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!