Monday, October 25, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

The Bacon Games, that is!

The first month's announcement has been posted over at The Bacon Games - stop by, check it out, and spread the word!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Caramel Croissant Pudding

Normally when I have my parents come to visit, I make very detailed plans for the meals we will consume during their stay. This time, I went the other direction and tried to leave things a little more loosely planned, with suggestions instead of recipes. I laid out certain cuts of meat for the main courses, and then improvised side dishes from there.
NORMALLY, this would drive me crazy.

However, what this approach did for me was make room to add new dishes, which came in very handy when my new Thanksgiving issue of Food and Wine magazine arrived on Saturday.

See, I have a thing for bread pudding. Any kind of bread pudding. Throw caramel into the mix, and I am a goner.

See what Food and Wine did to me this month? CARAMEL CROISSANT PUDDING. Yes, they are evil. And yes, you guessed it, I went straight out in search of croissants for this pudding, which we had for dessert on Sunday night. And Monday. With vanilla ice cream on top.
This dessert was extremely easy, but what I liked best about it was the size. It is made in a ONE QUART baking dish. No 9x13 pan here. This dessert is the perfect size for a family of four, for ONE meal. And it is ideal if you just happen to have a couple of croissants leftover (which, I didn’t, but you get my point). Small ingredients, small portions, big flavor.

We all enjoyed this dish, and I’m officially putting it into the desserts rotation!

Caramel-Croissant Pudding

2 stale all-butter croissants, coarsely torn
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 large eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly butter a 1-quart shallow baking dish and arrange the croissant pieces in the dish. In a small saucepan, stir the sugar and water over moderately high heat until the sugar dissolves; wash down any crystals on the sides with a wet pastry brush. Cook without stirring until a medium amber caramel forms, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, milk and bourbon. Cook over low heat just until any hardened caramel dissolves.

2. In a bowl, whisk the eggs. Gradually whisk in the hot caramel. Pour over the croissants and let stand for 10 minutes, pressing the croissants to keep them submerged.

3. Bake the pudding in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until puffed and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes, then serve.

Punkin Chunkin’!!

Have you ever heard of Punkin Chunkin’? If you have, you can officially consider yourself a redneck at heart. Usually, when people come visit me for the first time, I try to find a good, old fashioned tractor pull to take them to, just so they can say they truly experienced life in “the country”. Well, my dear friends, I have discovered a new redneck game. It is called, as you may have guessed, Punkin Chunkin’.

What is Punkin Chunkin’? You may ask....

Well, basically, this is a bunch of good-ol-boys, holing up in their machine sheds under the guise of night, designing, building, and fine tuning their own personal version of a potato gun. A canon, if you will. Only...much bigger. And more powerful. I imagine Tim “the tool man” Taylor having these in his garage....with the end sticking out a hole in the roof....and lots of male-ego-grunting going on with his buddies....and the faint sound of an ambulance siren in the distance, growing closer and closer....
Notice the name of this says a lot...
THIS, dear readers, is a Pumpkin Cannon.

After witnessing the Punkin Chunkin’ contest at the Pumpkin Festival in Girard, Illinois this weekend, I think we should seriously consider sending a contingent of our country punkin chunkers in search of Bin Laden. For real. They scare me.
If you look REALLY closely, you can see the pumpkin shooting out of the cannon
These bad boys have propane tanks for air compressors (and no, I’m not talking about the little ones you attach to your grill), a huge barrel, and a whole lotta power. From what I hear, the world record for shooting a pumpkin is in the neighborhood of 5000 feet. Yes, I said five THOUSAND feet. The winners at this weekend’s festival (our very own Punkin Chunkers from Carlinville, IL!) shot right around 3300 feet. They use spotters in the field with GPS systems to measure distance, and after the distance shooting competition, they lowered the cannons and did a little target practice at a mini van, a camper, and a station wagon. We can safely say those vehicles were totaled. A chunked punkin really packs a punch!

Ty had so much fun watching the chunkers with his grandpa (did I mention my parents were in town this weekend?) that we practically had to drag him away.
Lucky for us, the local chunkers from my town made a special appearance at our own Pumpkin Festival the next day, just for fun and at lower power levels, and treated the youngins to a very special day when they announced that the kids could all take a turn firing the cannon. 
Getting set up to fire the cannon
Ready, Aim, FIRE!!!
My Little Man got extra special treatment and got to fire it twice (with Grandpa’s help, of course). He was in Little Boy heaven.

I’ve got to say, these guys are pretty impressive. They may need a little psychological help, but then again, it may just be a case of  “boys will be boys”. In any case, if you ever have the opportunity to see one of these exhibitions, I highly recommend it for an unusually good time.
Our annual picture of Ty at the Pumpkin Festival

Monday, October 4, 2010

I Heart Cooking Clubs – Benvenuto, Giada!

I can’t tell you how happy I was when Giada was voted in for the next six month term for I Heart Cooking Clubs. I was torn between her and Lidia Bastianich, as I love them both, but I already have all of Giada’s books so I was pleased that I wouldn’t have to buy any new ones. (Not that I ever HAVE to buy new books for each chef, but come on... you know I have to.)

The first weekly theme for our visit with Giada is “Benvenuto! Party Foods!” and that one is a winner for me. I have a long, on-going love affair with Italian food, and I love throwing Italian themed dinners. When I think of party food, or an Italian celebration of any kind, the very first thing I think of is, “What can I put on the antipasto tray?”

Well, that...and, of course, a cocktail of some kind.

I’m very familiar with some of Giada’s appetizers, and they are all so simple to throw together, I couldn’t resist making a whole tray. (Aren’t my co-workers lucky?)

One of my absolute favorites is Crostini with Gorgonzola and Honey. Then I moved on to Salami Crisps with Sour Cream and Basil. After that, it was a no brainer to land on Citrus Spiced Mixed Olives.

This combination goes together fantastically since two of the items go in the oven at similar temperatures, with a step or two that can be done in advance (toasting the baguette slices and the walnuts), and the olives you just throw together on the stove top while the others are in the oven.

Top that off with a bubbly cocktail (my usual is Prosecco, but since I have a bottle of Limoncello in the liquor cabinet, I couldn’t resist breaking that out instead. Giada’s recipe calls for making your own lime-based Limoncello, but for the sake of simplicity, I just used store bought.) and you have a gorgeous Italian Welcome party waiting to happen. Invite a few people over to share and this is a no-miss party menu.

This is my submission for our first Giada theme for I Heart Cooking Clubs!

Benvenuto al nostro randello, Giada! I can’t wait to celebrate all the fall and winter holidays with Giada’s recipes.

Crostini with Gorgonzola, Honey and Walnuts
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 24 1/3-inch-thick diagonal slices baguette
• 6 ounces creamy gorgonzola cheese , coarsely crumbled
• 2/3 cup walnuts , toasted, coarsely chopped
• 1 ripe fig , thinly sliced crosswise (optional)
• 3 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 375°. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Lightly brush the baguette slices with oil. Toast in the oven until the baguette slices are golden, about 8 minutes. (You can toast the baguette slices 1 day ahead. Cool, then store them at room temperature in an airtight container.)

Toss the gorgonzola with walnuts in a small bowl. Spoon the cheese mixture onto the baguette slices and press slightly to adhere. Return the baking sheet to the over and bake until the cheese melts, about 8 minutes.

Arrange the crostini on a platter. Top each with a slice of fig, if desired. Drizzle with honey and serve warm.

• 24 (1/8-inch to 1/4-inch) slices Italian dry Genoa salami (about 4 ounces)
• 1/3 cup sour cream
• 3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with aluminum foil. Arrange the salami in a single layer over the baking sheets. Bake until the salami slices are amber brown, watching closely to ensure they brown evenly, about 15 minutes. Transfer the salami crisps to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil. Set aside to cool.

Spoon a dollop of sour cream on top of each salami crisp. Sprinkle the basil over and serve

• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
• 1 large sprig fresh rosemary, 2 bay leaves, or both
• Zest of 1 orange, peeled in long strips with a vegetable peeler
• Zest of 1 lemon, peeled in long strips with a vegetable peeler
• 12 ounces mixed olives, such as kalamata, nicoise, or cerignola, drained
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil, garlic, red pepper, herbs, and citrus zests in a medium skillet. Heat over medium-high heat, swirling the pan until the mixture is fragrant, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the olives, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is golden and the zest begins to curl, about 5 minutes more. Discard and remove bay leaves, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Glossy, plump, and gorgeous, our Citrus-Spiced Mixed Olives are primo party starters. Toss 'em together, then leave them out while you mingle with your guests.

• 2 pounds limes (about 10 large)
• 1 (750-ml) bottle 100-proof vodka
• 2 1/2 cups sugar
• 2 1/2 cups water

• Ice cubes
• 1 cup fresh mint leaves
• 1 cup club soda

To make limoncello: Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the limes in long strips (reserve the limes for another use). Place the lime peels in a 1-quart jar. Pour the vodka over the peels and screw on the lid. Steep the lime peels in the vodka for 1 week at room temperature.

Stir the sugar and water in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool completely, then stir in the vodka mixture. Strain the liquids into bottles, pressing on the peels to extract as much liquid as possible. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours and up to 1 month.

To make spritzers: Fill 4 tall glasses halfway with ice. Add the mint leaves. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, coarsely crush the mint leaves into the ice. Pour some limoncello over, and stir to blend. Add a splash of club soda and serve.