For me, stollen is one of those nostalgic foods that brings back lots of great memories. It all started when my mother’s ‘pen pal’ (of 20 years), would send our family a loaf of her homemade stollen bread through the mail at Christmas. She lived in different province of Canada than we did and it seemed so amazing to receive this perishable item through the postal service. Nevertheless, it left a lasting imprint on me to become one of those precious ‘taste of a memory’ foods.
Over time, I have made this traditional German Christmas specialty in various ways. This year my choice is to make it as a pull-apart bread. This term refers to a bread formed from pieces of dough, placed next to and on top of each other in a pan and baked. This bread required no knives to serve.
An interesting concept that has been called many names such as bubble bread or loaf, jumble bread, monkey bread etc. Initially it was formed pieces of yeast dough dipped in butter and baked in a loaf to be served with jam or preserves. In 1942, General Mills (Betty Crocker) promoted ‘Hungarian Coffee Cake’, which consisted of balls of yeast dough dipped in melted butter, then in sugar frequently mixed with cinnamon and/or chopped nuts. It was baked in a ring pan because the central tube helped prevent the center from being under baked and sinking due to all the butter. ‘Betty Crocker’ had a real way for turning unknown recipes into mainstream ideas.
By the 1990’s, General Mills promotions began entitling this sugar coated treat as ‘Monkey Bread’. However, it may have been silent-screen movie star, ‘Zasu Pitts’, who provided this whimsical name. The term and recipe initially appeared in the Thursday, February 8th, 1945 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) in the column ‘Culinary Clinic’. Zasu was most often remembered for her extraordinary name, huge eyes and fluttering fingers. Besides acting, she had a passion for cooking and published a 93 page cookbook in 1963.
Most of the early recipes called for rolling out the dough and cutting it into diamond shapes instead of forming balls. The widespread popularization of money bread corresponded to the advent of the commercial refrigerated biscuit dough in the 1950’s. One of the later innovations is to insert a little cinnamon-sugar coated cube of cream cheese in the center of each dough ball or drizzle with a cream cheese glaze.
For my pull-apart stollen, I’m using a yeast-free recipe. It’s an interesting version that mimics the traditional flavor well. To serve, you can pull-apart the bread rolls or slice it — your choice!
Grease a tube pan & set aside. In a bowl, combine candied peel, water & extracts; set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, almonds, baking powder, salt, & spices. Cut in butter until it resembles fine crumbs.
Preheat oven to 350 F. To candied peel mixture, add cottage cheese, eggs, lemon zest & raisins. Combine well with flour mixture. Arrange scoops of stollen batter into tube pan. Bake about 40-45 minutes or until test done. Cool on wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar.
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.
Potato pancake variations are present in National cuisines all over the world and considered by many to be pure comfort food. The nice thing is, you can create this great meal by using leftover mashed potatoes. It can be kept simple or you can amp up the flavor with cheese, onion, bacon or a variety of spices. I recall my mother making them. I think she just added some eggs, onion, a bit of flour and some salt & pepper to the leftover, mashed potatoes. They were made into patties and pan fried as you would a pancake.
Depending on which part of Eastern Europe you come from, the name varies — Kolduny, Zrazy, Kartoffelpuffer are just a few. Regardless of the name you call them, they are just simply delicious. The Russian version takes it a bit further. The potato pancake is stuffed with a filling and then fried to a golden brown.
After reading through numerous recipes, I decided to ‘meld’ some of them into my own creation. These are what developed — nothing pretty but really good flavor. Yes, truly comfort food.
In a bowl, combine pork filling ingredients; divide into 8 portions & form each into a patty shape. Refrigerate until potato pancake 'batter' is prepared .
In a skillet, fry bacon until crispy; drain on a paper towel until cool. In skillet with remaining bacon grease, saute onion & garlic until translucent.
In a large bowl, crumble bacon into small bits. Add cold mashed potatoes, onion, garlic, beaten egg, cheddar (if using), flour, salt & pepper. Combine well. Using a large piece of waxed paper, form 16 patties. On top of each one, place one of the pork patties & then top each with the remaining potato patties. With a pair of scissors, cut waxed paper to separate filled potato pancakes so it will be easy for you to place them on a griddle for frying.
Lightly oil a frying pan or griddle. Using the waxed paper remaining under each pancake, carefully flip each filled pancake onto the griddle. Flatten a bit & press edges to enclose filling better. Fry first side to a nice golden brown then carefully flip with a spatula & brown second side a few minutes. Cover with a lid (or foil) for remaining cooking time to ensure pork is cooked through.
Once cooked, remove from griddle & serve with sour cream or Ranch dressing.
Don't hesitate to make the pancakes the size that works best for you.
The end of October! Seriously, it seems like we were just getting into spring and now its Halloween. Brion and I were in a store around the end of September that already had Christmas displays up. For me, that really doesn’t work. Maybe it just comes as we get older, but I really enjoy to try to stay in the ‘moment’ and enjoy each day, season and year as they unfold. That time will never come again, so why do we feel the need to rush it so. I guess you could call it, ‘making the most of your own personal journey’.
Nevertheless, it is time to think about some treats for the special ‘little people’ next door. We have just wonderful neighbors on either side of us. One family has two boys and the other side, two girls. I especially enjoy to come up with something unique each year for them on Halloween.
This year I decided to do some apple ‘mummy’ pastries (apple instead of pumpkin for kids, right?!), chocolate bats and black cat cookies. If these treats turn out they should look great! Fun! Fun! Fun!
FOR CRUST: In a food processor, pulse flour, salt & sugar, then add butter. Pulse until only until coarse meal texture is obtained. Add chilled water 1-2 Tbsp at a time. If your dough doesn't come together in clumps add remaining water. Divide dough into two portions & shape each into a 5-inch disk. Cover with plastic wrap & chill for one hour.
FOR FILLING: On a cutting board, chop apple pie filling into smaller pieces. In a bowl, soften cream cheese & combine with apple filling & 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Cover bowl & chill until ready to assemble cookies.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. On a floured work surface, roll out first disk of dough to about 13 X 11-inch rectangle. You will need to have straight edges so you may need to trim a bit. Make twelve 4 X 2 1/2-inch rectangles. Roll out second disk of dough & cut into 1/2-inch strips.
Space rectangles on prepared baking sheet & spread 2 heaping Tbsp of apple filling onto each one, leaving a rim on all sides uncoated. Brush uncoated edges with egg/water mixture. Top with strips to create a 'mummy' look, then seal edges with your fingertips & trim any excess. Brush strips with remaining egg white/water mixture & sprinkle with combined sugar & cinnamon. Bake about 10-12 minutes, until golden. When cooled secure edible candy eyes.
In a bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar; set aside. Remove wrappers from Reeses cups. Gently separate Oreo cookies & scrape off frosting. Cut cookies in half to form 4 bat wings. Fill a plastic baggie with cream cheese frosting. Cut off the tip of one corner & pipe frosting onto one corner of each cookie half.
Press one cookie piece on the left of the Reeses cup & another cookie piece on the right forming your bat in flight. Pipe frosting on the back of the edible eyes & secure on top of the center of the Reeses cup.
Black Cat Cookies
In a mixing bowl, cream butter & sugar until light & fluffy. Add egg, & vanilla; combine then stir in flour, dry pudding mix & nuts. Combine well but do not over mix. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thick between 2 sheets of parchment. Place in freezer for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut cooled dough into pumpkin shapes & place on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake about 8 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.
In a small double boiler, melt black candy melts. Pour melted wafers into a piping bag fitted with a fine tip. Place a large piece of waxed paper on a flat surface with a printout of black cats underneath. Trace cat shapes & fill in after. Allow to set completely, then peel shapes from waxed paper.
Ice cooled pumpkin cookies with orange frosting then lightly press a black cat on the top of each one. This recipe should make about 30 cookies.
When I think of stuffed peppers, quiche never ever came to mind. I have always enjoyed quiche anytime of day, with or without crust. The idea of using a pepper as your ‘crust’ certainly puts a new twist on the traditional quiche.
I wanted to make these pepper cups for a supper meal and since there was no pastry involved here, bread sticks seemed like a good accompaniment.
Quiche is like making pizza– there are no limits to what the filling can consist of. For our meal today, I just put together a variety of items I had on hand for both the quiche and bread stick twists. It turned out to be real enjoyable and so easy.
In a skillet, saute mushrooms & onion in butter until tender. Add thyme & salt; cook 1 minute longer or until blended. Remove from heat & cool slightly. Roll pizza dough into a 16 X 8-inch rectangle. Sprinkle cheese on half of the dough, then top cheese with HALF of the mushroom/onion mixture. Fold un-topped half of dough over topped side; slice into 8 strips to form twists.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully lift & twist each strip before placing on baking sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder & salt to taste. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
Pepper Quiche Cups
In a skillet, place ground pork, water, salt, rubbed sage, black pepper, red pepper flakes & ground ginger. Stir-fry until no longer pink. Remove from heat & drain on paper towel. Chop sun-dried tomato pieces & shred cheese.
In a large measuring cup with a spout, place 1/2 & 1/2 milk, salt & pepper. Add eggs & beat well. Remove stems, seeds & membrane from peppers & stand in a roasting dish that will hold them upright & level. Divide cooked pork, remaining mushroom/onion mixture & sun-dried tomatoes.
Top each pepper with some grated cheddar, then carefully pour in the milk/egg mixture. Bake until eggs are set. If you prefer, 'float' a piece of foil over peppers for the first part of the baking time. It will help the cheese not to over bake.
Its already late August so BBQ’s and salads are in full swing. There’s just something about cooking food outdoors on the grill that we Canadians absolutely love. If your a true BBQ lover, it doesn’t matter if its a block away, you will still catch that glorious smell.
BBQ season is not only for meat eaters. Just about any vegetable as well as numerous desserts can be cooked on the grill. For me, I love seafood, fish & chicken, for Brion, I guess I would have to add a bit of pork and beef.
This meal is a nice combination of shrimp, Parmesan zucchini and pasta salad. I kept the pasta salad real simple since we already had a vegetable. To give it some extra pizzaz, I made a roasted red pepper sauce which the little orecchietti pasta cups nicely. Nothing fancy, just plain good!
In a food processor, blend red roasted peppers along with 2 Tbsp of liquid from the jar. Puree the peppers until smooth, adding a Tbsp or two of water if needed to help it blend ( avoid adding too much liquid from the jar as it can be very acidic). Mince the garlic & add it to a skillet with the butter. Saute for 1-2 minutes or just until garlic has softened but not brown. Pour in the pureed peppers; add basil & pepper & stir to combine.
Allow sauce to come to a simmer; turn heat to low & simmer about 10 minutes, stirring often, until mixture thickens. Add cream, stirring until smooth. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente about 12-13 minutes. Drain & add to sauce. Serve warm or cold.
In a bowl, whisk together all shrimp marinade ingredients; add shrimp & marinate at least 30 minutes.
Prepare zucchini. In a bowl, combine Parmesan & garlic powder. Melt butter; toss zucchini slices in butter then coat with Parmesan mixture. On wooden skewers, alternate marinated shrimp with cubes of Parmesan zucchini. Roast in oven or on BBQ until shrimp is pink & cooked being careful not to overcook. Serve with orecchiette pasta salad.
This tomato-free sauce could also be used as an alternative to a traditional pizza sauce.
This week we are celebrating Brion’s birthday. We have never felt the need to give gifts on ‘occasions’ but rather just enjoy another holiday travelling together or ‘gift’ each other at random. As we grow older, it comes clearer everyday, the special privilege it is to simply have each other to share life with. I appreciate the fact that Brion has always believed in me and supported my endeavors and I’ll be forever grateful for the love we share. This picture of Brion was taken in Havana, Cuba this year along the beautiful seawall.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.
Trim chicken, rinse & pat dry; season with salt & pepper. Place the chicken in pan, not overlapping.
Drain pineapple chunks, reserving 1/2 cup of the juice. In a saucepan, whisk together juice, honey, ginger, vinegar & soy sauce. Place over medium heat & simmer, whisking often until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in the water; whisk into the pineapple/honey sauce.
Place the pineapple chunks on top of chicken; pour pineapple/honey sauce over all & sprinkle with the almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until chicken registers 165 F.
It seems that the exact origin of five-spice powder is unknown but there is some speculation that the blend was created in traditional Chinese medicine. A very unique spice blend that represents a wide range of flavors from sweet, salty and bitter to pungent and sour. Rumor has it that the Chinese were trying to create a ‘miracle powder’ that was representative of all the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Then again, its possible that a cook accidentally stumbled upon this particular combination of spices and realized its power to improve on a bland dish. In any case, it is very versatile and can be used not only in cooking but also adds a unique flavor to baked goods.
Many recipes for five-spice powder exist but there is no one traditional recipe. Often the ingredients and amounts can vary from region to region and are different depending on the household and individual tastes. The original blend contained star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, fennel seed, cinnamon and cloves. A staple in Chinese cuisine but has also found its way into other international cuisines such as Vietnamese and Hawaiian food.
This is an interesting recipe combining pork with a spicy rhubarb sauce. Definitely a keeper!
In a saucepan, combine rhubarb, water, honey, hoisin, garlic, ginger, 5-spice powder & crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly reduced & the rhubarb is very soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat & stir in soy sauce & lemon juice. Transfer 2 TABLESPOONS of the sauce to a saucer; set aside the remaining sauce until serving time.
In a resealable large plastic bag, combine soy sauce, honey, oil, 5-spice powder, salt, pepper & the 2 Tbsp of reserved 'rhubarb sauce'. Place ribs in the bag; seal & marinate in refrigerator at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 275 F. Place ribs & marinade in a baking dish. Place in oven to SLOW roast for about 1 1/2 hours until VERY tender. Remove from oven, garnish with sliced green onion & serve with remaining rhubarb sauce.
The pairing of chocolate and strawberries is hands down one of the best combos in dessert history. Both have long and rich histories. Strawberries were found growing wild in Italy centuries ago. The name itself has some myth around it stemming from the idea people put ‘straw’ around the base of the plant for both nutrients and protection.
Chocolate was enjoyed by Aztec and Mayan civilizations as a beverage and even used cocoa beans as a currency. As cocoa spread around the world, different ideas for its use emerged. Candy makers added milk & sugar or nuts and caramel to their chocolate confections.
In the 1960’s, Lorraine Lorusso created a decadent chocolate covered strawberry. As the story goes, she worked at a small gourmet shop called the Stop N’ Shop in Chicago, USA. She took a tempered version of the gourmet chocolate that was sold in the store and dipped some fresh strawberries into the mixture. She allowed the chocolate to harden and served these strawberries to their paying customers. The treat was an instant success.
I’ve done my own pairing of strawberries and chocolate in this cake roll with a cream cheese filling. Hope you get a chance to enjoy one through the summer as well.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder & salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, whip egg whites until foamy, gradually adding HALF of the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. In a third large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick. Add remaining sugar, vanilla & water; beat until very thick. Gradually fold in flour mixture then egg whites.
Spread batter evenly into jelly roll pan. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until it tests done with a toothpick. Loosen edges & immediately turn cake onto a tea towel dusted with powdered sugar & remove parchment paper. Starting with narrower end, roll up cake in towel; cool completely.
In a small bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, powdered sugar & lime juice. Fold in diced, fresh strawberries.
Unroll cooled cake; remove towel. Spread cake with filling; roll up loosely to accommodate filling. Cover & refrigerate until ready to slice & serve.
The caramelized, citrus kumquat flavor puts a unique twist on the traditional upside down cake. This is an old technique that started centuries ago when cakes were cooked in cast iron skillets. It was easy to place the fruit and sugar in the bottom of the pan with a simple cake batter on top and place it over the fire to ‘bake’. The fruit stays juicy and caramelized when cooked being protected by the sponge of the cake.
Probably, this is where the idea for the classic ‘Pineapple Upside Down Cake’ from the 1920’s stems from. I had some extra kumquats I needed to use so they were perfect in these little desserts. Of course, any fruit of choice will work I’m sure.
In a saucepan, combine water & sugar & heat until sugar dissolves. Leave a few kumquats whole for garnish & slice the rest. Add all of the kumquats to the pan & bring to a gentle simmer. Cook them for about 10-15 minutes until they are tender; drain & return the syrup to the pan. Bring syrup to a boil until it thickens slightly; remove from heat. Reserve whole kumquats; dividing the slices between 4 custard cups.
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine all cake ingredients & beat until smooth. Divide mixture over kumquats in custard cups. Place cups on a baking sheet & bake for 15 minutes or until cakes have risen & are firm to the touch in center. Remove from oven & allow them to cool in cups for a few minutes. Carefully turn them out on to serving plates, garnish with whole kumquats & drizzle with warm syrup.