Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tossed Green Salad with Strawberries, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Poppy Seed Dressing

As mentioned in my post from a week ago, I had the entire family over for dinner recently to celebrate January birthdays. One of the foods I served was a tossed green salad with poppy seed dressing. It's a favorite around here and I thought I would share the recipe with you all. There are many recipes for poppy seed dressing, but I personally think the version I'm about to share with you is the best tasting one around.

Here is a photo of the salad. Hope it tempts you to try it!

Tear a big serving bowl full of greens. I used mostly romaine with some spring greens added so I would have enough to feed everyone. Organic mixed greens are prevalent in most grocery stores and are great for when you want salad in a hurry. But romaine is excellent in this instance. Cook's choice.
Now add some red onion (I sliver mine. You can dice it also.). Next, core and slice some strawberries...say about 1-2 cups. Add a good handful of gorgonzola cheese...and some candied pecans (or simply use regular pecans...or walnuts or almonds or whatever sounds good to you).
I'll tell you how to make candied pecans below. But first, the dressing.

Poppy Seed Dressing

1 cup vegetable oil (I suppose you could use olive oil but I never have)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar (resist the urge to use white vinegar; you'll be disappointed)
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
In a blender (I use my NutriBullet, large container), mix together all of the dressing ingredients until very well blended. The dressing will be somewhat thick. Use immediately or refrigerate until the time comes to serve the salad.
That's it. Very easy. And so delicious you'll be finding excuses to make the stuff. It is also good on fruit salads, but this tossed green salad makes all other salads pale in comparison in my opinion.
Now to make those candied pecans:
1 cup pecan halves or pieces
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the pecans and stir them so they are coated with the melted butter. Add the brown sugar and stir until the are caramelized. Spread them on wax paper or parchment paper until cool and set.
You can also make a heavy sugar syrup using granulated sugar and a small amount of vanilla. Thoroughly coat the pecans; set them on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and place them in a 275 degree oven for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. The trick if you do it this way is to make the syrup really sugary so there's something to stick to the pecans. But it does work. And the subtle vanilla flavoring is oh so good.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Apple Pie with Buttered Walnut Toffee Topping

I had the entire gang over to the Lilliputian cottage to celebrate January birthdays, and we were happily bursting at the seams. We got to enjoy free entertainment in the form of the grandkids: One of the three-year-old grandsons came dressed in cowboy boots (which he promptly discarded at the front door), his swimming trunks, and a lei. Nothing else. The temperature outside hovered at right around freezing. I allowed as how I thought he had arrived a tad underdressed for the weather, but he informed me that he was dressed just right because he was a hula boy! And then the baby of the bunch decided it was the perfect time to take her first unaided steps. As you can imagine, there were aunts, uncles, and cousins galore willing to clap enthusiastically and tell her what a smart girl she was! All in all, we had a delicious time, both in and out of the kitchen.

We had a tasty dinner (In fact, I expect I'll feel compelled to blog the green salad I was that good!) but dessert was the hit of the evening. Here it is:

And here's how I made it:

Apple Pie with Buttered Walnut Toffee Topping

Pastry for a 2-crust pie
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 T. sugar
1 T. butter, melted
1 T. quick-cooking tapioca
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
4-6 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I used Granny Smiths, but any good pie apple with work)

Buttered Walnut Toffee Topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar, slightly heaping
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3 T. light corn syrup
3 T. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 T. flour
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Roll out half of the dough and line a large pie plate. (Use at least a 9.5-inch size or you'll have boil-over issues. I personally use a large, extra deep pie plate and don't have boil-overs.) Set aside for now.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the corn syrup, sugar, melted butter, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt; mix and let set for 10 minutes. Add the sliced apples and mix to coat. Place filling in pie shell. Roll out the top crust and place on top of the apple mixture. Crimp the edges, making sure that there is a ridge all around the edge of the crust. This will be very helpful when you add the toffee topping later on. Make some slashes in the top crust to help steam vent.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes.

While pie is baking make the buttered walnut toffee topping as follows:

Mix together all of the topping ingredients. Remove the pie from the oven after the above-baking time is complete and pour topping over the top crust. (You'll find that the topping doesn't "pour" too well, but just do you best to cover the whole area.) Immediately return the pie into the oven, still set at 350 degrees, and bake for 5 more minutes. If you are worried about the pie boiling over, try placing a large cookie sheet underneath to catch drips.

Remove pie from the oven and place on a rack to cool. It needs to cool until almost room temperature before you slice into it so the butter toffee coating has a chance to harden.

Give this recipe a try. It's just enough of a taste change from the usual that you will be well pleased with the results.

I hope that--even if life is proving difficult for you currently--you carve out those moments that speak to your heart and give you peace. I may be biased, but I think that time spent in the kitchen is always a good choice!

May God richly bless you. He cares for you, you know.


Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix...Again!

About four months ago, I blogged this hot chocolate mix along with other homemade mixes (such as cakes and brownies). I fear it might have gotten lost in the shuffle. And since we are deep into the cold winter months--perfect hot chocolate drinking weather--I wanted to give it another go. But this time I'm adding photos to further entice you!

This first picture is my half-gallon canning jar that holds my mix. A batch of the hot chocolate just barely fits into the jar. In fact, I usually have to tap the jar on a folded towel on my counter to sort of settle the contents so I can get that last bit in. It's very full, but it works. The jar in this picture is only half full because I've been enjoying a cup in the evenings!

If you decide to make a batch for yourself, here's what you have to look forward to:

And if you are really on top of things, you have planned ahead and have some sweetened whipped cream to swirl on top:

Here's the recipe:

Hot Chocolate Mix

6 1/2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered sugar (generous)
1 cup regular sugar
1 cup unsweetened baking cocoa powder
dash of salt (I just take my salt shaker and give it a shake and call it good)

Combine all ingredients and mix well.

To use:
To 6 oz. hot water, add 3 tablespoons Hot Chocolate Mix. If you are using a mug, they usually hold more than 6 ounces. Mine do. So when I'm scooping out 3 tablespoons, I always make them heaping. Makes for a perfect cup! You can also use hot milk for an extra creamy cup of hot chocolate, but I'm too frugal to ever do that.

This is such an easy recipe, and it's quite inexpensive--it certainly costs less than buying prepackaged from the store.

Happy winter! Stay warm and stay safe, and may God richly bless you and yours,

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Whole Wheat Bread Recipe--A Thing of Beauty!

I often make my own bread. I love the taste and I love knowing what goes into it (read: nothing I can't pronounce!) and I love the kneading process. When I'm kneading dough I will often talk to God about what concerns me, or I'll just let my mind wander freely. There have been many times when the result of kneading included not only a loaf of bread, but concerns put in perspective or great new ideas.
Yesterday was just such a day. I ground some hard red winter wheat berries...the old fashioned way, using my Country Living grain mill. I also have an electric grinder (a NutriMill), but this was a loaf of bread not to be hurried.

When I use whole wheat my bread is much denser than when I use half wheat flour and half white flour...and certainly a lot more dense than when I use all white flour. But yesterday I wanted to see if I could make a fluffy, soft loaf of bread using absolutely NO white flour, even when I was kneading.

I did! The secret? Vital wheat gluten.

Here's how:

Whole Wheat Bread Recipe (1 loaf)

In a large mixing bowl, place 1 cup warm water; add 1/2 tsp. sugar and 3 tsp. yeast; mix so yeast gets wet and then let it sit for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly.

In the meantime, put 1/4 cup milk and 2 T. shortening or butter into a microwavable container and microwave it for about 30 seconds; let it cool a tad while you're waiting for the yeast mixture to bubble.

Now, pour the milk/shortening mixture into the large mixing bowl that contains the yeast mixture. Add 1/8 cup honey, 1/2 tsp. salt, 3 tsp. vital wheat gluten, and about 1 cup whole wheat flour. Mix together; keep adding flour and mixing (you'll use somewhere around 3 1/2 cups flour total, including what you use while kneading to keep things from sticking) until the dough tends to stay in a ball and leave the sides of the bowl. Then turn the dough ball out onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes; keep adding flour to your work surface so the dough doesn't stick while you work it.

Grease another large clean bowl and plop your kneaded ball of dough into it, turning the dough so all surfaces are greased. Cover with a clean towel and let it rise until doubled. Punch down the dough, form it into a ball again and put it back in the bowl to rise a second time (make sure the surface of the dough is greased again). After the dough has doubled a second time, punch it down and form it into a loaf. Place it into a greased loaf pan and let rise again. This time, let the dough rise until it's about an inch above the top of the loaf pan at it's tallest point.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for about 35 minutes. When it's done, take it out of the loaf pan and let the bread cool on a rack.

This bread is so good! It's surprisingly soft and chewy, and the taste is perfect for eating plain or with butter spread on it, as toast (try it buttered with cinnamon sugar!), or used for sandwiches. Just a good, all-around loaf.

Try it! I think you'll like it!

As we begin a new year, may you and all your loved ones be blessed. And should tough times come your way, remember to step back and remind yourself that God loves you and yours and He never fails.

Georgia, plain and simple