Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cold Weather is here at last, so comfort food is IT!....

Winter is here at last for us and maybe for you too, so our menu planning has changed to cold weather foods which will not only fill but comfort as well. With temperatures now in the 22 degree range during the night (yes, chilly huh?) and daytime being around 40-50 degrees; maybe some showers being expected next week which might mean some snow! YAY! We love snow! After having lived in tropical weather for quite a while - we are really looking forward to a while Xmas... I must add that Kitty, my Yucatecan Feral Kay, has camped out on top of the cable box during the day and sleeping under my goose-down comforter during the night, keeping my toes warm.....

Cold weather foods as we all know differ greatly from hot weather foods and are much heartier while trying to generate a thermal effect over the body so you can warm up and get the energy needed to accomplish your duties under severe weather. This leads us (thankfully we're not in the Artic or that would mean whale blubber, yuk..), to produce hot soups, casseroles and baked goods which not only help warm up the house (talk about aroma therapy....) but stimulate the taste buds so you look forward to heartier meals.

Comfort foods can fall into this category as well as looking to those countries where winter means heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures, so I will take a clue from this and re-create some great winter menu's to satisfy my finicky family while revisiting some far away places we miss.....

As I sit here writing this to you, I've got some just ground coffee ready to accompany a "Streusel Topped Coffee Cake" that just came out of the oven, so you can imagine the lovely aromas swirling around me. What a great and easy way to wake up on a weekend.... but getting down to planning meals must go on, so with coffee in hand I'll describe what will be on my family's dinner table over the weekend.

Try and visualize the aromas and tastes as you read this and see how well these can fit into your meal plan, all are easy & very satisfying. They will also let me take advantage of special discounts at my local supermarket and so, keep my budget in line. We'll be economical until the holidays and then splurge a little for our special meals over the holidays and since we've got about 4 days to plan for (Xmas Eve and Day; New Year's Eve and Day), you don't want to spend all your time working so I'll post some make-ahead meals to have on hand so you can enjoy being with your family, (like double casseroles to freeze or prepare ahead dishes you can have in the fridge to just pop-into the oven when you're ready..) but for now here's the weekend plans:

Streusel Coffee Cake.- I have always used Bisquick for this since it's the easiest, fastest coffee cake around that gives no-fail results every time! I also use it for other stuff, but that's another post on another day....
1 cup Original Bisquick mix (you can also use Kruzteaz type)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
6-8 tbl cold butter or margarine

Coffee Cake
2 cups Original Bisquick mix (same here)
1 cup milk or water
5 tbl granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 egg

Heat oven to 375F. Spray bottom and side of 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. In small bowl, mix 1 cup Bisquick mix, the brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter, using pastry blender (or pulling 2 table knives through ingredients in opposite directions. I use a fork), until crumbly; set aside. Don't worry about adding more butter until you get the consistency you need, as long as you get different sized balls.

In medium bowl, stir coffee cake ingredients until blended. Spread half the batter in pan. Sprinkle with half of the streusel. Drop remaining batter over top of streusel; spread carefully over streusel. Sprinkle remaining streusel over top.

Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until golden brown. This depends on your oven, mine takes a lot longer so check by sticking a sharp knife and making sure it comes out clean before you remove it from the oven. Keep checking every 10 min time until done. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cool.

For lunch today I will defrost the last piece of turkey that I have left over from Thanksgiving and will make "Sopes" and since these tend to be a little heavier, we will have a lighter dinner of a hearty soup instead.

Sopes.- Masa boats with your choice of filling, topped with crunchy veggies. Soo much flavor and a great snack or appetizer too! Great to use with leftovers or you name it!

2 cups Masa Harina flour (Mexican corn flour from Maseca)
1-2 cups warm water

1 cup cooked, shredded turkey meat (or ground beef, chorizo, beans, veggies.....)
1 cup refried beans (can be canned and any type you like: black, pinto, white...)
1/2 lettuce, shredded finely
1 cup "Pico de Gallo"
1/4 cup grated Cotija Cheese
Sour Cream

Pico de Gallo
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 med. onion, finely chopped (add as little or as much as you like)
1 Serrano chile, deseededand chopped very fine (optional)
1/2 cup Cilantro leaves, chopped fine
salt & pepper to taste

In a bowl put the flour and add 1/2 cup of the warm water and mix with your hands. Work the dough until it comes together and is not sticky. Add more water as needed, your hands will let you know when it's ready and you can work with it to either make tortillas or sopes. While you work making the sopes, keep the dough covered up so it won't dry out.

Take a 1-2 inch ball of dough in your hands and flatten it, make ridges all around. Put on a dish until you've got them all made or you can fry at once. You can make these very small for appetizers or larger to serve 2-3 for a meal. These are fried in oil, turning over to get them cooked but not browned, they should be tender. Let drain before using.

To prepare:
Streusel Topping
Take a "sope" and spread some beans on the bottom; put about 1 tbl of the filling on top of this; then put the lettuce, pico de gallo, Cotija cheese and sour cream. Lovely!
Since we will have a lighter dinner, I've decided on Swiss Raclette. For those of you that are familiar with this dish you will understand how wonderful it is, and for those of you that will be introduced to it, you're in for a treat! Please try it and you will see what I mean. We make it in the fireplace while we sit around and "play with it"..... tasty fun!

Raclette is a dish indigenous to parts of Switzerland, Wallonia & France. The Raclette cheese round is heated, either in front of a fire or by a special machine, then scraped on plates; the term raclette derives from the French racler, meaning "to scrape". Traditionally, it is accompanied by small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties), gherkins, picked onions, dried meat, such as prosciutto and viande des Grisons, sliced peppers, tomato, onion, mushrooms, pears, and dusted with paprika and fresh-ground black pepper. All on good sturdy bread and don't forget to serve a good white wine too. Doesn't that sound fabulous? You bet!

Raclette.- There is really no recipe for this, but let me include a paragraph from Sue Style's book A Taste of Switzerland:
"Light a good fire. Buy yourself a half wheel of real Raclette cheese, preferably from the Valais (Gomser, Bagnes, Orsières etc.), between three and five months old. Scrape off the rind, top and bottom, so that the cheese can melt more easily. Prepare boiled potatoes in their skins and have ready a supply of gherkins or cornichons, pickled onions and black pepper. When the fire has died to a mass of glowing embers, procure yourself a large stone and put it before the fire. Set the half cheese on top, its cut surface exposed to the heat. Nearby have a supply of plates. As the cheese melts, scrape it off on to a plate and serve at once. Continue in this way until everyone is full." ...... Mmmmmmm, by the way Trader Joe's carries a good selection of these cheeses. I think this would be great for New Year's Eve served with Champagne, of course!

Sunday will be Brunch Day and so we will incorporate breakfast with lunch and serve Eggs Benedict with lots of Hollandaise Sauce (I'll give you a fantastic tip on how to make this super easy and foolproof so you can have it with everything! (like Salmon, Asparagus, etc.)

Eggs Benedict.- One of the great Brunch dishes ever and once you make the easiest Hollandaise ever, you'll have these time and again!

For the eggs:
1/2 cup distilled vinegar, divided
12 large eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
12 slices Canadian bacon
6 plain English muffins, split
1 tbl finely chopped fresh chives or fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Pour enough water into 2 large skillets to reach a depth of about 3 inches, and divide the vinegar between them. Bring both skillets to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Crack an egg into a cup and carefully slide it into the hot poaching liquid. Quickly repeat with all the eggs. Poach the eggs, turning them occasionally with a spoon, until the whites are firm, or to the desired degree of doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs and transfer to a kitchen towel. Lightly dab the eggs with the towel to remove any excess water. While the eggs are poaching, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the Canadian bacon and cook until heated through, about a minute on each side. To serve, toast the English muffin halves and divide them among 6 warmed plates. Top each half with a slice of Canadian bacon, and set an egg on top. Spoon the hollandaise sauce over the eggs and garnish with the chives. Serve immediately.

Hollandaise Sauce:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional

In a small saucepan, heat butter until melted and bubbling, but don't let it brown. Warm the bowl of a blender by filling with hot tap water and then draining and drying it. Working quickly, blend egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper together until the mixture turns light yellow, about 30 seconds. With the blender running, start adding hot butter at no more than a trickle, until sauce starts spattering in the blender, indicating that an emulsion has formed. Continue trickling butter at a slightly faster rate, pausing briefly every 5 seconds or so, until incorporated. The mixture will thicken considerably. Scrape down the walls of the blender bowl and blend 5 seconds longer; cover. Keep sauce warm by immersing the covered blender bowl in warm water.

For a perfect ending to a weekend, we're having a tried and true recipe for "Potato Mushroom Soup" that has been a favorite for a long time. Easy to make with great flavor and nutrition, and if you serve with black bread and some hot tea, couldn't be more perfect:

Swiss Baked Potato Soup.- A hearty and flavorful soup that's easy to make and great to eat, plus you can add more ingredients and change it anytime you like:

1 large sweet onion, chopped fine
6 tbl salted butter
4 tbl flour
1 tsp salt and white pepper (you can use black if flecks don't bother you)
3 cups milk (any kind)
3 cups beef broth
6-8 lbs potatoes, baked and cooled
1 cup celery, cut in 1 inch pieces
1-2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Swiss Cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped

In a large heavy pot put butter and melt it. Add the onion, mushrooms and celery and cook until the onions are tender. While onions are cooking you can peel the potatoes, but I like the peels so I oil the potatoes before baking and then cut them up when cool. After the onions are tender, add the flour, salt & pepper and cook over med heat for 3-4 min at least so you don't get a "floury" taste.

Add the milk and broth (you could use all broth or all milk too) and stir until thick and bubbly. Add the potatoes and check the taste. If it's too thick, add more broth or milk.
To serve top with the grated cheese and chives.
NOTE: You can also add 1 cup of cheese (cheddar or Swiss) when you add the potatoes and let it melt before serving and add a dollop of sour cream. YUM!

Hope your weekend is a safe and relaxed one and that you are all warm and happy. I will update my postings with more suggestions for the season and try and come up with unusual recipes for everyone, as I always say: "Let's shake it up!"...... Take care and let me know if there are ideas or suggestions I can help you with or if you've tried the recipes and need some help with them. In any case, I always enjoy getting feedback from everyone!.......

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