Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crab Stuffed French Bread aka Crab Bread

What to do when there is leftover crab?! What to do if there is a random can of crab in the pantry?! Make "Crab Bread" mom! Thus, Crab Stuffed French Bread was dubbed "Crab Bread".

This has got to be one of the most versatile, easy and filling appetizers. It is a favorite when we are home or on vacation...for lunch, dinner with soup or just as an appetizer. If you like crab, cheese and bread, you won't be disappointed!

Stuffed French Bread aka Crab Bread
(adapted from San Francisco A La Carte)

1 loaf French bread
8 ounces cheese spread (or an 8 oz. jar of commercial cheese spread)
Mayonnaise to moisten
2 (6 ounce) cans crab meat (or abt 6-8 oz fresh cooked crab)
Chopped parsley, for the top (abt. 1/4 cup)

Cheese Spread
8 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
1 Tbsp butter, softened

Place the grated cheese and butter in a food processor. Blend until smooth.

Preheat over to 350 degrees F. Cut the loaf of French bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the bread to make a shallow trench in each half (if you like). Cover each half of the bread with cheese spread. Add the mayonnaise to the crab meat to moisten and spread over the cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Cut into serving pieces and serve.

PRINTABLE RECIPE

As you can see by the picture...I was overzealous and put the parsley on before baking! I didn't matter.


Delicious!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Central California Coast Elephant Seals

Each year we drive to the Central California Coast north of San Simeon so that we can visit the elephant seal rookery. We don't seem to tire of watching the wildlife. The elephant seals migrate to the same area every year. It serves as a rookery for them. We totally enjoy watching them challenge one another, spar, give birth and take care of their young.


Facts from Friends of the Elephant Seal: "The Northern Elephant Seal, Mirounga angustirostris , is an extraordinary marine mammal. It spends eight to ten months a year in the open ocean, diving 1000 to 5000 feet deep for periods of fifteen minutes to two hours, and migrating thousands of miles, twice a year, to its land based rookery for birthing, breeding, molting and rest. The Piedras Blancas rookery, on Highway 1 seven miles north of San Simeon on the California Central Coast, is home to about 15,000 animals."

Sea gulls are scavengers and eagerly await the birth of a seal. They are always there to dispose of the afterbirth.

These two young bulls made a lot of noise and battled until one was shoved into the water.
Further down the beach two older, more experienced bulls had their sparring match which became a little bloody.

OUCH!

It is Outdoor Wednesday!

Thank you for joining me on this snippet of "Wild Kingdom", our wildlife adventure. Outdoor Wednesday is hosted by Susan at A Southern Daydreamer. Stop by and take a look at all of the outdoor activities that are being shared!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms

With all of the cooking that has occurred during the last month it was time to sit back and take a breather! How does one do that and still eat? I learned from a friend that sometimes a meal can just be a variety of "small plates" that are not labor intensive and do not demand hours in the kitchen.

Last night was a "small plate" night. What are "small plates"? In Spain they are called Tapas and in Greece they are known as Meze. They are not really appetizers served as a first course, they are tidbits or nibbles, served on small plates.

The Greek tradition of Meze comes from ancient Greece where it was believed that no guests should be welcomed or drinks served without a little nibble.

There are two theories surrounding the history of the Tapa. Spanish history states that an ill King Alfonso the 10th took small bites of food with wine between meals. When well, he decreed that no wine be served without a small bit of food. There is also the theory that the tradition could be based upon the farmers and workers who needed to take a small bit of food so that they could work until mealtime.

Basically, mezes and tapas are small bites that are consumed with great conversation and wine!

One of the small plates that I served last night was Ina Garten's Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms! They were delicious. The Kitchen Gnome gave them two thumbs up...he said he gets tired of mushrooms stuffed with cream cheese because they burn the roof of his mouth....okay. Actually, I think he likes these because of the sausage! What guy doesn't like sausage?

The mushrooms rest in olive oil and marsala while the stuffing is prepared...yum. The stuffing is really easy to make. The mushrooms are really easy to stuff...so, why not give them a try? New Year's is coming...you do need a new recipe, don't you?

I prepared the mushrooms as part of the Barefoot Bloggers. They are a group of cooks and bakers who enjoy Ina Garten and her recipes. As a group, Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) recipes are tested and retested. On the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month the Barefoot Bloggers post about their experiences preparing the recipes selected. Stop by and take a look at "what's cookin'" and join us!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce and Dessert!

After spending so much time making the tamales, I knew that we needed to have a special meal when they were served. What could be better than a Mexican meal!

The Kitchen Gnome made his famous Guacamole. It is so tasty. He always gets it just right...and no, sadly, he hasn't written down his recipe! The evening meal was wonderful. The family was all together for the first time in two years. I smile inside thinking about the great time we had preparing the menu and the food! My son-in-law helped prepare the enchiladas and made the mousse, and my daughter helped with the cookies. The menu included:

Guacamole with Chips
Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce
Pork with Red Chili Sauce Tamales
Chicken with Green Chili Sauce Tamales
Red Rice
Pot Beans
Mexican Chocolate Mousse with Burnt Rum
Hazelnut Cinnamon Crescents

The enchilada recipe is my basic recipe. I normally make them with a green sauce...a way to use leftover turkey! This night, however, red sauce was on the menu. The Kitchen Gnome always raves about these enchiladas, so, it is a keeper recipe for me.

Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce

6 chicken breasts or combination of breasts and thighs, cooked and shredded
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 bunch green onions, sliced (reserve some for garnish)
1 lb Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated (reserve a little for the topping)
1 16 oz. carton sour cream
12 corn tortillas

Enchilada Sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup flour
4 10 oz. cans red chili enchilada sauce (not hot)
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp cumin
2 tsp chicken stock base (Spice Islands)

Combine chicken , chilies, green onions, 1 lb jack cheese. Moisten with enough sour cream to bind. Reserve remaining sour cream to top enchiladas when serving.

Enchilada Sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy fry pan. Stir in the flour and cook, stiffing, over very low heat for 3-4 minutes. Do not allow the flour to burn. Remove from heat, cool a minute or two. Stir in the enchilada sauce and the chicken broth.

Return the pan to the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer while stirring with a ire whisk. Add the herbs and chicken stock base and let simmer over very low hear for 10minutes, stirring often. If the sauce seems thin, continue simmering a few minutes longer. Set aside, covered.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the tortillas on a baking sheet and lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil Bake until just warm through and softened, about 3 minutes. Use a paper towel to dab off any extra oil. Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Smear about 3/4 to 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the 9 X 13 baking dish. (I use the inside of the baking dish as my base for the messy work of filling the tortillas.)

One at a time, dip tortillas into pan of red sauce. Lay the tortilla in the baking dish and place some of the filling mixture in the center of the tortilla and roll it up securely. Place the rolled tortilla seam side down in the oven proof baking dish. The tortillas should be about 3/4 inch apart and not packed tightly.

Just before baking, reheat the remaining enchilada sauce and pour it evenly over the top of the enchiladas. Sprinkle lightly with the reserved jack cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is sizzling around the edges of the pan. Before serving, top each enchilada with a large dab of sour cream and sprinkle with green onions.

Tips: The sauce may be made 5-7 days in advance and refrigerated or frozen. The tortillas may be filled up to 24 hours in advance, covered and refrigerated. reheat the sauce and pour over the enchiladas, that have been brought to room temperature, just before baking. (Cooked enchiladas do not freeze well.)

PRINTABLE RECIPE


If you like Mexican food, you will love these enchiladas, tamales, rice, beans and dessert...oh, speaking of dessert...
You can get the recipe for the Mexican Chocolate Mousse with Burnt Rum, here. The Hazelnut Cinnamon Crescents recipe is here.
Mexican chocolate is a combination of two flavors, chocolate and cinnamon. We selected the cookies that we made because we thought they would be a good match to the chocolate. We didn't want a cookie to compete with the mousse.

As it turned out, we all decided that we weren't a fan of the chocolate and cinnamon combination. What can I say...regular chocolate mousse is my favorite!

A Walk on the River

How does one de-stress? For me, it is a walk along the river.
The sound of water...river, stream, or ocean will rejuvenate.

Today's walk was short....listen and you can hear the water...

Breathe deeply....feel the calm....

It is Outdoor Wednesday! Thank you Susan at A Southern Daydreamer for being our hostess. I am happy to share my break from the hustle and bustle this week!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tamale Party with Cranberry Margaritas!

I was first introduced to tamales by a former neighbor. Her family makes the absolute best tamales! For years, each Christmas evening our neighbors would come over with tamales and the most fabulous hot salsa. We had such a great time with them. Together we watched their boys and our daughters exchange gifts and grow into young adults. It was hard to believe that the years slipped by as they did.

As the years go by, times change. My neighbor lost her husband, we moved, all of the children went on to college, one son went to the academy and became a pilot in the Air Force, one daughter got married and moved...oh, times do change and much too quickly. My youngest daughter said, "Mom, we don't have tamales anymore." Come to think of it, we hadn't had tamales in a long time...guess I was going to have to learn how to do it.

Since most tamale making is a family affair along with festivities, I knew this was not a task to take on by myself. I asked my friends if anybody, who had made tamales, would teach me. Two gals made them with their family and yes, they were interested in getting together to make tamales. An "all call" went out and soon had a group of seven!

Angie directed the preparation. She used an old family recipe that she has modified over the years.

Three of us were to each get a pork shoulder or pork butt roast that weighed about 10 pounds. She said that we needed the fat so we were not to get a leaner cut of meat. She also said if there was a lot of fat to think in terms of what the yield would be with bone out and meat cleaned. I ended up with two roasts with bone weighing about 11 1/2 pounds total. I was to have the meat cooked and cleaned when we came together.

Two gals were to get chickens and do the same. Cook and clean them.
The two experts made the chili sauce! One made red and one made green. The red chili was used with the pork. Green chili was used with the chicken and some of the pork.

The Kitchen Gnome got to help. His job was to clean the pork that I had cooked, soak the corn husks, remove any silk that remained and keep the husks damp until we needed them. (Bless him.)

Festivities! We also needed libation-type festivities...a celebration of friends coming together to create something wonderful! We decided that the Cranberry Margarita recipe in the December Sunset Magazine was perfect. Let the wild rumpus begin!!

Pork Tamales

Preparing the Meat
:
(This should be done a day or two before assembling the tamales.)

10 lb. (w/bone app. 15 lb.) pork shoulder or pork butt roast
2-3 tsp cumin
1 bulb of garlic
1 large onion quartered
1-2 quarts chicken broth (I used a combination of vegetable broth and chicken broth)

Place the roast in a crock pot. Cover the meat entirely with broth (use whatever amount you need to cover the meat). Add the onion, all cloves from a bulb of garlic, a quartered large onion and cumin. I cooked the meat overnight and into mid morning. The meat should fall apart (shred) easily.

When the meat is cooked remove it from the crock pot, keeping all juices. Clean the fat from the meat. Shred the meat and place in a large bowl.

The juice will be used to make the meat moist and the masa flavorful. Pour the juice through a sieve into a large bowl and place it in the refrigerator. Remove the fat solid that forms on the top before using the juices.

Red Chili:
2 8 oz. bags of dried chiles (1 New Mexico, 1 California)
1 onion quartered
4-6 garlic cloves
Dash cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
Sea salt or Kosher salt

Fill a large pot 2/3 full with water. Place the chiles in the pot, add a quartered onion, fresh garlic and bring to a boil. Simmer for app. 20 minutes until they are soft. Let the chiles cool down in the pot for 1/2 hour.

Take 8-10 chiles out at a time, remove stems (some seeds can be removed also if you want it to be more mild). Place them in a blender with about 1/4 cup of chili water (if it is bitter use broth or hot water instead). Add the onion and garlic from the pot; then add the cumin, oregano and salt. The spices are added to each batch that you blend. Blend for about a minute. Strain each batch of chili to remove seeds and skin. Using a large sieve and spoon work all the sauce through and dispose of the seeds and skin each time before straining the next batch. Taste test it, you may want to add a little minced garlic or it may taste a little bitter and need the addition of some of the broth instead of chili juice. Continue this process with all of the chiles. If the chili is too thick add some meat broth and stir well.

Just before assembling the tamales, place the meat in a large bowl, add the chili sauce little by little alternating with 1/2 to 1 cup of the meat broth, stir well. The meat mixture should be very moist, but not runny.

Corn Husks:
3 8 oz bags of dried corn husks

Soak in warm water for 1-2 hours. Clean, remove silk, and place in a large bowl (wide cut end facing down). Cover with a moist towel.

Masa:
10 lbs prepared masa
2 1/2 to 3 cups meat broth (These are the juices from the roast.)
2 tsp baking powder (optional)
1 tsp sea salt

If the masa is cold, place the prepared masa in an extra large container (a disposable aluminum turkey roaster works great!) and cover with a paper towel. Let it sit out for 2-3 hours to get to room temperature before assembling tamales.

When the masa is at room temperature, add 1 cup of the meat broth to the masa, add the baking powder and salt, using your hands work all the ingredients in well. Continue adding the broth for moisture and flavor. Taste test for salt. Avoid making it slushy, the masa needs to be spreadable.

Assembling the Tamales:

Prepared corn husks
Whole Olives
Deli wrap paper (optional)
Large container to hold wrapped tamales

Set up all ingredients for easy access, an assembly line.
Corn husks, masa, meat, olives, deli paper wrap, container to hold completed tamales.

Place the smooth side of the corn husk facing up on an old kitchen towel. Have several damp paper towels at your disposal for wiping fingertips when necessary. If the husk is wet, pat it dry with a towel. Scoop approximately a tablespoon of the masa and place it in the middle of the corn husk on the smooth side. Spread the masa to the cut edge and one side completely, leaving the other edge without masa.

Add meat, olive and fold. Fold the side edge with the masa over the meat and olive. Fold the opposite side over. The bottom, narrow part, is folded last. Fold it upward. Wrap the tamale in deli paper (optional). Set completed tamales in a large pot or rectangular container until ready to cook or put in freezer bags to be refrigerated or frozen. Tamales can be frozen and cooked at a later time if desired. If not frozen, they should be cooked with two days.

Cooking Time:
Steam approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Medium-low heat
Large pot suitable for steaming
Water

Add 1 inch of water to a large pot. Place tamales on a metal steamer (tamales should not touch the water) inside the pot, putting the larger ones at the bottom. Cook them on medium low. Keep an eye on the water level. Additional water should be added as needed.

Check them for readiness by removing one from the pot. It needs to cool for 5 minutes. If the husk can be removed easily and the masa is not sticky, it is done. If the masa is sticky, return it to the pot and let the tamales cook for another 20 minutes. Keep checking them regularly.

Smaller tamales will cook more quickly and should be removed sooner from the pot. Uncooked tamales can be kept in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Tamales that are cooked and refrigerated are good for up to six days.

PRINTABLE RECIPE

We sampled just a few the day after we assembled the tamales. They were delicious. Some tamales can have a flat blah taste but the masa and meat in these was quite tasty!! More to come...Mexican cuisine tonight!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Village Tour

Would you like to go to the village today? I hear there is going to be a reading. We could get some spices for baking and walk through the park. We could tour the houses and listen to the story. There is going to be a reading today. Mr. Dickens, himself, is going to be there. It will be such fun. Come, let's go to the village.

I hear music. It's a dance and here they come a wassailing too!

Oh listen, more music!

Lucky folks, the roof is being thatched, and, here comes the delivery wagon with presents.
Look! That family is going for a sleigh ride!

Dinner is being served inside that beautiful house and there are cardinals on the bird bath! Brrrr.

Let's get some apples and make a pie.

They are advertising the reading. It is today! Let's find out where.

I see Mr. Dickens! Let's listen to the story!
I hear it is very good.

We should say good-bye to Tiny Time before we leave.

Facts about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

On December 19, 1843 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was first published. The story was instantly a success and within one week over six thousand copies had been sold! Dickens had been suffering financially and had written the book in six weeks to pay off a debt.

A Christmas Carol is a Victorian morality tale of an old and bitter miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was never able to recover from the loss of his sister and from that day forward held anything other than money in contempt, including friendship, love, and the Christmas season. Scrooge's experiences one Christmas Eve prompted him to change his ways in hope of influencing "shadows of what may be."

Thomas Hood, a poet of the time, responded to the publication by saying, "If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease." For over a century A Christmas Carol has been a story that opens the heart and soul of those who experience the masterpiece.

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." (Ebenezer Scrooge)

"God bless us everyone!" said Tiny Tim the last of all.




Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies and National Chocolate Covered Anything Day!

About mid-November I was motivated by Barbara at Moveable Feasts and Martha Stewart in her Cookie Magazine, when I saw their Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies! Barbara was much more exciting to read than Martha. I laughed when she said that she licked the peppermints to make them stick together so she could build a tower of peppermints for her picture. Hadn't thought of doing that but it worked; she got some cute pictures! I suspect Martha had a helper get her picture ready so she doesn't know if they were licked or glued!

I have made the these cookies twice once in November because, as I said, I was motivated and just this week. Early Christmas? Start eating early? See how many calories I can eat between Veteran's week end and Christmas? Very bad idea but so satisfying! Fortunately, the cookies are very rich and I could only eat one! One here....one there....give them to neighbors, take them to work, get them out of the house!!

The cookies are like Girl Scout Thin Mints...you know how yummy those are...wrap it in white chocolate and wow! Add peppermint to the top and you have really got a winning combination!

Peppermint or coconut will draw me to any dessert. This one doesn't have coconut..it is all about the peppermint and of course, the chocolate, white chocolate! Bring on the white chocolate!

I am posting this for National Chocolate Covered Anything Day! hosted by Marsha at Marsha's Kitchen. Check out all of the goodies!

Barbara adapted Martha's recipe and I have made some also. Below is the recipe with my adaptations.


Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies
(adapted from marthastewart.com)

Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup flour, plus additional for rolling
1/2 cup sweetened cocoa (unsweetened can be used)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 tsp pure peppermint extract

15 mini candy canes
2 pounds Almond Bark

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Reduce to medium-low. Add egg, then yolk, beating well after each. Beat in peppermint extract. Slowly add flour mixture until mixed and dough comes together. Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Minimum 1 hour or maximum 2 days. (The dough will be "wet" and sticky.)

Roll out 1 disk on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut out the cookies. Place them 1 inch a part on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze cookies until firm, about 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining disk.

Bake until cookies are dry to the touch, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer parchment, with cookies to racks and let cool. (Undecorated cookies may be kept for up to 3 days, covered.)

Crush candy in a resealable bag. Place the chocolate in a shallow bowl and microwave for 1 minute. Check to see if it is melted completely. If it is not, microwave and check in 15 second increments.

Place a cookie in the melted candy, turning it with a fork. Let the excess chocolate drip off and place the cookie on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle the top with crushed candy. Refrigerate until set. Decorated cookies are best served the same day.

PRINTABLE RECIPE

There aren't very many cookie recipes that I am drawn to twice in a season! These are in my gift boxes!

In addition to celebrating National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, I am celebrating my blogaversary! This is my 100th post! I never dreamed that I would be able to get to 100. One day I looked up and I was on 99... and amazed. I have totally enjoyed this adventure. I have made some wonderful cyber-friends, too many to list, but you know who you are and thank you for following along and supporting my efforts!

I have been inspired by and have been in awe of some of the most creative individuals and wonderful cooks out there! I continue to learn everyday as I strive to exercise that creative part of my brain that sometimes seems forever beyond my reach...I will never get to the same creative level as those who inspire me but that is okay, God gave me different gifts!

I have learned so much from my mentor, Cathy. I must mention her and her blog, Wives with Knives. She has been so very supportive from the start. She has encouraged me during the last eight months and sent me tips now and again which I have greatly appreciated! Thank you, Cathy, for helping me along the way.

Again, thanks to all of you who have inspired me, encouraged me, prompted me, and supported me by being there, following along, and leaving a word or two so I know somebody is out there!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Mulled Pear Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

Mulled pears? I have been known to enjoy mulled wine, but pears, never! It sounded like something we would enjoy. It could be that special dish for a meal. You know, the one that is more complicated than the others on the menu or the one that is different and special because you are desperate to find a new recipe for pears that didn't involve fruit salad or dessert! Yep, that's it. Pears that are not in fruit salad and not upside down in a cake or on top in a beautiful tart...there comes a time when calories make a difference!

We have been getting an abundance of pears in our produce box and that is what led me in search of something different. I found a recipe in the magazine, Delicious. I was not disappointed in the selection. I really like Blue Cheese and the combination of ingredients was appealing to me....baby greens, pears, wine, nuts, blue cheese. Yum!


Mulled Pear Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
(adapted from Delicious Magazine)

Serves 6

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 cup walnut oil
2/3 cup creme fraiche
7 oz Gorgonzola cheese
4 cups baby salad greens (mesclun)
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Mulled Pears
6 small pears (not overly ripe), quartered, cored
1 1/4 cup fruity wine, such as Merlot
1 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves

Place pears (snugly) in a pan. Pour wine, sugar, vanilla, spices and water over the pears. Cover the surface with a sheet of parchment. Bring to a simmer over medium-high hear, then cook for 10-15 minutes until tender.

Remove pears from liquid and set aside. Simmer liquid until reduced by half.

Pour the liquid over the pears and allow them to steep until ready to be served (Pears may be prepared up to 24 hours in advance).

Whisk vinegar, oil and 2-3 Tbsp wine mixture in a bowl. Season, then set the vinaigrette aside.

For Gorgonzola dressing, warm the creme fraiche and half the Gorgonzola in a small pan over low hear for 2-3 minutes, stirring until smooth.

Toss leaves and walnuts with vinaigrette, then divide among plates. Top with pears, crumble remaining blue cheese over the top. Serve with warm blue cheese dressing in small individual containers to pour at the table.

PRINTABLE RECIPE

The combination of flavors in this salad is wonderful. It is a recipe I wouldn't want to misplace!