Hoisin Beef & Rice Roulade

Hoisin is not a sauce I use regularly but in this case I found it puts a nice Asian twist on a traditional meatloaf. Impressive enough to serve to guests but easy enough to prepare on a weeknight.

The history of hoisin sauce is as rich and complex as its flavor. The name ‘hoisin’ comes from the Chinese phrase meaning ‘seafood sauce’ due to its seafood-like flavor but ironically, the sauce doesn’t contain any seafood. It’s believed to have originated in southern China, and its use has evolved over centuries. Once a luxury only the wealthy could afford, it has become a staple in Chinese households and restaurants worldwide. An intriguing tale associated with hoisin sauce is its role during the mid-Autumn festival in China, where it’s used in preparing traditional mooncakes, symbolizing unity and completeness.

Traditionally, hoisin sauce was made from fermented soybeans, rice wine, sugar, spices, and other ingredients. Today, hoisin sauce is widely used in many Chinese dishes including Peking duck, dim sum, barbecued pork, and spring rolls. It has also become a popular ingredient in other Asian cuisines such as Japanese and Vietnamese.

Hoisin sauce is a culinary chameleon, seamlessly blending into a wide array of dishes. Some of the many roles of hoisin sauce are as a

  • Dipping sauce for spring rolls, dumplings, and other appetizers. Its sweet and savory notes perfectly balance the flavors of these bite-sized delights.
  • As marinade and glaze hoisin sauce works wonders with meats like chicken, pork, and beef. The sugars in the sauce caramelize beautifully when grilled, creating a rich and flavorful exterior.
  • Adding hoisin sauce to stir-fried vegetables and proteins introduces a delectable dimension to your dishes. Its thick consistency helps create a glossy coating that clings to the ingredients, delivering an irresistible taste in every bite.
  • From noodle stir-fries to fried rice, hoisin sauce can elevate these dishes with its unique blend of flavors. Just a drizzle can transform a simple plate of noodles into a gourmet delight.
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Hoisin Beef & Rice Roulade
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine Asia
Servings
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Instructions
  1. Prepare rice according to package directions. Cool slightly. Stir cooked rice with carrot, red pepper, green onion & cilantro. Reserve.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium sized bowl, stir breadcrumbs with milk, eggs, ginger, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt & pepper. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Grease foil well; top with a second sheet of foil (to use as a guide when rolling the beef). Crumble beef into bread crumb mixture; mix gently until combined. Press the beef into a 1/3-inch thick, rectangular layer on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Spread rice mixture evenly over the beef, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Roll beef, jellyroll-style, using the top layer of foil to guide & shape the beef into a compact log. Discard extra foil. Smooth the surface using fingers to fill in any gaps. Pinch ends closed. Bake for 45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, stir hoisin sauce with lime juice, ketchup, honey & sesame oil; brush evenly over roulade. Bake roulade for an additional 15 minutes.

Christmas Cookie Wreaths for Gifts

While certain holidays such as Christmas, lend themselves to giving food as gifts, gift-giving should be thoughtful and sincere.

We give gifts during the holiday season to express gratitude, love, or friendship to those near and dear throughout the year. But the custom of giving gifts goes all the way back to the first Christmas when the wise men brought Jesus three gifts — gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Many of the gifts we give and receive at Christmas time, especially ones related to food, have symbolic meaning and tales of folklore behind them. Others are just fun to make and share with family and friends. Sometimes those food gifts become an anticipated tradition that the gifter enjoys making and the receiver looks forward to every year.

These Christmas cookie wreaths seem like the perfect gift for our neighbors. Hope they like them because they where a lot of fun to make.

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Christmas Cookie Wreaths for Gifts
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
WREATHS
Ingredients
Spicy Wreath Base
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
WREATHS
Ingredients
Spicy Wreath Base
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Spicy Wreath Base
  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix until dough forms. Divide dough in half for 2 separate wreaths. Roll each half into a long strip about 43-inches long. On 2 sheets of parchment paper, draw 2 round circles each about a 13-inch circumference. Place on baking sheets. Following the circle outline, place a strip of dough on each circle. Press with the back of a spoon to flatten to about a 1/2-inch thickness.
  2. Preheat oven to 310 F. Bake cookie bases for about 15 minutes. They should be baked but not overdone so that the centers are soft. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack until ready to assemble with cookies.
Cranberry Lemon Pistachio Cookies
  1. In a bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder & salt. Place butter & sugar in a bowl & beat with a mixer until pale & fluffy. Mix in egg yolks, lemon zest & vanilla. Reduce speed to low & gradually mix in flour mixture. Shape into a disk; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out to 1/8-inch thick. Using a 2 1/2-inch round fluted cutter, cut out wreaths. Cut out centers using a 7/8-inch round or star cutter.
  3. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes. bake until just golden, about 12 minutes. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes before icing.
  4. Stir together powdered sugar & lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread each cookie with icing & sprinkle with pistachios and/or pepita seeds & cranberries. Yield: 24
Anise Shortbread Stars
  1. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, powdered sugar, flour & anise powder. Blend in butter with a spoon, mixing until a soft, smooth dough forms. If the dough is too soft to handle, cover & chill about 1 hour.
  2. Between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll dough out about 1/2-inch thick. Using a star cookie cutter, cut out stars & sprinkle with coarse white sanding sugar. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets spacing 1 1/2-inches apart. Place baking sheets in refrigerator & chill 30 minutes. Halfway through, preheat oven to 300 F. Bake for about 20 minutes or until edges are just barely browned. Yield: 18
Persimmon Linzer Cookies
  1. In a bowl, sift together flour & salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar & vanilla until light & fluffy. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as possible. Mix the rest & gently knead until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap & chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Prepare persimmon puree. In a saucepan over medium low heat, combine persimmons, sugar, cinnamon & salt. Simmer until thick, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly then transfer to a small food processor. Puree mixture until smooth. Set aside to cool.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  4. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a 2-inch fluted LINZER cookie cutter with a star attachment in the center. Place on lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or just until edges begin to brown. Allow cookies to cool to room temperature.
  5. Spread persimmon puree on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust & decorate cookies with cut outs using powdered sugar & some more puree. Place decorated cookie tops on bottoms spread with puree, making a sandwich.
Assembly
  1. Arrange cookies on wreath base to your liking. You can either 'fasten' them with an bit of icing that will harden (see notes) or just place them on top base. That way they are easy to pick up by guests without to much trouble. The base can be cut into pieces after the top cookies are eaten for some more cookie goodness.
Recipe Notes

ICING FOR ATTACHING COOKIES TO WREATH:

  • 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • Mix together the warm water, corn syrup and icing sugar for the icing. Make it on the thicker side, so add more icing sugar if needed.

Lemon Chicken in Dill Cream Sauce

Dill is an herb I have always favored. Due to its tangy taste and fragrance this herb has two groups of fans: those who are enthusiastic about it and those who push the plate aside in disgust if there is even a sole leaf of dill in the meal.

The herb is native to southern Russia, western Africa and the Mediterranean region.

In the 1st century Rome, dill weed was considered a good luck symbol. Ancient Egyptians used it to ward off witches. To the Greeks, dill signified wealth. Many cultures cultivated it for medicinal qualities, particularly its ability to soothe an ailing stomach.

Dill is a unique plant in that both its leaves and seeds are used as a seasoning. The thin, feathery green leaves become the aromatic herb called dillweed, and the oval flat seeds the more pungent spice referred to as dill seed.

The flavor of dill weed resembles the licorice-like flavor of mild caraway or fennel. The plant is, in fact, often mistaken for fennel fronds.

The classic combo of fresh lemon and dill create a quick Greek-inspired pan sauce for these simple sautéed chicken thighs.

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Lemon Chicken in Dill Cream Sauce
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Season chicken with salt & pepper to taste along with oregano, basil & garlic powder. Combine butter & oil in a large skillet. Once butter is melted add honey & stir to combine.
  3. Add chicken to pan, brown chicken 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a baking dish (it won't be cooked through at this point). Add butter & garlic; sauté for 1 minute until fragrant. Add chicken broth, cream & lemon juice & whisk over medium heat to form a smooth sauce.
  4. Pour sauce over chicken in baking dish & bake for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove from oven, sprinkle dill over the chicken & sauce. Add cracked pepper to taste & serve.
Recipe Notes
  • Being rice lovers, I cooked some long grain rice & used it as a base under our lemon chicken & dill sauce before baking it. Real tasty!

Chinese Char Siu Pork Meatballs

The meatball is a food that transcends cultures. Char siu pork meatballs, are one of the most popular pork dishes in Chinese/Cantonese cuisine and one of the most ordered dishes in restaurants.

They are full of all the flavors we love in Chinese food takeout. Salty, sweet, smoky, charred edges with juicy tender pork inside. Todays recipe was inspired by Chinese char siu with the use of 5-spice powder giving them that unmistakable flavor. This is a blend of star anise, fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, and Chinese cinnamon.

Char siu, loses something in its basic English name, barbecued pork. This sweetly marinated and basted meat has become a symbol of comfort food in Cantonese cuisine and means so much more than just barbecued or roasted meat.

The traditional dish is made from seasoned boneless pork. The pork is covered in a sweet, savory glaze and placed on wooden skewers or forks over low heat. It’s cooked until tender but not falling apart. The use of the skewers changes how the meat cooks. It should heat slowly and evenly from all sides. The char siu marinade is very distinctive in its flavor. Many cuts of pork can be used in char siu such as neck meat, pork belly and pork butt. Just about any lean boneless cut will work but I like pork tenderloin the best.

Meatballs are one of those creations that can be used in many different applications. The flavor profile can be varied with different spices or sauces. When they are paired with rice or noodles, they make a good main course. Alternatively, they are perfect as an appetizer or even just a snack. You can also make them in bulk and freeze them for use later. What’s not to love about something so versatile?

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Chinese Char Siu Pork Meatballs
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
MEATBALLS
Ingredients
Meatballs
Sweet & Spicy Sauce
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Chinese
Servings
MEATBALLS
Ingredients
Meatballs
Sweet & Spicy Sauce
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Meatballs
  1. In a large bowl, combine pork, cornstarch, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, soy sauce, five-spice powder & pepper. Mix well. Divide mixture into 20 pieces & roll into balls.
  2. in a skillet, heat oil. Fry meatballs in batches. Cook without moving for about 2 minutes or until the bottoms are cooked through. Use a spatula to carefully rotate the meatballs to cook on the other sides. Remove from skillet to paper towel.
Sauce
  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup combine all your sauce ingredients except the water and cornstarch. Pour your sauce mix in the skillet heat over medium low heat.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and pour in the skillet while stirring continuously. When the sauce begins to thicken add the meatballs back to the skillet and allow it to cook over low for 3-4 minutes, until they are coated.

Crown Roast of Pork

HAPPY EASTER!

Turkey at Thanksgiving. Prime rib at Christmas. Brisket at Hanukkah. Ham at Easter. Candy at Halloween. Holiday food pairings make each separate celebration special—and something special we look forward to each year.  One reason ham became the meat of choice for Easter dinner is because it was available. Historically, pigs were slaughtered in fall and cured over the winter. They were ready to eat once spring arrived and the Lenten fast ended. Today ham is available year-round and while Brion loves pork chops, ham is definitely not a meat he enjoys. Enter the pork crown roast ….

With its skyward-reaching ribs, a regal crown roast makes a stunning Easter dinner centerpiece.

Charred sticks of bone jutting from a wreath of fork-tender meat make this main seem medieval – as well as fit for a king and queen. There’s just something about a crown roast that makes it look like it belongs in the center of a long table in the dining room of a drafty castle filled with tapestries and enormous fireplaces.

The presentation is solely for appearance. If you can roast a turkey, you can prepare a majestic crown roast of pork.

Marinate the roast overnight or season it simply with salt and pepper, then tuck it into the oven. The interior space of the crown is a perfect spot for stuffing, making a beautiful presentation. Set it on a bed of greens or herbs, tuck in a few cranberries & persimmon slices around the rim and there you have it! Carving a crown roast is no more effort than slicing straight down between the rib bones.

Crown roast of pork is made from the rib portion of the loin. The meatiest part of the ribs forms the stable base of the crown. Common fears with making any roast are overcooking and drying it out or cooking it unevenly. If you roast a crown roast in a low & slow oven, you can get the entire roast pretty much exactly at the proper temperature from edge to center.

To enjoy with our meal, I’ve added some spiced cranberries. Now this is not just your basic cranberry sauce. Brion came home with a spiced cranberry liqueur to try so I couldn’t resist putting some in the cranberries. Wow, what an upgrade!

The distillery it comes from is located in the heart of Barrhead, Alberta. ‘West of the 5th’ was started by brothers Nathan and Caleb on their family farm in 2018. The family grows over 10-acres of fresh fruits to be used as flavoring in their award-winning moonshines. In just four short years of operating the distillery, the brotherly band have brought home five provincial recognition awards for their spirits.

With that being said, let’s enjoy & appreciate our Easter meals as we anticipate spring & the coming of a new season.

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Crown Roast of Pork
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Roast
  • 4-5 kg (13 Ribs) pork crown roast Frenched & prepped by butcher or yourself if you prefer.
Savory Stuffing
Fingerling Potatoes
Baby Carrots
Snow Peas
Course Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Roast
  • 4-5 kg (13 Ribs) pork crown roast Frenched & prepped by butcher or yourself if you prefer.
Savory Stuffing
Fingerling Potatoes
Baby Carrots
Snow Peas
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Marinade
  1. The night before roasting meat, combine all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Spread marinade generously over entire roast, including bottom & between rib bones. Place roast in a large dish, cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate overnight.
Spiced Cranberries
  1. In a medium nonstick saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Lower heat & cook until reduced & slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, take out cinnamon sticks & cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Stuffing
  1. Peel & cook potatoes, drain & mash. Set aside. Chop veggies. In a saucepan, melt butter & sauté veggies with herbs, salt & pepper. Remove from heat; combine with bread cubes, mashed potatoes & chicken broth. Add only enough chicken broth until it is moist but not mushy or falling apart. Mine usually takes the whole 2 cups. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Cooking Crown Roast
  1. Remove marinated roast from refrigerator & allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting.
  2. Preheat oven to 250 F. Adjust oven rack to a lower position. Place the roast on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking pan. Transfer to oven & roast until internal temperature reaches 160 F , about 8 hours. Remove from oven.
  3. Increase oven temperature to 350 F.
  4. Fill the center of the crown with prepared stuffing, mounding it slightly. Return roast to oven & roast until both roast & stuffing are browned & crispy on the exterior, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, tent with foil, allow to rest for 15 minutes as it reaches the internal temperature of 165 F.
  5. Remove strings & carve by slicing in between each rib & serve with pork gravy & spiced cranberries. If you have extra stuffing, bake for about 30 minutes in a buttered casserole dish for a future meal.
Roasting Veggies
  1. While the crown roast is cooking, prepare veggies. Since you are using a 'low & slow' cooking temperature it will be necessary to stove top 'roast' the potatoes & carrots.
Fingerling Potatoes
  1. Wash & place potatoes in a glass microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 8 minutes. Remove & allow to cool for a few minutes. Heat skillet to a medium heat & add butter. Sauté the potatoes & add seasonings to taste. Cook for about 6-8 minutes until the potatoes are softened & browned.
Baby Carrots
  1. Steam carrots in microwave for a few minutes to partially cook them. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add baby carrots, sprinkle with salt & pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are browned in spots & tender crisp, 6-8 minutes. Add apple cider vinegar & honey to skillet. Cook, stirring often, until liquid is syrupy & carrots are evenly coated, about 1 minute. Remove from heat & sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.
Snow Peas
  1. Rinse, drain & trim snow peas. Heat a skillet over medium high heat, about 2-3 minutes. Add the olive oil & trimmed pea pods. Move them around to coat in oil, let them sear for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid excessive browning. Add the minced garlic, stir again & let mixture become fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add the water & stir to move the snow peas around, Let the water evaporate & steam the pods, cooking them through, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Recipe Notes
  • Depending on the amount of people you are serving the roast to, the amounts of veggies may need to be increased.
  • Roasting at this low, slow temperature produces the most incredibly tender roast you could imagine. I always use this same theory when roasting baby back ribs & get super tender ribs as well.

Apricot Orange Newtons

Do you recall the iconic Fig Newton? For some, fig newtons were the loser cookie – the one you would only eat out of pure desperation if there was nothing else resembling dessert in sight. What could be worse than mysterious, brown fruit ‘goo’ wrapped up in flavorless, dry ‘cake’? They felt that it was not a treat, it was a healthy breakfast disguised as a cookie.

I really don’t remember eating any amount of fig newton cookies myself, probably because my mother always baked. When I did finally taste them as an adult, I actually liked them. Maybe that had something to do with my love for figs or maybe I just like cookies…not sure!

The ‘fig newton’ was one of the earliest commercially baked products in North America. Introduced by the Kennedy Biscuit Company in 1891, fig newtons were named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts, which was near the factory that first produced the cookie commercially. Kennedy Biscuit eventually merged with several other bakeries to form the National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco.

The recipe for the fig filling was the brainchild of Charles M. Roser, a cookie maker born in Ohio, USA. Roser worked for a bakery in Philadelphia who sold his recipe to the Kennedy Biscuit company.

The manufacture of fig newtons was made possible by the creation of Florida inventor James Henry Mitchell, who revolutionized the packaged cookie business by building an apparatus that could make a hollow cookie crust and fill it with fruit preserves. His machine worked like funnel within a funnel; the inside funnel supplied jam, while the outside funnel pumped out the dough. This produced an endless length of filled cookie, which could then be cut into smaller pieces. 

Original fig newtons were the only variety available until the 1980s and as of 2012, Nabisco now makes several varieties of the ‘newton’, which, in addition to the original fig filling, include versions filled with apple cinnamon, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and mixed berry.

As Nabisco likes to remind us, ‘newtons aren’t just cookies’, they’re fruit and cake. Bringing me to the idea of apricot newtons. There seems to be numerous versions of them around so we shall see how these one turn out.

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Apricot Orange Newtons
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Dough
Filling
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Dough
Filling
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Dough
  1. Whisk the flours, baking powder, cardamom & salt together in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat the butter & brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light & fluffy, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer & add the egg & vanilla. Finely grate the zest of the orange into the bowl (save the zested orange for the filling). Beat on medium speed until incorporated. Stop the mixer & scrape down the sides of the bowl & the paddle with a rubber spatula.
  3. Return the mixer to low speed, gradually add the flour; mix until just combined (the dough will be very soft and sticky). Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap & press into a disk about 1-inch thick. Wrap the disk tightly in the plastic wrap & refrigerate until firm, but still pliable, about 2 hours. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Filling
  1. Place the apricots in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment & process until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan. (No need to wash out the food processor; you will use it again.)
  2. Juice the zested orange and add 2 tablespoons of the juice to the pan. Add the water & honey. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the apricots plump up and all the liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes.
  3. Transfer the mixture back to the food processor and process into a smooth paste, about 1 minute. Let the mixture cool completely.
Assembly
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside. Transfer the cooled apricot mixture to a piping bag or resealable plastic bag.
  2. Dust a work surface generously with flour. Unwrap the disk of dough and cut it into 3 equal pieces (about 6 1/2 oz (185 gm) each). Place one piece on the work surface, rewrap the other 2 pieces back in plastic wrap; refrigerate those 2 pieces.
  3. Reshape the remaining piece of dough into a log about 2 inches wide and 4 inches long. Place the log with the short side facing you, generously dust the top with flour, and roll into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle about 4 inches wide and 12 inches long.
  4. Using kitchen shears, snip off a bottom corner of the plastic bag or piping bag. Pipe enough filling down the center of the piece of dough so that it is 1-inch wide and 1/4-inch thick.
  5. Using a bench scraper, scrape up the right side of the dough & gently fold it over the center so it reaches the middle of the filling. Repeat with the left side of the dough. Gently pat the top of the dough down with your hands, pinching it together as needed, so that it completely covers the filling and flattens slightly. (It should now be in a Fig Newton shape.)
  6. Cut the filled dough in half crosswise. Using the bench scraper, carefully flip each piece over & transfer to the baking sheet so that it is seam-side down. Repeat with the rolling & filling of the remaining 2 pieces of dough, using flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. You will end up with 6 filled & shaped pieces of dough on the baking sheet, so space them in 2 rows of 3 each, about 2 inches apart.
  7. Chill the logs for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 F.
  8. Bake until just lightly browned around the edges, 15 to 17 minutes. Cut each bar crosswise into 5 pieces and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Poinsettia Cookie Wreath

There are certain plants that play important and often mysterious roles in holiday traditions and celebrations all over the world. From the Egyptians who decorated trees during the winter solstice, to the Pagans and Druids who used mistletoe in their winter customs, stories of ritualized plant use span continents and history and have become infused into the mythologies that span generations. I’ve always wondered how poinsettias and Christmas became intertwined. After a bit of research this is what I found.

It seems the story behind poinsettias is rich in history and lore. The vibrant plants are native to the rocky canyons of Guatemala and Mexico. Poinsettias were cultivated by the Mayans and Aztecs, who valued the red bracts as a colorful, reddish-purple fabric dye, and the sap for its many medicinal qualities.  The poinsettia was first associated with Christmas in southern Mexico in the 1600s, when Franciscan priests used the colorful leaves and bracts to adorn extravagant nativity scenes.

There is an old Mexican legend about how Poinsettias and Christmas come together, it goes like this:

There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve services. As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.
‘Pepita’, he said, ‘I’m sure that even the smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus happy.’

Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet. She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus. As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro had said. She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.

The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ. The white leaves represent his purity.

Although it doesn’t pre-date Christianity like its Christmas counterparts, the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without the reds and greens of the poinsettia.

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Poinsettia Cookie Wreath
Instructions
Poinsettia Cookies
  1. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, sugar & flavorings with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  2. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour & salt until combined. Divide the dough between 2 large pieces of plastic wrap. Flatten each into a 1/2-inch-thick disk and wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
  4. Roll out 1 disk of dough between 2 heavy sheets of plastic wrap into a square about 1/8 inch thick. You should be able to cut (9) 3-inch squares from it as well as have some edges left for making about 18 leaves. Re-wrap & refrigerate dough scraps while you shape the poinsettias.
  5. Cut a 1 1/2-inch slit in all four corners of each dough square to form 8 points. Fold over every other point, moisten tip with egg white & press into the center of the square. Arrange cookies on prepared cookie sheet. Refrigerate while you repeat the same procedure with the other disk of dough. 
  6. Cut enough leaves out of the scraps using a sharp knife or a leaf-shaped cutter, making 2 leaves for each poinsettia. Arrange the leaves on plate & lightly brush with egg white, then sprinkle with green sanding sugar. Set aside in the refrigerator.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  8. Lightly brush the poinsettias with egg white & sprinkle half with red sanding sugar & half with white sanding sugar. Brush the ends of 2 leaves & tuck underneath each poinsettia on opposite sides. (No need to press the dough; it will meld together as it bakes.) 
  9. Bake, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the cookies are puffed and the edges are golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Immediately press a yellow (chocolate) candy in the center of each warm cookie. Let cool 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Assembly
  1. Using a bit of gel paste from a purchased tube, anchor each cookie in place on top of wreath base to form 'poinsettia wreath'. Finish with adding a ribbon or some holly leaves & pinecones or personalize to your own taste.
Recipe Notes
  • I like to save the heavy plastic wrap from frozen puff pastry for recipes like this. When you roll the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap as opposed to using flour on your board, it really keeps the dough from becoming so dry.
  • I found if I took the poinsettia cookies out of the oven about 5 minutes before they were finished baking & pressed the candy center in then returned them to the oven, the candies stuck to the cookies better.

Honey Orange Pork Medallions

Pork tenderloin, also known as pork fillet, is the leanest, most tender part of the pork loin. It is often cut into medallions, which are oval shaped steaks, made even more tender by trimming away excess fat. Pork tenderloin medallions are a versatile cut of meat, suitable for a range of different occasions. Their tender texture makes them perfect for a special dinner, but because they require short cooking times, they are quick and easy to prepare, making them an excellent choice for weeknight dinners, too.

For these honey orange medallions I’m using an ingredient called hoisin sauce. This is a Cantonese sauce that is often used both as an ingredient in dishes and as a table condiment. 

Hoisin is the English version of the sauce’s Chinese name: haixian, which means seafood or sea delicious. The word hoi translates to sea and the word sin translates to fresh or delicious. The name is somewhat misleading since hoisin sauce contains no seafood and is not typically used in or on seafood dishes though there is some evidence that the earliest versions actually did contain fermented fish. When Hoisin sauce still contained seafood, it was considered a luxury food because of this fact.

Hoisin sauce ingredients typically include soybeans, garlic, and sugar along with sesame oil and chilies. The number of ingredients and the ingredients themselves can vary from brand to brand; however, the flavor profile is generally the same. It has a similar appearance to American barbecue sauce but is much denser.

This is such a nice meal served over steamed rice or Chinese noodles.

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Honey Orange Pork Medallions
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Instructions
Sauce
  1. In a small pot, heat oil & garlic over medium low heat for just a minute or so until the garlic has softened but not browned. Add all of the remaining ingredients for the sauce & simmer until the sauce reduces to the consistency of a glaze. Keep warm on minimum heat while the pork gets fried.
Pork Medallions
  1. Sift together the flour, salt, pepper, ginger & five spice powder.
  2. Beat together the eggs and water to make an egg wash.
  3. Heat 1/2 inch oil over medium heat in a large heavy skillet.
  4. Season the pork medallions lightly with salt & pepper. Coat the pieces in the flour mixture before dipping them in the egg wash & then back into the flour mixture again. Drop into the hot oil and cook for about 3-4 minutes, turning once, until golden brown & crispy.
  5. Toss the cooked pork medallions in the sauce, along with the vegetables of your choice. Serve over steamed rice or Chinese noodles.

Carrot Cake Cookies

‘Tis the season for fall flavors! Nature is offering an abundance of root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and fruits to make use of in our fall baking.

Thinking about autumn can bring about some pleasant thoughts. While it is common to think about cozy scarves and pumpkin lattes, the symbolic meanings of autumn are more profound than you think. Ancient cultures, science and astrology have associated many aspects of this beautiful season to human life. These symbolic associations are powerful reminders that Mother Nature has an incredible influence on our lives.

These fall cookies are full of green zucchinis, deep orange carrots and bright red apples, colorful representations of the changing season ahead.

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Carrot Cake Cookies
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together oats, flour, flaxseed, cinnamon, cardamom, baking soda & salt.
  3. In a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together applesauce, honey (or maple syrup), egg & vanilla. Mix in the melted butter.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the nuts/seeds, grated zucchini, carrot & apple.
  5. Use a large scoop or measuring cup to drop 1/4-cup portions of dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Use your fingers to gently shape the cookies and flatten slightly, as they won't flatten on their own during baking.
  6. Bake 14-15 minutes, until set and lightly golden. (If baking more than one pan at a time, be sure to rotate the pans halfway through the baking time.)
  7. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Fruit Salad w/ Limoncello

It’s summer and there’s nothing better than the simple sweetness of fresh fruit. Barbecues are the highlight of the season and no doubt you will be making numerous ‘cool’ desserts.

I realize fruit marinated in alcohol is not for just any barbecue, but if it fits the occasion, it adds a nice finishing touch. Marinating fruit in alcohol is nothing new. Many cuisines have special recipes that include dried fruits such as raisins, currants and prunes. You can create endless combinations using fresh fruit with wine, spirits or liqueurs. Of course, the added bonus is this dessert does not require you to turn on your oven.

Limoncello is a traditional digestif of southern Italy, where the lemon trees give an abundance of bright, yellow fruit. The drink concentrates the flavor of those fresh golden fruits, making it the perfect palate cleanser after a rich meal. If you wish, store it in the freezer and serve it over ice.

Fruit is thirsty stuff and will soak up basically any kind of wine or liqueur you chose to pour over it. Put together your own personal ‘magical’ concoction and enjoy!

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Fruit Salad w/ Limoncello
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Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Servings
Ingredients
Votes: 1
Rating: 5
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Instructions
Marinade
  1. In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, lemon curd, honey & vanilla; set aside at room temperature.
Fruit
  1. Prepare & carefully toss fruit together with sugar & limoncello. Allow them to stand at room temperature for about 5 minutes to let fruit macerate with sugar & liqueur.
  2. Serve in dessert dishes with a dollop of lemon yogurt on top. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
Recipe Notes
  • If limoncello isn't what you enjoy, other suggestions would be cognac, grand marnier, marsala or Kahlua.