Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lots of Latkes!

One of the beautiful things about Detroit is that it is a very diverse city. People from all walks of life, from all corners of the world, have for more than 300 years come to this place near Michigan’s southeast corner. I realized a long, long time ago that not everybody I knew celebrated Christmas, as I did, and a so began an awareness and appreciation for all the ethnic, religious and cultural variations that surrounded me. So, before we can even get to Christmas, the celebration of Hanukkah begins.
Of course, thought of any celebration always takes my mind immediately to food. One of my favorite traditional Jewish foods is the latke. What’s not to love about fried potatoes and onions topped with sour cream? These are key ingredients in some Polish dishes, too, so I think this is why the latke has always appealed to me. As many as I have eaten, they are something I never prepared, so I was looking for a good recipe. One night at dinner with my dear friend Noah, the conversation went to latkes. He told me his nana (grandmother) had a great latke recipe and he would send it my way. He did – and I couldn’t wait to make them.
These delicious potato pancakes come out crispy on the outside and are tender and light on the inside. A beautiful balance of potato and onion, these are perfect with applesauce (Noah says to use homemade – and he’s right, but I only had enough time to open a jar of Mott’s) and with a side of rich sour cream.  Thank you, Noah, for sharing this wonderful recipe with me. More than just the best latkes ever, they are a beautiful tribute to your beloved nana. 

Potato Latkes
4-6 Idaho potatoes (depending on size) – I used Burbank Russets
1 small onion
2 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP pancake mix
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. baking powder

Grate potatoes on box grater or in a food processor. Give shredded potatoes a squeeze to get out some of the excess water. Put in large bowl. Grate onion and add to potatoes. Add eggs, pancake mix, salt, pepper and baking powder and mix well. In a large skillet, pour in Wesson vegetable oil to a depth of ¼ inch and heat over medium-high heat until hot (375 degrees).  Using a tablespoon, drop heaping spoonful of potato mixture into oil – the mixture will be loose but will come together as it fries. Flip latke only once when golden brown on bottom and brown other side. Remove from skillet to plate lined with paper towel. Serve immediately with apple sauce, sour cream and powdered sugar, if desired.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Provides A Twist On A Favorite!

It just wouldn't seem like the holidays without enjoying things make from pumpkin - pie, cookies, soup, bread, muffins...we are pumpkin crazy this time of year. And why not? Pumpkin is awesome! So this past Thanksgiving, I made the traditional pumpkin pie that I always make, using my mom's recipe, which is basically the one that is on the label of every can of Libby's pumpkin. The only real difference being that mom never used the ginger or cloves in spicing her pumpkin pie, just cinnamon and a little nutmeg. However, my dad had heard about this chocolate pumpkin pie, and it caught my interest, so I decided to make both pies for Thanksgiving and see what people liked. The chocolate version was hands-down the winner of the night.

I've always loved pumpkin pie, but I have to admit that I have abused it over the years. During the course of time, pumpkin pie has transformed into as much a delivery device for whipped cream and/or Cool Whip as it served as a wonderful dessert. With the inclusion of the chocolate pumpkin pie into the holiday dessert rotation, I find that I'm loving the pie for the pie's sake. Give this one a try and you'll see what I mean!

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie
* this makes one 9 inch deep dish pie, but the recipe easily doubles for two pies (as I made in the video).

1 cup (8oz) heavy cream
6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 - 15oz can of pumpkin puree
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (you can use light brown sugar, but I think the dark works better here)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 pie crust for 9 inch deep-dish pie (make your own or use ready-made)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream over medium-high heat until it just begins to form bubbles - do not bring to a full boil. Remove cream from heat and stir in chocolate chips until they are completely melted.

In a large bowl, add pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and whisk together. Add cream-chocolate mixture and whisk again until combined. Make sure mixture is not too hot, then add eggs and whisk again, making sure the eggs are well blended into the mixture.

Have your pie plate with raw crust inside ready to go. Pour filling into pie crust and transfer to oven. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center of the pie is firm and doesn't wiggle. Remove from oven when done and let cool completely. Serve with whipped cream and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Groovy Granola - Fun to Make, Fun to Share!

Give the Gift of Granola!
This time of year, there are always people that I want to give a little something to for the holidays. Most of these folks really appreciate the gift of something homemade, too. There is something special, I think, about something you create – take the time to do with your own hands – for the purpose of giving to another person. For many of us, the thing we have that is worth the most is time, so when you use that precious commodity to make a gift for someone, it tells the recipient that they are important.
Of course, whether it’s cookies, fruitcake or some other sweet treat, the holiday season is full of traditions of sharing and giving. Some time ago I got in the habit of periodically making granola. It’s something I’ve always loved, and until I realized I could easily make my own I was constantly buying it in the store. The problem with what I was buying was that – in addition to it being expensive – I often couldn’t find a mix that I really liked. Some quick research in my cookbooks and soon I found lots of recipes.
Granola is great because you can truly make it your own. You can add lots of what you love and leave out the stuff you can’t stand. If only everything in life had options like granola! I add a lot of dried fruits, depending on what I have on-hand. I don’t make it overly sweet, either. I only use brown sugar and honey for sweeteners. But, if you like it really sweet, that’s easy enough to do.
So if you are looking for something different to give to co-workers, neighbors and friends, try giving them a bag of homemade granola – they will love it! I mean, how many bell and star shaped cookies can one eat? 

7 cups old fashioned oatmeal
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup powdered milk
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
¾ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup currants
1 cup shredded coconut
¾ cup chopped dried apricots
¾ cup chopped dried dates
¾ cup vegetable/canola oil
¾ cup honey
(you can also add or substitute any of the dried fruits with almond or other nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, etc.)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a very large bowl blend all the dry ingredients and your fruits, nuts and seeds. Make sure it is all well combined. Measure your oil first and put in a blender. Then measure your honey (by measuring the oil first, it will coat your measuring cup so the honey will pour out easily) and add to oil in blender. Blend well for a minute – if you don’t have a blender, whisk oil and honey well in a large bowl. Pour oil/honey mix over dry ingredients and mix well. Your hands may be the best tool to use here – you want all the dry ingredients to be coated. The mix should feel damp to the touch. Transfer granola mix to two ungreased baking sheets – jelly roll pans work best because they have a rim. Put pans in oven for 40 minutes or until it browns up a little. Remove from oven and let pans cool on a rack. Lift granola out of pans with spatula and put in an airtight container. This is great over yogurt, ice cream, with milk as cereal or just as a quick snack. Put it in festive bags and it’s a great gift! Enjoy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tex-Mex Fun ala King Ranch Casserole

I've never been there, but I know that the King Ranch in southern Texas is one of the largest ranches in the world. I also don't know the connection between this famous casserole and its origination on the ranch, but I'm guessing that it has been interpreted lots of different ways over the years. When I was putting it together, Ralph referred to it as a kind of "Tex-Mex lasagna." And, depending on what you want to throw into the mix, you can make it a little more "Tex" or a little more "Mex."

This is a great way to use left over chicken (or turkey) and you could also shortcut with a store-bought rotisserie chicken. You need a couple cups of chicken (more if you like it extra meaty) and can always just quickly poach some chicken pieces, like I did. One thing about poaching, it leaves you with some nice broth that you can incorporate into the casserole (I add a couple of bouillon cubes to the pot). The recipe also calls for tortillas (flour or corn - I prefer corn but either works well). If the tortillas are a little on the hard side or dried out, giving them a quick bath in the leftover chicken broth is a great way to soften them up and add a little flavor, too.

King Ranch Casserole is a versatile dish, which I love. It means you can be creative, use what you have on hand, and customize it to your own tastes. If you like a little more heat, add jalapenos or other peppers, throw in some olives, you could switch the chicken out with some cooked chorizo sausage, top with chopped onion, cilantro, sour cream, avocado - use your imagination and your favorite flavors!

King Ranch Casserole

2 - 2 1/2 cups cooked chicken (use more if you like)
2 chicken bouillon cubes (if you're poaching chicken in water)
1 large onion - white or yellow - diced
1 large green pepper - diced
2 or 3 cloves of garlic - minced
2 TBSP vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 large (28oz) can pinto beans - drained and rinsed (this is optional)
1 can RoTel Tomatoes with chilies
12 six inch tortillas (flour or corn) - cut up into one inch strips
3 cups shredded cheese (can use a Mexican blend, colby jack, muenster)
1 cup of chicken broth (left over from poaching of the chicken - you DON'T have to add this if you like a
1 heaping TBSP chili powder
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove chicken from bone and shred with fork. If poaching chicken, put raw chicken in pot and cover with water. Add bouillon cubes. Bring water to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from liquid and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Proceed to remove meat from bones (discard skin). Put chicken in a large bowl.

In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil and add onion, green pepper and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and saute until veggies get tender (onions should be translucent). Add cooked vegetables to chicken in large bowl. Add can of RoTel tomatoes and contents of cans of cream of chicken and cream of mushroom soups. You can use a half cup of broth from poaching the chicken to "clean out" the insides of the soup cans. NOTE: This makes for a more moist casserole - if you like a dryer casserole skip this step. Add chili powder, cumin and black pepper and combine all ingredients well in the large bowl.

Cut tortillas into strips. If they are a little dry, you way want to give them a quick soak in the chicken broth from poaching (if you have it). This will soften them nicely. Use a 9 x13 baking dish that is coated with a non-stick cooking spray. Put half the tortilla strips down on the bottom of the baking dish. Put half of your chicken/soup/veggie mixture over the tortillas. Add half of your beans (if using) and then half of your cheese. Repeat this process starting with the other half of the tortillas for a second layer.

Put casserole in oven uncovered for 25-30 minutes, or until it's nice and bubbly. Let casserole rest for a few minutes to settle. Using a spatula, serve up a nice big piece on a plate and top with sour cream, chopped onion, cilantro, avocado, salsa or anything else you like! Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dressing For Success!

There is an age-old debate: stuffing or dressing? Two variations on the same theme, but they aren’t as far apart as many people would want to believe. Stuffing that gets prepared and is put inside of the turkey is still stuffing. Many feel that the juices flowing from the bird as it roasts provide the stuffing with incredible moisture and important flavor. This is true. But because I stuff my turkey with aromatics like onions, lemon and celery, there is no room for stuffing. Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it, I prepared my turkey already – two weeks prior to Thanksgiving (whaaaaaa???? – take a look at my last blog posting for the early turkey process).

I think another important detail that factors in to one’s preference to stuffing or dressing comes down to what you grew up eating. My mom and grandma made dressing – that’s what we ate and that’s what I learned to prepare. I’m most comfortable with, and feel the long traditions of, a dressing that is made in a separate dish and its only proximity to the turkey is on the buffet.

Now you can buy a box of stuffing in the store and just boil water, add an envelope of seasonings and the dried bread and in minutes you got stuffing. But if you never tried making it from scratch, I think you should give it a try. You can really make it unique, depending on the kinds of things you want to include. The basic idea is the same – dry bread of some kind, seasonings, a binder like eggs, something to moisten it, such as broth, and then you decide what else you would like to have in it. My recipe is very traditional – lots of onions and celery, but I also put in a good measure of fresh parsley because I love the brightness it brings the dish. You could put in apples, nuts, sausage (pork breakfast sausage, chorizo, kielbasa, etc.), oysters, carrots, artichokes, turnips – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Cornbread Dressing

For the cornbread (I use a shortcut in the form of a cornbread mix, but if you have a cornbread recipe that you love, by all means use it):

3 boxes of cornbread mix (such as Jiffy)
3 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup milk
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp poultry seasoning
½ tsp rubbed sage
½ tsp. each salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Blend all ingredients together in a large bowl until combined. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Let sit for about 5 minutes and then put into oven for 20-25 minutes until top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely. (You can make the cornbread a day or two in advance, if you like.)

1 stick butter
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced celery (include the leaves if you have them – they have great flavor)
Salt and pepper
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
2 tsp. rubbed sage
32oz turkey or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet or an electric skillet, melt butter until it starts to brown slightly. Over medium heat, add onions, celery, salt and pepper and combine so that all the vegetables get coated with butter. Sauté the veggies until they become translucent and tender, about 15 minutes or so. Remove from heat and set aside.

Take your pan of cornbread and cut it into small squares. Remove cornbread from its baking dish and put in a large bowl. Using a fork and your fingers, crumble the cornbread into smaller pieces. You can leave some larger chunks; it will give the texture a nice variety. Add your celery and onions to the cornbread. Then add the fresh parsley, beaten eggs and seasonings. Using a large spoon or spatula, mix ingredients together until well combined. Pour broth over dressing gradually – about a third of the amount at a time, mixing well after each addition. Transfer dressing to a large casserole or baking dish that has been greased. Cover with foil and place in oven for 45-50 minutes. Remove from oven and it’s ready to serve!

NOTE: You can do most of this the night before. Simply put it together and place it in your greased casserole or baking dish. Cover and put in the refrigerator. Bring it out about an hour before you put it in the oven and then bake 50 minutes or so.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Turkey Time! Make It Now, Serve It Later!

There’s no escaping all the talk about turkey this time of year. Whether you serve this classic American dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas or both, most of us end up with a turkey in our freezer this time of year. I don’t know why many of us wait until the end of the year to make a turkey. As far as I’m concerned, it’s great anytime – especially in the summer!

Our adventure into roasting a turkey is really less of a recipe and more of a process, or an approach, to preparing the bird. I’ll start from the turkey on the table for Thanksgiving dinner and work back. This is important because if you are someone who likes to “present” the bird at the table – ala Norman Rockwell – with all the “oohs” and “aahhs” from those gathered around, then this is not the preparation method for you. I grew up sitting at the table with mom bringing out a giant platter of carved turkey, in pieces big and small, white and dark, and it got passed around the table as everyone filled their plates with all they wanted.

When it comes to hosting Thanksgiving, I believe in doing as much as you can do ahead of time. Some things you just have to do on the big day. Most of your sides – the mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing (I don’t make stuffing), vegetables, rolls, etc. are all done on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t afford to have a turkey clogging up my most valuable real estate (the inside of the oven) for hours on end. So, I just make the turkey a week or two in advance.

For years I catered our big annual turkey dinner at church. I would have to cook between 12 and 15 turkeys. This simply can’t be done in a day unless you have a six ovens and a staff of ten. We had neither. So, I learned to roast turkeys over the course of a couple of weekends, carve them, and prepare the meat for the freezer. Today, on a much smaller scale, I use the same process at home, and yes, everyone at the table raves about the moist and tender turkey.

Roast Turkey

1 turkey (size is up to you, but plan for 1.5 pounds for every person you are serving – add a couple more pounds if you want to insure leftovers)

1 cooking bag – this is optional, but recommended. Why? Because the turkey will cook faster, stay moist, and there will be very little clean up. Also, roasting turkey has a way of creating a big mess in your oven, using a bag prevents that situation.

2 medium onions – peeled and quartered

3 stalks of celery – washed and cut into thirds

1 lemon, quartered

Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning

2 – 14 oz. cans low-sodium chicken or turkey broth

Make sure your turkey is completely thawed. The best and safest way to thaw a turkey is to take it from the freezer to the refrigerator and leave it there until it is thawed. For an 18-20 pound bird this is going to take about five days. So, plan in advance. Put frozen turkey on a rimmed baking sheet or large baking dish – this will catch any juices that may come out of the turkey when it thaws (often the plastic wrap around the bird has a hole or tear in it). You don’t want turkey juice all over the inside of your fridge!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap the thawed turkey and rinse it in the sink. Be sure to pull out the neck, the bag of giblets, gravy pouch, or anything else they may have tucked inside! Remove bird from sink and pat dry with a paper towel. Season liberally with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning, making sure to put some inside the cavity of the turkey as well as all over the outside of the bird. Put the onions, celery and lemon inside the cavity of the bird – stuff it in there, it should fit!

Prepare your cooking bag. Put three tablespoons of flour inside the bag and give it a good shake so the flour coats the inside of the bag (read the instructions that come with the baking bag). Carefully transfer the turkey to inside the bag. You will get a special closer for the bag, use that to cinch the end of the bag closed. Transfer bagged bird to a roasting pan. Cut six slits that are about one inch long in the top of the bag (again, refer to the instructions that come with the bags, but most brands work in a similar fashion).

If you have a probe-style meat thermometer (see video), stick the probe through one of the slits you cut in the bag and into the thigh of the turkey – be sure that the probe is not hitting a bone. If you don’t have one of these thermometers, you can check the internal temperature of the bird with a regular meat thermometer during the cooking process. You want that thigh to register around 180 degrees, and that will tell you it’s done.

Put the turkey into a 375 degree oven. How long it will take very much depends on the size of your turkey. If you have an 18-20 pound bird, it should cook in three to four hours – let your meat thermometer be your guide as to when to take it out of the oven. When the thigh reaches 180 degrees, remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest. You can cut the bag open CAREFULLY – there will be a lot of very hot steam. You want the turkey to cool to a comfortable carving temperature. This may take 30-45 minutes or so…be patient because the wonderful smell of that turkey is going to drive you crazy!

Carve the turkey as you normally would. I leave the drumsticks intact, but that’s up to you. Transfer all the cut turkey meat into a freezer-proof pan (I use one of those heavy-duty disposable foil pans). Open cans of broth and pour over the turkey meat. Seal pan with two layers of heavy-duty foil and put pan in freezer. Your Thanksgiving turkey is now done!

Two or three days before you want to serve the turkey, remove it from the freezer and transfer pan to the refrigerator to thaw. Put pan in a 300 degree oven for 90-120 minutes and serve it up on a pretty platter!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Classic Casserole - Tamale Pie

Cookbooks provide a great snap-shot into the kinds of foods and preparations that were in vogue throughout the years. I am particularly partial to the general cookbooks put out in the late 40's through the mid 60's. Better Homes & Gardens, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Good Housekeeping, Joy of Cooking, and Meta Given's Modern Family Cookbook, to name a few, are wonderful examples of how America liked to eat. There were no "nutrition facts" given for each recipe, but the front of the book usually dedicated some room to talking about the importance of good nutrition, vitamins and minerals, and eating a balanced diet.

While some of today's recipes are more conscious of the fat and calories, the cookbooks of yesterday put the emphasis on taste and presentation - and why not?!? When you look across the offerings in these old books, there are a number of recipes that are offered in each volume - although not exactly identical - but with generally the same idea. Tamale pie is one such example.

Tamale pie is a variation on a hamburger casserole. I often thought of it as a south of the border cousin to a Shepard's pie, but rather than having mashed potatoes as the top crust the tamale pie calls for cornbread. The dish couples the meat and a starch and provides an "all in one" opportunity for the busy cook who doesn't have time to make three separate things.

With the proliferation of Mexican cuisine, this dish (some recipes dating back 60+ years) must have seemed downright exotic.What I love about this dish is that it can be easily updated to today's taste for food that has a bigger kick then they were used to in the 1952 Betty Crocker test kitchen. As good today as it was back then, this is an easy one to make and it adapts beautifully to countless variations. A good "cold weather" dish, this is a perfect time of year to bring a tamale pie to your table!

Tamale Pie

1/2 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 pound ground pork (you could use all beef if you prefer, but I like the mix)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
(you could add a half cup of green peppers here or a little jalapeno pepper, if you like)
salt and pepper to taste
2-8oz cans tomato sauce
1 cup frozen, canned or fresh corn
12 black olives, chopped (could use green if you prefer)
1 TBSP chili powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sugar
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 TBSP all purpose flour
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put meat in skillet and begin to brown over medium high heat. Add diced onion and minced garlic to the meat as it browns so the vegetables get soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Once meat is browned, reduce heat to medium and add two cans of tomato sauce, corn and chopped olives. Add chili powder, cumin and sugar. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare your cornbread topping. In a bowl, beat egg. Add cornmeal, baking powder, flour, sugar, salt and milk and combine.  Set aside. Grease a 2qt casserole dish. Put in meat mixture and even out the top with spoon or spatula. Spread corn topping over meat mixture in casserole dish - it should be completely covered. Put in 425 degree oven for 15 - 20 minutes, until topping is golden brown on top. Remove and let stand for five minutes. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa or other toppings you like. Enjoy!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bountiful Michigan Apple Crop Makes Way For Autumn Apple Pie

To go through a Michigan autumn without a trip to one of our state's many apple orchards or cider mills would be to miss out on something very special. Sure, you can buy all the apples you want at the stores, but I'm here to tell you they taste better when you get them straight from the source! There's nothing better than acres of trees with the many varieties of apples ripe for the picking, fresh pressed cider, and sometimes you get lucky and find a place frying up some of those delicious doughnuts.

Up near the cottage we have a couple of apple orchards nearby. Moeller's Orchards and McCallum's Orchards. Both are great places to spend some time on a nice autumn afternoon and collect some delicious apples of many varieties. After picking up some Ida Red, Jonagold and Macintosh apples, it was time to get back to the kitchen. I have always liked to combine varieties of apples in pies, crisps, cobblers, etc. Each bring a different flavor and texture to the party. Once the apples were in-hand, it didn't take long to put our autumn apple pie together. This is about as classic as it gets - and a perennial favorite.

Pie Crust

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup Crisco (best if cold - I keep mine in the fridge)
5-6 TBSP ice water
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Add Crisco and using a pastry blender cut-in shortening with flour mixture until it becomes the consistency of small peas. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and incorporate using a fork. You want the dough to be damp enough that there are no longer any small particles in bowl. When you pick up dough and press large pieces together, it should hold together. Form dough into one large ball and divide it in two parts. I generally make one half a little larger than the other - and I use the larger piece to roll out my bottom crust. The smaller one is for the top crust. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes.

Apple Pie Filling
6-7 apples (I used Macintosh, Jonagold and Ida Reds)
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
2 TBSP cold unsalted butter - cut into small cubes
Peel apples. Cut apples from top to bottom around the core, and then slice each of the four sections into thin slices and put in large bowl. Sprinkle apples with lemon juice and toss to coat. Add sugars, flour, cinnamon and salt and give it all a good stir so that each slice of apple is coated with the sugar-flour-spice mixture. The filling is now ready.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll out your bottom crust on a counter/board that is well floured. Lay the bottom crust into your pie plate (I use a deep 9-inch Pyrex pie plate for this recipe). Pour pie filling into pie plate on top of your bottom crust. Take butter cubes and distribute around the top of the filling. Roll out your top crust and place on top of the pie. Trim the edges of the pie crust and crimp the bottom and top crusts together. Vent the top crust by making 6-8 cuts in the top crust with a sharp knife (all of this is in the video). Optional: sprinkle a tablespoon of white sugar on the top crust. Place pie in the center of an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 45-50 minutes - crust should be golden brown. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool for a few hours. Wonderful served with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce or with a slice of American cheese melted on top!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Fun Fish Friday with this Parmesan Tilapia Topper!

I have a lot of fond memories as a kid growing up in Dearborn, Michigan and eating at a local hot-spot, Brown's Fish & Chips. The place was always busy, or so it seemed, and while the menu was fairly limited to "fried everything," the food was always good. Plus, growing up Catholic it seemed like we had fish on a lot of Friday's. Even now, I look forward to the Lenten season so I can taken in some of the wonderful fish frys hosted by some of the old Detroit parishes. I've been to a lot of them and in my mind the fish dinners at St. Francis and at Sweetest Heart of Mary are about the best you'll get anywhere.  But, as wonderful as a good piece of battered cod or lake perch can be, it's good to take a break from the deep fryer every once in a while!

The word "tilapia" is one that I can't recall hearing when I was growing up. I'm sure there was such a fish, but not in the world I lived in. Then, all of a sudden, tilapia began appearing on menus everywhere. I understand the appeal. It is a very mild, light fish that is versatile and easy to prepare. It's now something that I try to always keep on-hand.

This recipe is just one way to prepare tilapia, but it's my "go-to" because it's quick, simple and uses ingredients that are almost always in the pantry. And it tastes good. Even people who are not big fish fans enjoy this version of tilapia. It has a nice, crunchy exterior, and the fish remains flaky and moist. On those days when you want to take a break from meat and fried foods, don't crack open a box of fish sticks, give this a try!

Parmesan Topped Tilapia

4-6 tilapia fillets (fresh or frozen, if frozen they should be thawed and patted dry)
1 cup panko-style bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 TBSP parsley (fresh or dried)
1 TBSP chives (fresh or dried)
1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)
1/2 stick butter or margarine, melted in pie plate or shallow dish

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray generously with non-stick cooking spray. Combine panko bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, herbs and pepper in a pie plate or shallow dish. Make sure tilapia fillets are patted dry. Roll both sides of fish in melted butter/margarine and then dredge in crumb mixture. Make sure there is a generous coating on BOTH sides of the fish. Transfer to baking sheet. Repeat with all fillets. Put sheet into oven for 15 minutes - they should be golden brown on the top. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Fall Version of a Longtime Favorite - Pumpkin Chili

There’s no doubt about it – autumn is in full-swing here in Michigan. The colors are a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you turn fall’s kaleidoscope is around you. While I love the renewal of spring and the hope of warmer days that it brings, nothing beats the remarkable natural beauty – both simple and complex – that ascends on us with the return of each October.
A stroll through the market at this time of year is also a colorful experience. The last of the summer crops are trickling in; tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cabbage and beets. And then the fall standards take their place along with the rest, including the iconic pumpkin. I think most of us have carved a pumpkin or two in our time, and maybe even roasted up those delicious seeds that stick to the stringy goo on the inside. But when it comes to cooking with pumpkin, I think the majority of us are happy to reach for the familiar orange can of Libby’s pumpkin. While it’s great to use in pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, muffins, and other baked goodies, it works well in many savory dishes, too.
Fall is perfect chili weather. I don’t argue with people about how they make their chili – ground beef, diced beef, ground turkey, with or without beans, how hot, etc. I’ve enjoyed lots of wonderful chili of countless variations all over the country. That’s the wonder of our cooking world!
This particular recipe calls for ground turkey and I think it works well here. If your chili has to be made with beef then please proceed with your favorite cut. Beef has a stronger flavor than ground turkey - I think - so the background of pumpkin is a little more muted in a beef version. Even if you use the turkey, this will not taste like a pumpkin pie with chili seasonings in it (thank goodness!). 
The pumpkin makes for a thicker texture and a note of pumpkin, which we help bring forward with a little cinnamon and allspice. We think it’s wonderful and every bit as warm and satisfying as any other chili we’ve enjoyed.  This chili is best made in a slow cooker, but if you don’t have one you could prepare on top of the stove over very low heat, covered and regular stirring. 

Pumpkin Chili
1 TBSP vegetable oil
1-1   ½ lbs ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
½ cup diced green pepper
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup diced yellow, orange or red pepper (you can use 1 cup of green pepper if you don’t have the other peppers or care not to use them)
1 - 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 - 15oz can pumpkin (DO NOT USE pumpkin pie filling – just use the plain pumpkin)
2         TBSP chili powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Put oil in large skillet and bring up to medium high heat. Add turkey, onion, garlic, peppers, salt and pepper.  As turkey cooks, break apart with spoon to create smaller pieces. Cook until turkey has browned and vegetables have become soft. Transfer contents of skillet to slow cooker. Add diced tomatoes, pumpkin and chili powder and stir gently to combine. . (Note: if you want to make this chili for the next day, stop right here and put the covered slow cooker insert in the fridge until four hours before you want to serve).
Cover slow cooker and set temperature to LOW – allow to cook for three hours. After three hours, add cinnamon and allspice, stir to combine, put cover back on and continue to cook for one hour. If you like, serve in bowls and top with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream. This is great with corn bread on the side. Enjoy!