Saturday, December 10, 2016

Millionaire Shortbread

In time for holiday cooking, "Cook's Illustrated Magazine" recently published a recipe that I tested and tasted last spring. I became acquainted with this cookie in 1977 during my first trip to Ireland where Leon served his LDS mission. Some of his favorite friends were the McKennas in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Molly McKenna served us a cookie called "Fudge Bars," chocolate and caramel on shortbread.  She shared a recipe with me but I didn't cook it since I couldn't find an ingredient:  Lyle's Golden Syrup (a sugar byproduct which is currently more available in the States). Ultimately, I lost her hand written recipe. The cookie was a favorite in my memory so I've been thrilled to know of a published recipe using ingredients easily found in U. S. supermarkets.

Making the caramel layer can be an adventure in candy making even though the magazine's instructions are pretty straightforward. If you live at higher altitudes, cooking the caramel becomes problematic. Since Betsy and I live at a slightly under 5000 feet, we can not successfully make this recipe as it is written. I am posting this recipe for those of us that live between 4000 to 5000 feet elevation but will tell you what to do if you live at lower or higher altitudes.

Do give this a try, even if you feel a little nervous. It's worth it and the recipe will be a great addition to your holiday repertoire.


Millionaire Shortbread Bars (Irish Fudge Bars) High Altitude Version

Serves:  30-40 depending on how you cut them


2 1/2 c flour
1/2 granulated sugar
3/4 teas salt
16 T unsalted butter, melted


1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 heavy cream
1/2 c corn syrup 
8 T unsalted butter


8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (6 oz. chopped, 2 oz. grated)

For the crust:  

Use foil to make a sling for a 9X13 pan: use two sheets folded to fit and laid perpendicular to each other, leaving the excess foil hanging over the edges of the pan. Make sure the foil is flush to the corners and flat against the bottom. 

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt and add melted butter. Stir well until all the flour is moistened. Spread the dough evenly across the bottom of the prepared pan. Press the dough with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup until it is an even thickness. Pierce the dough with a fork at 1-inch intervals. Place in oven at lower-middle height and bake about 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Remove and place on a wire rack. Use a metal spatula to press on the surface of the crust while it is warm, making it easier to cut when cool. Let sit as it cools to just warm, 20 minutes at least.

For the filling (for different altitudes see below):

Mix all the ingredients together in a heavy bottomed, large saucepan. Over medium heat, cook while stirring frequently. Using a thermometer, either candy or instant-read, to test the temperature and cook until it reaches 226-229F (at 5000 feet elevation). When the caramel layer reaches your target temperature, carefully pour it over the crust and using a rubber spatula or an offset spatula, spread it to an even thickness. This mixture is very hot and could burn badly if it lands on you. Let the bars cool completely, at least 1 1/2 hours.

For the chocolate top:

Place the chopped chocolate in a small glass bowl and microwave at 50 percent power for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 15 seconds. The chocolate should be melted but not much warmer than body temperature. Stir in the grated chocolate and keep stirring until smooth. If it doesn't melt, you can return it to the microwave for 5 seconds at a time to finish. Stir well and spread the chocolate over the caramel layer. Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes until the chocolate is solidified but just barely.

Use the foil sling to lift the shortbread out of the pan. Place on a cutting board, removing the foil. Use a serrated knife to cut. I cut mine into squares. Cook's Illustrated cuts theirs into long, thin strips. 

The cookies can be stored at room temperature for up to a week. It is wise to use parchment in between any layers in your storage container.

Caramel Layer at Varying Altitudes

The only change required for this recipe is the target temperature for cooking the caramel. The original recipe calls for cooking the caramel layer to 236-239F

Atmospheric pressure is lower at higher elevations and it affects baking and candy making. If we ignore this difference our efforts will be disappointing. In this recipe the caramel will be too moist or too chewy if you cook it to the wrong temperature. Since boiling takes place at a lower temperature at high altitudes the target temperature must be lower too. But knowing just what temperature can be difficult. 

Several years ago Betsy and I attended a high altitude cooking class taught by Romina Rasmussen, chef and owner of Les Madeleines Patisserie and Cafe in Salt Lake City, one of the most helpful classes I've ever attended. Romina is a trustworthy resource so I spoke with her last summer and she told me that even a couple of degrees off in caramel making can make for an undesirable end result. She recommends boiling water the very day you are going to cook the caramel (apparently atmospheric conditions can affect candy, too). Test the temperature at which the water boils and subtract that amount from sea level boiling point, 212F. Then subtract the difference from the original recipe and you will have your target temperature.  Here's an example:

Sea level boiling point:  212F
Subtract your boiling temperature:  ___________ (at my 5000 ft it is 202F)
Equals:________ (10 degrees for me)

Original recipe target temperature:  236F-239F
Subtract the difference between two boiling temps:  _________ (10 degrees)
Equals: your target temperature (for me it is 226F-229F)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Spanish Rice Casserole

Although this is no gourmet dish, it's fast and it makes for a nice weeknight meal. The casserole can be served with a vegetable on the side to round out your plate; it's also nice with warmed tortillas. Michael likes to use the casserole itself as a burrito or taco filling (as did my brothers).

This recipe was given to my mom decades ago by a friend from K. I. Sawyer Air Force Base. It was a family favorite from the first time she cooked it. The speedy preparation made it a frequent dinner during the years when teens were in the house. I like it for the same reasons--and also, it's a crowd pleaser. I will often turn to this recipe when I'm taking a meal to another family.

Note from Colette:

I've just finished reading a book titled A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression.
A paragraph in the book made me wonder if this recipe has its roots in Depression-era Michigan. I think it certainly possible: "A dish called 'Spanish Rice' (many dishes were identified as Spanish simply because they contained tomatoes) was a popular casserole made with fried ham, bacon or salt pork, chopped onion, tomato, diced bell pepper, and boiled rice, all combined and baked or warmed on the stove top." Although this recipe contains ground beef I imagine the ingredient was added when it became convenient and affordable. 


Spanish Rice Casserole

Source: Debbie Wade, an old friend my mom knew in Michigan

1 lb ground beef
1/2 c onion, chopped
1 c uncooked white rice
2/3 c green pepper, chopped
1 14/5-oz can diced tomatoes (original recipe used stewed)
2 c water
1 teas chili powder
1/2 teas oregano leaves
1 teas salt
1/8 teas pepper
1/3 c cooked ham or 5 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

If you're using bacon, cook it in a skillet and then spoon off all but 1 T bacon fat. Cook ground beef and onion together, in the bacon fat. (If you're using ham, just cook the beef and onion together using a vegetable oil spray to coat the pan.) Drain fat, if necessary, and stir in other ingredients. Heat to boiling; reduce heat, cover and simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook about 30 minutes until water is absorbed.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Turkey or Chicken Noodle Soup

my 18-month-old enjoying the final product!
When I was expecting my first child over 8 years ago (!), I enrolled in a hypnobirthing class. One of the relaxation exercises our instructor walked us through was imagining a kitchen in full detail, complete with our favorite meal cooking on the stove or in the oven. The meal I imagined was chicken noodle soup on the stove, with bread cooking in the oven.

I was a little sickly as a child and teenager, suffering from asthma and recurrent sinus and respiratory infections. My mom would make this soup often when I was ill, and in addition to helping heal my body, it was a great comfort to my soul.

Though homemade chicken noodle soup is amazing, turkey noodle soup is out of this world. When we travel for Thanksgiving, we make sure to grill a turkey some other time in the winter, just for the carcass to use for stock. I swear, it's liquid gold.

simmering the stock
Homemade stock may sound intimidating. But I know you can do it! The more time you have, the more flavorful your stock will be, but a delicious chicken stock can be made in as little time as an hour, and it's mostly hands-off time. According to Alton Brown here, stock is made only with bones and broth is made from meat, so really this is a hybrid of both stock and broth. On years when I do cook a turkey on Thanksgiving, I almost anticipate the day after Thanksgiving more, when I simmer a huge pot of turkey stock for hours. The smell in my house is divine!


Turkey or Chicken Noodle Soup (With Homemade Stock)

A chicken yields a dutch oven pot full of soup. A turkey will yield 2-3 times that amount of stock.

For the stock:

I usually use a carcass to make the stock--from a rotisserie chicken, or a grilled turkey--and then use meat I saved from the bird for the soup. With a chicken in particular you can use the entire raw bird to make the stock, and then shred some of the meat for the soup. Alternatively, you can use a collection of bone-in chicken pieces to make the stock. Mom often cooks everything but the breast meat for the broth and cooks the breast meat after the broth is completed and strained. That way the meat isn't overcooked or tasteless because all the flavor has cooked out (once the breast is cooked, pull it out and shred it before returning it to the soup for serving).

1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery rib
2 bay leaves
1 chicken carcass or 1 turkey carcass

Because a turkey carcass is usually much bigger, double the other ingredients.

Place carcass in a large pot. For chicken a dutch oven size is sufficient; for a turkey I use a large stock pot. Fill with water to cover the carcass by at least an inch--and more will result in more stock.

Quarter the onion, scrub the carrot, and wash the celery rib. Then add vegetables and bay leaf to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat until the stock simmers. Simmer for at least an hour, preferably several hours.

Remove and discard all of the solids from the stock (a spider makes this easy). On fat: sometimes a layer of fat is evident on the top of the stock. Often when I use a chicken carcass there's not much and I'm too lazy to remove it, but if you see a lot and would prefer to do without the fat, here's a few options. The easiest (and probably most time-effective) method is to use a fat separator. The fat rises to the top and you can pour off the liquid underneath. Another option is to use a ziploc bag. Place the stock into the bag and hold it still for a minute so the fat rises to the top. Then snip off a corner of the bag to release the stock, then pull the bag away once everything is out but the fat. And a third option: refrigerate the stock to solidify the fat. You can then spoon it off, being careful not to remove too much stock.

On storage: Stock freezes beautifully. I have used both mason jars and ziploc freezer bags. The gelatin in stock will turn it semi-solid in the fridge. Don't worry, it loosens right up as soon as you heat it.

For the soup:

These measurements are flexible; tailor them to your tastes.

~2 quarts stock
3-4 carrots
3 celery stalks
a few celery leaves, optional
4 handfuls egg noodles
1 1/2 -2 c cooked chicken, cubed or shredded into bite-sized pieces
3/4 teas thyme
3/4 teas rosemary, crushed

Bring stock to a boil. Peel and slice carrots; wash and slice the celery. Add 1 teas salt and vegetables and cook until crisp-tender, about 12 minutes at my altitude. I usually add the chicken at this point, but it doesn't really matter when you add it, just that you do!

Then add egg noodles and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until the noodles are tender. Add thyme and rosemary. If you're sick, make sure you stand over the simmering soup and breathe in the fragrant steam. Place in bowls and serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grilled Chocolate Sandwich

During a visit to Germany in 1986 I tasted Nutella for the first time. Like a number of foods I discovered during my years of Air Force assignments and related travel, Nutella was not well-known in USA at the time. It almost goes without saying; I liked it, especially on sourdough bread. Some acquaintances found my fondness for bread and chocolate strange, even when I reminded them that Americans ate plenty of chocolate covered donuts (maybe multi-colored sprinkles won them over). During my eight years living overseas I continued to indulge in Nutella but the best chocolate and bread combo I ever ate was found at a Belgian patisserie near my home; the baker slathered chocolate between croissant halves. I admit to indulging myself often during my three years there.

A few years after returning to the states, I read about Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches in a cookbook by one of my favorite contributors to The Washington Post Food section, food scientist, Robert Wolke (unfortunately he no longer writes for them). He introduced me to a short, easy recipe which combines the flavors, if not the texture, of those chocolate croissants I still miss.


Grilled Chocolate Sandwich

Adapted from What Einstein Told His Cook 2:  The Sequel Further Adventures in Kitchen Science by Robert Wolke
Serves 1, but can be multiplied

salted butter
two slices good bread
a handful of chocolate chips or 1-2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate or milk chocolate, if you prefer

Heat a nonstick or cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt a pat of butter and place one slice of bread in the pan, moving the bread around to absorb the butter. Arrange the chocolate chips on the bread covering the slice well. Top the chocolate with the second slice of bread; let cook until the chocolate is beginning to melt and the bottom slice starts to brown. Be careful with the heat--you know your own stove top and may need to lower the heat so you don't burn the bread before the chocolate melts. When the bottom slice is golden brown, carefully flip the sandwich using a spatula. This is easiest if you use both hands; flip the uncooked side on to your non-dominant hand moving rather slowly in case there is still unmelted chocolate which might fall out. Once the flip is completed, melt another pat of butter and place the sandwich back in the pan, uncooked slice down. Tuck in any chocolate chips that may have fallen. Continue cooking until the second piece of bread is browned as well and the chocolate is melted.

Remove to a cutting board and slice; wait a minute or two and enjoy.


This sandwich is best when you combine quality ingredients. I like the flavors of sourdough bread but it isn't necessary. Just try for something with some heft and good flavor. I've seen photos of these using baguettes, but I think the chocolate would melt out of any holes. I use Callebaut chocolate chips with a higher percentage of chocolate. These chips are not American so they have less wax in them (they don't hold together well in a cookie) and they melt beautifully. If you can't find this brand, you might try those at Trader Joe's since that store imports some chocolate items from Belgium. I've not tried the chocolate chips so I can't vouch for them. The chocolate bars they sell (Pound Plus) are good, though.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Slow-cooker Butternut Soup

Even though you may have a great stove-top recipe for butternut soup, this version may come in handy when you have to be away from the kitchen.


Slow-cooker Butternut Soup

Source:  The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone
Serves:  6

1 large (2-pds) butternut squash, or equivalent, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-in chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet apple, such as Fuji or Golden Delicious, peeled cored, and chopped
6 c chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
1 teas. salt
1/2 c heavy cream, plus more for garnish
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Combine the squash, onion, apple and broth in a large slow cooker and add 1 teas salt.

Cook on low for 6 hours. Check that the vegetables and apples are very soft. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In batches, blend the ingredients until smooth. Return to the slow cooker and add cream and nutmeg. Reheat on the low setting, if necessary.

Serve soup drizzled with cream.


Almost any winter squash (excepting spaghetti or the small Delicata) would work here. See this page for examples. I am partial to banana squash.

Slivers of red-skinned apple are also a great garnish for this soup. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

End-of-Summer Spaghetti Sauce

For some, the end of summer came several weeks ago, but in Albuquerque summer lingered this year, so here's one last "summer" recipe. This can be cooked anytime you find a good eggplant, however.

Gardening in the desert was a disappointment this summer but it has taught me just how hard plants try to do their life's work, in spite of strong hot winds, drought, insect attacks, and disease. Although we experienced all these traumas this summer, I got several eggplants, some tomatoes, onions, lots of garlic, and the herbs needed for this recipe. I'm glad since this mostly veggie sauce is great for pasta or polenta and I like to cook it at least once each summer. Skip the anchovies for a vegan dish.


End-of-Summer Spaghetti Sauce

Source: Local Flavors:  Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets  by Deborah Madison
Yields sauce enough for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of spaghetti

1 1/2 to 2 pds eggplant, peeled and sliced a scant 1/2-in thick
2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, quartered lengthwise
1/4 c oil, plus extra for the eggplant
1 onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 anchovies (optional)
1/3 c chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
2 pds ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or canned equivalent (28-oz can)
1/4 c Kalamata or Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 c green Sicilain olives, pitted and chopped
3 T capers, rinsed
1 T dried oregano
1/4 c water or juice from the tomatoes
salt and ground pepper
1 pd spaghetti
1 c Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

Preheat the broiler and place peppers on a baking sheet under the broiler, skin side up and cook until blistered. Stack the pepper quarters on top of each other and cover; allow to steam for 15 minutes and peel. Lightly brush a sheet pan with oil and place the eggplant slices on it. Brush the tops of the slices with oil and broil both sides until browned. Remove from oven and when cool enough to handle, dice the broiled eggplant slices and the peeled peppers. 

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Add the onion, garlic, anchovies, and the parsley. Saute until the onions are softened. Add the peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 30 minutes. 

Cook the pasta. Stir in the sauce and top with more parsley. Pass the grated cheese among diners.

Note: I've frozen this sauce successfully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Honey Lavender Posset

I'm not sure why it has taken so long for this British dessert to show up in USA. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. Consider making it a part of your repertoire because there are few easier or more impressive ways to end to a meal.

If lavender isn't your favorite flavor, visit this recipe:  Lemon Posset.


Honey Lavender Posset

Serves 8-10

4 c heavy cream
1/2 c 100% honey (the better your honey, the better the dessert will taste)
1/2 c lemon juice
1 T lime juice
4-5 culinary lavender sprigs or 1 teas lavender buds
more honey to drizzle on top

Place the cream and honey in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. When the honey is incorporated continue to boil, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Lower heat if the mixture threatens to boil over. Remove from heat. Stir in the lemon and lime juices. Drop the lavender into the mixture so it is fully submerged and allow to steep 10-20 minutes until you like the level of lavender flavor.

Strain mixture and pour into ramekins. Allow to cool on counter. Cover with plastic and place in the refrigerator to cool at least 2 hours. (Apparently, if you are in rush, these can be placed in the freezer for 40 minutes to set, but you'll get a better blend of flavors if they take longer to cool down.

Remove from fridge 5-10 minutes before serving and pass flavorful honey to drizzle on top.