Congo Bars



My girlfriend Charlotte brought these to a cookie exchange.  Not only were they delicious, but I loved the story behind it: Throughout my childhood my mother made these for our family and for church and school gatherings.  For years she would send them to the soldiers in Germany. They loved them because they were sturdy bar cookies and therefore always arrived fresh and unbroken. I now make them for my grandchildren.

3/4 C butter, at room temperature
1 lb. brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 C flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 12 oz. package chocolate chips
1/2 C chopped nuts

Beat butter and sugar together.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla, dry ingredients and mix well.  Add chocolate chips and nuts.

Spread dough evenly in a  12"X18" rimmed pan and bake in a 350F oven for 30 minutes or until just lightly brown.  Cool and cut into squares.


(Image credit: Eat the Love)




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Nebraska Caramel Corn




My girlfriend Patty brought cellophane bags of candied popcorn to a cookie exchange.  From Patty: The recipe originally came from my grandmother. Growing up in Nebraska, my mother made it for me and my two sisters when we were young. When we grew up and moved away, she made it for us when she visited our homes for the holidays.  She continued to make it for herself and her friends for her last Christmas when she was 93!  She was a strong woman and definitely influenced us all.  Jack helps me make it…that caramel sauce is boiling hot and he helps pour…both of us talk about Mom when we make it.  

From me: My husband, a self-proclaimed caramel popcorn connoisseur, says this is the best.

2 C brown sugar
2 sticks butter (1/2 lb.)
1/2 C white corn syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 quarts popped corn

Combine brown sugar, butter, syrup, and salt.  Bring to boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 5 minutes without stirring.  Remove from heat, add soda and stir. In a large bowl, pour over popped corn and stir throughly to coat.  Transfer caramel corn to rimmed baking sheets.  Bake in 250 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven to cool, then break up pieces and enjoy.  Wrapped in cellophane bags and tied with a ribbon, they make pretty party favors or hostess gifts.





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Curried Cashews



Curried Cashews

My girlfriend, Rene, cut this from a magazine years ago, but doesn't remember the source.  Since she gave me the recipe, I've made it quite a few times. I love it in a pretty bowl on the drinks table before a dinner party.  It's very popular with everyone, even with people who think they don't like curry.

2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher or flake salt
2 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 C water
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. butter
2 1/2 unsalted roasted cashews (about 12 oz.)
1 C unsalted raw shelled pistachios (4 oz.)
1/2 C dried cranberries

Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 300F.  Combine the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.  Bring the water, brown sugar and butter to a boil, stirring often.  Stir in the nuts.  Cook, stirring constantly until the nuts are shiny and the liquid has evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Transfer the nuts to the spice mixture.  Add the dried cranberries; toss until well coated.  Spread the mixture out onto a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several weeks.







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Salty Chocolate Toffee



Chocolate Salty Coffee Toffee

This is an adaptation of an old Sunset recipe.

2 1/4 C sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 C coffee or water
1 1/4 C (1/2 lb. plus 1/4 C) butter (Plus 2 tsp. butter for greasing the pan.)
2 C chopped mixed almonds and pecans (raw or roasted or oven toasted)
one 12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1-2 tsp. flake salt
1/4 C finely chopped roasted nuts

Combine sugar, salt, coffee or water, and butter in a large pan; bring to a boil.  Add the nut mixture if they are raw; if they have been roasted or toasted, you will add them later.  Cook, stirring constantly until mixture reaches 300F measured with a candy thermometer.  This will take about 10 minutes or so and it will be bubbling.  Immediately remove from heat (add roasted nuts at this time).  Pour into a well-buttered jelly roll pan and spread the mixture to even out.  Sprinkle on chocolate chips and wait 5 minutes for them to soften.  When soft, spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee; immediately sprinkle with finely chopped nuts and flake salt to taste.  Set aside for a few hours to cool.  Break toffee apart with a sharp knife and store covered in a cool place.

*Making candy and using a candy thermometer is not difficult, but needs your attention.  Stir the mixture constantly and be vigilant about checking the thermometer as it needs to read exactly 300F for it to harden properly.  It's not a project to be done with children as the candy is scalding hot. 





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Gougere



Gougere

This beautiful, savory, French pastry smells heavenly while it's baking.  It is simple elegance when served as a first course with a glass of champagne, and is something your guests won't forget.  But perhaps the best thing about a Gougere, and one thing that many cooks don't realize,  it's super easy to make and can be prepared in the morning, refrigerated, and baked just before serving.  

1 C milk
1/2 C (one stick) butter
1 tsp. salt
1 C flour
5 eggs
1 tsp. prepared Dijon style mustard
1 tsp. chopped fresh herbs (optional)  I like to use tarragon and chives if I have them.
1 C grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 C grated fresh Parmesan cheese (plus an optional two tablespoons to top the puff) 

Combine milk, butter, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove pan from heat and immediately dump in all the flour.  Stir vigorously for one minute with a wooden spoon until the mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a mass in the middle.  Let rest for 5 minutes.  Put mixture in food processor, and process with steel blade adding the 5 eggs, one at a time.  Add prepared mustard and optional herbs and pulse a few times to incorporate.  Add both cheeses and pulse until just just mixed.  

On a parchment paper lined cookie sheet, and with a large spoon, plop spoonfuls down in a wreath-like shape, see below.  Sprinkle with optional 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese and a few chopped fresh herbs if desired. 

At this point you can loosely cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.  About one hour before serving, take out of the refrigerator to get to room temperature.  To bake, put in center rack of preheated 350F oven and bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.  Immediately slice into wedges and serve with a fork.  Serves 6-8 as an appetizer or first course.   It's particularly memorable when served with champagne.

If you have a crowd for cocktails, gougere can also be made into little puffs making it easier to serve. 





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Jamaican Slow Cooker Jerk Pulled Pork


If you've never made pulled pork in a slow cooker, well, it's high time!  Nowadays I don't know how to make it any other way--it's so easy, so good and absolutely goof-proof.  This is great party food and is perfect for a buffet table.

Trim one pork shoulder and place in slow cooker.  Top with 1 heaping tablespoon jerk seasoning and the juice of 1/2 lime (or lemon).  Place lid and cook on low for 10 hours.  When done transfer meat to a large board using a slotted spoon.  With two forks, pull meat apart removing fat if any and put in a serving roaster.  Strain remaining juices and pour over meat.  Serve hot.

I have a large slow cooker so almost always double the recipe and almost always cook mine overnight.  When I wake up in the morning, I prepare the meat and put in a serving roaster, cover with foil and refrigerate, then reheat in the oven just before serving.  Leftovers freeze beautifully.



summer pesto with a few variations


I profess an undying love for pesto and make it all summer long.  At the end of summer, my last batch is frozen into logs or ice cube trays to add a welcome zip of summer to winter soups and stews.  This recipe makes close to 2 cups and can easily be halved.
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, stems and flowers removed
  • 1 C. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 C. lightly toasted pine nuts (toast them under the broiler or on the stove in a dry pan, but toast them you must, this is an important step!)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • the juice of 1/2 small lemon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 C. best quality olive oil
Whirl first 6 ingredients in food processor for one minute.  Drizzle in olive oil until the consistency you prefer.  If you plan on serving this later, put in a ramekin and paint the top with a light coat of olive oil or lemon juice to prevent discoloration.  Refrigerate leftovers.  Freezes well.

Variations:

Add a few mint leaves, more or less to taste, for a hint of mint.
Add a few nasturtium leaves, more or less to taste, for a light, peppery taste.

Click here for printable recipe.


A summertime hostess gift.




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