We’ve all be eating better this month, right? Sticking to our resolutions, exercising more, healthier eating choices, yes? Excellent! Then I don’t feel guilty about introducing you to a crazy crazy good treat, award winning actually. Take a look at the Cashew Butterscotch Bar…
This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The New York Times Cookbook, edited by Amanda Hesser. In her intro to this recipe she writes, “I never thought I’d recommend a recipe containing butterscotch chips, but I’m open to change. Are you?” Like Amanda, I never thought I’d use butterscotch chips, but let me tell you- I’m eating humble pie now, or actually Cashew Butterscotch Bars and I’m not going back.
I do have some standards though. The original recipe called for corn syrup; I couldn’t do butterscotch chips AND corn syrup at once, so I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead. The Golden Syrup actually adds a warmer more buttery flavor which compliments the butterscotch nicely. Corn syrup would have been just too straight up sweet.
Ooops, I almost forgot. In case you’re still on the fence… this is an award winning recipe; I have the trophy to prove it. My friend holds a cookie swap most years; but it’s not just any cookie swap. This is serious business. There is voting. A winner is declared. And in 2012, I was the winner, Jean “The Cookie Machine” with these Cashew Butterscotch Bars. You may notice there hasn’t been a cookie swap since… something about blizzards, busy lives, etc. I’m not buying it. They’re scared. You, on the other hand, should not be scared. These bars are easy, addictive, and well worth the occasional indulgence.
2 sticks plus 5½ tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1¾ teaspoons kosher salt
2½ cups all-purpose flour
One 10-ounce bag butterscotch chips
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup
5½ teaspoons water
2½ cups salted cashew pieces
Center a rack in the oven and heat the oven to 350°F degrees. Line a 13-by-18 inch rimmed baking sheet with foil, including the sides. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons butter and the brown sugar together (or mix in a bowl with a rubber spatula) until smooth. Stir the salt into the flour, then add the flour to the butter and sugar mixture and mix until the dough is well combined but still crumbly (if the dough is mixed until a ball forms, the crust will be tough).
Pat the dough evenly into the bottom of the lined pan. Bake for 5 minutes. With a fork, prick the dough deeply all over, return the pan to the oven, and bake until the dough is lightly browned, dry, and no longer soft to the touch, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack (leave the oven on).
Combine the remaining 3½ tablespoons butter, the butterscotch chips, golden syrup, and water and cook in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and butterscotch chips are melted, about 5 minutes. Pour the topping over the crust, using a spatula to spread it evenly all the way to the corners. Sprinkle the cashew pieces on top, pressing down lightly.
Bake until the topping is bubbly and the cashews are lightly browned, 12 to 16 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting into bars.
Note: These are rich and sweet; I cut them into approximately 1-1½ inch squares.
Well, I’ve done something new, actually a few new things. Lina over at Lin’s Recipes created a food challenge for the month of January, a “Rare Recipe Challenge.” Lina did her homework and found dishes from around the world that may be new to you and me. People were invited to pick one of the dishes to research, find recipes for, and create. The hook- you had to choose something you had never eaten or made before. Clearly, I was still riding the sugar and cocktail fueled high of the holidays because I quickly agreed to not only my first “challenge,” but also to making something I had never eaten, heard of, or had a recipe for. Oh and let’s not forget, by participating I agreed to post all about it! Yikes!!!
I chose to make Shish Taouk (pronounced “shish tawook”), a Middle Eastern type of fast food. Here’s a bit of trivia: did you know that ‘shish’ means skewer and ‘taouk’ means chicken in Turkish? These marinated chicken kebabs are found throughout Middle East; though each country has its own twist on the marinade. And that is the biggest challenge… not only does each country have its own version, but each cook within each country has their own version. It would be like doing a Google search among Italian grandmothers, with the inquiry “meatball recipe.” The number of results would equal the number of grandmothers, and each recipe would be slightly different. There would be no ONE meatball recipe. Well, it’s the same with Shish Taouk. There are thousands of recipes out there, and I read a lot of them. Some use yogurt, some don’t; some use tomato paste, some ketchup, and I found a few that use both; the spices were all over place- mint, thyme, cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne. Lemon juice and bunches of garlic were a constant, though even there the amounts varied. For example, one recipe called for 1 cup of lemon juice, while another (using the same amount of chicken) used only ¼ cup. Cooking methods ran the gamut from grilled on a barbeque to pan fried to broiled. I would have preferred to grill, but because of weather, I broiled my chicken kebabs and the veggie kebabs I made to serve alongside the meat.
After loads of research I came up with my recipe for Shish Taouk; full disclosure here, since I’ve never tasted an authentic Shish Taouk I have no idea if my method is a proper interpretation or not. That said, the night I was making this for dinner my oldest walked into the house after basketball practice and announced, “It smells good in here, like a Middle Eastern restaurant!” Ahhh, the sweet smell of success (or shish taouk!). The yogurt tenderized the chicken; the lemon juice added just enough tang to balance out the pungency of the garlic. The spices I chose worked well- cumin brought just the right amount of heat and the smoked paprika added a lovely smokiness that was especially welcome since the kebabs were cooked under a broiler, not grilled outside over a fire. The tomato paste and smoked paprika turned the entire mixture an orange-pink which provided a beautiful color to the finished dish.
The entire family loved it and I’ll definitely be making it again. I served the chicken with broiled skewers of bell peppers, red onions, grape tomatoes and warm pita bread. In Lebanon they traditionally serve Shish Taouk with toum, a garlicky lemony mayonnaise. Oh my, it is good and will be used in my house for more than just these kebabs. Tzatziki would also be delicious- not traditional, but it seems everyone has their own version of this dish, so why not?
Well, I’m off to the Rare Recipe Challenge and bringing my Shish Taouk. Thank you to Lina for creating this fun challenge, and thank you to Jhuls from thenotsocreativecook.wordpress.com for judging the entries. I loved getting outside my culinary comfort zone, researching this delicious dish, and devouring the results. New year, new foods, new challenges!
2 cloves garlic
1 egg white
juice of ½ lemon
generous pinch of kosher salt
½ cup of canola oil
1-2 Tablespoons ice water
Combine yogurt, juice of 2 lemons, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, smoked paprika, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix well. Add chicken pieces to yogurt marinade and stir. Be sure that all the chicken pieces are coated in the yogurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
While chicken is marinating make the toum (garlic mayonnaise). In a food processor place garlic, lemon juice and generous pinch of salt. Process to chop up garlic. You will have to stop and scrape sides of processor several times while chopping the garlic. With processor running, slowly drizzle in the egg white. As the processor continues to run, slowly add the canola oil in a steady stream. You should have a mayonnaise at this point. Thin out slightly by adding 1-2 Tablespoons of ice water while the machine is running. Transfer mayo to airtight container and refrigerate.
When you are ready to make the kebabs, preheat your broiler or grill. Thread 5-6 pieces of chicken on each skewer (It will be gloopy, but don’t worry. There is no need to scrape yogurt mixture off the chicken pieces).
Broil or grill chicken until done, about 15 minutes, turning over once at the halfway mark. Serve immediately with pita, toum, and grilled veggies.
Stir well to combine marinade ingredients.
Add chicken pieces to yogurt marinade, stirring well to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours, and up to 8 hours.
Make the toum while the chicken is marinating…
While chicken is marinating, make the toum.
Chop garlic with lemon juice and generous pinch of salt.
While processor is running, slowly drizzle in egg white.
With processor still running, drizzle oil in a slow steady stream.
The mixture will emulsify and come together as a mayonnaise. Add 1-2 Tablespoons of ice water to thin out.
This delicious garlicky, lemony mayo will find all sorts of use in your kitchen!
A friend and I were recently chatting, and the conversation turned to food. Is it me, or do all conversations inevitably lead to food? It may just be me, but it’s one of my favorite topics, and eating is something we all have in common. Anyway, she was looking for some new dinner ideas… but there were parameters- suggestions had to be kid friendly, accommodate allergies, and be on the table quickly. Immediately, one of my favorite go to meals came to mind, Italian Sausage, Beans, and Greens.
There are several reasons why this dish ticks so many boxes in the “pro” column. It’s delicious, done in 30 minutes, needs only a few basic ingredients, and is so flexible in terms of those ingredients. The basics include Italian sausage, cannellini beans, and greens. I make this with Italian pork sausage, but feel free to use chicken sausage or turkey sausage. The beauty of using Italian style sausage is that it has all the seasoning you’ll need- other than any salt and pepper added to taste at the end. Cannellini beans are easy to have on hand, I usually have a few cans in the pantry. The greens I use depend on what’s available; kale, chard, spinach, arugula, rapini, mustard greens, and dandelion greens all work really well. Stick with one type or combine your favorites. Even the measurements are just guidelines. Add more or less of the sausage, beans, or greens. There is plenty of room to play in order to suit your tastes. It’s all good!
My friend declared this a hit in her home, and has made it multiple times since. Now she’s looking for more new ideas… 🙂
Do you have favorite recipes that immediately jump to mind when someone asks, “What are you making for dinner?” What makes a dish one of your “go to” meals?
4 Italian sausage, about 1lb total (I used 2 sweet and 2 spicy)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch kale, rinsed, stems removed and leaves chopped
1 bunch swiss chard, rinsed, stems removed and leaves chopped
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan for passing
loaf of crusty bread (optional)
In a large saucepan, parboil the sausage links, about 5 minutes. While the links are parboiling, I carefully prick them to release the liquified fat that has accumulated under the casings. Remove from the water, cool slightly and slice crosswise into ½-inch pieces.
Heat olive oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmery, add sliced sausage. Be careful! There will be some splattering. Sauté sausage on both sides until brown, approximately 5 minutes. Remove sausage and set aside.
Return sauté pan to burner, lower heat to medium low and add greens. Stir to coat in any oil or sausage bits remaining in pan. Cover and cook until wilted, 2 minutes.
Add cannellini beans to wilted greens and stir to combine. Add sausage back to pan and heat everything through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately with crusty bread, passing parmesan for grating.
As some of you may know, my mom’s parents were from Ireland. Nanny was a wonderful home cook, bringing her Irish food traditions from Belfast to Brooklyn where her Italian, German, and Jewish neighbors influenced her cooking in America.
But Nanny wasn’t the only one to bring Irish food traditions, my grandfather ruled the kitchen on weekend mornings. According to my mom, Saturday mornings would be met with plenty of hot tea, eggs, bacon (or ham or sausages), potato farls, and soda bread. My grandfather would fry bacon, set it aside, then in the same pan, immediately fry the eggs in the bacon fat. From there, in went slices of plain soda bread, fried quickly on both sides until lightly brown. Can you imagine? Heaven!!! Unfortunately, my grandfather died before I was born, but I still grew up enjoying his Irish Soda Bread, first made by my mother, and now my dad.
My father has tweaked the recipe over the years, as I’m sure my grandfather had tweaked his own recipe. My guess is that if you ask 10 different people how they make Irish soda bread you will get 10 different recipes. What is generally accepted throughout is a combination of flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. The baking soda and buttermilk give this quick bread its rise. Another common practice is cutting a cross deep on top. Tradition states that the cross is to let the devil out and ward off evil. Practically speaking, it also helps the heat penetrate the center of the loaf as well as providing the guidelines to break the bread up beautifully when served. My mom recalls my grandfather usually making plain soda bread, and only occasionally making a sweeter version with raisins. This makes sense as years ago the addition of sugar, dried fruits, or eggs would have been a treat and only done on special occasions.
The recipe below is my version of my dad’s recipe, slightly sweet and full of raisins. This loaf is perfect for breakfast, snacking, in lunch boxes, and definitely with a cup of tea or two. I do make other soda breads, a hearty Brown Soda Bread (made with whole wheat flour) and plain White Soda Bread that is unsweetened and wonderful with soups and stews- or fried eggs and bacon. Those recipes will show up here, but first I’d like to introduce this lovely raisin studded Irish Soda Bread.
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raisins or currants (my dad loads his with raisins and uses up to 2 cups)
1¼ -1¾ cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F.
In a large bowl use a pastry blender to cut butter into flour.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the raisins or currants and mix well.
Pour in 1¼ cups buttermilk and mix, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be soft, slightly sticky, but not too wet. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead it just enough to completely bring it together. Shape into a round about 1½ -inches deep. Transfer to cast iron skillet or lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper cut a cross on it, deep- but not completely through.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400°F and continue baking for an additional 30 minutes. The bread is done when it is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Butternut squash has a long shelf life- which works well for me when I receive large quantities of it as part of my CSA! As you can imagine the growing season in New England is short, though our local farm does an amazing job of squeezing every last bit of sunshine and warmth out of earth and sky to make the harvest last as long as possible. In fact, they do such a good job, that the farm offers an “Extended Harvest” share, with pick ups well into November.
Each week from June through November I am the happy recipient of culinary treasures… fruits and veggies of all sorts. The spring and summer pick ups generally contain perishable produce that has to be dealt with immediately… eaten, frozen, or canned for future meals. The November shares are far more forgiving in terms of shelf life; onions, garlic, potatoes, and winter squash can live on my kitchen counter or in a cool spot in the basement for a long while before I turn my attention to them. Cabbages, radishes, and carrots will survive almost the entire winter in the produce drawers of my fridge.
Butternut squash is one of my favorite winter veggies and incredibly versatile. It can be baked, roasted, or turned into soup, pairing well with many different types of flavors. According to The Flavor Bible, the wide range of combinations include (but is definitely not limited to):
Butternut squash + bacon + maple syrup + sage
Butternut squash + cilantro + coconut + ginger
Butternut squash + ricotta cheese + sage
Below is my take on Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream. The tart apples are beautiful with the rich nutty squash, while the cider’s sweetness rounds everything out. I usually use chicken stock, but vegetable stock will work equally well if you’d like to keep this strictly vegetarian.
Do you have a favorite winter vegetable that you like to use? What do you with it?
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ½ lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
½ cup chopped peeled carrot
½ cup chopped celery
2 small granny smith apples, peeled, cored, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
½ teaspoon crumbled dried sage leaves
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ½ cups apple cider, divided
2/3 cup plain greek yogurt or crème fraiche
Melt butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium high heat. Add squash, leeks, carrots, and celery; sauté until slightly softened, about 15 minutes. Mix in apples, thyme, and sage. Add stock and 1 cup cider. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer until apples are tender, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly.
Using an immersion blender, puree soup. Alternatively, soup can be pureed, in batches, in a blender.
Make cider cream. Boil remaining ½ cup cider in heavy small saucepan until reduced to ¼ cup, about 5 minutes. Cool. Place yogurt or crème fraiche in small bowl. Whisk in reduced cider. (Soup and cider cream can be made 1 day ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.)
Bring soup to simmer. Ladle soup into bowls. Dollop with cider cream and serve.
A preschool teacher once declared about my now 15yr old son, “you better have a plan, because if you don’t, he does!” The same sentiment holds true for my entire household. With two active teenage boys, and one “sign me up for everything” tween, things can quickly get derailed. In my attempts to contain the chaos as much possible, I have a general plan or template for dinners each week. This is so helpful when grocery shopping; daily trips to the store are only occasional, and money is saved because I’m shopping more efficiently with menus in mind. I’ve learned the hard way, that if I don’t have a solid dinner plan in place by the time the kids get home from school, we’re probably doing take out!
That said, things do come up and this is a very flexible “schedule.” Nothing is set in stone. It really just serves as a general guideline and helps me organize my shopping (and mind) for the week. Here’s a look at my weekly template for dinners: Meatless Monday– Fish Taco Tuesday– Build your own tacos, fajitas, burritos, etc. I usually set out a protein, with loads of grilled/sautéed veggies, rice, beans, tortillas, cheese, guacamole, and salsa. Wednesday– Pasta Thursday– Soup or stew (especially in fall/winter) Friday– Take-out, and by the end of the week I’m ready for it. Saturday– My husband usually grills (even in the snow!) Sunday– Homemade Pizza
Meatless Monday usually means fish, like Fast and Crunchy Baked Cod or fillets simply seasoned with salt and pepper and briefly roasted in the oven. Recently, Miso Glazed Fish has made several successful appearances. The glaze is slightly sweet/salty and perfect for firm fish like swordfish, halibut, and salmon. Sea bass and sable (black cod) would be wonderful as well, but they are expensive compared to the others. The dish is quick and easy. Popped into the oven, it is done in no time. Serve with rice and something green. We love it with bok choy sautéed with ginger, garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes (recipe follows miso glazed fish).
Note about the photos- You’ll see that there is no beautifully plated finished product. This is the result of the aforementioned active teens and tween. As soon as the fish came out of the oven, I was able to quickly snap a few pics before it was gobbled up. Then it was off to drop one son at basketball, pick the other up from his basketball practice, and get my daughter to ballet. In my ideal world, the final shot would have been a gorgeous piece of fish, lightly sprinkled with sliced green onions, presented on a bed of rice, with bright green bok choy on the side. Use your imagination! You can see it, right?
How about you? Do you have a general idea of what your dinners will look like throughout the week? Or, do you decide day by day?
Preheat oven to 375°F. In a small saucepan over medium heat, place vermouth, rice vinegar, white miso, sugar, and black vinegar. As the glaze warms, stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a parchment lined casserole or sheet pan place fish or fish fillets. With a pastry brush, off-set spatula, or spoon, glaze top and sides of fish. I always have glaze left over, so don’t feel the need to use it all.
Place fish in oven. Cook times will vary depending on thickness of the fish. I usually start checking at the 15 minute mark. The fish is done when it is opaque in the center and easily flakes with a fork. Alternatively, you can place the fish under the broiler for approximately 6 minutes… but keep an eye on it, it can quickly burn.
*If you have sake, please feel free to use in place of vermouth. But we don’t have sake, and I probably won’t buy an entire bottle just to have on hand for this dish. Vermouth works well, as would dry sherry.
Sautéed Bok Choy with Ginger, Garlic, and Red Pepper Flakes
2 heads of bok choy, rinsed and chopped
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut in half
1 clove of garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of a knife
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes, stirring frequently for approximately 1 minute. The ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes are there to flavor the oil.
Add chopped bok choy to skillet, stirring so that it mingles with the oil. Reduce heat to medium low and cover. The water from rinsing the bok choy will help steam it. Cook for 3-5 minutes, checking and stirring occasionally.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
The bok choy will reduce down by quite a bit. The leaves will wilt and stems will be tender but retain some crunch. We happen to like the contrast of textures, but if you’d prefer more uniformity, give the stems a head start by adding them to the skillet first. A minute or so later, add the leafy part of the bok choy.
Many cultures have very specific foods they eat on New Year’s Day, foods that are believed to put the odds in your favor for a wonderful year. So, if you’re superstitious, or don’t want to tempt fate, or just want to eat some delicious and healthy food, please read on! As I gathered information, digging through recipes and stories about these traditional foods, a pattern emerged. Certain humble ingredients are likely to lead you to a year full of wealth and good fortune. And though each culture’s final dish was different than another’s, the basic building blocks were the same.
Some key elements include:
Leafy greens (kale, chard, collards): Represent economic fortune as the greens are thought to resemble paper currency.
Legumes (beans, peas, lentils): Also represent economic fortune; the tiny round legumes are symbolic of coins.
Pork: Full of flavor and fat, eating pork signifies wealth and prosperity.
When living in Virginia and North Carolina, my family and I always ate Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Hoppin’ John is a traditional southern one-pot meal made with black eyed peas, rice, and pork (bacon, ham hock, or fatback). We served it with greens on the side, usually collards. This year, after all the indulging between Thanksgiving and Christmas, my body needed a major reboot. Instead of Hoppin’ John for New Year’s Day, I tried something new. Using the same overall game plan… leafy greens, pork, and legumes, we kicked off the year with Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale, healthy, but still full of good luck. Yes, I know there’s sausage in there, but really- it’s not a lot, less than 1oz per serving.
While the pork and kale will provide additional good fortune for the year, they are not necessary for the recipe. If you don’t want to add the sausage, don’t, but then do bump up the flavor by adding more garlic and other spices such as a bit more thyme, and perhaps red pepper flakes. Or maybe bacon or cubed ham steak is more your thing; either would be delicious. If you prefer a different green, try spinach. How about no greens? Add a bell pepper or turnips to the vegetable mix.
Hoppin’ John, a very special dish full of flavor and memories of our time spent down south, will remain in my arsenal of recipes, making an appearance once a year. On the other hand, this soup will be now be part of the regular rotation. Perfect for dinner with warm crusty bread, even tastier the next day for lunch at home or sent in a thermos to school or work. And who couldn’t use some help ensuring prosperity throughout the year, not just at the start?!?
I wish all of you a year full of health, good fortune, and delicious food shared with those you love!
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced carrots (about 3 carrots)
1 cup diced celery (about 3 stalks)
1 cup diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 italian sausages, casings removed (I used 1 sweet and 1 spicy)
grape tomatoes (as many as you’d like)
2 cups green lentils, rinsed
8 cups water
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme
1 bunch kale (stems removed), rinsed and chopped
salt and pepper to taste
In a dutch oven over medium high heat, warm olive oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion. Sauté vegetables for 5 minutes or until just tender. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add sausage, breaking meat up as it browns. When sausage is cooked, stir in tomatoes and lentils. Add water, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes-1 hour, until lentils are tender. During last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in chopped kale.
Check seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.