go with another National Day – the celebration of Jelly Beans. Besides, with a little imagination, your Jelly Bean Cupcakes can be an expression of what Earth Day means to you.

Jelly Beans are a classic candy with a soft, chewy center and a think candy coating. The flavors of these candy beans are endless. Jelly beans are thought to be a hybrid of two candies, Turkish Delights and Jordan Almonds. These two candies have been with us for hundreds of years. The Turkish Delights give us that sweet chewy candy center, while the Jordan Almonds have a simple sugar candy shell. While Jelly Beans date back even further, the first known reference to the jelly beans was during the American Civil War, when William Schrafft, a Boston confectioner, encouraged people to send jelly beans to Union Soldiers fighting in the war. With their firm exterior, jelly beans were the first candies in America to be sold by the pound. By the early 1900’s jelly beans were the most popular penny candy enjoyed by children and adults alike. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that Jelly Beans became the candy of choice for Easter. For one thing, jelly beans have that egg-like shape, and it was a candy that was affordable.

Jelly beans received a boost in popularity in the mid-1960’s when then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, expressed his love for the candy. Rumor has it that the future President used the candy to wean himself off tobacco while governing in Sacramento. One thing is certain, Ronald Reagan was known to keep his jelly beans close by throughout his Political Career and beyond.

I’ve chosen a cupcake adorned with Jelly Beans for two reasons – it allows you a great deal of creative freedom and cupcakes are perfect to take with you however you celebrate Earth Day. As for us, it’s time to prepare the yard for our annual garden.

Enjoy the day!

Sour Cream Jelly Bean Cupcakes
Cupcake Batter
1 1/2 cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 teaspoons Salt
3/4 cup Sugar
1 stick Butter, melted
2 Eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 1/2 tablespoons Jelly Beans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups. Set aside.

Crush jelly beans in blender or food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse to chop but DO NOT pulse into jelly bean dust. Set jelly beans aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Whisk and set aside.

Melt the butter. If the butter gets hot while melting, let it cool before proceeding. The butter should be melted while at room temperature when adding to the eggs. In a large mixing bowl combine melted butter with the eggs, vanilla, and sour cream until mixed.

Slowly add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, stirring to combine. Repeat with the rest of the flour mixture.

Add in the crush jelly belly’s and mix once more.

Divide the batter among the paper cups, filling the cups to a little more than 1/2 full.

Bake for 14-16 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Place cupcakes on a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Buttercream Frosting
1 stick Butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Vegetable Shortening
2 1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
dash of milk, if frosting becomes too thick
Assorted Jelly Beans, to top

In a mixing bowl, combine the room temperature butter and shortening, beating with an electric mixer until creamed, about 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Set aside.

Sift the powered sugar into a large bowl. Once sifted, begin to add in the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time, to the creamed butter mixture. Slowly beat the mixture until the powered sugar is incorporated. Continue this process, adding enough powdered sugar to make sure the frosting isn’t too wet.

Add in the vanilla and beat until just combined.

Transfer the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with desired tip. Begin to pipe the frosting onto a cupcake, starting with the outside edge and working your way into the center of the cupcake, progressively stacking the frosting as you go around in circles.

Garnish each cupcake jelly beans as desired – be it a few or an entire “picture” painted in jelly beans.

Super Easy Hot Cross Buns

Are you a great baker? Nope, me either. I can make a Chocolate Soufflé just fine, but I’m not the best when it comes to dinner rolls or breads or things that require all that kneeing and rising and well, you get the picture. While a Chocolate Soufflé is temperamental, for whatever reason I like baking a Soufflé. The thing I love most about cooking in general is that it’s okay to experiment, it’s okay to add a pinch of this and a dash of that. Baking is a science. Measurements matter. Mistakes generally don’t render a new flavored dish but rather a disaster in the oven. When baking breads, for the most part I do it using my antique bread machine (remember when they were all the rage?). I like my machine because it does all the work for me. Okay, so you still need to measure and be exact, but using a machine avoids dough that is either over worked or under risen. It just takes some of the guess work out of baking.

Using some one else’s dough is even better. The only down side here is that the Hot Cross Buns really aren’t hot. Oh well . . .

Super Easy Hot Cross Buns
1 package (8 count) refrigerated Buttermilk Biscuits
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon packed Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Golden Raisins, divided
1 Egg, lightly beaten
5 tablespoons Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoon water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan and set aside.

Gently stretch each biscuit into 4-inch circle. Mix cinnamon and brown sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon mixture and 1 tablespoon raisins over half of each biscuit. Fold over plain biscuit half onto raisin half. Fold again, pinching edges to seal. Gently shape into a ball. Repeat with remaining biscuits.

Place buns in the prepared cake pan, evenly spacing them apart. Brush bun tops with beaten egg.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove buns onto cooling rack; cool completely.

While the buns are cooling, make the glaze. Mix powdered sugar and water in small bowl. Spoon into small resealable plastic bag. Cut a small piece from one of the bottom corners of bag. Close bag tightly then pipe the shape of an X on top of each bun.

Serve and enjoy.

Easter Morning and Resurrection Cinnamon Rolls

For those who are Christian, today is a very special day. I wish you all the blessings this day brings. For those who are not, who have a different belief than mine,  I respect that. I invite you to skip over this posting.  Hopefully you will join me later with recipes more to your liking.

Those with young children probably already know about Resurrection Rolls, or Empty Tomb Rolls. It’s a great way to share the story of Easter Morning with younger children, and the visual is stunning. Be sure to have the children help in the making and baking process for the full impact. Plus, the rolls are delicious.

Some argue that these rolls lose their bang effect once children reach a certain age and the “magic” of the vanishing marshmallow is gone. I disagree. Look at all we do symbolically throughout our journey. We surround ourselves with symbolism. This is especially true for Catholics. Our churches are filled with images. The Mass is filled with symbolism and ancient rituals. The more you know, the deeper the meaning of the Mass. It is rich in tradition.

In our house Resurrection Cinnamon Rolls are a physical reminder of the empty tomb and God’s desires for His children. These yummy rolls are a reminder that today is a day of celebration and rejoicing for He is the Risen Lord.

Resurrection Cinnamon Rolls
Crescent Rolls
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 can Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls (8 count)
8 large marshmallows
1/4 cup butter, melted

Easy Glaze Topping
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-3 teaspoons of milk
1/4 cup chopped pecans

To Make The Rolls
Heat oven to 375 Degrees. Using a medium size muffin tin, spray 8 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray. Be sure to spray the top too.

In a small bowl, melt butter. In another small bowl mix sugar and cinnamon.

Lightly dust work surface with flour. Separate the crescent rolls into 8 individual triangles and lay them out on your work surface.

Dip the marshmallow completely in butter, then in sugar mixture, coating all surfaces.

Place marshmallow on crescent roll and roll up, completely covering the marshmallow. It’s important to firmly pinch to seal all edges.

Next, dip each tomb in butter, then roll in the cinnamon sugar and place in muffin tin. Repeat with remaining tombs.

Place on middle rack of oven and bake for 12-14 minutes. Be sure to place a cookie sheet or foil on the rack below to catch any possible spill from rolls.

When ready, remove from oven. Allow to cool for a minute or two. Using a butter knife or offset spatula, remove tombs and place on cooling rack covered with wax paper. Glaze the tombs, serve warm and most importantly Enjoy!

To Make the Glaze Topping
In a small bowl, mix powdered sugar, vanilla and milk until smooth. Add a little milk at a time until you get the texture you like. Drizzle over warm rolls and top with chopped pecans.

Original Recipe: Sweet Little Bluebird

What Better Way to Celebrate National Cheddar Fries Day!

Did you know that Snuffer’s Restaurant in Dallas Texas was the creator of Cheddar Cheese Fries way back in 1978? Theirs are hand-cut Idaho potato fries with layers of aged Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese. Made to order, these legendary fries come dressed with chives, bacon or spicy peppers. Since their début over 40 years ago, the concept of Cheddar Cheese Fries has sprung up everywhere. Even Taco Bell and McDonalds has gotten into the act.

We love Nachos in our house. I’m always looking for new ways to serve them up. Since today is National Cheddar Fries Day, it wasn’t much of a leap to whip up some Nacho-Style Cheese Fries. Hope you enjoy!

Nacho Taco Cheddar Cheese Fries
Taco Meat
1 tablespoon dried Onion Flakes
1/2 cup water
1 lb Ground Chuck
1/4 cup Flour
1 tablespoon Mexican Chili Powder
1 teaspoon Paprika
Salt to taste

To Make Taco Meat
Mix dried onion with water in a small bowl and let stand for five minutes.

Combine ground beef, flour, chili powder, paprika, and salt. Mix well. Add onions and water. Mix again.

In a large cast iron skillet, cook beef mixture until browned, about 15 minutes. Stir often while cooking so no large chunks form; it should be more like a paste. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Seasoned French Fries
Cooking Spray as needed
8 oz Favorite French Fries (1/2 a bag)
1 tablespoons Taco Seasoning or to taste

To Cook Fries
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Spread fries out in an even layer on the prepared pan. Spray fries with cooking spray. Lightly season fries with Taco Seasoning.

Bake in the heated oven for 20 minutes or until fries and golden crisp on the outside, warm on the inside.

Nacho Fixings
1 can Campbell’s Fiesta Nacho Cheese Soup
1 Roma Tomato
1/2 cup Sour Cream

To Assemble and Serve
Warm the soup in a microwave save bowl or on the stove-top, which ever method works best for you. Keep cheese warm until ready to assemble.

Chop the tomatoes and set aside.

Spread baked fries on a large serving platter or keep in the baking pan, which every works best.

Pour warm Nacho Cheese Soup over the fries. Scatter taco meat over the cheese, then sprinkle with chopped tomatoes. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and enjoy.

Preparing for Easter with a Vigil Tea

Today marks the 40th Day of Lent, the darkest of days, the Easter Vigil. It is the day of mourning, of dark uncertainty before the blessings of Easter Morning are revealed.

A great deal of thought went into this, my first Easter Vigil Tea. I wanted scones, tea sandwiches and some fruit. I wanted the menu to be very simple and unadorned, as it should be. None of the recipes are designed specifically for an Easter Vigil Tea, but the ingredients lent themselves nicely to the meaning of this season. I thought about sharing with you the thought process and reasons behind each recipe selection, but I’ve decided to do so would amount to my interpretation of this night. The Easter Vigil is far too personal a journey for any single interpretation. When and how God speaks to His children is a private matter of the heart.

This tea can be served during the day before attending an Easter Vigil Church Service. If your services are early enough, the tea can easily be served afterwards. It’s entirely up to you, to your customs, traditions and beliefs. Some families gather privately for the Vigil, and that’s fine, too.

As we wait for the sun to rise on Easter Morning, may your vigil bring comfort and draw the Lord even closer.

Easter Vigil Tea
Scones
Good Sheppard Rosemary and Goat Cheese Scones
Mount of Olives Savory Scones with Rosemary Butter

 

Tea Sandwich Canapés
Thirty Pieces of Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Crown of Thorns Onion Tea Sandwiches
Fishers of Men Smoked Salmon Tea Canapés

 

Beverage
Fresh Brewed Tea of Choice

Brewed black tea

Sweet Conclusion
Speared Fruit PlatterSpears of Fruit


The Scones:

Good Sheppard Rosemary and Goat Cheese Scones
1/2 cup (1 stick) Butter
2 3/4 cup Flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons Sugar
2 tablespoons fresh Rosemary
1/2 cup Goat Cheese
1 cup Whole Milk
2 tablespoons Butter

Place 1 stick of butter into the freezer to chill well for about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Set aside.

Finely mince Rosemary. Set aside.

Using a grater, shred the stick of butter over the flour mixture.

Sprinkle with fresh Rosemary.

Crumble the goat cheese over the flour mixture.

Genly stir to combine all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour milk into the center of the well.

Using a fork, slowly drag the flour mixture into the milk and combine gently. Don’t over-mix, combine enough to create a dough.

Split the scone dough in half, place on a floured surface. If making full-size scones, shape the dough halves into two disks about 2-inches thick. If making mini scones, divide each section of dough in half again before forming the disks.

Cut the disks into scones using a pizza cutter. Place the scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Bush the tops of each scone with the butter.

Place the scones in the heated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden.

Serve warm with butter.


Mount of Olives Savory Scones
Rosemary Compound Butter
1 stick (8 tablespoons) softened unsalted butter
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt

To make the Compound Butter:
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, add butter, rosemary, honey, and salt.

Process until smooth, then place in the middle of a large piece of plastic wrap.

Roll and twist the side to form a log.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or freeze for 15 minutes.

Savory Scones
1/2 cup Butter
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped or sliced pitted Olives
1 tablespoon dried Rosemary
1 1/2 cup buttermilk , plus more for brushing

To make the Savory Scones:
Place 1 stick of butter into the freezer to chill well for about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and soda, and salt.

With a grater, shred frozen butter into the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, mix butter into the flour to form small pea-sized clumps. Set aside.

Chop olives, add to the mixture. Crush dried Rosemary. Stir into the mixture.

Using a wooden spoon, stir in butter milk.

Dough will be somewhat dry and shaggy, continue to mix until dough forms a large ball.

Shape dough into a disk on cookie sheet and cut into 8 wedges separating them about 1 an inch apart from one another.

Lightly brush buttermilk over the tops of the scones.

Bake scones for 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Serve scones warm and spread with the compound butter.


Tea Sandwich Canapés

Thirty Pieces Cucumber Canapés
2 Cucumbers
15 slices thin Wheat Bread
1 tablespoon fresh Dill
8 ounces Cream Cheese
1/3 cup Mayonnaise
Garlic Powder to taste
Kosher Salt to taste
Additional Dill for garnish.

Use a fork to remove strips of peeling from the cucumber.

Slice each cucumber into 15 thin round slices. Set aside on paper towels to drain.

Cut each bread slice into 2 circles. Use a glass or round cookie cutter, making sure none of the crust is part of the circle.. You want the circles to be the same size as the cucumber rounds. If necessary, trim with a sharp knife.

Finely chop the fresh dill. Set aside.

Cream together cream cheese and mayonnaise. Add garlic powder, salt and dill.

Spread one side of each bread round with cream cheese mixture. Top with cucumber slice.

Place remaining cream cheese mixture in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe a star on each open-faced sandwich. Garnish with a little fresh dill and serve.


Crown of Thorns Onion Canapés
1 Red Onion
4 tablespoons Italian Parsley
8 slices firm-textured white bread
1/4 cup Butter, softened
Coarse salt to taste
1/4 cup Mayonnaise

Peel and thinly slice onion into rounds. Set aside.

Finely mince parsley. Place parsley on a plate and set aside.

Using a glass or a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 2 bread rounds from each bread slice; discard trimmings.

Spread one side of each bread circle with a heavy layer of butter. Place a thin layer of sliced onions over the butter. Lightly season the onions with salt. Top the sandwiches with remaining bread slices, pressing lightly to make them adhere.

Spread some mayonnaise around the outside rim of each sandwich round. Roll the rim of each sandwich in the minced chives or parsley to coat.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerator for a few hours.


Fishers of Men Smoked Salmon Canapés
1 long Baguette
2 tablespoons Butter
8 oz Cream Cheese
2 tablespoons Mayonnaise
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh Dill, finely chopped
4 oz Smoked Salmon
Additional Dill for garnish

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice bread into 1/3-inch thick slices. Place bread slices on a baking pan side-by-side. Melt butter and, using long strokes, brush the tops of the bread. Flip slices over, brush with remaining butter.

Bake bread slices until the edges are just beginning to golden, no more than 5 minutes.

Remove bread from the oven, let cool.

In a mixing bowl, place softened cream cheese and mayonnaise. Set aside.

Finely mince the dill, sprinkle over the cream cheese. Press garlic over the mixture. Blend everything together, mashing with a fork.

Spread cream cheese mixture over the top of each bread slice. Top with a piece of smoked salmon, then garnish with some fresh dill as desired.

Arrange on a serving tray and enjoy.


Sweet Conclusion

Speared Fruit Platter
1 Pint Strawberries
1 small Seedless Watermelon
1 Fresh Pineapple
8 oz Block Cheddar Cheese
4 Cuties or Small Oranges
2 Kiwi
1 bunch Green Grape
1 bunch Red Grape
1 pint Blueberries
15 Cocktail Skewers
1 bunch Mint Leaves
2 or 3 Limes
Small edible Flowers, optional

Note: The skewers should be long and narrow to pierce the fruit. When preparing the fruit for spearing, keep in mind the size of the skewers and make sure that the skewers can go through the fruit without splitting it.

Stem strawberries and cut in half. Set aside.

Cut watermelon into large disks. Cut away the rind,  cube watermelon. Set aside.

Cut pineapple into chunks. Set aside. (If you like, use fresh chunks from the produce section. This will NOT work with canned pineapple).

Cut cheddar cheese into cubes, set aside.

Peel orange and break into sections. Set aside.

Peel kiwi, cut into thick circles then slice circles in half.

Pluck grapes from their stems, set aside.

Rinse and pat dry blueberries. Set aside.

Beginning with the blueberries, then grapes, kiwi, oranges, cheese, pineapples and watermelons, thread fruit onto the cocktail skewers. End with the strawberry to resemble the point of a spear.

Arrange mint leaves on a platter. Lay spears on top of the leaves. Slice limes into wedges. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime over the fruit to brighten. Arrange remaining wedges on the platter with the spears.

If desired, tuck a few food-safe flowers around the fruit for that “spring” feeling.

Tourin à l’ail – French Garlic Soup

Folklore tells us that garlic, a member of the lily family, grew from Satan’s left footprint when he left the Garden of Eden. I wonder if the garlic was meant to keep him out. That would explain why garlic has such an effect on vampires, dark magic witches, werewolves, demons and other scary creatures that go bump in the night.

Gilroy, California in Santa Clara County is known as the Garlic Capital of the world. Will Rogers once said of Gilroy “It is the only place in American where you can marinate a steak just by hanging it out on a clothesline.” Yeah, that’s a lot of garlic! While we won’t be attending the big Garlic Festival in Gilroy until July, today is National Garlic Day. Leave it to the French to come up with a recipe so delicious for Garlic Soup

Tourin à l’ail – French Garlic Soup
1 head of Garlic, whole
1 White Onion
2 tablespoons Duck Fat or Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Flour
5 cups Chicken Stock
Sea Salt to taste
Fresh Black Pepper to taste
A few sprigs of Thyme
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves
2 Eggs (separated)
1 tablespoon Xérès Vinegar or Sherry Vinegar

Peel and slice one full head of garlic, set aside.

Peel and finely mince an onion, set aside.

In a large soup pot, melt duck fat (or olive oil) and fry the onion for 2 minutes.  Add all the garlic from one head and continue frying for 2 more minutes.  Watch the heat, and do not let the onions or garlic brown.  Sprinkle the flour over the garlic, stir to blend.

Pour the chicken stock into the soup pot.  Bring to a soft boil, season with salt and pepper, add sprigs of thyme.  Cover and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

Peel and finely slice two garlic cloves. In a small frying pan, heat 1 tablespoons olive oil and fry sliced garlic until golden and slightly crispy.  Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Purée soup using a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender.  Return soup to pot and increase heat to medium heat.

Separate eggs into two small bowls.  Beat the egg whites in their bowl until foamy, then whisk continuously into the soup.  Thin strands of white should appear in the soup.  Immediately remove pot from the heat.

Whisk egg yolks with vinegar and dilute mixture into the soup, stir constantly to avoid any curdling.

Ladle soup into bowls. Sprinkle with fried garlic and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil (optional).  Serve immediately with toasted rustic bread slices.