Anyone following my blog is well aware of my love for rhubarb. I think I’ve tried to use it in every capacity possible. Well, get ready for my next adventure — rhubarb Turkish delight! I refrain from eating a lot of chocolate bars, not that I don’t enjoy them, but seriously –. In Canada, the Nestle company sells a chocolate bar called ‘Big Turk’ for which Turkish delight forms the basic foundation. Of course, I love it!
Just a bit of food history background on the subject first. The Turkish name for the sweet comes from the Arabic rahat-ul hulkum which means ‘soothe or heal the throat’. This was abbreviated to rahat lokum and then lokum. The name ‘Turkish Delight’ was coined in the 18th century to make it easier to pronounce. As an improvement on the original recipe of honey or molasses, a mixture of water, flour, cornstarch and refined beet sugar were used to make a firm, chewy jelly.
Little has changed in the last 240 years. Although there are more than 24 different flavors, the biggest seller that still remains is a plain jelly studded with pistachios. Traditional Middle Eastern flavors include rose-pistachio, orange-blossom walnut, mint and rose-lemon.
Back to the rhubarb. Somewhere in my travels, I came across a recipe for rhubarb truffles that peeked my interest. After more research, I decided why not go right out on a limb and test my skills at making some rhubarb/rose Turkish delight. Actually, the end result was not bad. I have acquired a taste for the use of floral water in baking, Brion, not so much. It has to be used very sparingly or it becomes overpowering. I made three versions: Turkish delight plain or covered in white chocolate and a rhubarb truffle. A bit time consuming but a very unique flavor.
In a saucepan, put 1 1/4 cups water with sugar, rhubarb & lemon juice. Cook over low heat , stirring until sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat a little; simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; leave the rhubarb to infuse for 10 minutes, then pass through a sieve, reserving the juice & pulp separately (the pulp can be used in the truffles that follow).
Line a baking dish with cling film (the size will depend on how thick you want your candy) & set aside. In a small dish, blend cornstarch with remaining 1/4 cup water until smooth. In a saucepan, add rhubarb juice, gelatin powder, dissolved cornstarch & heat gently, stirring until gelatin has dissolved, then bring to a rolling boil.
Keep mixture at a steady rolling boil, stirring constantly, for about 12-14 minutes or until syrup reaches a soft ball stage. Cool slightly & then pour mixture into lined baking dish. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 12 hours or until the mixture is set; do not refrigerate.
Once the jelly is set, cut into pieces. Combine 1 Tbsp cornstarch with 2 Tbsp powdered sugar in a bowl, then roll the jellies in this mixture to coat them. Keep jellies in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 days; do not refrigerate. If you want to dip some of your jellies as I did, I found using a mini ice cube tray as a mold was helpful. I just set the piece of jelly in each cup & poured the white chocolate over & around it. Can be frozen until needed.
Rhubarb Cream Cheese Truffles
In a double boiler over medium heat, melt 55 grams of white chocolate chunks. Transfer to a bowl; add remaining ingredients EXCEPT milk chocolate & beat with an electric hand mixer until smooth. Cover & chill until solid enough to roll or scoop into balls.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt milk chocolate. drop balls of rhubarb/cream cheese mixture, one at a time, into milk chocolate to coat. Carefully remove onto parchment paper & allow to harden. Can be frozen as well until needed.
I also tried freezing the plain jellies without putting cornstarch/sugar mixture on them and it worked fine. They were actually nice tasting right out of the freezer.
The icebox or refrigerator cookie has been around as long as there have been ‘iceboxes’ to store them in. The recipes produce large yields and are the quickest way to make ‘homemade cookies’ in a short space of time. The technique of what has also been called ‘slice & bake’ cookies, is nothing if not do-ahead and convenient. After the dough is mixed and shaped into logs, it may be either refrigerated or frozen. Then, when you’re ready to bake, simply remove the logs from the freezer; let stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, slice and bake. Just slice off as many cookies as you need; any dough you don’t use can be refrozen. For a little extra pizzaz, roll the logs before slicing in crushed nuts, colored sugar, poppy seeds or finely chopped candied fruit such as crystallized ginger. The rolls of dough will keep in the refrigerator for about three or four days or frozen for up to three months.
The icebox cookie originated before my time but I do remember my mother making a chocolate icebox cookie with walnuts in them. Refrigeration methods had come a long way by then but the original concept of the icebox cookie never changed.
In early North America, ice was harvested from ponds and then stored in sawdust insulation to last into the summer months. In the advent of the railroad, insulated box cars hauled ice to keep foods cold in the markets and restaurants. In the early 1800’s, iceboxes were developed for home use. They were simply chests with a compartment for food and another for ice. The ice was replaced as it melted.
In the 1840’s, compression methods for making ice were developed. Eventually, new refrigerated iceboxes became common in homes. By the 1920’s recipes for icebox ‘cakes’ began appearing in cookbooks. These icebox cakes evolved into today’s time-tested, icebox cookies.
At this busy time of year, having a stash of pre-made slice & bake cookies on hand is priceless. Many people love the idea of giving homemade cookies as gifts or using at office cookie exchanges. Thinking about that, I decided to feature a recipe and gift idea for some inspiration on the subject.
The gift could include an inexpensive little cookie jar with some baked cookies in it as well as some frozen logs of cookie dough (ready to slice & bake), a tea towel, a rimless baking sheet, a cooling rack, a flexible lifter, a set of dry measures, a roll of parchment paper and the recipe for CHOCOLATE TOFFEE COOKIES.
In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in milk, egg & vanilla.
In another bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder & salt; stir into butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in toffee bits & nuts.
Divide dough in half; place each half on a piece of plastic wrap, roll into log about 12-13-inches long. Refrigerate, re-rolling 2 or 3 times to keep round shape if necessary during the chilling time of 4 hours.
Let stand at room temperature just long enough so you can slice them without the dough cracking or changing shape. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, slice into 1/4-inch thick slices; place on baking sheet & bake about 8-10 minutes. Immediately transfer cookies WITH parchment to cooling rack.
It’s hard to think of Christmas without having shortbread. When I was growing up, fruitcake (or Christmas cake) and shortbread cookies were some of the staples associated with Christmas baking. Fruitcake has definitely become lost in the shuffle but it seems shortbread still remains. While the traditional shortbread consisted of three main ingredients — flour, sugar and butter, today it is flavored with any number of ingredients.
The first shortbread recipe appeared in a Scottish cookbook dated 1736. Early formulas called for yeast, but by 1850, most were utilizing only flour, sugar and butter combined in a ratio bakers still use today. Originally it started out as a twice-baked medieval bread roll that was dusted in sugar and allowed to harden. For a number of years, Scottish shortbread (biscuits) were classified as a bread by bakers so that they could avoid the tax placed on biscuits.
There are infinite variations on the classic version such as additions of nuts, alcohol, citrus zest, dried fruit, anise spice, floral water, chocolate, lemon curd, caramel or ganache.
Some years ago,I started using a hazelnut liqueur in some of my Christmas baking. It adds a wonderful richness we really enjoy. My favorite is the Frangelico brand. It is distilled in the Piedmont region of northern Italy from an alcohol and water infusion of the nuts. Natural flavoring extracts such as cocoa and vanilla are added before blending with alcohol, sugar and water to meet the bottle strength. It’s origins go back over 300 years to the Christian monks who inhabited that area of Italy. The name Frangelico is derived from one of the monks, Fra. Angelico. The bottle itself, reflects this heritage, which looks like a glass monk complete with a rope belt. A bit pricey but if you are using it only for baking, the bottle lasts a long time.
This recipe was featured in a ‘Canadian Living’ magazine in December 2002. The perfect shortbread for the upcoming season.
In a bowl, beat butter with sugar until light & fluffy followed by the liqueur & vanilla. Stir in cornstarch & salt. Next add flour, 1/3 at a time combining to make a smooth dough. Add nuts, then divide dough in half & chill until firm but not hard, about 30-60 minutes.
Roll out each disk of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness & chill again at least 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut into desired shapes, re-rolling scrapes. Place 1-inch apart on baking sheet; chill until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. bake shortbread cookies for 15-20 minutes or until LIGHT golden. Remove from oven & place on cooking rack. Spread with glaze if desired.
In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, liqueur & 2 Tbsp water (adding more water if needed to make spreadable). Spread over shortbread cookies.
We are definitely well on our way to the ‘holiday’ season. For some, there will be endless social events and family gatherings, all of which require those quintessential little bite-size hors’d’ouvers. Being someone who loves to work with food, the Christmas season is like a blank canvas. Having spent a lifetime in the commercial food industry, I’m definitely no stranger to the endless hours of preparing these tasty little morsels. It gives you the ultimate presentation challenge when hundreds are required (as well as being tiring and a bit tedious at times).
One item that seems to always add a special note of elegance is the use of figs. Not for everyone, but for those who do enjoy them, they are irresistible. Figs can be eaten raw, grilled, poached or baked and can be paired with walnuts, honey, cheese, wine, citrus, cured meats and a variety of spices.
Turkey is the largest producer of figs in the world. The Smyrna/Calimyrna figs arrived in California, USA. in the 18th century, along with a special breed of wasp once needed for fertilization. Today, the most widely grown types of figs, including Black Mission, self-pollinate without any wasp labor.
The base of the fig plant’s flower, or soft pod, and little ‘seeds’ are the fruit’s structure and are all edible. Dried figs keep well without refrigeration and give you that concentrated, sweet flavor.
These ‘fast and fabulous’, three ingredient hors’d’ouvers are truly a must for all fig lovers!
Cut hard stem from the top of figs & discard. Slice figs in half horizontally & place sliced side up on a baking sheet. Using your finger, make a depression in the center of each. Place a 1/4 tsp of honey on each half & sprinkle with ground anise or seeds.
Press a walnut halve into center of each fig the top with grated cheese. Bake until cheese melts & is bubbly, about 5 minutes. Serve.
Until Brion and I had spent time living in Ecuador, I had never paid any attention to plantains. Really more of a vegetable than a fruit, plantains are larger and firmer than their banana relative but not sweet. They must be cooked to become palatable. With their bland, starchy, somewhat potato-like flavor, plantains take well to many cooking methods.
On one of the first meals we ate in a restaurant in Ecuador, I experienced the flavor of ‘patacones’. I had ordered an Ecuadorian ceviche and they were served as a side dish. The taste was like a potato chip but had almost a corn flavor. At the time I didn’t know what they were but the taste was definitely one that stayed with me.
In regions that compete for its origin, this specialty appears under two distinct names depending on the country. They are called patacones in Ecuador, Columbia, Costa Rica and Peru. In Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Haiti they are called tostones and in West Africa, just simply plantain chips.
The unripe plantain is traditionally prepared with a deep-frying method. The frying is done twice to ensure a crispy chip. You first peel the green plantains and slice them. Then the chips are fried on both sides, removed from the oil and blotted on paper towel. The tostones or patacones are now flattened somewhat and re-fried to provide extra crispiness. Salt may be used to add flavor to the chips. The thicker version (patacones) should be served hot or warm and are nice eaten with guacamole, garlic sauce, grated cheese or as a side dish.
As always, in my quest to bake rather than deep fry, I decided to make some patacones in the oven today. To add some guacamole = yum!!
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Slice plantain into 1-inch thick slices. Place on baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven & with the end of a glass, 'squash' each piece down flat. Thinner = crispier. Place back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until crispy to your liking. Serve with guacamole.
In a small bowl, mash avocados. Add minced red onion, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, garlic powder, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Combine thoroughly & serve.
Just for interest, the special or tradional tool used to flatten plantain slices is called a 'tostonera'.
Boxed instant pudding mixes have become an ingredient in many recipes from cake, cookies and pie to trifle and salad. In 1975, a salad recipe was developed by Kraft Kitchens, using two of their products, jell-o instant pistachio pudding and Cool Whip. It was called ‘Pistachio Pineapple Delight’. It seems though, that a forerunner to this salad was one using a lime jell-o powder instead of a pistachio pudding mix.
The lime gelatin / pineapple combination evolved over at least four decades. Research shows the salad on a menu in 1931 as well as another recipe from 1948 that contained NO marshmallows. In 1957, a pineapple pie recipe was printed with a filling made from the same ingredients as the salad.
This particular salad was a huge favorite of our family when I was growing up. One year, family friends that had been invited to Christmas dinner, asked if this salad had something to do with our German heritage because it always appeared on special occasions. It is hard to figure out where this dish belongs — dessert or salad? The fact that it is not so sweet you can get away with having it as a side dish but at the same time, it could also be enjoyed as a light dessert.
I have to be honest, I like both versions — lime or pistachio. Just for something different, I’m using the pistachio pudding mix in cookies and giving them a chocolate cream cheese center.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, cream together butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add the egg & extracts; combine then stir in flour & dry pudding mix. Combine well but do not over mix.
Form dough into 1 1/2-inch balls then roll in finely chopped pecans. Place on cookie sheet; make a thumbprint indentation on the top of each cookie. Bake for about 10-11 minutes; remove from oven & press each indent again, slightly. Remove to wire rack & cool.
While cookies are baking, Combine cream cheese & butter in a small bowl until smooth. Add sugar, cocoa powder & vanilla; beat until very creamy. If filling is to thick add a bit of milk to get the desired consistency. Divide filling between cooled cookies. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
The flavor combination of deeply sweet figs and the nutty, creaminess of Gorgonzola dolce is one of those pairings where opposites attract.
Among the oldest fruits consumed by humans, figs tell a complex and symbolic story in culinary history. Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California in 1520, leading to the variety known as Mission figs.
The deciduous fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 50′ (15 m) tall, though they are more typically 10-30′ (3-9 m). Figs flourish in hot, dry climates where the fruit has all-day sun to ripen.
The Black Mission figs are extremely sweet — sometimes even oozing a bit of syrup. They have a blackish-purple skin and dark pink flesh. Figs are best to use when they are very ripe, a little soft rather than firm. If you have figs that aren’t quite ready, use the heating method as that will soften them and add a bit of caramelization.
I came across this recipe excerpted from Cook Like a Rock Star by Anne Burrell. What a great and unbelievably simple hors d’ oeuver.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place fig halves sliced side up on a baking sheet. Using your finger, make a depression in the center of each. Place 2-3 drops of vinegar in each depression and sprinkle figs with salt.
Fill each fig with a dollop of cheese & top with a walnut piece. Bake until cheese melts & is bubbly, about 5 minutes.
With New Years Eve gatherings fast approaching, these little gems come to mind in the form of hors ‘d’ oeuvres. Of course, they are always great for a main dish as well.
The Swedish word for meatball, ‘Kottbullar’, first appeared in print around 1754. They are traditional Swedish ‘old-world’ fare at Smorgasbords and other festive occasions. Initially Swedish meatballs were only enjoyed by upper class Swedes but the increased availability of wood stoves and meat grinders in the 1850’s made meatballs accessible to the middle class as well. In northern Scandinavian countries beef was considered a luxury item, which meant meatballs were highly prized.
The meat content can vary based on geography. In southern Sweden, they are most often a 50/50 mix of beef and pork whereas further north in Sweden 70/30 of beef to pork is typical. Likely other options would be veal, venison, lamb or moose. Size-wise, they are smaller than those of Italy or Germany, typically not larger than a golf ball or smaller than 3/4″(2.5 cm) across.
The cream gravy (sauce) and spices play a big part in the taste of this dish, traditionally served with lingonberry preserves, mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber salad. The ‘pressed cucumber’, as it is called, provides some crunch, saltiness and acidity to the sweet creaminess of the rest of the meal.
In America, Swedish meatballs were very popular in the beginning of the 20th century and again in the 1950’s-1960′.
Brion and I have always enjoyed these tasty little meatballs so we are having them as our main course meal today.
Soak breadcrumbs in 2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2 cream. Fry onion in margarine. Combine all meatball ingredients & mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls. Preheat broiler to a high setting.
Place meatballs in a large baking dish, allowing a bit of space in between each one. Broil about 4" (10 cm) from heat until the tops are browned nicely. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Set oven to bake & reduce temperature to 300 F. Bake until meatballs are cooked through, depending on their size. If it seems they are getting too brown, cover lightly with a piece of foil to finish baking.
Cream Sauce (Gravy)
In a small saucepan, cook margarine & flour until bubbly. Slowly add broth & cream; boil for a FEW minutes, add soy, salt & pepper. Pour over hot meatballs.
This recipe can easily be made in whatever amount you need but I find making the whole thing & freezing them in various amounts works great for quick future meals. Freezing them without any sauce also gives you the option to adapt them to other types of meals.
Appetizers, starters, hors d’oeuvers or whatever you want to call them, are such an important part of any gathering. They provide the ‘welcome’ and set the stage for what comes next.
A comfort food and party food all in one, Christmas and New years celebrations would not be complete without cheese. Brie, one of the world’s best known soft cheeses, originated in northeast France, but is now produced all over the world. A decadent cheese that evokes thoughts of sophistication and elegance.
Brie, a soft, creamy, off-white or yellow cheese with an edible rind is produced from whole or semi-skimmed cow’s milk. Typically described as tasting earthy, nutty, fruity, grassy and even mushroomy.
In France, Brie is very different from the cheese that is exported. ‘Real’ French Brie is unstabilized and the flavor is complex when the surface turns slightly brown. When the cheese is still pure-white, it is not matured. If the cheese is cut before the maturing process, it will never develop properly.
Possibly, the most incredible way to serve brie, is to bake it, but of course that’s just a personal opinion. However, it can be difficult to find the perfect balance between under and over baking. If you remove brie from the oven too soon, it will only stay melted for a few minutes. On the other hand, if it is left in the oven to long it will lose it’s shape and be difficult to handle.
There are a variety of brie options on the market and any of them technically work. ‘Double Cream’ (227 gm) is an excellent choice, whereas ‘Triple Cream’ will become too runny when melted.
After all these years, our memories of France, it’s food, culture, beauty and not to be forgotten — the wine (and Brion’s favorite goat cheese) have not lessened. My sister, Loretta joined us on that first trip any of us had ever made to Europe, which added to those memories of a lifetime.
I wanted to share a few BAKED BRIE recipes today that have been favorites of mine to use at this time of the year. Hope you will enjoy.
227 - 375gram wheel of Brie cheeseIf you plan to make all 3 kinds you will need 1 wheel of brie for each.
In a large saucepan, combine all chutney ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 1 minute. Remove cinnamon stick. Cover & cool.
Gingered Grape Chutney
Slice grapes in half. In a saucepan, stir wine with cornstarch until dissolved. Add sugar, candied ginger & grapes. Stir over high heat until it comes to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, stirring often until liquid thickens, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in green onion. Cover & cool.
Place fig jam/preserves in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave for 30 seconds to soften. In a small bowl, combine the sliced, dried figs with chopped pistachios & walnuts. Add half of the fig jam & mix well to coat the nut mixture.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Set the brie on prepared baking sheet.
For the Blueberry or Grape Chutney: You can either bake the cheese FIRST & then add the topping or TOP it & then bake it.
For the Fig & Nuts: Before baking, coat the brie with the remainder of the jam. Top the brie with the fig & nut mixture.
Bake the brie for 12-13 minutes. At this point it should be starting to bubble on top. The trick is to leave it in the oven for as long as possible before the wheel begins to lose it's shape. You may have to leave it a bit longer. Serve the brie warm with crackers.
For best results, allow the brie to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking as it will ensure that the cheese melts evenly all the way through.
Brie tastes equally wonderful with a mix of both savory and sweet toppings.
Cream puffs are unusual pastries. Flour is added to a boiled mixture of butter and water, then baked at a high temperature until the mixture becomes a smooth ball of dough with a hollow center. This fairly tasteless mixture is known as choux pastry. When served as a sweet dessert they are called cream puffs — when served with a brown gravy & roast beef, Yorkshire pudding.
Although a very basic shell, these puffs can be made into some pretty elegant desserts. One idea that I had originally developed for a company Christmas party, used Chambord (raspberry) liqueur.
Chambord, France’s Liqueur Royale is a magnificent liqueur created using all natural ingredients. The finest black and red raspberries are blended before being steeped in Cognac to achieve a highly concentrated base. The mixture is then extracted and a second infusion captures the remaining flavors from the berries. The final step marries the berry infusion with Cognac and extracts of Madagascan vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and hints of fragrant herbs. The result is an unprecedented level of all natural complexities, flavor and aroma.
To fill the puffs, I made a simple pastry cream using instant vanilla pudding mix, spices, whipped cream and some rum flavor to give it an eggnog taste. Once the puffs were filled and placed on a serving dish, I drizzled them with the sauce. Any remaining sauce was served in a dish in the center of the cream puff ‘wreath’. It definitely brought the spirit of Christmas to the dessert buffet table!
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a saucepan, heat water & butter to a rolling boil. Whisk in flour & salt. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.
Drop dough by scant 1/4 cupfuls about 3 inches apart onto an ungreased or parchment lined baking sheet. Combine 2 Tbsp milk & egg yolk; brush over tops. Bake until puffed & golden. about 35-40 minutes. Cool away from drafts. Cut off tops; pull out any filaments of soft dough.
Eggnog Fluff Filling
In a large bowl, combine DRY pudding mix, milk, rum extract, nutmeg & ginger. With a mixer blend on low speed; Add whip cream, beating on high speed until soft peaks form, about 1-2 minutes.
Raspberry Chambord Sauce
In a food processor, puree raspberries with water until smooth. Strain into a small saucepan, pressing puree through a mesh. Whisk sugar, cornstarch & liqueur into sauce. Cook all ingredients together over medium high heat until thickened & clear. Remove from heat & add remaining sugar IF DESIRED. Transfer to a non-metalic container, cover & chill until ready to use.
Fill puffs; arrange on serving platter & drizzle with fresh raspberry Chambord sauce. Place remaining sauce in center of cream puff wreath. Serve immediately or cover & refrigerate no longer than 3 hours.