Pecan Crusted Salmon

Pecan Crusted Salmon

If you love salmon like I do, this is a fun way to prepare it. The crunch from the nuts adds a nice contrast to the texture of the fish. The flavors work well together, too. You don’t have to use pecans. I prefer them, but finely chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or even pumpkin seeds might be fun.

A combination of Dijon mustard, butter and honey helps the nuts to stick to the fish. There are a few fresh bread crumbs in there as well.

This dish is simple enough to prepare any night of the week, but special enough to make for company.

I used salmon fillets. You could use a whole side of salmon. You just have to increase the baking time to about 20-25 minutes and reduce the oven to 425 degrees. Depending on the size of the piece of salmon, it might take a few more minutes.

You could use other fish, but you need a sturdy fish that will stand up to the topping. I have made it with Steel Head Trout and it worked out beautifully.

Pecan Crusted Salmon

 2 T. Dijon Mustard

2 T. melted butter

4 t. honey

1/4 c. fresh bread crumbs

1/4 c. finely chopped pecans or walnuts

2 t. chopped parsley

4 salmon fillets

Salt and pepper

Lemon wedges

Mix together mustard, butter and honey and set aside. Mix together bread crumbs, nuts and parsley and set aside. Season each fillet with salt and pepper. Place on lightly greased baking or broiling pan. Brush each fillet with mustard mixture. Divide crumb mixture among fillets, patting to hold. Bake in 450 degree oven for 10 minutes per inch thickness of fillets. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Lemon Tea Cake

Lemon Tea Cake

This is one of my favorite cakes of all time. It is a simple cake, enhanced with the flavor of lemon juice and lemon zest. Once out of the oven, you poke the hot cake with a large fork or a skewer, and pour a lemon syrup over it. The syrup gives the cake an extra lemony tang. It is a perfect addition to afternoon tea.

When my friend Courtney gave me some Meyer lemons she grew, I knew I wanted to do something special with them. I couldn’t think of anything better than this cake. Meyer lemons are a little sweeter than other lemons, but still tangy enough for this cake.

Great all on its own, this cake is also wonderful served with fresh berries and whipped cream for a Spring dessert. On a hot day, I have been known to top it with a scoop of ice cream.

Before you ask, the measurements are correct- only 3/4 cup of flour.  No leaveners like baking powder or baking soda, either. The cake does not rise a whole bunch, but the texture is still very nice. The texture of the cake helps it to stand up to the lemon syrup.

Lemon Tea Cake

 2 lemons

3 T. sugar for topping

½ c. butter, softened

¾ c. sugar

2 eggs, beaten

3/4 c. flour

6 T. milk or half and half

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- inch loaf pan and line with wax or parchment paper. Grate the lemon rinds and set aside. Combine the juice of 1 of the lemons with the 3 tablespoons of sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter with the rest of the sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, a little at a time until well mixed. Stir in the flour and lemon peel and beat well. Add the milk and beat well. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at least an hour. The cake should spring back when touched lightly. As soon as you remove the cake from the oven pierce it all over with a long-tined fork or a skewer. Pour over the reserved lemon juice mixture. Cool cake in pan before serving. Cake will be moist and tangy.

Mom’s Pierogi

Mom’s Pierogi

My mother taught me how to make pierogi, the way her mother taught her. They are part of my family’s food traditions.

Pierogi, if you didn’t know, are pasta, filled with different fillings, often potato based.  They are also sometimes stuffed with prune filling or sauerkraut. Today you can find pierogi filled with all sorts of fillings.

Filled with potato and cheese, they make a great meat-free meal, too. We often had pierogi on Fridays in Lent when I was a kid.

There are variations in the dough, too. Some use just eggs, flour, water and salt. Others add some dairy, in the form of milk or sour cream.

Once the pierogi are made, you can boil them and just serve them up, or brown the boiled pierogi in butter and serve with caramelized onions and sour cream. My mother used to make sweet and sour cabbage and serve it with the pierogi, or sometimes even use it as a filling. I can’t make them without remembering her.

Pierogi

Dough:
2 c. flour
1 t. salt
½ c. water (you can also use half milk and half water)
1 egg
Mix all ingredients together and knead on floured surface until smooth. Cover and let rest at least 15 minutes. Roll out thin and cut into circles. Re-roll scraps. You should get between 20-30. Spoon filling of your choice on center of dough circle. Fold dough in half over filling and press edge with fork to seal. Wetting the edge of the dough will help the dough to stick. Don’t overfill or the pierogi will split. Test a couple first to get the hang of it. Place a few at a time into salted boiling water and cook until they float. You can eat them as is or brown cooked pierogi in butter in a skillet. Serve with grilled onions and/or sour cream. We would often make a larger batch and then freeze them, uncooked on wax paper-lined baking sheets. When frozen they would be transferred to a freezer bag or container. Place right from the freezer into boiling water when ready to use.

Potato filling:
2 lbs. Potatoes, peeled and boiled
½ onion, minced
2-3 T. cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese, optional
salt and pepper to taste
Mash potatoes with other ingredients and season to taste.
Note: you can also add cheddar cheese if you like. In class we had some with cheddar cheese and added ham, too.

Fresh made pierogi

Mini Cream Puffs

Mini Cream Puffs

If you want to surprise someone with a very special sweet treat, you could make cream puffs. These are a bit of work, but the end result is so wonderful. I think they are worth the effort, especially for special occasions. These would be a big hit at any party.

You start by make a pate a chou, or cream puff pastry. This is the same dough used to make eclairs. It is a combination of water, butter, milk and flour- cooked on top of the stove, then enriched with the addition of eggs. The dough is piped onto baking sheets and baked until puffed, golden and crisp. Once cooled, they are filled with sweetened whipped cream or, more traditionally, a custard filling. You can serve them as is, or top with chocolate or dust with powdered sugar.

The size you make your cream puffs is really a matter of personal choice. I decided to make mini puffs- about an inch in size. I find them a fun size to serve at a party.

You can also split your puffs and fill them with a savory filling, instead. A crab salad would be a tasty choice.

Homemade Cream Puffs

1 recipe Cream Puff Pastry (Pate a Chou)- recipe follows

Egg custard- for filling, or sweetened whipped cream- recipe follows

Chocolate Ganache- for topping- recipe follows, or just use melted chocolate.

Start by making the dough. This recipe will make 3-4 dozen mini cream puffs.

Cream Puff Pastry

¾ c. water

¼ c. milk

¼ t. salt

½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter

1¼ c. flour – unbleached or bread flour preferred

4 large eggs

Extra milk for brushing

In saucepan, heat together water, milk butter and salt into a full boil. Butter has to be melted. While stirring, dump flour into saucepan, stirring constantly. Mixture will form into a ball. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking dough, while stirring, for another minute or two. Place dough in an electric mixer and allow it to cool down a little before adding the eggs. Mixture has to be at 140 degrees F, or below, before you start adding the eggs. I use the paddle attachment and beat the dough before adding the eggs. This cools the dough down faster. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Beat until dough is shiny. A spoon, lifted out of the batter, should leave a peak that does not fall down.

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. I used a silicone liner and was happy with the result. Don’t grease the pan. Using a piping bag, squeeze the dough into 1-inch balls on the baking sheet- leaving a little room in between.  Using a little milk on your finger, smooth down any peaks on the puffs.  I missed a few and did get a couple that had cracks on the top. The smoother the balls look, the nicer your puffs will look. Bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 375. Bake puffs 5- 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. Tap the shells. They should sound hollow. Turn off the heat and leave oven door open a crack, allowing them to dry completely. Cool before filling. Makes 3-4 dozen.

Custard Filling

2 cups milk or half and half

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1⁄3 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

Using a whisk, combine milk, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan over medium heat on stove top. Allow milk to scald (heat to the point when tiny bubbles form around edges of pan). Whisk occasionally to prevent cornstarch from clumping on bottom edges of pan. Remove milk mixture from heat, preferably to a burner that’s turned off.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of scalded milk mixture into eggs using whisk, then introduce eggs into milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking milk mixture constantly. Immediately return pan to heat and whisk gently until custard thickens, another two or three minutes. Do not allow to boil. (If you find that you have egg white strands in custard, feel free to pass it through a fine-mesh sieve into a different bowl now.) Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla. Cool before using. Makes 3 cups.

To fill the puffs, using a small piping tip with a pastry bag, filled with the custard. Squeeze filling in on the bottom, squeezing until it feels full.

Once cream puffs are filled, top with melted chocolate or chocolate ganache. I just dipped the tops of the cream puffs in melted chocolate. The chocolate hardened into a thin, crisp shell of chocolate on the puffs, adding a fun crunch.Filled puffs should be stored in fridge until ready to serve. They can be frozen.

Chocolate Ganache

4- 6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped- or 1 cup chocolate chips

2 oz. heavy whipping cream

In saucepan, heat chocolate and cream together until just heated through. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. You can also do this in a microwave safe bowl, in the microwave for about a minute. Remove and stir until smooth. Makes 1 cup.

Lentil and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers

Lentil and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers

A friend was in town and stopping by. I wanted to offer her dinner. Since I know she doesn’t eat meat- I knew we’d be going vegetarian. I had just picked up some beautiful sweet peppers at the local produce market. I knew I would use them in the dish. Stuffed peppers seemed like a fun way to go. I precooked most of the ingredients so I wouldn’t have to watch them too carefully once in the oven. That way, we were free to visit. I did top them with cheese- but you could omit the cheese, if you prefer.

Lentil and Brown Rice Stuffed Peppers

1 onion, chopped

Oil

¾ c. uncooked brown rice- I used brown jasmine rice

Water or vegetable stock – probably around 3 cups or a bit more

¾ c. lentils, rinsed and drained

2 c. peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes- or 2 c. canned tomatoes

2 – 3 sweet peppers, cut in half and seeded

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

¼ c. Marsala wine

2 T. apple cider vinegar

¼ c. chopped parsley

2 T. fresh chopped basil

1 T. fresh oregano or 1 t. dried

1 t. chopped rosemary

Hot sauce to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Romano or Parmesan cheese- optional

In soup pot, heat oil and cook onion until it gets tender and a little golden. Add the rice and stir to coat the rice in the oil. Toast the rice a couple of minutes. Add 2 cups stock or water to cover the rice, and then bring up to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes. While rice is cooking, place the peppers in a pot of boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and drain peppers. After the rice has been cooking for 20 minutes, add the lentils, garlic and tomatoes, wine, vinegar and seasonings and continue cooking, covered, until the rice and lentils are tender, about 25 more minutes Add more stock, if needed. Rice mixture should be a little runny. Place peppers, cut side up in a shallow baking dish. Spoon in the lentil mixture, dividing it among the 4 pepper halves. Cover dish with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Mixture will be heated through and peppers will be tender. Serve as is – or top with some cheese and return to the oven until cheese melts- about 5 minutes. Makes 4 pepper halves.

Sweet Potato and Herb Biscuits

Sweet Potato and Herb Biscuits

These biscuits are a favorite of mine. They go great with a bowl of chili. They also make a nice side for chowders.

I like sweet potatoes cooked any number of ways. Steamed, roasted, mashed. In this biscuit recipe, raw sweet potatoes are grated and added to the dough, along with some herbs. The biscuits come out tender, with great flavor and texture.

I enjoy them with a bit of butter, warm from the oven.

When you mix the dough, don’t be worried if it seems too dry. It takes a little bit of kneading to get the moisture out of the potatoes. The extra effort is worth it.

I cut them into triangles, but you can also just form the dough into a log shape. Then, slice the dough for round biscuits. They taste wonderful, no matter the shape.

 Sweet Potato and Herb Biscuits

2 1/4 c. flour

1 T. baking powder

1/2 t. grated lemon peel

1/4 t. each baking soda, dried basil and dried thyme

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 c. shredded sweet potato, about 1 large

1/2 c. fine chopped green onions

1/2 c. sour cream

2T. butter, melted or olive oil

Stir together dry ingredients in large bowl and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and add to flour mixture mixing until just blended. Turn onto lightly floured surface and knead a few times until dough just stays together. Dough will look too dry- but it will come together after you knead it. Press into an 8-inch square and cut into four squares.* Cross cut each square into four triangles. Place on greased baking sheet and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Makes 16.

* I press the dough into a lightly floured 8×8-inch baking pan and then flip it out onto the work surface, before cutting. That way you’ll get nice, even edges.

Asian Fish Balls

Asian Fish Balls

Fish balls are kind of like meat balls, but made with fish. Still, they are different, and it is the texture that makes them so special. I had eaten fish balls at Asian restaurants and always loved them. I was curious as to how they were made.

I looked up several recipes online and watched a few videos. After making them, I added them to simmering stock and served with dipping sauces. These are fun to make and serve at parties.

The big difference in making fish balls, as opposed to a traditional meat ball, is that the fish is pureed into a smooth paste. Combined with a few other ingredients, the mixture is very soft. More like a batter or dough in feeling and appearance. The fish batter is also mixed for a long time. It helps to give you the smooth final product you want in fish balls.

Once you make the base, the balls are shaped and simmered until done. The final texture should be smooth and light. Mine are pretty basic, but you can add all sorts of seasonings for different flavors. Different fish will also give you different flavors. Fish balls are usually served in a soup, but they can be added to all sorts of dishes.

When you read the recipe, it sounds like a lot of work. There is some time in prep, but a lot of that is just letting the mixer do its job. I thought they were well worth the effort. I had plenty for dinner with a friend, and extra to freeze.

I used catfish and I really loved the flavor.

Fish Balls

2½ lbs. of raw fish – I used catfish

1¾ c. ice water, divided

4 T. sugar

2 T. dry sherry – not cooking sherry

3 t. salt

4 eggs whites

4 T. cornstarch

Place the fish in a blender add ¾ cup ice water and puree until smooth. Remove fish puree to a stand mixer and add the sugar, sherry and salt. Use the paddle attachment and blend the fish mixture on high for 12-15 minutes. Add the egg whites, one at a time, while the mixer is running, during the 15 minute blending time. Now, with the mixer still running add ½ cup of the ice water, then 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch, blending well each time. Add the rest of the water, then the rest of the cornstarch. This should take about 5 minutes. The mixture should look really smooth and kind of silky. Turn off the mixer and place a small spoonful of the mixture in water- to be sure it floats. Now, you are supposed to squeeze small amounts of the mixture through your hand as you make a fist to form into 1- inch balls. I just used a tablespoon to spoon out the mixture, then used wet hands to form into balls. They aren’t going to be perfectly smooth and round, but that is fine. Have a big bowl of cold water standing by. As you make the balls drop them in the water. They will keep their shape and not stick together- they are soft, but should hold together. Once you have all the dough in balls, get a big pot of water just barely simmering. You don’t want the water to boil. Drop about half of the fish balls into the water at a time. Cook until they float, 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Now you are ready to go. It makes a big batch, so feel free to freeze some. You can add your fish balls to soup, sauté in oil until crisp or warm in broth and serve with dipping sauces.      

Fish balls in cold water, before cooking

Bacon, Shrimp and Corn Chowder

Bacon, Corn and Shrimp Chowder

I love the combination of shrimp and bacon. When I was looking for a quick dinner for today, I knew I would be using them together. It is a chilly day, so I decided to go with a chowder.

I rooted around my fridge and pantry for the ingredients and ended up with a very satisfying meal.

Some of my favorite dinners have happened by accident. Just looking at what I have on hand, and creating something tasty with it.

Bacon, Shrimp and Corn Chowder

6 thick slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1½ c. chicken stock
1 can cream corn*
½ c. corn- fresh or frozen_ I had sweet corn frozen from last summer
1½ c. half and half
½ c. chopped fresh parsley
12 oz. raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Dash of hot sauce

In soup pot, cook bacon until almost done. Add onion and continue cooking until onion is cooked. Spoon out most of the bacon fat. Add the carrots, potatoes and stock and simmer, covered, until the veggies are tender, about 15 minutes. Add cream corn, corn and half and half and bring up to a simmer. Add parsley and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add shrimp and cook another 5 minutes or until shrimp is just cooked. Adjust seasonings and serve. Serves 3-4.

*I decided to use a can of cream corn as the base. When I was a kid my Mother would make me something she called cream corn soup. She rarely used prepackaged foods and made wonderful homemade soups all the time. I think it was on one of those days when she was just really busy. To make her cream corn soup she would empty the can of corn into a saucepan. Then she filled the can with milk and added that, too. A little salt and pepper and the soup was done. Just before serving she’d put a small pat of butter in the soup. As a kid I just loved it. I must admit I don’t eat cream corn soup anymore, but as a base, the cream corn can really make a nice chowder.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I never met a shortbread cookie I didn’t like. These are no exception.  With the addition of cocoa, you end up with a cookie that has the traditional delicate texture of shortbread, with the added bonus of a rich, chocolate flavor.

They are great just plain, dusted with powdered sugar or, my favorite way, brushed with a little melted bittersweet chocolate.

Simple, tasty and a nice treat for the chocolate lovers you love.

Chocolate Shortbread

1 c. butter, room temperature

3/4 c. sugar

2 c. flour

1/3 c. cocoa

1/4 t. salt

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Beat together butter and sugar until well blended. Mix together dry ingredients and slowly beat into butter mixture, stirring it in at the end. Roll out dough about 1/4 inch thick and cut out with cookie cutters. Re-roll scraps and cut out the remaining dough. Place on an un-greased baking sheet and bake at 325 degrees until cookies are firm around the edges, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool.  Melt chocolate and dip cookies in it or use chocolate to hold 2 cookies together. I just spread a small amount on the cookies. You can also use a buttercream frosting to make them sandwich cookies. Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on the size.

Minty Cocoa Hearts

Minty Cocoa Hearts

If you are looking for a simple chocolate treat- that requires no cooking – try Minty Cocoa Hearts. They are tiny, but pack a lot of flavor.

This easy to make candy is made with just a few ingredients. The “dough” is mixed and rolled out. Then you just cut them out into little hearts.

They taste great and they are also a nice project for kids. There is no special equipment needed other than a tiny heart-shaped cookie cutter.

Once they have time to set up- they can be boxed up- or wrapped in individual foils.

So if time is short, and you really want to make something homemade this Valentine’s Day- these could be the answer.

Minty Cocoa Hearts

9 c. powdered sugar
1 c. cocoa
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. water
2 t. peppermint extract

In large bowl combine ingredients until well blended. You can add more water, if needed, 1 teaspoon at a time. Divide mixture into 2 pieces and shape in balls. Place each between sheets of wax paper and roll out to 1/4 -inch thickness. Cut out with tiny cutters and place on foil-lined tray. Chill several hours, then wrap up in colored foil or place in tiny candy bags. Makes 80 (1-inch) candies.

I do love the mint flavor of these, but you can play around with other flavors like almond, anise, cherry or orange, to name a few.

Cut out with heart-shaped cookie cutters

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